For Your Listening Pleasure:

Cafe Compendium Recommends


courtesy of The Cafe’s proprietress

updated 9/3/2012

The brain chemistry of music:  why it makes us high

Scientific research agrees with me:  Popular music has declined, measurably, since the 1960s! HA!

On a sadder note:  The heartbreak of pianos ending up in the dump...

Newly on the radar: 

  1. Five Year Mission. Capable nerd rockers who have undertaken to write and record a song for every Kirk-helmed Star Trek episode -- then pair it with a wickedly edited video of the source material. Explore their YouTube Channel. (“Miri” is a favorite.)

  2. Quadruple-threat Rob Schwimmer: powerhouse pianist/ soulful composer/ master thereminist/   audacious explorer of the continuum fingerboard (a key-less synthesizer that gives new meaning to prestidigitation). Intelligent as hell, witty, looney yet grounded, he unleashes the aural equivalent of controlled detonations -- then ascends into heart-piercing grace. His piano improvisations fly through wormholes of tonality that threaten Spector’s hold on the label Wall of Sound, and without benefit of studio effects. Eternal thanks to SNC for sending word up to me from the Gulf Coast.

  3. Bespoke Ukes.  Crack instrumentalists with my kinda audacity (yes, there’s a theme here)-- programming The Theme from Bonanza (with lyrics!), 98.6 (by Keith! Who remembers Keith, besides me and Mr. Bill?!?) and XTC (Senses Working Overtime) in the same set! And real-life pals o’ mine. They actually worked Bobby Goldsboro’s chirpy 60s pop number “Little Things” into one of their East Village Ukulele Rumbles. One measure into the distinctive lead line, I could not hold back laughter. (And some of you know what that  means.)

  4.   Jon Braman Band. Hip-hop ukulele. (Yep, another theme.) Rap meets reggae and gorgeously melodic choruses, with lyrics that invite a double-take and then get you in the gut. Listen to “Fridays & Saturdays” on his site.

  5. Jazzmouth.  Poetry and jazz blend in three days of aural alchemy most Aprils (when the stars and volunteer force align) in Portsmouth, NH (where the Divine Mandrake is now Poet Laureate). Most of the programs have poets reading while a jazz ensemble supplies an off-the-cuff groove that always fits the work and often astonishes. Bonus: A portal to Kathyland exists at The Friendly Toast, which serves green eggs and ham. (Green from basil, and major yum.)

  6. Charm School, Houston-based blues masters soaring on the vocals of the formidable (and Compendium-friendly) Madame Yaya. YaYa reports that they’re working in the studio!

  7.   múm. Enchanting Icelandic band with eclectic instrumentation, so gentle and sweet that a fist fight would be as likely to erupt at one of their concerts as at, say, one of Don Sanders’. Both of which I witnessed. Never got an explanation of what prompted the former, at Poisson Rouge in the Village; the latter erupted (at Houston’s Anderson Fair, one of the finest listening rooms on the planet) when the guy I was dating had the lack of sense to say “Shut the fuck up” to a Chicano man talking to a lady friend while Don was singing...a lullaby. “Not for very much longer” applies to every gerund in that sentence.

  8.   Devotchka. If you saw “Little Miss Sunshine,” you heard this band’s haunting magic.

  9. Pink Martini. Retro-contemporary at its classiest. Not to mention creators of the most disquietly demented take ever on “Que Sera Sera.” a song that has rubbed me the wrong way since a grade school teacher foisted it on us. (Enter the site, click Audio and scroll through to the album Sympathique.)

On my radio these days, internal or satellite:

  1.   Questions 67 & 68, Chicago (originally released when the band had not received the demand to remove Transit Authority from its name). Woke up with this running through my head, and it won’t leave.

  2.   I’ll Never Find Another You, The Seekers. Ditto. Hmmm.

  3.   Vehicle, Ides of March. September means football is back, and for me that means memories of dancing to the music in the stands. (You think I went to games for the, uh, games?) Both my high school and college always won halftime, no matter what was otherwise going on. The Best Dressed Band in the Land was partial to jazz, blues and drum corps antics; the HPHS Highlander Band marched with bagpipes augmenting the power of the horns, who cut loose and rocked out off the field.  Vehicle was one people-mover, Night Train another, here by Louis Prima’s band.

  4.   Unintended, Muse. The chorus fits what a lot of folks are going through...

  5.   Chopin Polonaise No. 6 in A Flat MajorThe ringtone on my first cell phone way back in the last century; when it went off on a crowded NJ Transit bus during rush hour (in those long-gone days when using the phone on the bus was so not okay that passengers bullied abusers into silence), the reaction was, “Ohhhhhhhhhh....that’s nice.”

  6.   She Comes in Colors, Love (and the genius of Arthur Lee). Gawd, I miss psychedelic rock.

  7.    Rock and Roll Woman, Buffalo Springfield. I don’t know where to start. Sigh.

  8.    Do Ya,  original recipe (The Move) and extra crispy (EO, with chainsaw guitar and rock cellos) The Mant points out that Ace Frehley covered the song as well. News to me! Okay...on first listen, I’ll grant it’s got guitar power, but naaaah.....not the urgency of Jeff Lynne’s productions. To cleanse the palate I’ve chosen a 1977 ELO performance on Midnight Special. Ah.....(So why am I thinking  of Pink Floyd and a planetarium?)

