Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin III” (1970)

I always gauge a professed Led Zep fan by their attitude to this record. If they say they find it weak, boring, soft, folky, then you pretty much say they're fairweather friends who just want the hammer to drop, and would be much more at home with Black Sabbath or Uriah Heep. Fact is, Led Zep's folk (and world music) inclinations weren't some sort of add-on bonus; folk is at the heart of what the band is all about. Just listen to the first two records, which boast "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", "Black Mountain Side" (a straight retread of Bert Jansch's "Black Waterside"), "Ramble On", "Thank You", "Your Time Is Gonna Come" and even "What Is And What Should Never Be". In each of these songs, Celtic folk is a crucial element. Essential to Zeppelin, too, is the sense of mystery that comes from the folk tradition, the sense of the past in the present, that the otherworld (whether it be the supernatural or the Christian tradition) is just around the corner -- what Bob Dylan once summed up affectionately as "songs about death and vegetables". (And I'm reminded it was Dylan who informed us that "mystery is a fact".)
So. Led Zeppelin III. Written and recorded, not in a frenzy of activity, as the first two albums had been, but in a more relaxed frame of mind, with Plant and Page actually decamping to Bron-Y-Aur, a small cottage in rural Wales, to write together. No wonder, then, that this is a mellower album than its predecessors. Not that you'd know it when you drop the needle on the record. "Immigrant Song" explodes into being, with Plant's wail initiating us into the new world. The first two albums had begun with songs about sex; this one is about a mythical past, with Plant taking on the persona of a Viking warrior, ready to meet his companions in Valhalla (that is, in death). All hitched to one of the most brutal riffs this side of "Black Dog". And then it's over. Can it really be only two minutes' long? It feels like we've glimpsed an entire world in that time.

Sometimes seen as just that record between the hard rock milestones of II and the self titled fourth album, it's much more than that. In a way, it's the culmination of the journey undertaken on the first two records, as well as the beginning of a new one that will last for the rest of the band's career. Put simply, all the branches Zep will follow from now on can be traced to the seeds laid on III, whether it's the orchestral majesty of "Kashmir" (with its template of "Friends"), the medieval tone to "No Quarter" or "The Battle Of Evermore", or the slow burners of "Stairway" or "In My Time Of Dying". Idiot American reviewers sometimes claim that with this album Zep were trying to jump on the Crosby, Stills & Nash soft rock bandwagon, yet a quick look at the English scene of 1969-70 shows that Zeppelin's influences were Pentangle, Fairport Convention (compare III with Liege And Lief) and even Nick Drake. Actually, "influences" may be the wrong word; like any great band Zeppelin simply tied into the zeitgeist of the times, and discovered that its strains ran deep in its own DNA. –Brad

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Kinks “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society” (1968)

This album still grows on me every time I listen to it! In the title track the Kinks sing 'God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety' and in this collection they do their best to immortalise all kinds of things. If all the world's music except for this album were suddenly to disappear the Kinks would single-handedly have preserved some simple but catchy pop tunes ("Johnny Thunder" and "Animal Farm"), Vaudeville (in the form of "Sitting By The Riverside") and Music Hall ("All Of My Friends Were There") as well as the Village Green. Quite an achievement. But they don't stop there. They capture the sound of The Grateful Dead and Dylan on "Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains" and is that Hendrix I hear in "Big Sky"? Then there's the darkly psychedelic "Wicked Annabella" and the latin "Monica". They do their own take on the "Under My Thumb" Rolling Stones theme in "Starstruck" and the ridiculous in "Phenomenal Cat" (who sounds as if he's all set to eat the equally ridiculous Donald D). Is there no end to their conserving? "Picture Book" and "People Take Pictures Of Each Other" make sure that our nearest and dearest aren't forgotten. Rest assured - we're in safe hands. Taken on their own, many of the songs are rather simple. But put together I believe they amount to an artistic masterpiece - a preserved musical and poetic patchwork of past and present, itself reflecting the patchwork of the countryside that is home to many a village green. –Jim

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Donovan “Barabajagal” (1969)

