"Call me old-fashioned, but my ideal TV diet is a balanced one: a few sitcoms (mainstream warhorses like Modern Family and The Simpsons, as well as edgier fare like Veep and Silicon Valley), a few smart edutainment series like Cosmos and Parts Unknown, some tasty junk (I see you, Top Chef Duels!), and in a perfect world, one heavy, emotionally intense prestige drama at a time.”
Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return
Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return
The most recent CCL includes some thoughts about producer Mitchell Froom:
“I get the impression history doesn’t looking too kindly on Froom these days. I base this on little more than a few disapproving Allmusic reviews and the fact that his name doesn’t appear in liners notes as much as it used to. Maybe I’m mistaken, but there’s no question his interventionist approach to production—processed drums that sometimes sound like garbage cans being thrown down a flight of stairs; wonky, maybe-not-quite-in-tune guitars; a battery of antique carnivalesque keybs—is an artifact of its time.”
If you ask me, Froom has been unfairly maligned. I think of him as one of a cadre of big-name producers (Daniel Lanois, T-Bone Burnett, and Dennis Herring also come to mind) who helped define alternative rock in the ’90s, developing an approach that was neither slick and commercial nor sentimentally naturalistic (i.e. trying to capture “the sound of the room” or “the spontaneity of live performance”). Instead, they introduced quirky instrumentation (courtesy of some of the most adventurous players of the day) and treatments that added another layer of color to the music. Their styles are different, but you wouldn’t call any of them unobtrusive.
I find that a substantial catalog like Richard Thompson’s can use a Mitchell Froom album or two for variety’s sake. No one’s going to criticize a producer who presses “record” and gets out of the way, but Froom and his peers deserve credit for daring to act like true collaborators and, in the process, getting more out of their artists than others might have.
With that in mind, here are five tracks that make the case for Froom’s contribution:
1) Los Lobos—“Kiko and the Lavender Moon”: Froom has had deep and fruitful partnerships with many artists, including Thompson, Ron Sexsmith, and Suzanne Vega (who was also his life partner for a time), but none more so than with Los Lobos who were hotshot roots rock traditionalists best known for remaking “La Bamba” before they crossed paths with Froom. The slinky percussion, the way Froom’s thrift store keyboards mix with the horns—it’s a Waitsian sound for sure but filtered through Los Lobos’ distinctly Latin identity. A dream of a song. Also highly recommended: Dose by The Latin Playboys (of which Froom was a full-fledged member).
I’ve been disturbed to see The New York Times covering developments in the treatment of Hepatitis C primarily as a contest between insurers and drug companies. Millions of people suffer from this lifelong, life-threatening disease, and for many, if not most, the cure is prohibitively expensive (even with insurance). Any story that gives more ink to the interests of shareholders and taxpayers than the plight of the sick is missing the point. For more information, please visit The Bonnie Morgan Foundation—and consider making a donation.
Now back to your regularly scheduled tumbling…
Steven Hyden, "The Jams of the Summer," Grantland