Desert Island Discs

Classical Desert Island Discs

Albums My Friends Have Made (Some of Which I Play On)

Favorite Discs of 1999


  1. Jimmy Webb: Archive 1970-1977 Jimmy Webb Overview and Discography
  2. Richard Thompson: Rumor and Sigh Thompson overview
  3. Kate and Ann McGarrigle: Heartbeats Accelerating a McGarrigle Discography
  4. McCartney: Red Rose Speedway McCartney
  5. Guinga: Simples e Absurdo My Unofficial Guinga Homepage
  6. Dionne Warwick/Bacharach: Anthology Bacharach
  7. Lucinda Williams: Lucinda WilliamsLucinda
  8. Geoffrey Oryema: ExileOryema
  9. Ella Fitzgerald/Richard Rodgers, Rodgers and Hart Songbook
    Go to a Richard Rodgers Page"
  10. The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music


Each of the following delivered an overwhelming emotional jolt that has stayed with me over the years after repeated listenings.

  1. Bach: St. Matthew Passion / Chaconne for Unaccompanied Violin /
  2. Beethoven: 6th Symphony (Pastoral) / 5th Piano Concerto (Emperor) / Violin Concerto / 7th Symphony / Moonlight Sonata / Fur Elise / Kreutzer Sonata for Violin and Piano
  3. Schubert: Lieder
  4. Chopin: Piano Pieces (performed by Rubinstein)
  5. Brahms: Violin Concerto / 2, 3, 4th Symphonies / Deutches Requiem /
  6. Tchaikovsky: 6th Symphony (Pathetique) / 5th Symphony / 1st Piano Concerto / Violin Concerto
  7. Puccini: La Boheme
  8. Satie: Socrate / Gymnopédies / Gnossiennes / "An Erik Satie Home Page"
  9. Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra / 2nd Violin Concerto / Piano Pieces, including Hungarian Sketches, including "An Evening in the Village"
  10. Gershwin: Porgy and Bess / Songs from Musicals

KATE AND ANN MCGARRIGLE: You may have run across McGarrigle songs on Linda Ronstadt albums ("Heart Like a Wheel," which gave the album its name; and "Heartbeats Accelerating," on Winter Light). There is also a McGarrigle song, "Going Back to Harlan," on Emmy Lou Harris's best album, Wrecking Ball. Kate and Ann would be categorized as folk/rock singer-songwriters, I suppose, Canada-based, and the fiddle and accordion and French of Quebec folk music flavors their work. On the one hand, they write exquisite love songs, bleak like "Heart Like a Wheel" or poetic, like "Talk to Me of Mendocino" or ecstatic, like "Love Over and Over." On the other hand, they write very odd, funny songs with quirky, off-beat lyrics. All in all, the McGarrigle corpus includes some of the best songs of our generation.

The albums: Kate and Ann McGarrigle (Warner Bros. 1975). Dancer with Bruised Knees (Warner Bros. 1977). Pronto Monto (Warner Bros. 1978). French Record (Hannibal 1981). Love Over and Over (Polygram 1982). Heartbeats Accelerating (Private Music, 1990). Matapedia (Rykodisc 1996). The only album not on CD is the very strange Pronto Monto. In The McGarrigle Hour (Hannibal 1998) they share the spotlight with talented family members, such as Loudon Wainwright, Kate's ex, and her son, Rufus, who is starting an impressive recording career of his own; Martha Wainwright, and Lily Lanken; Martha McGarrigle; Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

For me each McGarrigle song is a treasure. I can't imagine life without them.

"McGarrigles Page"
"Another McGarrigles Page"
"And another McGarrigles Page"
"Yet another McGarrigles Link"
"A Penultimate McGarrigles Link"
"A final McGarrigles Page"

LUCINDA WILLIAMS: This Austin / L.A. / Nashville-based singer/songwriter has only three major albums, one of which was released by a small label and was out of print for years. But these albums are some of the best rock albums ever. The autobiographical lyrics are intensely personal, poetic but unpretentious. The music has a southern, bluesy, melodic feel. There is a roughness and honesty in both that keeps her work from becoming precious. Aside from the stories of love ecstatically accepted and bitterly lost, these songs express a basic affirmation of life, even the songs about suicide.

Her two early albums on Folkways, Ramblin on My Mind (1978) and Happy Woman Blues (1980), are promising, but not equal to her later albums in impact. The first is all blues songs, not by Lucinda, but well worth buying.

