In March 2016 Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, guitars in hand, boarded a Los Angeles-bound train at Chicago’s Union Station looking to reconnect with the culture of American railroad travel and the music it inspired. Winding along 2,728 miles of track over four days, the pair recorded classic railroad songs in waiting rooms and at trackside while the train paused to pick up passengers.
What you have here is a well-performed sampling of music from England in the early 16th century. Because of the way the program is organized, the listener's mind may try to organize it into something more coherent than that, but it may not succeed. The centerpiece is the Western Wind Mass of John Taverner, which is broken up with secular pieces and then followed by music that might have been heard at the court of Henry VIII.
At last, a re-issue of the 1963 recording of Cowell playing several of his piano works in his casual style, so that the listener regards the unusual sounds and techniques as completely natural within the context of each piece's imagery. A recording of the complete piano works is definitely needed, but this CD, with Cowell's spoken commentary at the end, is a precious thing to have at the moment.
Not only did this album help pave the way for progressive rock, but it also introduced the unbridled energy and overall effectiveness of the synthesizer as a bona fide instrument. Six Wives gave Wakeman his chance to break away from the other instrumental complexities that made up Yes and allowed him to prove what a driving force the keyboard could truly be, especially in full album form…
Canned Heat's 1978 release, Human Condition, was an important one in the band's overall discography, as it was the last studio effort to feature original singer Bob Hite fronting the band (Hite would pass away in 1981). In 2006, the album was expanded with a pair of live tracks from 1985 and retitled Human Condition Revisited, and was packaged as a double disc that also featured the overlooked 1981 solo effort by Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine, I Used to Be Mad! (But Now I'm Half Crazy).
You may remember a film from the early 1970s called Henry VIII & his Six Wives, starring Keith Mitchell, Donald Pleasance, and Charlotte Rampling; it was notable for its score, which not only featured authentic music of the period (nearly unheard-of at the time), but also was, according to David Munrow, “the first historical film in which the music has been scored entirely for historical instruments.” Munrow also added a few numbers of his own to satisfy the needs of the movie, patterned after 16th-century style and form. Although these days such attention to authenticity is common, even expected, Munrow was one of the pioneers in bringing musicological research and the more immediate practicalities of really old, original instruments and stylistic practice to the level of popular culture. Of course, also in these early days was planted the impression that period instruments must necessarily be somewhat clunky and (to varying degrees) not quite ideally in tune–and in some cases, just plain annoyingly squawky and prone to obnoxious buzzing noises. While this generally fine issue from Testament offers many reminders of those times, when musicians were still finding their way in unfamiliar territory (and often using very user-unfriendly instruments), this release will prove mostly a delight for early music fans–and will be a real treat for those who own the original LPs from which these tracks were drawn.
The violin concertos of Belgian-born composer/virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps have been recorded by various players, including the young Russian-American virtuoso Misha Keylin heard here. But these shorter pieces, which would have been the stock-in-trade of Vieuxtemps' active touring life (during one American tour he made 121 appearances in six months, without benefit of planes, automobiles, or in many cases trains), are a good deal rarer. They don't have the main virtue of the concertos, which is that there's a certain amount of structural interest to go with the Paganini-like fireworks, but they're a great deal of fun.