Monday, July 25, 2005

The Weekly, Volume Nine

Album:
Magic Numbers (Magic Numbers)

This British quartet were nominated last week for the prestigious Mercury Prize. Unsurprisingly, as their brand of neo-classicist pop definitely fits the bill for that "sunny with a hint of melancholy" music that the Brits seems to love. Each of the album's 13 tracks is defined by jangly guitars and breezy multi-part vocal harmonies, though tracks like "The Mule" and "Mornings Eleven" show that the band is neither wimpy or vaccuous. Somewhat unfortunately, this warm weather album doesn't get a North American release until September, just in time to be overwhelmed by the emerging winter doldrums. Speaking of the Mercury Prize, it's not like it's some infallible indicator is musical genius or anything. I mean, The Zutons were nominated last year, and they were boring after something like two spins.

Album #2:
The Natch'l Blues (Taj Mahal)

One of the great records from "blues" legend Taj Mahal. The musicianship is top notch and the songwriting is confidently not bound to genre stereotypes. Mahal is in fine form here as a guitarist, harmonica player and gruffly-sweet vocalist, with soul coursing through every syllable he sings. Highlights include the fantastic "Corinna," and "She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride," which I recently heard being butchered by an American high school show band playing in Paris' Luxembourg Gardens. For those interested, the definitive live performance of "Corinna" appears on the three disc compilation In Progress and In Motion, which is itself a great document of Taj Mahal's decades-long career.

Loveable Loser:
Jan Ullrich (professional cyclist, T-Mobile Team)

What does it mean to have your career defined not by your own abilities, but by the performances of another? Just ask Jan Ullrich, who in seven appearances at the Tour de France has never finished lower than fourth place. Indeed, he achieved victory in 1997, and placed second four times (this year he was third, pulling himself back to the podium after two early-stage crashes). But such achievements are overshadowed by the dominance of Lance Armstrong. The man who has now won the Tour for seven consecutive years constantly said that the German diesel was his most feared rival, and every year Der Jan has been in the thick of things, lacking only he great burst of speed Armstrong possesses to conquer the high Alps and Pyrenean mountains. If Ullrich manages to win the Tour next year over a field of highly motivated cyclists like Ivan Basso, it would certainly buff some of the shine back into the Kaiser's career. But is it really so bad to be remembered as the challenger who motivated one of cycling's greatest champions to achieve such remarkable glory?


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