When the news broke, 18 months back, that Rick Anderson had been named University Librarian at Brigham Young, his many friends and admirers cheered. An excellent move for him as well as for BYU. But some among us were also alarmed. If his new responsibilities were going to require Rick to cut back on some of his many extracurriculars, what would be the fate of his most important contribution to the cultural zeitgeist, the CD HotList?
Rick's been compiling his monthly set of recommendations for many years. Every time it shows up among my feeds I’ve turned to it eagerly, anticipating the familiar rush of astonishment, intrigue, fascination, excitement, and annoyance it'll bring. Fortunately, he's keeping it going, although he claims he's cutting back on the number of reviews (January 2019 had 27 entries, this month's has 17).
The astonishment comes from the breadth of coverage. His ears are big, his embrace is vast. His erudition is fascinating as he draws from an apparently bottomless well of context and background. Here he is in December, describing a disc by Rob Garza, “Now breaking out as a solo artist, Garza has put together a wide-ranging album of club and dreampop tunes in collaboration with vocalists including Enemy Planes, Racquel Jones, and EMELINE. None of the music here will shock or startle a Thievery Corporation fan, but Garza is definitely charting his own territory here: you might expect a song titled “We Want Blood” to be somewhat aggro, but in fact it’s gently bumping dream-house...” A few entries above that one, he’s championing a recording of tunes by Louis de Caix d’Hervelois, a “little-known” student of the early 18th century “king of the viol”, Marin Marais. “This program consists primarily of suites written for viol and continuo (the latter played by varying combinations of bass viol, theorbed lute, and harpsichord) plus one suite for traverso and continuo and several brief transcriptions for viol and for solo lute and guitar. This is gentle music, elegant in a rather self-effacing way, but quite inventive and beautifully played.”
Note that last sentence. What's annoying is how damn good the writing is. I so envy his ability to encapsulate the essence of a performance in just a sentence or two. Reviewing a recording led by the jazz drummer Mareike Wiening, he writes “her progressions are intriguingly impressionistic, often following unusual paths that slip and slide and leave you unsure where she’ll go next. She and her sidemen play with such confident communication, though, that you’ll never be left feeling lost or confused...”
But what most has me excitedly pouring through his monthly selections is the knowledge that there will inevitably be intriguing discoveries new to me that’ll knock me out. From last June there’s “Strata” by Skúli Sverrisson with Bill Frisell. I'm a Frisell fan of many years, but hadn't come across this one. Rick writes, “What happens here ... is that Frisell and Skerrisson play interlocking parts, melodies weaving in and around each other, defining chord progressions collaboratively as they go. The music is quiet and beautiful, but also complex. Skerrisson writes utterly unique bass parts, and Frisell’s tone, which at this point he could probably get a patent for, bathes everything in a golden light.” A perfect description.
This month, the jaw dropper is Eva Cassidy, a “hair-raisingly talented singer” who “glides, shouts, and croons her way through jazz standards (“Cheek to Cheek,” “Autumn Leaves,” “What a Wonderful World”), blues burners (“Stormy Monday”), R&B (“Take Me to the River”) and pop (jaw-dropping versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Fields of Gold”), leaving her personal stamp on every familiar tune.” I can’t get enough of it.
Cassidy died of melanoma in 1996, just 33 years old. Although lauded in her hometown of Washington DC, her work didn’t achieve wider renown until several years after her death. Her resistance to being channeled into a single genre made it impossible to market her in the mid-90s. It seems that she was okay with that – she loved too much music too much to give any of it up.
Rick’s CD Hotlist reflects that sensibility. He categorizes his reviews by Classical, Jazz, Folk/Country, Rock/Pop, World/Ethnic for convenience, even though he knows many of the pieces sit somewhat uncomfortably in their box. He treats them all with gratitude and respect. Ellington would certainly approve.
It baffles me that most adults tend to age out of listening to new music, settling for whatever they loved as teenagers, proclaiming everything since then is junk and no way as good as the old stuff. For those of us who know that the vast world of recorded music blossoms anew every single day with vibrant genius, life-affirming and -changing work, the CD Hotlist is a gift.
Thank goodness Rick has that library gig to support him so he can keep on doing the very important work that he was meant for.