Anthony Braxton – The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton

The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton

Anthony BraxtonThe Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton Mosaic MD8-242 (2008)


Anthony Braxton has been a major figure in late 20th Century music and beyond.  It’s fitting that his work for Arista Records has finally been comprehensively issued on CD.  Although he recorded for a variety of other labels before, during and since that tenure (notably Leo Records in later years, but even including Windham Hill Records‘ subsidiary Magenta Records), it was his releases for that fledgling major label that earned him international renown.  It has been a minor tragedy that so much of Anthony Braxton’s Arista material has taken so long to see re-release on CD, though it may still be some time before individual releases are available on CD aside from this pricey box set.

Describing Braxton is a difficult task, as his musical interests cover broad territory.  Ostensibly he is and was a “jazz” musician.  But his output on Arista showed early on that he was interested in modern composition wholly separate from the realm of the jazz tradition.  Looking back, his biggest successes from this era were his efforts to cross different styles, chief among them traditional jazz, free jazz, and modern composition.  Yet he stood for something more than just the man behind the curtain churning out the music on his records.  It was “Braxton’s chosen arena of the independent and marginal,” as Michael Heffley’s liner notes to this box put it, that set him apart.  He found ways to make his eclectic interests in smaller pleasures and out-of-the-way innovations work.  And in doing so he helped set a precedent for others to keep alive music that was always something accepted only on the fringes, but was finding noticeably fewer and fewer outlets from the mid-1970s onward.  He managed to redefine the terms for success for a musician in his position without compromising the integrity of his musical ideas.

While it might not be for everyone, given the generally dense and formal nature of much of the music, The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton should provide enjoyment and rewards to anyone with at least some interest in modern jazz.  Whatever a potential listener has heard of Braxton’s reputation can be ignored.  In part that’s because these recordings largely pre-date his reputation.  Yet it’s also because things like bright horn charts and marches on Creative Orchestra Music 1976, traditional material like “Maple Leaf Rag” on Duets 1976, the ferocity of improvisation and skill of the players throughout The Montreux / Berlin Concerts, and the boldness of For Two Pianos are all immediately recognizable and enjoyable regardless of a listener’s frame of reference.  There is also a sense that Braxton had a genuine and heartfelt interest in this material, however unusual by mainstream standards, which is at least a little contagious.

This Mosaic Records set does a great job with remastering the music for CD.  If it does have a fault, it’s that it indulges familiar jazz snob peculiarities in the liner notes, which focus on recording information to the general exclusion of release information.  The original liner notes and cover artwork from the albums compiled here are not reproduced, and it is only with considerable effort can tracks on these CDs be matched up with the names of the LPs on which they were originally released.  Nonetheless, this is an excellent set, making a fairly good entry point to Anthony Braxton’s extensive catalog, and should hopefully help preserve this vital music for the future.

Richard Strauss / Herbert von Karajan – Death and Transfiguration

Death and Transfiguration (Op. 24), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (Op. 28), Dance of the Seven Veils (Salome)

Richard Strauss / Herbert von Karajan (Vienna Philharmonic)Death and Transfiguration (Op. 24), Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Op. 28), Dance of the Seven Veils (Salome) London CS 6211 (196?)


I’ve never had any particular affinity for Richard Strauss, but these are decent performances.  “Death and Transfiguration” is my favorite here, the rest can be a bit too melodramatic for my tastes.

Louie – In the Woods

Louie FX Networks (2010- )


