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Listed: The Free Design + Paul Duncan

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Dusted Features

Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: The Free Design and Paul Duncan.

Listed: The Free Design + Paul Duncan

The Free Design

File under: don't call it a comeback. While they are experiencing a minor revival, thanks largely to a recent remix record, 60s soft-psychsters The Free Design have been influencing your favorite psych/lounge/folk artists since they were just tots. As makers of forgotten-then-reissued-then-forgotten masterpieces like Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love The Free Design pioneered and mastered the art of music that is gentle, but not lame, and weird, but not obtrusive. A recent compilation, The Now Sound Redesigned finds many some of today's more influential and popular artists - Madlib, Four Tet, Stereolab, etc. - remixing classic Free Design tunes. Both the reissues and the remixes are available on Light in the Attic Records.

Two albums that are in my CD player right now are 1. Michael Johnson's first LP, There is a Breeze (Atlantic - 1972), and 2. K.D. Lang's Hymns from the 49th Parallel (on Nonesuch - 2004). Okay, a little bias: I worked on Michael's album as producer, arranger, instrumentalist and BG vocalist, but it is a rich listening experience after all these years. Michael went on to more commercially viable projects, had a hit with "Bluer than Blue", etc., but if you can get your hands on this vintage bit of poetic record - making, here's what you get: amazing songs with great lyrics, strong images and feel, super vocals and spectacular gut-string guitar playing by Michael, unique instrumental backups built around his guitar. Phil Ramone and Peter Yarrow hired me to arrange and then help with the producing. Then Michael and I ended up doing a lot of the record somewhat on our own in Toronto, with ex A&R Studios engineer David Greene, who had moved to Manta Sound. Late period Free Design drummer, Gary Gauger, sat in. Gerry Niewood came in from Rochester. Many other great musicians from New York, Toronto, and Rochester. They don't make'em like this anymore.

Having said that, K.D.'s Hymns album satisfies some of the same cravings. These are great songs from Canadian writers in the hymn or ballad tradition - the magical marriage of word and music. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jane Siberry, Bruce Coburn, and Ron Sexsmith contribute. I find that my friends in the States are not aware of this record; that may not be a true sampling, as k.d. lang is so high-profile. Acoustic guitar, piano and bass, along with a small string group - drums only only one song - are beautifully recorded. K.D. Lang's vocals are like honey (no saccharine), and she has an uncanny ability to adopt subtle characteristics within each song of the writer of that song.

If you can find anything by the Arrogant Worms, you are in for a treat. They have several self-produced CDs on their own AW labels; I'll mention Dirt. it's very funny. They are a comedy trio, and they write hilarious songs. I met them when they were looking for an arranging to write charts for their concert with the Edmonton Symphony, which was videotaped. If you ever have the chance to catch them live, I recommend you take a box of Kleenex and wear a diaper.

Michael Small left a legacy of great soundtracks. His score for Mountains of the Moon (Polydor) is on my list. It features great African players, recorded in New York, and some field recordings, with the orchestral music recorded in Munich. The story of the search for the source of the Nile River is wonderful inspiration for some grand music (the movie is also well worth renting - a few times). There is an in-depth article about Michael Small in this fall's Film Score magazine.

If you are a classical music person this is not news, but for the music-loving world at large Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings is a required experience. I have a couple of recordings and will mention the historic one with Peter Pears, Dennis Brain, the Boyd Neel String Orchestra, Benjamin Britten conducting (London reissues the original Decca LP). There are other fine interpretations. Okay, this is long-hair (as my folks used to call classical music), but it's 20th Century, tonal, psychologically deep, masterfully realized art. (If you're into this, Britten's "War Requiem" is one of the greatest, most comprehensive pieces of the 20th Century; please look into it.)

When I was writing the score for a TV movie called Walter and Henry, I had the opportunity to look more deeply into Stax Records, the Memphis-based late-sixties to early 70's R&B label. In the script, the eponymous characters are a father and son duo, street musicians in New York City. They write music that is a tribute to the Stax artists, like The Staples Singers, Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Reading, The Emotions, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes, et al. So, of course, I wrote the music that would be their originals in that style. Any of the music from that label is great; I'll recommend Stax Gold as a great compilation CD. Respect yourself!