This is the album to play for any of your friends who insist that Donovan just doesn't rock. The Jeff Beck Group pop in to kick the crap out of the title track, while "Superlungs" also shakes the foundations. (OK, I'm not pretending Deep Purple or Black Sabbath would be shaking in their boots. But heavy they are, my friend.) Elsewhere Don goes "Hey Jude" one better with "Atlantis" by going from spoken introduction to ecstatic freakout, omitting any actual song. "To Susan On The West Coast Waiting" is one of the best anti-war songs in a period not noticeably lacking in anti-war songs, and one of the few that actually expresses empathy for the soldiers doing the fighting. Elsewhere you have the lusty delights of "Pamela Jo" and "Trudi". And if there's also a piece of psychedelic silliness called "I Love My Shirt", well, what did you expect? This is Donovan, remember. A remarkably satisfying listen that still sounds great, if a little short (about 32 minutes in total). –Brad

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Roger McGuinn “Cardiff Rose” (1976)

McGuinn wasn't the most talented songwriter in the Byrds (that was Gene Clark) or the most innovative (that was Chris Hillman), but he was probably the most solid musician and definitely the classiest vocalist. On this album, though, he's working at peak form and the end result is a minor classic. He's backed by Dylan's Rolling Thunder band (here called Guam) and producer-guitarist Mick Ronson, who throws a handful of gravel into McGuinn's sometimes too-sweet sound. There's also a strong focus and consistency that his often too diverse other albums lack. The original material -- "Take Me Away", especially -- is fine, but the high points are songs by Rolling Thunder collaborators Dylan and Joni Mitchell, both unreleased at the time (and for years after). Of course it wouldn't be a McGuinn album without a traditional song, and he turns in a lovely, chilling performance on the old ballad "Pretty Polly". His best post-Byrds work? Almost certainly. –Brad

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Syd Barrett “The Madcap Laughs” (1970)

I have no idea what Syd Barrett's mental state was like when he recorded this album (going on what I've read, though, it obviously wasn't good), but we should emphasise this doesn't sound like music from a man who was sick. It's confident, playful (if also darker and more serious than his Floyd material), whimsical and open. It's also not very "psychedelic", in the sense that Piper was; the music, pared back to its core, reminds me more of, say, post-Cale Velvets than the Floyd. It's an album with its own, defiantly personal way of doing things; it's something you've never heard before, totally individual, and there's no meeting it halfway -- you either open your heart to it, or you don't. Myself, I love it to pieces. –Brad

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Todd Rundgren “Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” (1971)

A stunning album of singular vision, Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren stands as the odd man out in the Rundgren discography, decidedly un-eclectic, focused on a mellow, transcendent goal. Lonely-Friday-night-turned-love-at-first-sight opener “Long Flowing Robe” sets the stage with it’s easy-goin’ groove and explosive chorus (and the greatest single note tom fill in rock history) bathing the shag carpet in an orange glow, the rest of The Ballad germinating under it’s warmth. Heartstring-tugging, piano based ballads with rich vocal harmonies like “Wailing Wall,” “The Ballad (Denny & Jean),” “Be Nice to Me” and “Hope I’m Around” dominate, and sit comfortably next to head-noddin’ rockers like “Bleeding,” “Chain Letter” and “Parole.” The “less is more” philosophy is at play here (shockingly so for those coming at this album backwards after digesting the multi-layered entries to follow) with a straightforwardly simple instrumentation giving plenty of breathing room to the songs, each of which feature hooks galore - each a minor classic. With the career-defining “Something/Anything” lurking ’round the corner, “The Ballad” stands as an unheralded masterpiece that has undoubtedly served as the final straw for those who choose to dig deeper and have come to hold as their mantra: “Todd Is God.” –Ben

McCoy Tyner “The Real McCoy” (1967)

Yes! Here we have the album that lifts Tyner out of the shadow of Coltrane and propels him to deity status in jazz. A formidable pianist with a unique style Tyner was the defining muscular pianist whose hard aggressive block right hand chords and subtle left hand work made him eay to recognise and even easier to admire. With this album he simply explodes in every sense. His playing has never been bettered and it seems that all shackles are off. What also stands out is the stunning maturity of his compostion. This has the best opening of any jazz album with the romping Passion Dance and the perfectly titled Contemplation. Ron Carter has never sounded better either and Jones has a telepathic understanding with Tyner as is to be expected after so many years together. This would be in my ten jazz albums as a collection starter for any new or aspiring jazz fan. –Jon

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jerry Garcia “Garcia” (1972)

