Tech Rap: Feed Your Musica
Posted on October 03 2019
By Peter Skiera
This month, our top-of-the-line Musica model, which is our only model that includes a CD player, marks its second Birthday. Appropriate, considering thirty-seven years ago this past August, the compact disc was born. Trivia: Do you know what the first commercial CD title was? According to Wikipedia, it was a recording of Chopin waltzes by Claudio Arrau. When we announced we would introduce a model with an integrated CD player into the market, we heard some snickers. With streaming being so popular, why in the world would we release a model that included a CD player? There were three main reasons behind Musica. For one, we knew there were still many, many music lovers who owned CD collections. Second, we knew CD sales, though down dramatically from their peak, were still decent ($52 million in sales last year in the USA alone). Lastly, we knew the closest thing to “CD quality” music was, well, CDs. The Musica has gone on to become one of our most popular models (averaging 5 stars on Amazon).
In last month’s Tech Rap, I recommended some stand-out Internet radio stations. This time around, in honor of Musica’s Birthday, I am spotlighting some CDs I think you would enjoy listening to on your Musica. These are primarily lesser-known titles since I did not see much point in listing warhorse CDs that everyone is familiar with (Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s, etc.). In no particular order, here are ten CDs of various genres for your musical consideration. For your convenience, I provided links at the end in case you decide to purchase any of these.
1. Jennifer Warnes: Famous Blue Raincoat
I top my list with a CD that has a long history with Como Audio’s Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto. A Warner Brothers record executive had recommended this very well-engineered CD (Cypresss Records, ACD 1227) to Tom after it came out. Tom had a listen and was so impressed with the sound, when he mailed out press invitations to announce the launch of Cambridge SoundWorks in 1988, he had the invitations printed on the top of the CDs! Later, when Cambridge SoundWorks installed demo units of its “SoundWorks by Henry Kloss” three-piece amplified sub/sat computer speaker system in their stores, they were connected to portable CD players that played a custom demo CD to highlight the SoundWorks’ excellent sound quality. That CD contained different music tracks including a few tracks taken from ‘Raincoat’. As Assistant Store Manager at the Cambridge SoundWorks Portland, ME location in the early 1990’s, I remember having to replace our demo CD on more than a few occasions because customers liked it so much, they kept taking the CDs! Today, a demo of the Musica is never complete without playing Bird On a Wire or First We Take Manhattan (we also have the vinyl record to demo our new Como Audio Bluetooth turntable).
2. Miles Davis: Live Around the World
Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis continually reinvented himself musically, always looking ahead. As a direct result, it cost him a lot of fans, but it also won him a bunch of new fans. Personally, I am just as comfortable listening to “You’re Under Arrest” as I am “Sketches of Spain”. Live Around The World (Warner Brothers, 946032-2) celebrates Miles’ music from 1988-91 (Miles died in September of 1991). AllMusic.com said of this CD, “no Miles Davis collection is complete without this important set.” I do not know if I would go quite that far, but I have long felt the best way to experience jazz is live. The heart of jazz is improvisation, and improvisation thrives when it is live, unconstrained by recording time or commercial pressure. Some standout tracks include Tutu, a cover of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, Wrinkle, Mr. Pastorius, and a cover of Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time. Close your eyes as you listen and picture the legend doing what he does best. Whether you are an “old” Miles fan or a recent convert, this disc deserves your attention.
3. Eugene Ruffolo: The Hardest Easy
Singer/composer/guitarist Eugene Ruffolo’s voice is all over TV commercials and in some movie soundtracks, too, and he has recorded numerous CD titles, yet I had never heard of him before. I happened to watch a video on YouTube of someone demonstrating a pair of speakers using his music and I liked what I heard. Despite The Hardest Easy (CD Baby, B01KAV4Z1S) being 15 years old, it sparkles with simple but wonderful original songs like Only Love, Poor Lonesome Me, Hills of Sicily, and Irreplaceable. The acoustic guitar is a challenge for speakers to accurately reproduce, so give your Musica a workout while you sit back and enjoy these beautiful compositions.