For those who like jazz singers who are real musicians, Toronto-based Carol Welsman is something special. All her records are good; I love the Inclined CD released in 1999 on Justin Time. Check out George Koller on bass, Rob Piltch on guitar, Phil Dwyer on saxophone, and a bunch of other great players. Carol plays the piano with solid understanding and a slightly minimalist touch, and her vocals are soooo musical.

Back to the Classical Genre Index (not to be confused with CGI), let's mention another of my favourite composers,Gustav Mahler. There is a wonderful double CD (MCA Classics) of the Symphony #2 in C Minor, "Resurrection", conducted by Gilbert Kaplan, who is a doctor or something, and has made a life study of this piece, which he has learned to conduct. Apparently it's the only thing he conducts. The record is brilliant, the liner notes very comprehensive, and the experience something you will want to absorb yourself in maybe once a year. Very elevating.

I just received a record from Germany that is well worth including in my list. It's a band called Jazzanova, and the CD is in between. (Titles in lower case are very "in".) The first bit of the first track is weird/funny: samples of singers. It develops into a virtuoso production of virtual meets real in unreel time. Jazzy, advanced, electric, eccentric, super-acoustic, precise, spontaneous, brilliantly recorded and mastered - and expensive, I think. The sticker said over 20 Euros. Special packaging. Worth it.

My record collection is just littered with old stuff. Let's go to Laura Nyro. New York Tendaberry. Everyone knows her hits as recorded by the Fifth Dimension and Blood Sweat and Tears and Three Dog Night and lots of other artists. Be sure to enjoy, sink into, her fantastically self-indulgent solo albums. I just replenished my collection via iTunes and realized anew how much I and so many others benefited from her freedom and her coyly and nakedly and symbolically devastatingly rendered songs. Diva-stated, Lee. Devil stay, Ted... Lee... Bill... Emily.

Paul Duncan

Born in East Texas, moving to Savannah, Georgia (where we met him), a brief stop in Atlanta and then on to his current residence in Brooklyn, Paul has racked up a few miles and experiences. His new record, Be Careful What You Call Home will appeal to those who like their singer songwriters nicely contained (a la Jose Gonzalez and Iron and Wine), as well as those who like to be surprised (a la Feathers and Smog). Those of you who fall somewhere in between...you might want to check it out, too. The record is out now on Hometapes, as is his previous release, To An Ambient Hollywood.

1. Robert Wyatt - Shleep
I first ran across this album a few years ago and have been obsessed ever since. Wyatt's voice is always amazing, but it really kills me on this one. Some of the best melodies to have ever passed through the air. Beautiful. Eno is present as well. Also been dusting off the Matching Mole records. (Wyatt's band after Soft Machine)

2. Alexander Spence - Oar
This record is beyond comprehension. Up there with the Mayo Thompson solo record for me. This is the definition of sincerity. The songs are so dear and simple and the mixing/recording/production is some of my favorite from that time period (1969) or ever really. Time lapsed sloppy psych-country drumming/guitar playing that somehow holds the songs together and creates a consistency underneath. Indescribable. This record wins over and over. When friends first started trying to get me back into Syd Barrett, I would always point them towards this record. Get the 1999 re-issue, more tracks!

3. Terry Riley - Happy Ending - '72
Terry Riley plays Cluster-esque repetitive synth and piano! Wow! Somehow I just got turned onto this record. How I passed this one up for so long, I don't know. Composed directly after "In C" I'm pretty sure, for a film, so definitely when he was in his more slow-motion-melody phase. Fall asleep to it and wake up to it. Seriously, get this.

4. Scott Walker - Scott 4
I've been on this for a while, but for those who haven't heard much Walker, this is a good one to start with. The track "Duchess" will make you forget you're sitting underneath shitty florescent lights on a subway car going to work for people you could live without.