Louis C.K.’s current show Louie may well be one of the best things on TV right now.  There are plenty of other worthy  shows today — Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time with Finn & Jake merits a nod, as do the likes of IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang and Fox’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, for starters.  But Louie makes its mark by trying to go a little deeper than the standard sitcom fare.  Take the 9 June 2014, Season 4 episode “In the Woods.”  Like much of season 4, the episode, stretching to a full 90 minute timeslot, meanders and jumps unexpectedly to flashbacks.  But like some earlier episodes, Louis C.K., not only the lead actor (playing a fictional version of himself) but also the writer and director, explores the significance of cross-generational social ills.  In this case, it is teen entry-level drug use.  But supporting that general theme there are cycles of physical abuse manifested through burnouts and bullies, and adolescent angst reflected upon by an aging, then middle-aged man.  What clicks is the sensitivity of looking back upon school teachers and administrators who seem to really want kids to have opportunities, parents who care, or don’t, the kids, making angry stands against a parent, not because they know they are right but because they don’t and can’t see anyone else who seems right either.  But regardless of intent, there’s an attempt to look back and analyze what was done, what failed, and make stupid best-intention attempts at something that might work better.  The most basic and fundamental quality of the show, particularly across season 4, is a pervasive sense of trying to do better, of breaking out of negative cycles and downward spirals and not taking the “old ways” as a given.  There is a strangely “scientific” quality to it.  But of course, this is still Louie C.K.  So the show makes a funny spectacle of failure.  There is a Whitmanesque celebration of mistakes, which is deftly played off as a crumbling aspect of American society when it appears most strongly in flashbacks.  Thankfully, the weakest aspect of his comedy, the Catholic guilt sex jokes, are kept to a relative minimum this season.  Instead, one of the strongest aspects of his comedy, that of kids and trying to comprehend being a parent, has occupied center stage.  Occasionally that makes the show feel like a present-day counterpart to The Cosby Show.  Louie remains Louie, though.  There is still a fair amount of sentimental flotsam and jetsam.  But a desire for lone individuals to desperately pull off the little things in life in a society where greatness isn’t anything great gives the show some heart that puts Louie ahead of most TV shows with a dramatic element.  No, the show doesn’t tackle big issues.  But at least it deals with interpersonal and family relationships in a way that emphasizes a constant struggle to attempt, err and correct that seems a lot like a precursor to tackling bigger issues.

Scott Walker – Bish Bosch

Bish Bosch

Scott WalkerBish Bosch 4AD CAD3220CD (2012)


The most amazing feat of Scott Walker’s later career has been to have the most unlikely popular audiences receive it so well.  Since Tilt in 1995 his music has adopted experimental, operatic elements that lack the syncopation that is foundational to pop music of the rock era.  The Drift added an increasingly ominous and dark tone to what already was frighteningly unique music.  With Bish Bosch, Walker is flirting again with syncopation, fitfully at times, but with its programmed drum beats and proto-metal electric guitar it provides a more direct link with (fairly) contemporary pop music than anything he’s released in nearly 30 years.  On top of that he’s able to pull together the resources to have orchestration on an album this “out”.  Yet, he still manages to have his sense of humor felt quite directly.  His previous album The Drift had surreal, absurdist lyrics like “I’ll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway” (“Jolson and Jones”) but Bish Bosch goes for a more heady mix of lowbrow phrasings with lyrics like “I’ve severed my reeking gonads/ Fed them to your shrunken face” (“SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter)”).  To pull all these elements together in a way that holds together and finds more than scattered audiences at the fringes is no mean feat, and it’s the mark of a master that Walker has done it, again.  There is definitely a brutality in the world of 2012 and Scott Walker seems to have his finger on that pulse in a way that is as unsettling and uncomfortable as the times themselves.  What Bish Bosch reveals, though, is a sense of hidden value in the grotesque, an affirming quality that with a lot of effort–and with the enormous cast of players here, that’s an understatement–people have the power to reclaim the very foundation of the grotesque and create from it a new context.  It’s quite telling that Walker’s approach means an engagement of the highbrow with the lowbrow, and that a gap between those audiences music be bridged.  Granted, he has not won over all listeners, but in a philosophical sense, he’s re-imagining the meaning and possibilities of the path he sets out upon.  It’s not just a different arrangement of the same old elements, but a bold new system of determining what is real and what is illusion.  That is to say that listening to this sort of music can change how to listen to other things, and change your perception of what you have already heard.  It seems the role of philosopher king suits Scott Walker well in his advancing years.

Lotte Lenya – Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill

Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill

Lotte LenyaLotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill Philips B 07 089 (1955)


Lotte Lenya was, in a word, inimitable.  That voice, so frail yet so unshakable, gave us the definitive interpretations of Kurt Weill‘s music.  Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill was recorded in 1955 as her career saw a revival thanks to a new English-language production of Brecht/Weill’s “Threepenny Opera” by Marc Blitzstein at the Theatre de Lys (co-starring Bea Arthur, Ed Asner and Jerry Stiller).  She recorded in Berlin, returning for the first time in twenty years.  That environment was likely crucial to the record that resulted.  A lot had changed in those years.