While the Grateful Dead don't play on Garcia's first solo album -- it's Jerry on everything except drums, which Bill Kreutzmann plays -- you can, fairly, call this a Dead album in disguise. Not only did the six songs on the record all enter the band's repertoire, most of them becoming mainstays, but the music very much inhabits the same sound world as Workingman's Dead or American Beauty. Imagining those songs with, say, Bob Weir's "Playing in the Band" and a Pigpen tune or two is enough to make you mourn the Great Dead Album That Wasn't. Still, never mind; this is far and away Garcia's best solo record, and even with the creepy sound experiments that fill out the second side -- which I happen to like but clash somewhat -- this just misses the full five stars. Apparently it's Cher's favourite album ever! –Brad

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Byrd “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” (1969)

Kicking off with an appropriately incendiary and doom-laden cover of a song best known from the Band’s Big Pink, this is not your L.A. hippie’s Byrds. Or is it? It’s a schizophrenic mess, really, as befits its title: the second track is a bounding little country ditty dedicated to a late dog, and, as a dog lover, I have to say I’ve got a soft spot for this, but it’s an unintegrated piece of a puzzling mess of a record, with a backhanded ode to the shitkickers that inspired their foray into country and western in the first place; a few remnants of their early psychedelic folk; a bizarre blues medley that doesn’t sound like much of anything (and not really in a good way); and a few other hybrids of the kind that would later prompt the term “alt-country.” These, and a really great proto-metal tune called “Bad Night at the Whisky.” Scattershot in song-form, production, and the level of commitment in its songwriting and performance, it’s really a McGuinn solo record backed up with a bunch of studio players who’re not always providing a sympathetic setting for the man’s restless (do I mean aimless?) creativity. Even so, I’d agree with reviewers who say this record doesn’t really get its due, ’cause sometimes there’s something to be said for schizophrenic messes—especially those that have such a strange, dark undercurrent. I probably prefer this to some of their more lauded releases. –Will

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sam Rivers “Contours” (1965)

Along with True Blue by Tina Brooks this is one of those Blue Note LPs that is painfully rare and unheard. What a shame as it is an absolute classic. Very different in feel to Brooks but just as essential. Avant Garde yet never forgetting to swing and what a line up: Hubbard, Hancock, Carter and Chambers! That should be worth the price of the LP alone but Rivers stamps his authority all over the set which is no mean feat in this company. His solos are at times tempered and sensitive and at other times scream with bursts of noise from the speakers. Carter and Hubbard are also on great form. The album also highlights what a great composer Rivers was. –Jon

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bert Jansch “Rosemary Lane” (1971)

I don't understand why this record is so overlooked. Perhaps it's because at the time of its release, when every other 1960s folkie was busy going electric in the wake of Liege and Lief, Bert -- ever the nonconformist -- chose to go the other direction. This is nearly all-acoustic, and it might be his most gentle and heartbreakingly sad record ever. There's a dreamy, hazy vibe to much of the music -- one of the tracks is even titled "A Dream, A Dream, A Dream" -- that creates a timeless feel; by which I mean not that the music hasn't dated (although it hasn't), but that it actually seems to stop time. I don't think Jansch ever topped his vocal on "Tell Me What is True Love", and it goes without saying that his guitar playing is superb. Seek it out. Fun Fact: Psych-folk supergroup Espers did the title track on their covers album The Weed Tree. –Brad

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Various Artists “Transformers: The Movie” (1986)

The battle's over, but the war has just begun... There was only one place any boy in the summer of '86 wanted to be - in the local multiplex soaking in Transformers: The Movie. Stepped-up animation, Transformers (including the presumedly indestructible Optimus Prime) getting shot and DYING, and bad language, this one promised a full dose of PG thrills. A few decades later, the movie is more of a chore to sit through, but the soundtrack holds up as a snapshot of mid 80's pre-teen dreamin'. A mix of period AOR, slick metal, and evocative fusion/prog instrumentals, Transformers: The Movie plays up the good guy/bad guy angle with Stan Bush's amazing double-shot of self-confidence in "The Touch" (reprised by Mark "Marky Mark" Whalberg in Boogie Nights) and "Dare," while Kick Axe transform into Spectre General to deliver some evil Decepticon rock with "Nothing's Gonna Stand in Our Way" and "Hunger." Lion's metallized version of the classic theme song is a pure laserblast of energy, and NRG's "Instruments of Destruction" keeps the cannons blazing. Wrap it up with Scotti Bros. pride and joy, "Weird" Al Yankovic doing his best Devo impression on a rallying cry to kids across the country strung out on sugar and Atari, "Dare to be Stupid," and I'm ready to slap on my Walkman, and hop on the ol' Huffy BMX for some suburban curb burnin'. Transform and roll out! –Ben