5. Earth
Slow burning hell flames of metal riffage, wielding a giant iron monolith of early Crimson colliding with a wall of Black Sabbath. Been listening to a lot of these guys lately. I first heard their new record, Hex, in Louisville a few weeks ago and now it always makes me wanna transport back there when i hear it, sit on a front porch and drink your choice of bourbon or Old Milwaukee and spin high school skater type yarns. Get "Pentastar" ... I love the recording on that record. Really any album is good as gold and if you ever liked Neurosis/Sleep/Mastadon/Slint/Burning Witch... yeah (am i alienating too many people?i'll get back to base on #6 i promise, don't cry about it)

6. James Elliott and David Daniell
Two of my best friends here in Brooklyn who run Antiopic (www.antiopic.com), an amazing experimental/avant label, the majority of which is electronic. I've collaborated with both of them, continue to and they are two of my favorite people in the world, so I had to give props! James is playing bass/laptop in my live band right now, has just finished a remix for my new record to be released on a remix EP later in 2006, plays with another group of friends, Bear in Heaven and has released a beautiful, bubbly but angular electronic record of solo work under Ateleia on Antiopic. David has released solo work on their label, is one of two amazing guitar players in the epic 2 guitar, 1 drummer band San Agustin and is currently playing guitar with Jonathan Kane's (ex-member of Swans) live band, both released on Table of the Elements. (www.tableoftheelements.com) So while we're on the subject of Jonathan Kane, i'll drop this ... that record February ... umm... ROCKS! Great Southern-fried looped blues rock. Like Steve Reich if all he listened to was Muddy Waters and Zeppelin.

7. Alog - miniatures
Ok, this is just straight up one of the best laptop / rhythmic / electronic releases in a long fucking time. There's also a healthy amount of live instrumentation and room/field sonics. I can't get enough. Released on the Norwegian Rune Grammofon label. Great label. On that note, while you're on the RG site, check out the band In the Country. Really pretty, minimal piano/upright bass/drums, Eric Satie/jazziness. Oh, snap .. no mp3's on their site. Well, if you have an appreciation for Eric Satie, etc., buy it ... purdy.

8. Floating Playlist:
New(ish); Gang Gang Dance, The Double, Icy Demons, Ty Braxton, Broadcast, Pelican, Akron/Family, Bear in Heaven, ROM (my good friends from miami ... Roberto Lange and Matt Crum, both play on my 1st record), Wilderness, Oldham, FME, Arnold Dreyblatt, Bird Show, So, Hungry Ghosts, Jonathan Kane, Autistic Daughters, Mf Doom / Viktor Vaughn, Earth ...

Old(ish); Lee Hazlewood, This Heat, Anonymous, Burning Witch, Groundhogs, Bill Fay, Brigitte Fontaine, Caetano Veloso, Colin Blunstone, Wendy and Bonnie, The Troggs, Talk Talk / Mark Hollis, Woody Guthrie, Giusto Pio, Francoise Hardy, Gal Costa, Cluster, Eno (always), Zeppelin (always), John Fahey (always) ...

9. American Primitive Vol. 1 & 2
Best collection of old pre-war gospel blues, at least that I've ever heard. These recordings were made with portable equipment and are of street musicians 1926-36. Compiled by John Fahey and Gayle Dean Wardlow and released on Fahey's Revenant label. So, so amazing. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this stuff. I was recently driving through Mississippi and Vol. 2 came on the radio coincidentally. I own Vol.1 on vinyl, but hadn't heard 2 yet. I recommend both, but I think I'm more obsessed w/ Vol.2 now. Ritualistic Voodoo Christianity. Mind fuck.

"There are other ecstatic religions in the world, or religions with the same continuum (Hinduism), but is Christianity really intrinsically ecstatic in this manner of hot enthusiasm? Are these tambourine players and guitar screamers inhabited by Christ? Do they know him? I have to say that, Flannery O'Connor not withstanding, underneath it all i hear a pan pipe and a cloven hoof beating time."
-John Fahey, August 1997

10. Anonymous - Inside the Shadows
Great West Coast folk-pop record from the early 70's ... beautiful male/female harmonies... if you've been rockin' that new Feathers (not the Hometapes band, haha) or the new Espers record, you'll feel this one ... think Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" also ... I've said enough ... enjoy!

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