First some history.  Germany and Prussia, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, provoked the Great War (World War I) by seeking to enjoy the same economic and political privileges that imperial powers like France and England sought to reserve for themselves.  Germany/Prussia was eventually defeated due primarily to the fact that the United States lent its fiscal and manufacturing support to the side of the Allies — in spite of the Bolshevik Revolution that withdrew Soviet/Russian troops from the ridiculous conflict (not to mention allowed the publication of the secret Allied treaties in Pravda).  That particular war lead to abdication by Wilhelm II in 1918, and later the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.  The treaty has lived in infamy, as it memorialized the old grudges held by England/France against their counterparts with oppressive reparations imposed on the Germans/Prussians.  To the chagrin of the Allies, American boorishness reared its head as the United States refused to treat Allied support as wartime grants not to be repaid (as was long tradition among warring nations) but instead as loans to be repaid (thanks to American intransigence and other factors like inept British negotiation, the terms of the loans worked out after the war were, to say the least, oppressive).  (Read about this in Michael Hudson‘s Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance (New Edition)).  This set the stage for Weimar Germany, the Republic established out of the confusion following Wilhelm II’s abdication that lasted barely more than a decade until the Nazis rose to power in 1933.

Weimar Germany was a strange and unusual thing.  German reparations were so oppressive as to eliminate the possibility of economic recovery.  Moreover, repayment of the outrageous Allied loans was realistically tied to and dependent upon the payment of German reparations — despite self-serving American denials.  In that economically savage context, with recovery impossible, the German people lived a chaotically vibrant but inescapably desperate existence.  The classic novel of the Weimar era, Alfred Döblin‘s Berlin Alexanderplaz: Die Geschichte vom Franz Biberkopf [Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf], portrays the times as well as anything (the relatively lazy can instead watch the 15+ hour adaptation Berlin Alexanderplatz by New German Cinema director Rainer Werner Fassbinder).  Like the novel’s protagonist, good intentions fall prey to grim realities, and crime and prostitution become familiar responses to a life of limited opportunities.  Disgusting Nazi propaganda becomes a repository for misguided resentment and wounded pride, or, in Biberkopf’s case, simple gullibility.

Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya (married to each other twice) rose to prominence in this Weimer era.  Weill was a composer like Erik Satie or George Gershwin, seeking to bridge the gap between popular music and formal, classical composition.  Weill has been frequently compared to Mozart for the direct, lyrical qualities of his music, so simple but with a rich and nuanced depth underneath.

The music of this album comes from a number of Weill efforts: “Die Dreigroschenoper [The Threepenny Opera],” “Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahogonny [The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny],” “Happy End” and “Das Berliner Requiem [Berlin Requiem]” with texts by Bertolt Brecht and “Der Silbersee, Ein Wintermärchen [The Silverlake, A Winter’s Tale]” with texts by Georg Kaiser.  What makes these particular recordings so wonderful is that the music is an honest and grim interpretation of Weill’s music.  When he originally scored “The Threepenny Opera,” he did not use a full orchestra.  Instead, the music was for seven musicians asked to play a total of twenty-three different instruments.  Alex Ross, in The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, writes that “by asking his performers to take on so many roles, Weill guarantees that the playing will have, in place of soulless professional expertise, a scrappy, seat-of-the-pants energy.”  In that, one finds some of the essence of Weimar Germany, just like Franz Biberkopf the working-class protagonist of Berlin Alexanderplatz shifts his career among that of a pimp, necktie clip salesman, shoelace drummer (door-to-door salesman), newspaper barker, burglar.  Biberkopf’s determined but futile individualism has the same spirit as in Weill’s ingenious, street-wise compositions.