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron “Pieces of a Man” (1971)

The song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is the earliest incidence of rap that I've heard so far. What's more, it features the flute playing of Hubert Laws. That's right, flute in a rap song. The next thing that really struck me was the bass. None other than Ron Carter makes the switch to electric bass, reminding me of Jaco Pastorius a little bit. Those three musicians form a deadly trio. Hubert Laws only plays on three songs, I think. That's not much of an issue though because he wouldn't have really fit in many of the other songs. The style of the music varies from fusion on the first half to soul and jazz on the rest of the record. What takes the album from being good to being great is the fact that everyone can identify with the lyrics about the plight of African Americans and subjects like depression. "Lady Day and John Coltrane" feels more like a statement about the power of music in general to enhance you life, with John Coltrane and Billie Holiday used as examples. Scott-Heron has made it known on his records that he's a huge fan of Coltrane. Kind of makes a person wonder what kind of crazy supergroup would have been inevitable had a few people not died prematurely. Let's say Coltrane lived on. Heron might have used Ron Carter to recruit Coltrane into this band. Pretty much wherever Coltrane went, Elvin Jones followed, so they wouldn't have had to look far for a drummer. So far we've got flute, vocal, drums, sax and bass. What about guitar? The only right person for the job would have Jimi Hendrix, yet another victim of too much celebrity. Maybe throw John's talented wife Alice in on piano and harp. Voila! Potentially one of the best supergroups that will never be. It's sad, really. What I like better about this album versus Free Will is the presence of Ron Carter and that the lyrics are still political but don't go so far as to border on being anti-white. It's one thing to stick up for your people but it's other to sound like you're verbally attacking another group in the process. Let's not fight hate with hate. Pieces of a Man was released the same year as What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, has just as much political and social commentary, might be better, and yet gets a meager amount of recognition in comparison. Yup, that's about how much sense I've come to expect from the music world. –Rob

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bruce Springsteen “Nebraska” (1982)

For this, I will forgive all the frat boy anthems. For this, I will forgive "Dancing in the Dark". Hell, I'll forgive Springsteen's entire post-1985 career for this haunted, scarifying record that seems beamed directly in from a black and white movie from 1949. In its own strange way it's as avant-garde as any French new wave film; here's an eternally rural America where teenagers kill their families, the churches are filled with bodies, the highway stretches out endlessly before us and it's always the hour before dawn. –Brad

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rancid “...And Out Come the Wolves” (1995)

Rancid's ...And Out Come the Wolves is an often overlooked classic from the 90's. I guess you could say that the album was my first true punk experience and I'm sure many of you would disagree about this being *true* punk, but anyway you look, it had massive influence on my musical growth and even got me into such hardcore legends as Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedy's, and pretty much every other US punk band you can think of. I'll be glad to admit the fact that ...Wolves is a little overfilled, but all the songs are catchy as hell and I really couldn't do without any of them. Many among my age might credit Green Day for opening the doors to "old school" punk education, not for me because I never really saw them as punk or even being punk influenced (no matter how many times Billy Joe wanted to praise The Clash) and their records from that time have become increasingly stale through the years. Rancid, on the other hand still sounds fresh and full of forceful energy and show no signs of slowing down. ...And Out Come the Wolves is by far one of the greatest (and most underrated) albums from the 90's and continues to hold many fond memories from my youth that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. –Jason

Flipper “Album: Generic Flipper” (1982)

Dirt, drug-fueled, filth-ridden punk is the best way to describe Flipper's Generic album. It's not exactly fast paced like many other punk bands of the time, but it makes up for it with its sheer brilliance of heavy sludge guitars and downer lyrics. If you're looking for in your face sweet talk go else where, this set is devoted to the noise crazed enslaving crowds. And every track plays off the next, ultimately concluding to the epic closer, "Sex Bomb" -- which is literally one of the most enthralling songs ever recorded. The whole album is an all filth, visceral, perfect mess. Highly recommended! –Jason

Charles Mingus “Oh Yeah” (1962)

That Mingus had in mind to do something different on this record can be divined by the fact that he plays piano instead of bass here. And he sings ... badly. Plus he hires both Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin to play sax -- and if you can think of two more disparate players, send your answers on a postcard to me. The end result is one of Mingus' earthiest, bluesiest, craziest and, well, most unhinged albums; if the songwriting isn't up to, say, Ah Um, it makes up for it in sheer loopiness. "Passions of a Man" is the most avant-garde and complicated track here, perfectly balanced by the sleazy R&B of "Eat That Chicken". And who can disagree with the sentiments of "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me"? Unsung hero: Dannie Richmond. Again. –Neal