With Lucinda Williams (Rough Trade Records 1988), Lucinda blossomed into full maturity. Here are "Passionate Kisses" (later a hit when sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter; as a result, Lucinda won a Grammy for it, to her shock), "Crescent City" (Lucinda's live trademark song), "Big Red Sun," "Like a Rose," and a great rejection song, "Changed the Locks." This has recently been rereleased by Koch (1998) with 6 bonus tracks.

Sweet Old World (Chameleon 1992) is just as good. You may have heard the title cut on Emmy Lou Harris's Wrecking Ball. Addressed to a suicide, it lists all the precious things in life he has lost--a companion piece to "Passionate Kisses," which lists all of the things Lucinda wants. And to continue the suicide theme, the final song is a stunning performance of "Which Will" by Nick Drake, the brilliant folkie who died by his own hand. A very moving album.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road Mercury Records (1998) is Lucinda in her maturity, certainly. It's a lot more of a rock record that the first two, which have lots of haunting slow songs. This is more consistently hard edged. A great record, but it hasn't hit me as hard as the first two did.

My brush with greatness: Despite being a really inept fiddler, I played with D.J. Jarvis in a band for a while -- he's a guitarist who plays in Lucinda's band sometimes, and cowrote a song on Car Wheels.

"Lucinda Williams Page"

MCCARTNEY: Everyone agrees that the Beatles were great; but strangely enough, not many critics take McCartney alone seriously. I think this is one of the great miscalculations of rock criticism; Jon Landau, who later became Springsteen's manager, arguably gave Ram the worst review ever given to any album in the history of Rolling Stone. I think Jon was following John Lennon, who characterized Paul as lightweight and "pop" in the Rolling Stone interviews.

The truth, I think is much more complex. Any one who looks seriously at the Beatles' creativity will come to realize that many of the Beatles' great songs were written by McCartney. Landau, and those who agreed with him, did not come to terms with this. I still admire Lennon's genius with the Beatles (I'm a big fan of I'm Only Sleeping, Strawberry Fields, I Am the Walrus, Because, Bungalow Bill, and many others), but McCartney was a very dominant writer on two crucial Beatles' albums, Revolver and Sgt. Peppers. I actually wrote an article about this, "McCartney or Lennon? Beatle Myths and the Composing of the Lennon-McCartney Songs," Journal of Popular Culture 22:2 (Fall 1988), 99-131. Many of McCartney's songs were avant-garde; many of them were screaming rock songs, not ballads (I Saw Her Standing There, I'm Down, Helter Skelter, Oh Darling, Get Back). He certainly wrote great ballads --Yesterday, Here There Everywhere, She's Leaving Home, Long and Winding Road--but he wrote all kinds of other things. He had/has astounding breadth and range.

I feel that that same musical inspiration is in the solo albums. The more well-known albums-- McCartney, Band on the Run, Tug of War, Flowers in the Dirt, have received some limited recognition from the critics. But I love the obscure albums -- Ram, Red Rose Speedway, Wild Life,Venus and Mars, London Town, McCartney II, Press to Play. Paul is an amazingly consistent songwriter, and writes in an dizzying assortment of styles. His sentimentalism is as obvious as was Dickens's or Chaplin's, and as affecting at its best; and it is counterpointed by his surreal comic vision. He is an endlessly inventive musical creator. His strong point is music, not lyrics, though occasionally his lyrics are very good. I believe future generations will rank these albums beside the White Album or Abbey Road.

Go to "Paul's Official Page"
Go to "A Beatle Link Page"
Go to "A McCartney Page"

BURT BACHARACH: Compared to Burt Bacharach, 99.9 per cent of all pop/rock songwriters cannot write their way out of a paper bag. Those wonderful convoluted twists and turns of melody, the weird rhythmic shifts, the harmonic complexity. Emotionally, he has great insight into loss and loneliness, but he also expresses pure zest for living and joyful affirmation of love.

Burt's vast output is available in a very piecemeal, scattered way, but more and more of it is now available on CD. A good place to start is Dionne Warwick, Anthology 1962-1969 (Rhino 1986), all Bacharach songs, arranged and produced by Burt, perfectly sung by Dionne. Many Dionne Warwick albums have Bacharach songs on them.

There are also a number of pure Bacharach albums. Burt Bacharach, Classics Vo. 23 (A&M, 1987) is an overview. Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits (MCA/Kapp 1966) is available on CD from MCA. Burt Bacharach (A&M 1971), Futures (A&M 1977) and Woman (A&M 1979), with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, are available on CD with Polydor. Reach Out (A&M 1967) and Make It Easy On Yourself (A&M 1969) are also on CD.

There are also the musicals: Promises, Promises (United Artists, 1969; not yet on CD, amazingly enough); Lost Horizon (Bell 1973; CD, Razor and Tie, 1997).