These particular recordings, with instrumentation like a ragged banjo and warbling organ on “Moritat vom Mackie Messer [The Ballad of Mack the Knife],” or an out-of-tune piano on “Bilbao-Song,” are true to the original Weill vision.  It is great that Brecht and Weill’s song has become something of a standard, but the slick renditions of Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald and others miss something when the sense of fear and uncertainty is swept away with a very refined pop/jazz arrangement.  These 1955 recordings bring out something in Lenya’s voice too.  Recording amidst a once-grand city ruined by Allied terror campaigns, the sense of grim desperation that so characterized Weimar Germany just below the surface in the 1920s is palpable in her rough-hewn and gently aged voice.  The Great War (WWI) killed untold people, but the civilian infrastructure of Europe was largely untouched.  World War II changed that.  American callousness led the Air Force to switch to terror bombing of civilian targets starting with Berlin, then on to the fire-bombing of Dresden (memorialized in Kurt Vonnegut’s The Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death) and Tokyo, the dropping of napalm on Royan, France (read Howard Zinn, who participated as a bombardier), and culminating with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (later revealed to have been unnecessary in view of a Japanese willingness to surrender, but advanced to try to intimidate Stalin; read Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing The Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, Gal Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb or Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century or even Peter Kuznick) — for their part the other war powers had their own instruments of terror, from the German Paris Gun and V-1 and V-2 rockets to the Japanese explosive devices delivered to mainland North America on balloons carried in the jet stream.  In spite of the Wirtschaftswunder, or German “Economic Miracle” of the post-WWII years made possible by cancellation of German internal debt (and with U.S. aggression in the Korean War serving to bolster the German economy), Berlin was still in visible ruins when Lenya returned (for more context, watch Fassbinder’s Die Ehe der Maria Braun [The Marriage of Maria Braun]).  However, the Berlin Wall, erected by the East to keep out CIA saboteurs (read William Blum Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (Updated Through 2003)), was still six years away.

In such a brutal century, Brecht and Weill’s murderous Macheath, the central character of “Mack the Knife,” seems like a sign of the times.  His knife, so the lyrics tell us, is out of sight, like the airplanes and rockets bringing down fire on civilians, or the economic subterfuge of government reparations and debt that invisibly suppressed the Germans, French and English in the Weimar era.  That is the way of Brecht’s theatrical vision.  Songs like “Alabama-Song” too (with lyrics some allege were co-written by Brecht’s girlfriend Elisabeth Hauptmann) capture pub life (during an era of American Prohibition), with deadpan refrains of “Oh don’t ask why / Oh don’t ask why.”  The words also tell of looking for a dollar, or else they, the singers, “must die.”  The contrast of the merciless themes and the seemingly light, sing-along performance throw light on the odd complexities of modern life.  Times have changed less than it may seem, only the origins of those realities are more concealed than ever.

Later attempts to make music ostensibly like this so often resort to irony.  There is no irony here.  There are contrasts, and dialectical devices, but everything is a direct representation of what is expressed.  This is music like little else.

Elvis on Tour

Elvis on Tour

Elvis on Tour (1972)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directors: Pierre Adidge and Robert Abel

Main Cast: Elvis Presley


An unusual and innovative documentary that chronicles part of Elvis’ 1975 U.S. tour.  It features a “multi-screen” format, with multiple moving images presented simultaneously.  The crew filmed Elvis performing with multiple cameras, and the film frequently presents a given performance from multiple camera angles shown side-by-side, shots of Elvis interspersed with shots of the audience, and clips of similar performances from different shows presented together.  A similar approach was used a few years later in The Longest Yard.  This finds Elvis around the time he was just starting to decline.  He had a successful show in Las Vegas, and had started to take that tour on the road.  He did two shows a night, and the grind of doing a similar show for years on end was taking its toll.  The performances in the film aren’t all great, but there are some good ones — particularly further in.  The filmmakers demanded special access to Elvis, and that results in scenes that show him shuttled to and from shows, harangued by fans, and excerpts from a pre-tour interview.  The filmmakers clearly have no real interest in Elvis’ music, but are looking in on the culture of his fans with a mixture of amusement and condescension.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, because there is no narration or even titles throughout the movie.  Mostly you just see a series of documentary footage clips, though the non-concert footage gravitates toward the craziest fans caught up in a vague cult of personality, without any reference to any discussion of the merits of the music.  What’s interesting is that some of the rehearsal footage shows how much Elvis liked gospel music and how some of the stripped-down rehearsals sounded a bit more interesting that the grandiose treatments on this studio albums and in the live shows.  By 1972, Elvis’ show had settled into a formula, doing mostly the same songs over and over.  He and his band still play them remarkably well, considering.  Yet the more intimate rehearsal performances sometimes reveal something that always seemed obscured on the albums and concerts of the era.

Donny Hathaway – Live

Live

Donny HathawayLive Atco SD 33-386 (1972)


Recorded at two performances, one on each coast (at The Troubadour in Hollywood and The Bitter End in New York City), Donny Hathaway’s Live takes on an intimate small-club feel throughout. The songs recorded on the West Coast would seem to come first. They have a smooth gloss. The songs that seem to come from performance in New York retain more brutal space and gaps. Regardless of where any one song was recorded, the entire collection presents a varied, evocative look at soul music from one of its greatest interpreters.