Friday, June 11, 2010

Robert Fripp “Exposure” (1979)

I may be alone in thinking this is a greater record than anything King Crimson ever did, but I shouldn't be. Here Fripp harnesses his experimental side to actual polished pop songs -- nothing here goes much over four minutes -- and the cast of thousands is used to good effect. Terre Roche screams her lungs out on the title track, a kind of modernist update of "The Great Gig in the Sky"; Peter Gabriel reprises "Here Comes the Flood", perhaps the most affecting song either he or Fripp has ever been connected with; and Daryl Hall, of all people, hits the high spot with his wistful voice on the guitar looped "North Star". It's the perfect meld of prog-meets-art rock-meets-new wave-meets-soul, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it came out in 1979, a time when music had collapsed into a huge melting pot and for a brief moment anything seemed possible (of course it all began to harden into separate genres -- very separate -- almost immediately). No coincidence, either, that Exposure marks a decade since In the Court of the Crimson King. Brad

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Holy Modal Rounders “The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders” (1969)

Acid folk? Nope. This is something far stranger: acid country-rock. Acid bluegrass, even. Basically it's like someone took Live/Dead, Workingman's Dead, American Beauty and Aoxomoxoa and decided to stick 'em in a blender, then play them all simultaneously, while smoking prodigious amounts of dope and running Easy Rider backwards so a bunch of dead hippies get brought back to life by rednecks with magic rifles. But better. –Brad

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Billy Cobham “Spectrum” (1973)

I might be one of the few people who ventured into this album as a Deep Purple fan more than anything else. I'd read that Tommy Bolin's best work could be found on this album so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Since then I've found out some more about Mr. Cobham and from "Spectrum" alone, I'm impressed. The band sound really tight on this album and every track bursts with energy. The first track is an absolute mad dash to the end with great soloing and frenetic drumming, but my favorite tracks are "Stratus" and "Red Baron". Both of these songs have really cool, laid back grooves and the interplay between guitar, keyboard and drums is delightful. After entering into "Spectrum" as a Tommy Bolin fan, I left as a Jan Hammer fan. The keyboard solo's here are breath-taking, stealing focus from Bolin who is no slouch himself. –Tom

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Fleetwood Mac “Bare Trees” (1972)

It's interesting how "Future Games" has a very distinct summer feel and "Bare Trees" has a very distinct winter feel. It's a testament to the genuine depth of talent evident in this line-up that they manage to pull off both with aplomb. It's hard to choose between the two but I think I have a slight preference for this album as Christine McVie's songs are improvements on the formula she established on "Future Games", and there's a bigger indication of where Fleetwood Mac's sound would go in the future; they sound like a band on solid ground. Featuring on his fourth and final Fleetwood Mac album, Danny Kirwan responds again to the change in sound and delivers the goods. This album might give fans an indication of how his sound might have developed had he not fallen out so spectacularly with the band. If there was any remaining doubt that he was a wonderfully gifted writer and performer then they're put to rest here; he signs off with a batch of songs that confirm him as a talented pop craftsman.

Kirwan's album opener, "Child of Mine", is a nice little mover with great guitar work. His instrumental, "Sunny Side of Heaven", is like watching a cloud falling from the sky in slow motion-it's that serene. "Bare Trees" is another groovy, melodic rocker with potent bursts of lead guitar from Kirwan and great vocals. "Danny's Chant" is a quasi-instrumental with wordless vocals over the top that somehow enhances the ambient feel of the album and has some nice wah-wah in it. Kirwan's final contribution, "Dust", is the highlight of the album and one of the best songs I've ever heard. The lyrics are taken from a Rupert Brooke poem and whether the music came first or the idea of using the lyrics came first, it's a mighty impressive feat. The lyrics are beautiful and the music has such a powerful synthesis of beauty and sadness that it breaks my heart every time I listen to it. Bob Welch's contributions are wonderful with the use of mellotron and the catchy chorus of "The Ghost" standing out for me. Christine McVie's contributions are similar to her songs from "Future Games" but slightly better in my opinion. "Homeward Bound" genuinely rocks and doesn't out stay it's welcome in the way that "Morning Rain" did. The guitar solo from Kirwan is absolutely scintillating; he even manages to throw a Rainbow-style progression into the mix. The poem that ends the album is an interesting addition. Read by a Mrs. Scarrot, it fits in well with the winter feel of the album. Fans of the Lindsay Buckingham-era of Fleetwood Mac will probably enjoy this album and, ultimately, it occupies a really good middle-ground between the two well-known periods of the band. Danny Kirwan’s stint in the Mac is over but he leaves us a wealth of great, unappreciated material and “Bare Trees” is a fitting epitaph to his time in the band. –Tom

