Tuesday, June 19, 2018

44/876 (2018), by Sting and Shaggy

This is more like it! This is the Sting we all know and love!

The 2016 back-to-basics guitar rocker 57th & 9th was a decent comeback for the veteran pop star, but where that album is merely good, the new release is great! 57th & 9th is fine, but 44/876 is fantastic!

In an unlikely but very agreeable collaboration that turns out to be his most enjoyable to date, the Englishman in New York (among other places) teams up with Jamaican superstar singer Shaggy for a collection of reggae-infused pop gems that are infectious, invigorating, and irresistible.

44/876 has been likened to Sting's experiments with reggae in The Police (“One World (Not Three)” comes to my mind), but overall the album is more similar to Sting's solo reggae excursions, most notably classic songs like “Love Is the Seventh Wave” and “History Will Teach Us Nothing.”

The album has also been described as a party record. Yes, the tone is definitely upbeat. But make no mistake – in many cases, the buoyant nature of the music belies the brooding ruminations of the lyrics. Sting is the King of Pain, after all – especially of wrapping pain up in sweet little pop packages.

Standout songs such as “Just One Lifetime,” “Dreaming of the U.S.A.,” and “If You Can't Find Love” prove that, at 66 years of age, Sting is back in top form and at his classic best.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Allan Holdsworth Playlists

Sunday, April 15, 2018, marks one year since the world lost pioneering fusion guitar legend Allan Holdsworth. He was 70 years old. In honor of the late great musician, I share my personal playlists culled from his immense works and arranged by theme.

Endomorph (Songs Featuring Various Singers)

The Things You See * White Line * Was There? * Material Real * Metal Fatigue * Panic Station * In the Mystery * Secrets * Endomorph * Against the Clock

Mr. Berwell in the Mystery (Best Overall Including Instrumentals and Vocal Songs)

Three Sheets to the Wind * Metal Fatigue * Panic Station * In the Mystery * The Dominant Plague * Atavachron * Looking Glass * Mr. Berwell * Endomorph * Prelude

No Zones (Then! Live Album without “Zones” Improvisations)

Proto-Cosmos * White Line * Atavachron * Pud Wud * House of Mirrors * Non-Brewed Condiment * Funnels

The Un-Merry Go Round (New Age)

The Un-Merry Go Round * Distance vs. Desire * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 4) * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 5) * Prelude * Above and Below * Above and Below (Reprise) * Material Unreal * Curves * Don’t You Know

Tokyo Dream I (Hard Fusion)

Three Sheets to the Wind * Tokyo Dream * Non-Brewed Condiment * The Dominant Plague * Atavachron * Looking Glass * Mr. Berwell * City Nights * Peril Premonition * Hard Hat Area

Tokyo Dream II (Soft Fusion)

Home * Funnels * Joshua * Sphere of Innocence * Zarabeth * Questions * Tokyo Dream * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 4) * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 5) * Prelude

--Raj Manoharan

Heavy Machinery (1997), by Anders Johansson, Jens Johansson, and Allan Holdsworth

While this is not an official Allan Holdsworth “solo” album and Holdsworth receives third billing on the cover, this is simply and absolutely one of Holdsworth’s best records, period.

The primary producers and composers are drummer Anders Johansson and keyboardist Jens Johansson, but Holdsworth features throughout in all his pure, unadulterated electric guitar glory.

The Johanssons lay down some hip grooves and rhythms, setting Holdsworth up to do his thing as only he can, with the Johanssons keeping pace with him every step of the way.

Holdsworth is especially inspired, working with two of the best musicians he has ever worked with. The result is an exciting thrill ride for the ears.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, March 31, 2018

RajMan Recommended Playlist: Summers Singers, by Andy Summers

This playlist features my favorite collaborations between Andy Summers and various singers, including Najma Akhtar, Sting, Deborah Harry, Q-Tip, Fernanda Takai, and Rob Giles. The tracks are taken from the following albums: The Golden Wire (1989), Green Chimneys (1999), Peggy’s Blue Skylight (2000), Fundamental (2012), and Circus Hero by Circa Zero (2014).

Piya Tose * Round Midnight * Weird Nightmare * Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Where Can a Man Find Peace? * No Mesmo Lugar (Here I Am Again) * You Light My Dark * Smile and Blue Sky Me * Underground * Gamma Ray * Whenever You Hear the Rain

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan Recommended Playlist: Metal Luminescence, by Andy Summers

This playlist combines my top five picks from each of Andy Summers’ last two albums, Metal Dog (2015) and Triboluminescence (2017), for an intriguing exploration of dark, eclectic fusion.

Metal Dog * Animal Chatter * Ishango Bone * Vortex Street * Harmonograph * If Anything * Elephant Bird * Gigantopithecus * Ricochet * Help from Jupiter

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Blues for Tony (2010), by Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip, and Chad Wackerman

The last album released during Allan Holdsworth’s lifetime with his name on the cover documents the fusion guitar master and his frequent collaborator, keyboardist Alan Pasqua, in a live 2007 tribute to their 1970s bandleader, the late, legendary jazz drummer Tony Williams.

The dueling tones of Holdsworth’s six strings and Pasqua’s 88 keys are sometimes nearly indistinguishable as they take alternately fiery and facile turns, with Yellow Jackets bass player Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wackerman keeping the rhythms and beats grooving along while also showing off their musical might.

The last three tracks of the two-CD set – “San Michele,” “Protocosmos,” and “Red Alert” – propel the album towards a powerful, impactful conclusion.

And so, with the final official recording of his life, Holdsworth ends on a high note.

--Raj Manoharan

The Things You See (1980, 2007), by Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck

Unlike their luminescent and timeless sequel eight years later, Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck’s first collaborative album finds them more down to earth and at odds with each other.

Holdsworth, in his pre-synthaxe period, sticks to acoustic and electric guitars, violin, and, for the first time since his ‘Igginbottom days, vocals (on one track), and Beck handles the keys on acoustic and electric pianos.

Whereas on the follow-up the duo is very much in harmonious sync, this debut outing has them trading off passages in counterpoint to each other, almost like a cat-and-mouse game of musical oneupmanship, an artistic conversation of which we are mere observers rather than partakers.

From that intellectual vantage point, this album provides fascinating insight into each musician’s mastery of his instrument, but the real harvest of their creative partnership would come into full bloom nearly a decade later.

--Raj Manoharan