Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A band that quit at the right time

Let's face it, most bands don't call it quits at the right time. Some drag on endlessly, becoming parodies of themselves (The Rolling Stones.) Some foolishly ignore the departure of their true creative driving force (Genesis.) Others stop abruptly during the peak of their musical outputs due to personal and/or creative differences (Mr. Bungle, the original Jane's Addiction.) And countless others are halted due to death (too many to name.) It is a rare thing that a band stops recording and/or performing at just the right time, when their output is perhaps of just a touch lesser quality than their earlier work, but not so much so as to be embarrassing. Such was the case with fIREHOSE.

After the death of guitarist D Boon ended the post punk band the Minutemen, Ed Crawford (aka Ed fROMOHIO) gathered up bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley to form fIREHOSE. They immediately recorded the superb "Ragin', Full-On" for the SST label. Crawford's sometimes delicate singing and clean guitar playing wove in and around Watt's powerful bass and Hurley's often intricate drumming. The band had the technical facility to wander through different musical styles; sometimes straight rock with a bit of folk tinge, the occasional spanish sounding guitar, and was that a bit of disco I heard in the bass? Upon listening to his album the other day I was amazed at how much it continues to 'wow' me more than fifteen years after I first heard it.

Unfortunately for myself and the sake of this post I do not own "If'n" or "fROMOHIO," the two other albums they recorded for SST. In the early Nineties they were signed to Columbia and released "Flyin' the Flannel." My initial reaction to this album (now, not then) was that it had been recorded in the Post-Nirvana Grunge Craze of '92 when every major label was signing any indie band they could get their hands on. However, upon examining the liner notes I discovered that the album was recorded in January of '91, a full year before the explosion. What seems interesting to me about this is that it points out the fact that "grunge" or whatever you want to call it, was happenning all around in the few years before the mainstream media got ahold of it. Incidentally, I saw them live around this time, and before they played the title track from this album Mike Watt asked the crowd "Who here thinks that flannel was invented in Seattle?" which was met with a hardy "Boo!"

Finally we come to "Mr. Machinery Operator" which was produced by J Mascis. By this time, grunge was everywhere and the unique sound they had in the beginning is starting to melt into the soup of the times. Watt sounds more like Les Claypool and/or Flea, Crawford sounds more like any number of guitarists from that time, and the presence of Mascis obviously gives the whole thing a bit of a Dinosaur Jr. feel. However, the songwriting is still very good throughout. One track in particular that struck me was "Hell-Hole" which features a guest female vocalist and a sax player. While not necessarily the best song on the album, it pointed towads a direction the band could have taken had they stayed together. However, this was to be their last album, and it turned out to be a good place to stop. While it lacks the unique sound of their early work, it remains a solid effort that is far from being an embarrassment to the good name of fIREHOSE.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Let's try this again

So apparently, my answer to "How much time ya got?" is "Not enough to maintain a blog." I think I got a bit daunted by trying to choose from the hundreds of discs I had already listened to. So I am now going to take a slightly different approach. Starting today I will try to post once a week and I will randomly discuss one or more of the albums I've listened to within the last week. So, without further ado...

Fantasia Soundtrack. In the last few months I've been listening to more classical music than ever, so this was interesting to hear again. This two disc set was one of the first classical recordings I ever bought. Rite of Spring, for me, was a very early "Wow, I didn't know music could sound like that!" moment. I still enjoyed that piece, but my increased knowledge has diminished the "Wow" factor. At least a dozen works spring (no pun intended) to mind that can floor me to a degree that the Stravinsky no longer can. Bach's Toccatta & Fugue in D Minor has always been a favorite of mine. Now, I'm no purist about Bach being played on certain instruments. Hell, I practically wet myself when Apollo Sunshine played a synth-rock version of a Bach tune. However, listening to this fully orchestrated version made me think that this piece really should be played on organ as it was intended. Unfortunately for Dukas, the Sorcerer's Apprentice is so tied to those images of Mickey Mouse that it's impossible to consider the music on its own terms. Similarly, Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours is so tied to Allen Sherman's "Hello Mudduh, Hello, Fadduh, Here I am at, Camp Grenada" that I can't help but sing that as the tune plays. I've never particularly cared for Ave Maria (a bit too over played in my opinion) and I've always hated the Nutcracker so that part was painful. Hearing Beethoven's 6th made me want to listen to more Beethoven, although that particular symphony doesn't really do much for me. And finally, the piece that I'd say surprised me the most was Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. This was always one of my favorites in the set, and I was surprised at how much I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I need to explore the Russians a bit more.