And the soundtracks, most memorably: What's New Pussycat (United Artists 1965; not on CD); Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (A&M 1969; on CD); Arthur (Warner 1981; on CD).

Bacharach is a wonderful contrast to the plodding, predictable harmonies and undeveloped melodies in much of pop music.

"Burt Bacharach Page"


Geoffrey Oryema's Exile is the best album to come out of Africa, that I know of. Haunting, hypnotic, aching songs of exile, from a Ugandan living in Paris. With eerie contributions from Brian Eno.

More recently, he has released Night to Night (1996/7, Real World Records).
"A Geoffrey Oryema Page"

"Another Oryema Page"

"An Oryema Review and World Music Page"

Also recommended:

From Brazil: Tom Jobim. Ivan Lins. Milton Nascimento. Caetano Veloso. Dori Caymmi

From Africa: Thomas Mapfumo.

Celtic/British: June Tabor. Martin Simpson. Nick Drake.

Rock, Folk Mainstream: Crowded House, Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Christine McVie, Brian Wilson, Bob Marley.

Country: Merle Haggard. Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Newcomers: Sarah McLachlan and Matthew Sweet, especially his breakthrough album, Girlfriend (Zoo 1991). Also Ron Sexsmith, see the 1999 Disc section below.

My Favorite Albums of 1999
  1. Richard Thompson, Mock Tudor. RT's standard superlativeness. This record might be his most consistently hard album -- but still with great intelligence and poetic humaneness. Exhilarating songs, deeply moving songs, scary songs.
  2. Ron Sexsmith, Whereabouts. In an Elvis Costello top ten disc presentation at the Hear store in Santa Monica, he recommended Ron Sexsmith very highly. I cynically listened to the first cut on the record, prepared for mediocrity. To my surprise, it was very good. I listened to another cut; also very good. Very melodic, with thoughtful lyrics. I actually bought the CD new (not used), and it turned out to be magnificent, upon repeated listenings. Thanks Elvis. Sexsmith is the first really good new songwriter who I've heard in a long time. Check out "Ron Sexsmith's Official Web Page"
  3. Paul McCartney, Run Devil Run. Amazing recreations of great, obscure rockers. Strangely enough, I'm not too fond of Paul's 3 original tunes here.
  4. Don Conoscenti, Mysterious Light. Wonderful guitar playing and songwriting by Don Con. "Don Con's web page" From his webpage: "With a band-in-a-box picking style, partial capos and the soulful voice of a wayward angel, Conoscenti is a multi-instrumental mix of stories and songs about lovers, outcasts, healing, murder and redemption."
  5. Randy Newman, Bad Love. The old master.

Albums My Friends Have Made (Some of Which I Play On)

Mark Davis, You Came Screaming (Cutlet 1995) I played amplified fiddle in the Mark Davis Band (aka the Inklings) for two or three years. My brief taste of stardom. (Joke!) I think we describe this music as "moody alternative folk-rock." Great thoughtful, adventurous lyrics, great music. Selected by the L.A. Times, Orange County edition, as the best record of 1995. D.J. Jarvis (who plays with Lucinda Williams) also was in the Mark Davis Band at the beginning, and plays on this record.

Immaculate (Bitemark 2000) is another great album. I play on one cut, but I still recommend it highly.

Kit Smith, Stronger Man (Bitemark 1996). A really wonderful first album. Kit's voice reminds me of Roxy Music. I play on two cuts. Part of the Orange County alternative music subculture.
"Bitemark Records Web Page"

Snatches of Pink: Bent With Pray (Caroline Records 1992). I played violin on one cut. This was my one studio job. I actually got paid for it.

Charlie Knuth, The First of May: Music for Mandolin Quartet (Kalkstein 1996). Beautiful traditional tunes performed by my old BYU Library buddy, Charlie. A wonderful CD. To order, contact "Charlie Knuth, 5123 72nd Ave., Hyattsville, MD 20784."

Leonard Ellis, The Earthquake Album: Dancing to a Fault (Leonard Ellis Productions 1994). I play my fiddle currently with keyboardist Leonard Ellis; we perform every couple of months or so at the Westside Storytellers in Mar Vista. Leonard, though a twenieth century Los Angeleno, composes mostly in the mode of Scandinavian traditional folk and dance music. To acquire his music, work up an aesthetic appetite, then visit the Art Kitchen: "Art Kitchen"

Twin 22: Lostsoulsuckerpunch Fine hard rock from my friend Matt Walin, another veteran of the MDB. Also from "Bitemark Records"

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