Baka Beyond, “Baka Play Baka”: This is what happens when you take a bunch of great trad Irish musicians, and lock them into a room with a bunch of great African musicians from the Baka tribe in Cameroon. I don’t know quite how to describe this. It really doesn’t sound like anything else. You can tell that there’s Irish roots, and you can hear some African things that sound a little bit like M’balah, but mostly, it’s something different. Very cool stuff.
Flook, “Beehive”: Flook is, bar none, the greatest instrumental trad Irish band around. They’ve got the guy who I think is greatest tinwhistle player in the world, Brian Finnegan; Sarah Allen, who can somehow keep up with Brian while playing on a honking *huge* alto whistle while standing on one foot; John Joe Kelley, a man who somehow makes the Bodhran (a kind of drum which the scourge of sessions everywhere) into a delicate and expressive instrument (one of Flook’s album liner notes quotes a review that says something like “Saying John-Joe plays the Bohran is like saying Everest is a bit of a climb”); and last but not least, Ed Boyd, a rhythm guitarist who demonstrates just why being a rhythm guitar player can be an artistic calling. If you’ve never heard Flook, go out any buy their albums. All of them. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Flook.
The Trey Gunn Band, “Gate of Dreams”: a track from the band led by former King Crimson stick player Trey Gunn. This is probably my favorite track by the TGB, which unfortunately isn’t saying that much. Trey is a brilliant player, but he’s rather dull as a composer. His band’s work tends to leave me very flat.
The Flower Kings, “Days Gone By”: This is very out of place in a shuffle. It’s not really it’s own song. It’s the ending of a long piece told from the point of view of a self-hating vampire.
Mouse on Mars, “Chartnok”: Noisy electronica, recommended to me by someone who thought that if I liked postrock, I’d like this. They were wrong. Ick.
Peter Hammill, “After the Show”: live recording of a song by one of the founders of progressive rock. It’s an incredibly sparse performance – Hammill on keyboards and vocals, plus an electric violin and bass. One of the most intense recordings I’ve ever heard. I get chills every time I hear this. I don’t know that I’d call in beautiful music; but it’s a brilliant piece of musical art which I love listening to.
Godspeed you! Black Emperor, “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls”: Godspeed – the b est post-rock ensemble ever. Everything I’ve ever heard by them is amazing.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, “Fugue” from Bach’s “Prelude and Fugure No. 20”: Ordinally, I love just about anything Bela Fleck does. Not this. There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with playing with great classical music. Hell, I’ve heard ELP take on the Prelude and Fugure, and it was great. But this is a dreadful job of playing with it. Geez, Bela, what did Bach ever do to you to deserve this?
Tony Trischka, “Armando’s Children”: Amazing coincidence that this came up now. Just what I needed after hearing that train-wreck of Bela’s: Bela, along with his old Banjo teacher playing some brilliant newgrass. Now this is what I expect when I go listen to Bela – and it’s even better when it’s Bela playing along with one of the few people in the world who can keep up with – and even sometimes get a step or two ahead of him. Wow.
Solas, “The Crested Hens”: Solas is another dazzling traditional Irish band. Formed from a mixture of Irish and Irish-American musicians, led by the unbelievable Seamas Egan. This is a slow air featuring the wonderful violin playing of Winnifred Horan and low whistle by Seamus. Seeing them live back in March convinced me to go out and buy a low whistle. (I also have to say, after seeing them live, that I was very surprised by the violinist. On all of the photos on their album covers, she’s always got this pissed-off look on her face, so I was expecting her to be a very grumpy performer. Turned out to be an incredibly silly, happy, funny person whose energy was dazzling. You could just see how the energy of a song would change when her violin part came in.)