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Benjamin W. Smith (Maplewood, NJ United States)

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Real Gone
Real Gone
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £7.49

14 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Middling Effort by Waits, 23 Oct. 2004
This review is from: Real Gone (Audio CD)
Tom Waits works diligently and seriously at creating aural atmospheres and settings for his music. While Waits deals in oft-mentioned skid row characters, freak shows, broken junkyard imagery, and although he's lived some of this, he's more the creator of artistic empathy through a definite, developed and at times experimental style, relaying feelings on fictional, but quite often real characters, towns, situations. Mule Variation's Georgia Lee was a real person (Georgia Lee Moses), Poor Edward, a real person (Edward Mordrake), the human oddities he barks out in Black Rider, real people; folks like Chuck E. Weiss, Uncle Vernon are real people, the town with no cheer is a real town in Australia, the Reperbahn is in Germany. Storyteller, conveyer, and very accomplished artistic musician, Waits is well-read and well traveled and has absorbed many different influences, musical, nonmusical, and extramusical.
In Real Gone, when Tom sings "Don't Go Into That Barn", it is a paraphrase from Isaac Lang Jr., a warning from his elders to the neighborhood kids. And this barn is in Kentucky, a hidden slave barn. Tom, very deftly, tells the story of this horrible place, and the aural settings and mood and voices he uses, there are two character voices in this song, are the means to the sentiment expressed.
Real Gone is the Gospel, Funk, Country/Blues Waits, with the exception of Circus, in the aesthetic of Bone Machine and Mule Variations. There's some funk elements, a lot of blues progressions, preacher-like spiritual versus, and features lots of lead guitar work of Marc Ribot. There's some distortion, but on many tracks, noisier than previous records. Yes, there is Waits using his voice as beatboxes and there are turntables, all adapted to a Waits mode, and more elements of means to his chosen atmospheres. There are political songs and sentiments expressed in Hoist That Rag, Sins of the Father, and especially Day after Tomorrow, that are more direct than previous songs. Religious questioning of whose side God really is on and if he intervenes or is indifferent in people's lives, and biblical references are throughout many lyrics. Songs from voices from the dead or about the dead are in the form of Green Grass and Dead and Lovely.
Too much is made of Tom's vocal characteristic (gruff voice) and not enough made of his accomplished style of singing. Tom is a superb singer. He has range that most singers don't have. And that range isn't low to high notes. It is a range of characters with their own personal inflections, pacing and phrasing, vocal qualities, involvement and detachment to their stories, that bring out his strong lyrics. And in this way, he's a very unique talent.
Musically, Shake It, with its shifting to double time is interesting. I like the tempo changes from 5/4 to 4/4 in Trampled Rose, one of the Latinish rhythmic numbers and that it often goes to 5/4 at the end of a phrase. Don't Go Into That Barn's evocation of slavery and plantation blues is effective, so these would be my standouts for this CD.
In terms of aural atmosphere, power of musical ballads, I feel Rain Gone falls short of previous Waits efforts. I miss the piano, I miss some timbres like the signature percussion sounds of previous recordings, I miss horns, I miss interweaving lines, and I miss a sense of aural ambiance that goes beyond distressed noise and overdubbed vocal tracks (in Shake It and Top of the Hill the lyrics are almost indecipherable--not a good thing for Waits). The album sounds conventional in some ways. I don't hear any ballads that have the same depth and impact of Mule's Georgia Lee, Picture in a Frame, no disturbing bell sounds that make Black Market Baby rather eerie, and I think the rawness of Filipino Box Spring Hog isn't matched on any cut of Real Gone. I also think Tom could have done more with the human beatbox or have added more and less predictable human outcries to add his usual poignancy to the musical content. There's a dimension missing here. An effective moment is when Tom whistles in Green Grass because it adds a sweet timbre and sensibility. It is just that sweet timbre that is juxtaposed to the spareness that makes the music more frightening and emotionally piercing and there aren't enough moments of this. With Tom going with rhythm and blues, and especially plantation Delta blues, I'd like a more acoustic biting sound, and the banjo more up front and maybe some accordion and especially harmonica. And why not a clanky keyboard of some sort? I'd like him to do more overdubbed background vocals (we only hear a little on How's It Gonna End in the bridge). Bone Machine also had more bite and drive to me, Earth Died Screaming, Such a Scream, lots of drive, and the tender ballads have more poignancy. For me, as nice a song as Dead and Lovely is, it doesn't touch Whistle Down the Wind, the voice is more detached, distorted. And why Circus? It doesn't belong on this album. The spoken Ocean Doesn't Want Me musically, "atmospherely" fit on Bone Machine. What's He Building fits in this way on Mule. But this recording isn't carnival, Weill-esque. This sounds like it belongs on Black Rider or Blood Money, but not this album. On many of the tracks it sounds like Tom is jamming as opposed to carefully crafting his music aesthetic.
I'll say, OK to good. No where near a masterpiece. The album exhibits well enough Tom's storytelling and strong lyric sense (although in the latter not his best lyrics), but falls short of his best songwriting abilities, effective use of contrasts, range of vocal characters, and creation of captivating, disquieting aural atmospheres.
