Spins 2023: Vol 6

This week’s theme: Dinners and a Movie

Wendy Carlos’s follow-up record to her inspired and celebrated Switched On Bach, The Well Tempered Synthesizer comes with Glenn Gould’s proclamation on its rear cover: “Carlos’s realization of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto is, to put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs – live, canned, or intuited – I’ve ever heard.”

The Moog synth was only a few years old, and this record lets you witness the moment atomic bits and western music collided in a particle accelerator.

Next time you’re hard pressed to soundtrack a meal – whether solo, for two, or a dinner party for 12 – throw on some Xavier Cugat. Instant neighborhood restaurant. And not just any run-of-the-mill eatery. The kind of joint where the food is great, the drinks flow freely, and there’s room to dance between the tables.

“I would rather play ‘Chiquita Banana’ and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve,” Cugat said once.

Wendy Carlos may have taken exception to Cugat’s classical slight, but that’s what makes the world (and records) go round…

This set, the famed (almost de rigueur) Europe 1972 live release, celebrates the moment The Dead’s music became mythology. They’re at the peak of their inventiveness, and you get a sense of what it felt like to be in that scene in that moment. Like Springsteen after them, their live show was the real conduit into the music. Crowds were active participants. The stage for them extends out more as a revival than a concert.

The Dead had no idea at the time how much longer the long strange trip would go, so the 10-minute Truckin’ on Side 5 always unfurls and corkscrews as if they had no idea if they’d ever play it again.

On Western Stars, Bruce croons his way through a series of golden-age Hollywood westerns. There’s gravitas, of course, but not as much gravel here. He just sings, at times in almost a Bowie-esque lilt. I dig it, and think it’s an underrated record, but it’s not for everyone. Swelling strings abound. Opening panning shots in John Ford films that slowly settle on the hero in the distance. It’s a cinematic work – kind of opens and closes like a desert night bloom.

If you’re versed in Bruce, the characters here are all familiar but they wander an empty grand prairie. Sort-of a continuation of Tunnel of Love, where the folks in this outpost town, as far from the Jersey shore as you can be, deal with the same restlessness and disaffection, holding on to whatever they can control, while casting off regrets.

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