The Vinyl Records: Scott Cossu, Switchback

Artist: Scott Cossu
Album: Switchback
Label: Windham Hill Records
Year: 1989
Cat.: WH 91081

Someone here in the Ottawa area collected a bunch of Windham Hill records over the years, and at some point started feeding them into the thrift store ecosystem. I decided, based mostly on graphic design, that I really liked the Windham Hill label. I was even really into one of their star artists before I knew that the label existed. That artist was Michael Hedges, who died too young but like so many other too-young-dying artists left a legacy of beautiful art for us to remember him by.

But I’m not writing about Michael Hedges right now. Maybe someday I’ll get around to reviewing his album Watching My Life Go By, upon which was some guitar styling that rocked my high-school guitar-school drop-out mind. No, I’m reviewing a label-mate of Michael Hedges, a piano playing new-age musician named Scott Cossu. I picked up two of his records at the same time from the Goodwill on Montreal Road in Vanier. Switchback came complete with wax droplets hardened on the cover.

This is music for elevators. I would say it’s music for elevators “at its best” except that it probably isn’t. The best music for elevators appears on Brian Eno’s lesser-known volume in his Ambient series, titled “Ambient 5: Music for Elevators.” (If only that album existed – it would be amazing.)

If Switchback was playing while I was on hold for Bell Customer Service, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Let’s look at the songs, shall we? One song has a title that evokes the olden days (“Country Faire”). Another has a decidedly more modern title (“Manhattan Underground”). The former is peaceful, while the latter is frenetic. “A Child’s Eyes (Jenny’s Song)” has a nice melody doubled by piano and cello (played by Eugene Friesen, a definitely skilled and seemingly ubiquitous cellist on the Windham Hill label).

Windham Hill is at its best when its also at its new-agiest. I’m thinking of a track like Mark Isham’s “On the Threshold of Liberty” which I heard on the Windham Hill 1984 Sampler. Or anything by Hedges. Likewise, the best tracks on Cossu’s album are the ones that take a chill pill and keep the dial below 3. “Last Snow” for example. The up-beat “cool jazz” stuff is just not working for me.

But then, when I’m shopping for 99¢ LP’s at the local thrifts, I’m not going to stop and wonder if a particular record on my favorite label is worth purchasing. I’m just gonna pull out the loonie and buy it.

I’m just afraid that I’ve purchased all the one-dollar WH records that the unknown donor has dropped into the bin… and it’s going to be $7 at the Turning Point from here on in. Worth It.

A luddite defends pitch correction

Here’s the thing: I’ve got this great electric chord organ down in the basement, and with the right arrangement it sounds awesome on recordings. Except for the fact that it’s about a 1/4 tone sharp from A440.  So… what’s a poor boy to do?  Tonight I was recording multiple layers of electric guitar into this kind of wall of sound thing, and decided that the organ was just the thing. Except that it isn’t if I just use it “as is” – so, the only real solution is to use a pitch shifting tool on the track after its recorded.

This works great, except for the one main drawback: I have to record the track in all its out-of-tune awfulness… but if I can grit my teeth and power through, true beauty can be created. Through the Wonders of Technology.

The Vinyl Records: Arlo Guthrie/Pete Seeger, Precious Friend

Artist: Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, with Shenandoah
Album: Precious Friend
Label: Warner Bros. Records, Inc.
Year: ca. 1982
Cat.: 2BSK 3644

Back when I was a young lad of… I’d say around 8… I had two tapes that I listened to on stay-home-sick days. At least, I remember it happening as a regular thing (as in, as regularly as I was home sick). The first tape was the soundtrack to Local Hero, which I have to say is a really good album by Mark Knopfler (and a great movie in general). The second was a dubbed version of Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie singing together in some kind of concert setting.

This album, titled Precious Friend, was evocative to my young impressionable imagination. When Guthrie invites the crowd to join him on stage and everyone cheers, I imagine them all getting up and actually fitting under the tent. Or whatever sort of stage set-up is involved in this concert. When Seeger sings about compost (“In dead earnest”) my mind was blown. In fact, I might trace my current job as an organic agronomist to that song’s lyrics. Guthrie’s ruminations on the “un-neutron bomb” were hilarious in a vaguely pre-pubescent sort of way.

So, to my surprise a copy of this double LP appeared at my local record store and I snapped it up right away. Took a listen to it this morning, and here is what I have to report:

  1. Arlo Guthrie is better when he’s yakking between tunes than when he’s actually playing the songs – especially when it’s a sort of rag-timey kind of instrumental number using an electrical honkey-tonk piano.
  2. Pete Seeger can just about do no wrong.
  3. Old Time Religion is a funny song when it’s about all the “old time religions” other than the one we all think of when it comes to Spiritual music.

The thing has stood up to the test of time. I enjoyed it now as much (I think) as I enjoyed it as a child. Good job Arlo and Pete!