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Papyrus: VOLUME 1
Papyrus: VOLUME 1
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £19.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music of kindred souls, 18 Jun. 2004
This review is from: Papyrus: VOLUME 1 (Audio CD)
The music is multidimensional. As a musician I'm aware of structure and multilevel development in the unfolding of the musical content. I'm feeling the experience of the two masters while being challenged and stimulated cerebrally.
The process of the freed improviser is carrying out from the musical impetus, be it motivic, sonorous, gestural, energy, extramusical, or other. Whatever that impetus may be the freed improviser becomes the channel for its course. I experience the first presented piano piece as motivic, dynamic, cerebrally clear and feeling very much like a composition, with a hint of searching within the phrasing, for just that dynamic, tone or combinations of tones, fragment of something previously stated that may include a silence or sounds that have included silences, a place in a musical range, a dynamic and situations around dynamics, an under or overcurrent of energy, use of layers to the foreground and midgrounds containing threads of the musical impetus that produces the strongest impact. This means is active for the duration of the recording.
The tools of the craft are identifiable to those familiar with Dixon and Oxley. Bill's trumpet's motivic and melodic approach is expressed through carefully phrased lines and extended technique including toneless air through the horn; pitched and nonpitched tuneful or expressive vocal sounds including grunts, moans, pinched sounds and others (particularly in tracks 3 and 9); extended range pedal tones; also judicious use of reverb and echo. Oxley employs varying duration crescendo and decrescendo, space, and splashes of sounds as some of his musical tools in an uncluttered approach to full percussion playing. It is the context of the emotion, the feel of the session, the sense of being tuned in and receptive, this product of the musical sensibilities that defines Papyrus, two musicians as a duo and with the use of overdubbing, trio, and the richness produced within an ostensible economy of means. Tracks 1, 6, 8, and 12 are piano solos; tracks 2-5, 9-11 are trumpet, percussion duets, and track 3 and 9 has extended areas of solo trumpet; track 7 has Bill overdubbing trumpet and/or piano with Oxley on percussion. Percussion appears as a voice, at various times providing rhythm, colors, punctuation, points of drama in the form of a variety of sonorities, dynamics, and timbre integral to the musical moments. Technique is on display in full, not only or necessarily in the sense of virtuosity, but also in the sense of matching sounds desired to the physical technique to produce them. Emotion is wide ranging, I sense controlled, contained emotion with moments of bursting through or giving in. This setting provides Dixon's deeply personal style of improvisation/composition a powerful immediacy to the receptive listener.
Dimensions in musical moments that follow are relationships heard, not thought processes or set form, but the results of musical relationships from its creators' sensitive listening and responding.
Some unfolding structures I'd like to give mention to are: the melodic treatment and development in track 10 which, from beginning to around 4:58 contains a percussion rhythm with the trumpet melody stated and repeated in whole and in fragments that peaks on a tone via way of a scale-like figure, various percussion lines played off and on keeps the rhythm's sense. The melody slowly grows more sustained over a longer period of time and at around 5:40 the scale like figure part of it grows in pitch, dynamic, and expressive articulation range. It culminates at around 6:30 where the scale like figure is a declaration that bursts through its previously set boundaries as a most emphatic dynamic that ends the track.
Activity is in the form of track 11, which has the most consistent and strongest production of sound from the percussion, the trumpet phrasing is spaced in the manner of previous tracks yet an underlying energy is produced by the continuous sound and activity of drums. Careful listening reveals that the drums are playing an indefinite pitch pattern that the trumpet line initially plays in a similar contour.
Track 7 is an example of layered sonorous dimensions. It's a trio in the sense of three instruments are played, at times simultaneously employed by overdubbing, and strikes me as a dedication. Piano as elegiac, in the foreground, harmonies almost "tonal" with progressions. Trumpet plays counter lines at times in its own elegiac manner, at places their tones and sensibilities meet, as if they were listening and playing off of each other. Two structural pillars are in places the piano sounds low repeated tones, after which expressive trumpet lines are played. The other is two areas of a jaunting sharp piano rhythm that is picked up by the trumpet. Keen interplay is displayed at moments where the piano sounds repeated low tones and is sounded by the drums moments later, and when the trumpet sounds rumbling pedal tones and echoed screeched higher tones, these are echoed by the rumbling of drums a few times. Echoing is one of the sonorous dimensions present where the trumpet sprays flurries of sounds in its own space at certain moments.
The "realized" structures mentioned point to some of the coherence of this art. Repeated listenings reveal a lucid music displaying musicians intuitively expressing the possibilities of the range and realm of their musical encounter.