Donny Hathaway, still in his twenties, was perhaps the most intellectual soul or R&B performer of his day. Well, that may be misleading. He was among the most mature. Depth and clarity are ever-present in his music. The complexity of a song like “Hey Girl”, for example, is of no concern. It is effortless. Simple in its relation to the fervor of feelings sought, lost, held, doubted by practically all of us, the song’s evocation of an uncertain relationship is an experience in itself. That is the near miracle of the album. Every listen makes the present day seem to stretch out forever.

Carole King‘s “You’ve Got a Friend” (popularly recorded by James Taylor) is a transcendent moment. For quite a while, Donny lets the audience carry most—not just some—of the vocals. There is a complete communion between those who began as separate groups of performers and audience. The union happens almost immediately. Hathaway gracefully lays out the first few chords on his electric piano and a cheer immediately rises. Just the first few seconds of that song are enough to restore a sense of purpose in the most lifeless among us. Hathaway’s confidence, poise, determination and generosity are evident.

Another spectacular cover is John Lennon‘s “Jealous Guy”. Whimsical guitar and piano riffs punctuate Donny’s patient vocals. Like all his music, there is a warmth too rarely found elsewhere. Also, Donny shows he can downplay his gospel roots and still succeed in every way.

“Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)” stretches out over four movements, with each lending an opportunity for different musicians to step to the front (like guitarists Mike Howard and Cornell Dupree, and “the baddest bass player in the country” Willie Weeks), each movement also lending to a changing emotional interpretation of the song. Certainly the funkiest number on the album, the extended (thirteen minute) performance highlights what an accomplished soul-jazz combo was at work.

Though plagued by severe depression through much of the coming years, the period when Live was recorded was Donny Hathaway’s creative peak. In his last years, Donny recorded little. His duets with Roberta Flack from the early 1970s–“Where Is the Love?”, etc.–found the most widespread popularity. Still, it will be Donny’s own records that will endure longest.

It would be too much to say this is one of the greatest albums ever made. There are no final greatest masterpieces. Contexts change. Even still, hell, Live is as close to the top of the heap as we’ll ever know.

The Electric Flag – The Electic Flag

The Electric Flag

The Electric FlagThe Electric Flag Columbia CS 9714 (1968)


Lester Bangs lamented that The Electric Flag got buzz in the press when more deserving acts languished in obscurity (in spite of Bangs’ best efforts).  There is just something disingenuous about The Electric Flag.  Yeah, they have a jazzy soul thing going, melded with slightly psychedelic blues rock.  But it seems too crass, just an assemblage of whatever seemed “hip” at the time.  It’s contrived.  These guys would have made a great studio band for somebody else, but on their own they just don’t have any good ideas of their own, just the ability to loosely amalgamate popular styles of the day.  It’s the kind of music they seemed obligated to make, not music that came from any kind of genuine passion or drive outside of rock careerism.  This just clings to forms that already had matured in the hands of others.  But, for what it’s worth, this album beats the seemingly better-known A Long Time Comin’.  Reference The Rascals too.

Traveling These Roads Between Heaven & Hell: Johnny Cash, Singer of Songs

Bitter Tears: Ballads of the Americna Indian

My selections for a “virtual” compilation of music by Johnny Cash, in the spirit of Bob Dylan‘s Biograph.  In other words, this steps out from the usual canon of accepted Cash classics and presents some of the hits together with non-single deep album tracks, live recordings, B-sides, demos, and other overlooked treasures.  Don’t consider this exhaustive.  There are plenty of great Cash recordings not featured here.  The list provides links to single releases, if any, plus the first album releases.