  9.    The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen. Strikes me as an incantation, somehow.

  10.    Dancing Barefoot by Patti Smith. Likewise.

  11.    Turn Down Day by The Cyrkle.  The claim is that this was the first US single that used a sitar. (If I’m wrong, one of you guys will no doubt correct me.) Serendipity threw me across the path of The Cyrkle’s bass player Tom Dawes a few years ago, before his unexpected death. Generous not merely as a performer, he gave me the sheet music to “Robert, It Should Have Been You,” a song of postcards from Dorothy Parker to Robert Benchley, from “Talk of the Town,” the musical about the Algonquin wits Dawes wrote with his wife Ginny Redington.  I met them post-performance in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, where the cast was winding down with an impromptu musical salon. That contact alone would have enshrined the evening in memory, but it had heady competition. Intermission had brought the disorienting realization that the music director was someone I’d known a couple of decades earlier in Houston, when he was a Wunderkind graduate student. I remembered him for conducting an orchestra my brother played in, and popularizing sing-a-long Messiahs into outgrowing a 500-seat hall, and, most indelibly, commandeering the piano at a classical music dive bar (sic) called Munchie’s (ditto) to play with his back against the keyboard, a la “Amadeus,” and promptly vanishing. What I didn’t remember was that he’d shared an apartment with Rex Celestis before Rex acquired that title and his status as my personal Capricorn and life commentator.  After the show, I phoned Rex, gave him two guesses who I was standing next to and, when he missed the first one, handed the phone to Mark and withdrew, metaphorical cape billowing in the breeze. (I don’t believe I’ve mentioned yet on this page:  I love my life.)

  12.   I’m Going to Make You Mine by Lou Christie. Some things just can’t be explained.  Well, actually, this one can:  I like his energy (no surprise; he’s an Aquarian); I like his voice; I love that the vocal starts on an ornamentation.

  13.   Rio by Michael Nesmith. Always and forever.

  14.   Lowrider by War.  Someday I’ll master that bass line on uke. Or not.

  15.   Avalon by Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry. (a) It’s hypnotic; (b) that’s where I live, mornings when mists swirl and obscure the surface of the lake at the edge of my yard.

  16.   Peter Alexander’s covers of Help Yourself and Delilah. Pop gets a Schlag of Viennese charm. Schlaf gut, geliebter Mann.


My favorite band in the universe, world without end, amen, is Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks. Singular instrumentation -- electric banjo, saxophone, clarinet, drums and, in its early forms, tuba and harmonium -- and a sardonic, world-weary intelligence distinguish this neo-cabaret minimalist orchestra nonpareil. Little Jack Melody himself has a direct feed to Kurt Weill and a knack, in live performance, for pushing things to the edge of mayhem. The band's cover repertoire includes a sing-along Beethoven's Ninth (auf Deutsch), the definitive interpretation of Petula Clark's "I Know a Place" and a turn on "Send in the Clowns" that gives the song its just desserts.

If this were my planet, these guys would be millionaires. Listen for yourself. (His second and third albums are on Spotify.) Or just take the plunge and treat yourself to LJM's four recordings. There's nary a clunker on any of these:

  1. On the Blank Generation

  2. World of Fireworks

  3. My Charmed Life

  4. Noise and Smoke (live; includes Mr. Melody’s unique, uh, memories in “Is That All There Is?”)

And for those of you who follow such matters....Steve Carter is one of the 200 people on this planet. To his repeated bewilderment.

Other musicians who provided soundtracks, wittingly or not, for LF&T Society adventures:  Christine Lavin, Jonathan Richman (a concert of whose devolved into a demonstration of the Weird Lattice of Coincidence That Overlays All Existence), Beans Barton & the BiPeds, The Banded Geckos (once Houston’s singing lizards, now in Santa Fe), Romanovsky & Phillips, Uncle Bonsai, Malicorne (medieval rock! YES!), John Gorka and the fin de siècle choir of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston. (Raise your hand if you remember that fateful, coital spring.  On second thought ... don’t.)

Longstanding objects of devotion:

  1. The Baltimore Consort. These early music pros really rip things up in concert and no wonder; a couple of these guys are old rock 'n' rollers. (My favorite recording remains "On the Banks of the Helicon.")

  2.   Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy. Yeah, well...

  3.   Bob Dorough. He wrote most of and music-directed “Schoolhouse Rock,” and before that ambled through the jazz scenes in Paris and NYC. Idiosyncratic and delightful and exuding what I heard David Amram rightfully call “ineffable cheer.”  I trek to the Poconos at least once a year to catch his sets, no matter what the songbook (his, Johnny Mercer, American).

  4.   Michael Biehl, guitarist/keyboardist/composer and the elder of my niblings

  5.   Zappa Plays Zappa. Dweezil Zappa is the most technically proficient rock guitarist alive, sez I.  (Before anyone gets up in arms, let me make clear:  Pretty much every other superlative I assign to Jeff Beck.) Kinda weird how he looks more like his dad on every tour, though.

  6. The Monkees. Wanna make something of it? 

Few albums stand up to repeat play, especially when the intervening interval is only as long as it takes to flip the record and re-cue the needle. (Yeah, record; I'm funny that way.  Still have a couple thousand.) These do it for me:

    Armed Forces by Elvis Costello

    Peter Gabriel's Passion (Once had a neighbor phone my landlord over this one.)

    Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads   

    Heart Like a Wheel by Linda Ronstadt. Maybe my favorite singalong album ever. Fills a great portion

        of the drive down I-35 from Dallas to Austin, too (even with a stop in West for kolaches....oooooh,

        now I’m getting homesick...I want my time machine!!!)

    Sally Oldfield's Water Bearer (like her better known brother Mike, she plays just about every

         instrument on an over-populated album). Got me through the Texas bar exam...that and lots of

        time at Barton Springs. And more guys wanting dates than I knew how to handle...

        (Cue Mary Hopkin.) 

Comments? Suggestions? Jokes? Complaints? Talk to me.

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