Cleve's Top Music For The Road

Jun 18, 2012

When our webmaster John Mortara said it was my turn to post a Top Five blog entry, I thought it would be a pretty simple matter – just come up with my favorite flavors of ice cream, or Cincinnati Reds infielders, or whatever. But no, I had to dig down deep for this one.

I should say at the outset that for the past two years my wife Jenny and I have owned a house in Cincinnati even after settling here. That’s a lot of 12-hour car trips, and my iPod has saved my sanity more than once. What surprised me is how much I love the iPod’s "Shuffle" option. When I first read about it, I thought it was ridiculous to let the machine decide what to play for me at random (sort of). But I really, really love the odd and unexpected juxtapositions of genre it presents on a long car ride.

Sorry, John, I just can’t possibly pick five best works. But these are my top five genres. Ask me tomorrow and the genres will probably stay the same, but my favorite in each category might be completely different.

Category 1: The One Who Not Only Defies Categorization, But Who Subsumes All Other Categories

Bach, of course. J.S. Bach. Where to start? . . . Well, I have loaded my iPod with all the Preludes & Fugues from both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier. They’re like wonderful little appetizers sprinkled throughout my trips, except that that might make them seem frivolous and lacking in substance, which they most assuredly are not.

But if I must choose one (“Mortara!” I cry, shaking my fist), it would be the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto #5, for harpsichord and flute. What intricacy, what joy, with a cadenza for harpsichord that starts out as a pinnacle of Baroque energy, descends into shockingly Romantic confusion and concludes with a burst of transcendent incandescence.

Honorable mention: anything else by Bach, J.S. If there were no other composer in the history of the world, just Bach, the world would still be wonderful.

Category 2: Americana

Boston Camerata: “Deal Gently With Thy Servants, Lord.” I love the American shape-note tradition of The Sacred Harp as I love no other (but see Bach, J.S.). But I have to be honest and say that recorded versions of Sacred Harp songs don’t do justice to the profound experience actually singing them. This performance comes close in a different way, with a beautiful folk melody and moving words: “When this mortal life is ended / Bid us in Thine arms to rest / Till by angel bands attended / We awake among the blest.” I want that sung at my funeral.

Honorable mention: Anonymous 4 with Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, “The Mercy Seat.” Their “Gloryland” album is proof that the folk tradition and consummate artistry can co-exist and enrich each other.

Category 3: Classic Rock

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Call Me the Breeze.” Sometimes you just want to put on a Cat hat, toss back a few PBRs and shoot pool in that place down by the river with a kick-ass jukebox. Not that I do that, you understand. More of a thought experiment.

Honorable mention: U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Sorry, Springsteen fans.

Category 4: Tudor Anthems

Thomas Tallis, “Spem in Alium.” I really got into this one when Shuffle gave it to me at both the beginning and the end of a long trip. It’s an astonishing work with 40 separate vocal parts (8 sections of 5 voices each). Talk about a Wall of Sound – Phil Spector, eat your heart out.

Honorable mention: Richard Farrant, “Lord, for Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake.” I also want THAT sung at my funeral.

Category 5: American Popular Song

Nat ‘King’ Cole, “Just You, Just Me.” Golly, was there ever a greater master at the nuances of phrasing a song than Nat? Sure, there’s Ella, and Frank, and Willy Nelson. But there’s a reason he’s called King. I like the version from 1957’s “After Midnight” album.

Honorable mention: Michael Feinstein, “Love is Here to Stay.” THE best American popular song, ever. Phil Furia told me that this was the last song George and Ira Gershwin ever wrote before George died of a brain tumor. So it’s really Ira’s love song to his young brother. I get goose bumps when I hear it. Oh, and: Nancy Wilson with the George Shearing Quintet, “The Things We Did Last Summer.” It’s a good song, but this is SUCH a great recording. Nancy Wilson’s youthful voice is so fresh, you’d know it’s summer even if you didn’t understand the words. She was really in her prime in the 60’s. But then, she’s been in her prime for about 50 years.

What are your favorite genres and songs for long car trips? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!