Disc 1:

  1. I Walk the Line” (1956); Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  2. Folsom Prison Blues” (1955); Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  3. “I Was There When It Happened” Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  4. “The Wreck of the Old ’97” Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  5. Hey, Porter!” (1955); Now Here’s Johnny Cash (1961)
  6. Get Rhythm” (1956); Greatest! (1959)
  7. Big River” (1958); Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous (1958)
  8. “Five Minutes to Live” The Man in Black: 1959-’62 (1991)
  9. Guess Things Happen That Way” (1958); Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous (1958)
  10. “The Ways of a Woman in Love” [alternate version] Roads Less Travelled: The Rare and Unissued Sun Recordings (2001)
  11. “Goodnight Irene” Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash (1964)
  12. I Still Miss Someone” (1958); The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
  13. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” Hymns by Johnny Cash (1959)
  14. “Drink to Me” Songs of Our Soil (1959)
  15. “The Great Speckled Bird” Songs of Our Soil (1959)
  16. Seasons of My Heart” (1960); Now, There Was a Song! Memories From the Past (1960)
  17. “Transfusion Blues” Now, There Was a Song! Memories From the Past (1960)
  18. The Rebel – Johnny Yuma” (1961); Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
  19. “In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home” The Sound of Johnny Cash (1962)
  20. A Little at a Time” (1962); Old Golden Throat (1968)
  21. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” (1962); Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
  22. “The Talking Leaves” Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  23. “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow” Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  24. “Custer” Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  25. Ring of Fire” (1963); Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
  26. Understand Your Man” (1964); I Walk the Line (1964)
  27. It Ain’t Me, Babe” (1964); Orange Blossom Special (1965)
  28. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Nashville at Newport (1995)
  29. “Ballad of Ira Hayes” Nashville at Newport (1995)
  30. “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” Orange Blossom Special (1965)

Disc 2:

  1. “Mr. Lonesome” The Sound of Johnny Cash (1962)
  2. “The Road to Kaintuck” Sings the Ballads of the True West (1965)
  3. “Happiness Is You” Happiness Is You (1966)
  4. Johnny Cash & June Carter “Fast Boat to Sydney” Carryin’ On (1967)
  5. Folsom Prison Blues” (1968); At Folsom Prison (1968)
  6. “Dark as the Dungeon” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  7. “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  8. “Jackson” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  9. “I Got Stripes” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  10. “Greystone Chapel” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  11. “Tennessee Flat Top Box” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  12. “Remember the Alamo” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  13. “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  14. “Ring of Fire” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  15. “Darling Companion” At San Quentin (1969)
  16. A Boy Named SueAt San Quentin (1969)
  17. “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley” At San Quentin (1969)
  18. Bob Dylan “Girl From the North Country” Nashville Skyline (1969)
  19. The Folk Singer” (1968); The Bootleg Series Vol. 2: From Memphis to Hollywood (2011)
  20. “Cisco Clifton’s Fillin’ Station” From Sea to Shining Sea (1968)
  21. “Daddy Sang Bass” At Madison Square Garden (2002)
  22. “He Turned the Water Into Wine” The Gospel Music of Johnny Cash (2008) (or version from the February 11, 1970 episode of “The Johnny Cash Show” – not available in album format)
  23. Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970); The Johnny Cash Show (1970)
  24. “Girl From the North Country” (with Joni Mitchell) The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971 (2008)
  25. Flesh and Blood” (1971); I Walk the Line (1970)
  26. See Ruby Fall” (1969); Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970)
  27. “Wanted Man” Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)

Disc 3:

  1. Johnny Cash & June CarterIf I Were a Carpenter” (1969); Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970)
  2. “Orphan of the Road” Man in Black (1971)
  3. Singing in Vietnam Talking Blues” (1971); Man in Black (1971)
  4. You’ve Got a New Light Shining in Your Eyes(1971); Man in Black (1971)
  5. “The Battle of New Orleans” America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song (1972)
  6. Don’t Go Near the Water” (1974); Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  7. “King of the Hill” Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  8. “Southern Comfort” Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  9. My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine and Dandelion Wine)” (1975); John R. Cash (1975)
  10. “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” På Österåker (1973)
  11. Johnny Cash & June Carter “The City of New Orleans” Johnny Cash and His Woman (1973)
  12. Orleans Parish Prison” (1972); Murder (2000)
  13. “Mississippi Sand” A Thing Called Love (1972)
  14. “Nasty Dan” (1974 or ’75); The Stars Come Out on Sesame Street (1979)
  15. Junkie” (1974); The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me (1974)
  16. I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs” (1975); Look at Them Beans (1975)
  17. One Piece at a Time” (1976); One Piece at a Time (1976)
  18. City Jail” (1977); The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)
  19. “Give It Away” The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)
  20. After the Ball” (1978); The Rambler (1977)
  21. “I Don’t Think I Could Take You Back Again” I Would Like to See You Again (1978)
  22. “Without Love” Rockabilly Blues (1980)
  23. “It Ain’t Nothing New Babe” Rockabilly Blues (1980)
  24. “Abner Brown” I Would Like to See You Again (1978)
  25. “Lay Me Down in Dixie” A Believer Sings the Truth (1979)
  26. The Baron” (1981); The Baron (1981)
  27. The Last Gunfighter Ballad” (1977); The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)

