First of all, let’s get something straight: I’m a decent cook. I typically make dinner at least a couple of nights a week, and it almost always ranges from edible to pretty damn good.
That said, when it comes to cooking, I can’t even hold my wife’s apron strings. So when we have dinner parties, I’m usually nowhere near the kitchen (except insofar as everywhere in our apartment is near the kitchen). If I was, you’d hear the clatter of pans falling out of cabinets onto my head and the slopping of water and sauces onto the floor. My culinary style is not fit for company. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have tasks. When I ask Lisa what I can do to help, her answer is always two-fold: help clean the apartment and choose some music for the party. Lucky for you, this is not a post about apartment cleaning.
I’m not a big background music guy. I like to listen to music when I’m listening to music, you know? Trust me, though, you don’t want to be the host who tells your company to shut up because they’re missing a clever lyric or a wicked bass line. I’m also not a big fan of shuffle mode on the ol’ iPod. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather listen to a whole album from beginning to end. But again, we’re talking about a party here, and that Pet Sounds box set can get a little monotonous after the sixth disc of outtakes from the “Sloop John B” sessions. The trick is coming up with a playlist that’s assertive enough to give your party a boost without distracting your guests who are there, after all, to eat and talk. You also need enough variation to keep things interesting while at the same time creating a cohesive mood.
With that in mind, here are three albums I’ve turned to recently when Lisa told me it was time to do my part:
1. What’s Happening in Pernambuco: New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast
Really, any of the Brazil Classics compilations on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label would work. This, the most recent volume, has a dancier, more contemporary feel but is chill enough for cocktails and dinner.
2. The Oxford American music issue, companion CD
This year’s OA music issue should be out in the next few weeks, but the last few years’ worth are still available on-line, and they’re all excellent. Throw on three in a row, and you have an evening’s worth of smartly curated country, blues, soul, jazz, rockabilly, and novelties (Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe!). For the first time last year, they even acknowledged the existence of rap music in the South!
3. Digable Planets, The Blow-Out Comb
Speaking of rap music…I know, it was nerdy to dig the Planets when you were in high school, but have you heard their second album? Live instruments, more of a blaxploitation vibe than the coffee house thing you remember from “Cool Like Dat.” Awesome. Really. And perfect for the post-dinner wind-down. All hail Ladybug Mecca!