Price: £7.95

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alice, art of the lost, 11 Jun. 2002
This review is from: Alice (Audio CD)
Alice subject matter is dreams, nightmares, and stated disillusionment, also visited in Frank's Wild Years. In Alice, a certain resignation is present in Tom's vocal delivery to a particular predicament in life, regardless of how hard the music's/story's characters try to change. At times, Tom struggles with hitting lower and higher notes, his voice in this range turns whispery and thin. The music favors strings and a few of Tom's choice of circus instruments that include pump organ, Stroh violin (violin with horn attachment), and train whistles. Present also are Tom's recurring among his recent body of works references to bones, death, trains and emotional attachment to them in his lyrics, and the use of distortion and distress in the recording techniques. What stands out about Alice is the instrumentation and the role of the instruments. Often they do not merely accompany, but play lines, gestures, and sounds that create atmospheres and often create a feeling of the lost, both tangible as in a mist or fog, and in the less well defined emotional sense.
I'll state, unequivocally, that I find Alice to be one of Tom's best recordings to date. Much of Alice is in slow tempi that I find languid, introspective, deeply felt, lyrics clever and poignant, melodies absolutely compelling, and musical treatments deeply moving. The two up-tempo songs are Komienezuspadt, an oom pah groove with Tom singing in German mixing jazz and German parlor song and Table Top Joe who is a lounge singer with only two hands and no body who claims he makes it big sung in Tom's jivey New Orleans style voice complete with scatting at the end. Some of my picks for standouts are:
Poor Edward: Stroh violin introduces the song. Edward may be the saddest character of any I'm familiar with. He's permanently attached and has to live with, die from, and ultimately be with a hated entity through eternity. Star Trek had a character that had to fight against his likeness through eternity to keep two universes from being destroyed. Edward's fate, however, is worse as the Star Trek character had a cause. For Edward, only predicament. Stroh violin very prominent, tempo slow and rather plodding, Tom struggles with low notes in the beginning of the song. After telling the sad fate of Edward the Stroh violin recalls Edward's melody like a haunting aftermath.
Lost in the Harbour: Truly. Slow tempo-- the instruments lines and harmonies provide distortion to the melody throughout. Tom's voice is rather lost in the instrumentation, the melody haunting. Pump organ, Stroh violin prominent and no percussion. Two interludes of some of Tom's most moving, spooky lost music, seem to represent lost souls in the harbour; dream within the dream interludes. Tom describes people crying inside, hiding their tears, afraid of themselves, and that he'll join them, he'll be ready soon.
Barcarole: waltz/lullaby, slow tempo-- Tom's voice croons, confessing his feelings for Alice. After the verse a rather eerie atmosphere shift occurs in the form of an interlude and a saxophone plays a jazz solo plays while the piano continues to play the song. The song goes into another harmonic place when Tom says '' and the branches spell Alice and I belong to you'' before coming back home.
I also love Fish and Bird for its touching story of how a fish loves a bird and though they can not live in each other's environments, they'll have to live in each other hearts.

Matthew Shipp's New Orbit
Matthew Shipp's New Orbit
Price: £19.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revolving around the theme, 11 Jun. 2002
I think, suite, when I hear this recording. I think melodic, I hear a mode. Suite, because the minorish melody and harmony played by Shipp solo piano returns, recurs, in the form of New Orbit, and the numbered Orbits. Bassist Parker, plays the theme in a rapidly-bowed fashion in orbit 3 and improvises around it. Melodies are very clearly stated, this work, for the most part is not a cacophonous aesthetic. I hear dimension, something that's part of most of Shipp's musical output, chords in the low register provide the aural landscape for Wadada Leo Smith's explorations, which always keep the original thematic statement in mind. And the themes are like an orbit as they favor to revolve around the pitch, a.
It's organic too, there's a seamless quality to the introduction of the improvisations, solo and ensemble. At least up to U Feature, which is more in the free-jazz idiom, but medium blowing, and not cacophonic, and not of a long duration. The revolving exploration returns with Syntax, a variation of Orbit, piano introduction introduces a figure that will repeat and could feel hypnotic to some, as Smith improvises around the figure.
The suite ends much like it began, with the familiar piano solo stating the theme.
Accessible, relaxing, music from Shipp, Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker and Gerald Cleaver.

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