4. Linda Ronstadt: Hummin’ to Myself
You know Linda Ronstadt, but you might not recognize this CD since it did not get a lot of promotion and had limited distribution when it was released. Some of you might remember Ronstadt’s very successful Great American Songbook recordings with Nelson Riddle from the early 1980’s. On this intimate outing from 2004 (Verve, B0000887-02), she is backed by a small jazz band and sticks to standards by Cole Porter and Frank Loesser. Ronstadt retired in 2011, and two years later revealed she had Parkinson’s disease which prevented her from being able to sing. Thankfully, Hummin’ to Myself keeps her voice alive and brings these jazz standards to life.
5. Steve Shehan: Hang With You
Percussionist, composer, and painter Steve Shehan is another artist I discovered by accident, again from someone using his music to demonstrate loudspeakers. As the cover reveals, Spacedrums (“handpans”) are featured prominently in these recordings. The Spacedrum looks rather like a leftover UFO prop from a 1950’s B sci-fi movie…two half steel shells mated together with equidistant, round recesses of various diameters and depths, and a hole in the bottom. To my untrained ears, they sound very similar to steel drums, except Spacedrums are played by hand, whereas steel drums are played using pan mallets. The original compositions on Hang With You (Naïve, B01K8MB5NK) will expose you to a type of music you have never heard before. This is not a disc to play during a party or if you feel like dancing, but it is great for relaxing, meditating, or just lounging about the house on a cold, rainy day, in your sweat pants.
6. Trijntje Oosterhuis: The Look of Love
I do not remember how I first became acquainted with this Dutch singer, but I am glad I did. I have always enjoyed Burt Bacharach’s songs, and Oosterhuis does them justice with this 15 track CD from 2006 (Blue Note/EMI, B000KRN082). At times she sounds more than a little like Dionne Warwick (which I mean as a compliment), and the Metropole Orchestra compliments her singing with fresh and zippy arrangements. Honestly, I do not think there is a bad song on this CD, though two standout tracks for me include Alfie and A House is Not a Home. Bacharach himself plays piano on a couple of tracks and gave the final album his blessing. The CD was such a commercial success, Oosterhuis released a follow-up the following year with Who’ll Speak For Love. Her live CD, Strange Fruit, gets honorable mention.
7. Sometime: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
This band from Iceland should be better known outside of their home country than they are. I am not exactly sure how to classify their music, but they describe it as “electro-pop experimental”. Do not let that scare you. The 14 track Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from 2007 (Itsuka, B01H9S57RG) is as fun as the cover artwork hints, with unique, “nostalgic” vocals by Diva De La Rosa. You can practically hear her smiling through each performance. Her accent not only does not intrude, it is endearing. Heart of Spades is my favorite track, followed by Dreams in Reality and Optimal Ending. I know a relative of the group’s founder, which is how I got an autographed CD, and through him I was able to get a comment from theDanni for this article: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was the first album I recorded myself and it was so nice to be able to just take my time and add stuff and play around…I wanted to create something on my own, plus I had met this amazing, crazy girl that also could sing like nobody else I had ever heard. Originally, I intended to have the debut album as a double. We had like 20 songs ready for the first few months- I was so inspired. As far as why we categorized the album "electro pop-experimental", it was only because the band had a totally unique sound which was very rare in the 2005-2009 electronic music scene…” Open your mind to something new and give this a listen.
8. Chantons: Chantons! Paris Jazz
Awa Ly, the singer in this group, has a voice that is international, which is appropriate considering her parents were from Senegal, she was born in Paris, and she resides in Rome. On Chantons! Paris Jazz (Alfamusic, B007N6LX00), she sings all of the songs in French, but even if you are like me and do not speak French, jazz is universal. Just imagine yourself seated outside a small café in Paris eating bread and cheese and sipping on a glass of wine as people pass by. Ly has only released a couple of full-length CDs, which is a shame because she has a beautiful voice and a deep passion for music, which you can feel throughout this CD, along with the cool French vibe.
