Friday, May 21, 2010

Sun Ra
College Tour Vol. 1
The Complete Nothing Is...
ESP Disk
Double CD/Download

Recorded during a New York college tour during 1966, Sun Ra's Nothing Is was originally released on the ESP Disk label as a 39 minute album, edited down from the various live recordings at five different colleges. Now, 44 years later, with the help of Sun Ra archivist Michael D. Anderson, ESP has uncovered and released a full 70 minute set from the performance at St. Lawrence University, along with audio from a second set that same evening, all packaged on a double disc.

Sun Ra fans should be delighted in this one, as it is not a simple reissue of the original release, but an exploration into the full set that Sun Ra and his Arkestra played on this outing. Plus, the sound quality is better than expected, certainly not perfect, but not quite as spotty as some of the reissues of this material have been.

As Nothing Is is one of Sun Ra's more well-known releases, it is certainly interesting to see it in a new light, giving us a new perspective on one of jazz's most controversial figures during the height of his career. While there's not a lot of surprises here, it does give us the chance to hear the complete set as originally intended.

MISH MASH Mandate: Sunrise
Sun Ra @ ESP Disk

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio


Has there ever been a voice more metal than that of Ronnie James Dio? I had not thought of him in years until he passed away yesterday, and the memories of middle school metal angst came rushing back. Dio's act revolved around wizards and warlocks, demons and beasts, dungeons and dragons, living out the Middle Earth fantasies of every schoolboy with his mythical storytelling rock. On the surface, it looked evil and devilish, surely putting a scare into parents everywhere, but looking back it seems so tame and storybookish, like the tales of King Arthur and Camelot brought to life in power chords and bombastic rhythms.

Yes, it was silly and somewhat cheesy, as most 70s and 80s-era metal was, but Dio had the commanding voice to back it up. His work was always somewhat under the radar --- he never became the superstar of hair metal, mainly because he kept his sound kind of dark and he never strayed far from the mystique of myth and magic. He wasn't pretty, he didn't write radio-ready hits, and his videos tried too hard to live up to the fear factor. But, the metal-heads knew him and loved him, and embraced his gothic persona and legend. Rest in peace, Ronnie James Dio, you will be missed.

MISH MASH Mandate: End Of The Rainbow
Ronnie James Dio Website

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sandra McCracken
In Feast Or Fallow
Mixtus Media
15 song CD

Singer/songwriter Sandra McCracken has brought together the old with the new, all with a spiritually uplifting message, in her new album In Feast Or Fallow. McCracken's mission was to combine old Christian hymns with newly written ones, in an effort to cross over the years and bring them new life. Her sound is rooted in folk rock, wrapped in a smart pop sensibility that helps the songs flow with a certain catchiness. The production is perfect --- a simple and clean sound that isn't slick, obtrusive or overbearing, allowing McCracken to let her voice carry the music.

Many modern Christian songs are pointedly designed as "choruses", with the intention of them being sung by a group of people. While some of McCracken's tunes could fall into this category, most of them have a solitary feel that turn away from this chorus-style of songwriting. The result is more personal, more introspective. These are haunting hymns that reflect the one-on-one spiritual relationship, and McCracken does a beautiful job of making them seem heartfelt and genuine.

MISH MASH Mandate: Spirit In The Sky
Sandra McCracken Website