Disc 4

  1. “Cindy, I Love You” The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)
  2. “The Lily of the Valley” Personal File (2006)
  3. “No Earthly Good” Personal File (2006)
  4. “It Takes One to Know Me” Personal File (2006)
  5. “Highway Patrolman” Johnny 99 (1983)
  6. “Unwed Fathers” Rainbow (1985)
  7. “The Hobo Song” The Mystery of Life (1991)
  8. “Just the Other Side of Nowhere” Unearthed (2003)
  9. “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” American Recordings (1994)
  10. Delia’s Gone” (1994); American Recordings (1994)
  11. “Bird on a Wire” American Recordings (1994)
  12. “Spiritual” Unchained (1996)
  13. The Highwaymen “Live Forever [acoustic demo version]” The Road Goes On Forever: 10th Anniversary Edition (2005)
  14. “Ghost Riders in the Sky” In Ireland (2009)
  15. “Solitary Man” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  16. “Rowboat” Unchained (1996)
  17. “Memories Are Made of This” Unchained (1996)
  18. “Country Boy” Unchained (1996)
  19. “I’ve Been Everywhere” Unchained (1996)
  20. “Country Trash” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  21. “Field of Diamonds” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  22. “Mary of the Wild Moor” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  23. Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson “Unchained” VH1 Storytellers (1998)
  24. Do LordUnearthed (2003)
  25. I’ll Fly AwayUnearthed (2003)
  26. “Redemption Song” (with Joe Strummer) Unearthed (2003)
  27. “Help Me” American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)

Walt Disney Pictures

Director: Sam Raimi

Main Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff

L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series is often credited as being one of the most important fictional universes to emerge from America, or at least the first important one to break from European traditions of “fairy tales”.  There were many, many books written about Oz, various theatrical productions, and many movies too.  The success of the original printing of the book had as much to do with the format as the actual content.  It was a full color book with text set in a stylized arrangement that interspersed it with illustrations by W.W. Denslow.  Children’s books were not customarily printed so lavishly at the time, but the success of the first Oz book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) turned it into more or less an industry standard.  Critics debated whether Baum’s or Denslow’s contributions were the basis for the book’s success–though most tend to unfairly overlook the publisher George M. Hill Company’s role in arranging the lavish printing.  The credit given to Denslow caused a rift with Baum and the two ceased working together.  Denslow even published separate illustrations related to Oz without Baum’s involvement.  Following the smash success of the first book, Baum teamed up with a theater group and developed a Broadway show that deviated from his writings and played up the latest in theatrical special effects.  He tried later theatrical shows, but without the input of the Broadway team those fizzed.  The earliest movies were silent, and Baum himself made some.  He even developed a touring multi-media show that incorporated some silent films.  Then the 1939 film version starring Judy Garland, though not considered a commercial success at the time, went on to become one of the most iconic and beloved American movies of all time.  Other movies and shows followed, from The Wiz to Return to Oz.  Spinoffs and related books continued to be made.  Baum tried to pursue other work, but the financial rewards of the Oz series always proved too attractive, and he continued to write Oz books even after clear statements that the series was finished.

If you notice a trend in the history of the Oz works it’s that they have been manipulated, contorted and exploited in every possible way, by Baum and others.  There is nothing sacred about the Oz universe.  But an interesting detail is that the biggest successes have be borne out of collaboration, first between Baum, Denslow and the George M. Hill Company, but later with the Broadway show, then with the Victor Fleming, Judy Garland movie with songs by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen.  So there’s a feeling that the entire enterprise is one that sort of invites reinterpretation and tinkering.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is a big-budget “prequel” by Sam Raimi for the Disney company, which recently gave Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland similar digital-effects-laden treatment.  While the Alice movie was a disaster, Oz: The Great and Powerful is actually quite good.

My interpretation of the film Continue reading “Oz: The Great and Powerful”