9. The James Hunter Six: Minute By Minute
A friend of mine turned me on to this British retro R&B/soul singer, whom Rolling Stone called “unbelievably awesome”. Hunter’s voice is perfectly suited for this kind of music and it will blow you away. He toured with greats like Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Etta James, and Willie Nelson, so you know he has to be good. Although my friend prefers his Grammy-nominated People Gonna Talk CD, I like Minute By Minute (Fantasy, FAN 33836-02), which was released after a five year break from recording. You would swear this CD from 2013 was originally recorded in the 1960’s. You also could not be faulted for believing some of the songs were cover versions, yet all 12 tracks were penned by Hunter. Some of my favorite tracks include Drop On Me, Chicken Switch, One Way Love, and Let the Monkey Ride. “The James Hunter Six” makes them sound like some sort of gang, and it would be nothing short of criminal not to give this CD a thorough interrogation.
10. StereoLab: Chemical Chords
A fellow employee suggested I consider Stereolab for my list. I thought they were different enough to include without being too off the charts. One unique aspect of this British-French group is their fondness for vintage keyboards and synthesizers, including Moog synthesizers. Chemical Chords (4AD, CAD 2815CD) from 2008 contains several tracks that sound like they would be right at home in an Austin Powers soundtrack or a Space: 1999 episode. Stereolab is classified as post rock/avant-pop, but much of their music has distinct 1960’s lounge and bossa nova flavors. That said, you will not hear their songs in an elevator, waiting room, or an airport. This music is certainly not for everyone, but it might be for you.
11. Bonus Title: Big Daddy: Cutting Their Own Groove
You are probably familiar with “Weird Al” Yankovic; the musician who takes pop songs and writes new lyrics to make the songs funny. Big Daddy approaches it the other way around. They keep the original lyrics but write new music to make the songs funny. Specifically, they transform the music into 1950’s- style pop songs. On the face of it, this concept might sound like a sonic disaster, but the results are surprisingly entertaining and amusing. 1991’s Cutting Their Own Groove (Rhino, IRS 973.173) is a great party CD, but it also works if you just need a quick musical pick me up. Try not to smile while listening to Like a Virgin, Money for Nothing, Ice Ice Baby, and Nothing Compares 2 U. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Graceland sound like they were pulled out from a Seeburg or Wurlitzer jukebox (the top of the CD is silkscreened to imitate a vinyl record). This is a fun band with fun sounds, putting a vintage spin on contemporary pop hits and cleverly exposing the lyrics for what most of them are…silly. Runner up goes to Dick at Nite (Coverage Records, IDTCR-07b) by Richard Cheese…nostalgic TV show themes “loungified” Vegas-style.
There you have it… eleven diverse titles to consider adding to your CD collection (if you are a Como Audio Bluetooth turntable owner, some of these titles are also available as vinyl records). There is no shortage of music out there to discover, and a big part of the joy of being a music lover is discovering new sounds. Whether you try some of my recommendations or discover new titles on your own, you can use your Como Audio Musica to enjoy the (new) music.
Peter Skiera joined Como Audio as Vice President of Product Development in 2016 and previously worked for Tivoli Audio, Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W loudspeakers/Rotel, and also spent nearly seven years in the radio broadcast industry in New England. He makes his home in southern MA and can be reached directly at email@example.com
Links to purchase CDs:
- Jennifer Warnes, Famous Blue Raincoat, Amazon.
- Miles Davis, Miles Davis Live Around The World, eBay.
- Eugene Ruffolo, The Hardest Easy, Amazon.
- Linda Ronstadt, Hummin to Myself, Amazon.
- Steve Shehan, Hang With You, eBay.
- Trijntje Oosterhuis, The Look of Love, eBay.
- Sometime, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Band's Website.
- Chantons, Chantons! Paris Jazz, Amazon.
- The James Hunter Six, Minute By Minute, Amazon.
- Stereolab, Dots & Loops (2 CD set), Amazon.
- Big Daddy, Cutting Their Own Groove, Amazon.
- Richard Cheese, Dick at Nite, eBay.