Nils Frykdahl and Dan Rathbun of Free Salamander Exhibit at Beat Kitchen Credit: Philip Montoro

A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Youssou N’Dour at Millennium Park on August 10 The evening’s rain passed the park by before Youssou N’Dour took the stage, and the night just got better from there. With its first note, his penetrating, supple voice made the hair on my neck stand up, and I especially loved the buoyant, bubbly new single “Yitél.” I had even more fun dancing alongside my Senegalese-American neighbors knowing that I was defying our asshole president, who wants me to hate immigrants and Muslims.

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Zabelle Panosian, I Am Servant of Your Voice: April-May, 1917 The day Bandcamp donated its proceeds to the Transgender Law Center, I bought a bunch of music off my want list—including this recent Canary Records collection of songs recorded by Zabelle Panosian, an Armenian who fled the Ottoman Empire’s Hamidian massacres and arrived in the U.S. at age four in 1896. Her unearthly, quavering soprano seems to struggle through the scrim of surface static on the original 78s, carrying the heart-stopping grief of a woman who survived the extermination of her people.

Free Salamander Exhibit at Beat Kitchen on July 31 This five-piece includes four alumni of the inimitable Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and its 2016 debut, Undestroyed, keeps faith with that band’s wild, chimerical prog rock (though without Carla Kihlstedt and her violin, it leans more on guitars). At this show, front man Nils Frykdahl framed the songs’ surreal fables of late-capitalist apocalypse with sly, dadaist patter that unsettled you just enough to absorb their revolutionary messages.

Philip is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Herb Alpert (left) on tour with the Tijuana Brass in early 1969
Herb Alpert (left) on tour with the Tijuana Brass in early 1969Credit: Sun-Times Print Collection

Thymme Jones, founding member of Cheer-Accident

Michael Mantler/Edward Gorey, The Hapless Child and Other Inscrutable Stories Setting Edward Gorey text to music is a formidable task, and finding a vocalist to navigate the resultant melodic convolution is yet another. Fortunately, composer Michael Mantler found Robert Wyatt, the one person capable of humanizing (via whimsy and wistfulness) these obtuse phrases. Increasing the likelihood of disaster was the inclusion of four uncompromising avant-jazz luminaries: Jack DeJohnette (drums), Terje Rypdal (guitar), Steve Swallow (bass), and Carla Bley (piano). Somehow, even with these gigantic personalities making no attempt to “shrink themselves,” the music coheres . . . perhaps because I love every one of these people. If you don’t, listening to this dense album could feel like the longest, most uncomfortable elevator ride of your life.

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Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, 1966-’69 At one point in the mid-60s, Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass had four albums on Billboard‘s top ten at once. Their fifth record, Going Places, sold 1.3 million copies . . . before its release. But Alpert began to feel like a product, and it got inside his head. En route to his nervous breakdown in 1969, a sublime melancholia crept into his playing. Here’s a sampling of songs that exemplify it: “It Was a Very Good Year” (1966), “The Shadow of Your Smile” (1966), “Shades of Blue” (1967), “Love So Fine” (1967), “She Touched Me” (1968), “The Brass Are Comin'” (1969), and “I’ll Be Back” (1969).

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Summertime insect sounds Cicadas! It’s August! Listen to those cicadas!

Thymme is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Seven-inch singles at the Record Dugout
Seven-inch singles at the Record DugoutCredit: Alison Green

Tony Young, also known as rock-era musical encyclopedia Top 40 Tony

Stereo equipment from the 1970s My friend has a Pioneer turntable from the late 70s. It’s hooked up to a Fisher Studio Standard amp from the same era. Add the classic Pioneer speakers and wow! The real memories of how the music I loved so much made me feel come back again. The warmth and depth really do exist . . . they’re not a myth.

Vintage seven-inch singles It seems that when people speak of the resurgence of vinyl recordings, they speak only of LPs—that is, 12-inch albums. How about seven-inch singles? Often when I go to resale shops and stores, they’re treated dismissively. However, vintage singles can be full of astonishing sonic surprises. Their A sides sometimes feature alternate versions and mixes of their album counterparts. Nonalbum B sides are also a plus, as a few may not have made their way to digital format.

The differences in how music charts today Changes to the methodology of music charts have affected long-standing accomplishments on the national level. The Beatles had 14 simultaneous Billboard Hot 100 singles in April 1964 (a record tied by Drake in 2015), but Linkin Park recently landed 23 at once—albeit on the 50-position Hot Rock Songs chart, where there’s less competition. The death of front man Chester Bennington prompted a glut of downloads and YouTube streams, both of which Billboard now tallies. Since there’s a difference in how we consume music in the digital era, charts today don’t seem comparable to those 50, 30, or even ten years ago.

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.