Ram Jam “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram” (1978)

Country-fried metal (never mind that these guys were Yanks) recorded recklessly in the red, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram drops the listener in the garage just as our blue collar bozos have popped the cork on a particularly toxic bottle o' hooch. Kicking in with the rabid "Gone Wild," Ram Jam tackle each song with all the skill and determination of a pack of cavemen taking down a mastodon, consistently plastering you to the wall with riffmonsters like "Pretty Poison," "Wanna Find Love," and "Just Like Me," only pausing for the surprisingly sober "Turnpike" and oddly hospitable, probably recorded at gunpoint "Saturday Night." Idiot-savants of hard rock, Ram Jam sound like they might not be able to tie their shoes if they even wear any, but who's got time when Portrait begs another spin? –Ben

Monday, June 07, 2010

Miles Davis “Water Babies” (1976)

For an album of leftover tracks from the Quintet's late 60s sessions, this is surprisingly cohesive. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter pens all these tracks and "Two Faced" is the best of the bunch, a stunning, mind melting improvisation featuring Chick Corea providing ethereal washes of electric piano. That track alone is worth getting this album. "Water Babies" and "Sweat Pea" sound radically rearranged from the versions available on Shorter's solo albums. The former sounds extended and has more percussive elements, the latter transformed into a lovely ballad rather, than the short piece found on Super Nova. –Neal

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Traffic “Mr. Fantasy” (1967)

I don't know whose idea it was to have Steve Winwood start wearing those big shouldered blazers back in the 80s, but that person should be beaten, or maybe put in the stocks medieval style. If Steve himself made this decision, well, I can only put my head in my hands and sigh. I hated his yuppie pop period in the 80s, but this was before I discovered Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group, two bands which definitely changed my view of him considerably. There are so many different versions of this album, but I think I'm covered because I have the reissue which includes the Heaven Is In Your Mind version, which is kind of the same thing, but was only released in the US. Anyway, I like the uniqueness of their sound and the fact they weren't just another generic hippie dippy psych band. Great nods to jazz and world music, plus interesting uses of flute and sitar. I guess the jazz influence would grow more prominent on subsequent albums. "Dealer" could just be my all time favourite Traffic song with its Spanish style guitar. Just Beautiful. –Neal

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Magnetic Fields “69 Love Songs” (1999)

Before I bought this three disc set, I had downloaded some tracks from the collection and included them on various playlists. As a result, I had different favorites over time, falling in love with various tracks as they embedded themselves into my psyche. When I finally heard all the songs together I was blown away at the uniqueness of all these tracks. There's a lot here that works well together - simple instrumentation (some acoustic, some electro), alternating vocalists, dry humour, classic pop songwriting - Merritt is definitely one of the stellar songwriting voices of his generation. There's just the right amount of cheese here too, not too much but just enough to at least deflate things when they become too serious. Some favourites include "When My Boy Walks Down The Street", "Reno Dakota", "Washington DC" and "Zebra". Merritt should really turn these songs into some sort of musical because love is well..universal, and rightfully should be celebrated with song and dance. We see the theme of love here revealed, warts and all, with all its betrayals, bliss, rejection, infatuation, etc. This certainly isn't Julio Iglesias territory, although it would be nice to hear the famous Latin Lover croon his way through "How Fucking Romantic." –Neal

Thursday, June 03, 2010

John Coltrane “My Favorite Things” (1961)

If ever there was a document to the genius of Trane it is the title track here. He takes a perky little Rogers and Hammerstein number and infuses it with Indian influences and extends it to thirteen of the most intense minutes of listening pleasure ever. No wonder it become Trane's most requested and loved piece. This album features three other standards given the Trane treatment but lets be honest My Favorite Things is the highlight. The LP also introduces us to the Soprano sax that Trane so favored at times. A hard instrument to love unless in the right hands he plays it with his usual ferocity and vigor and makes it sing and cry like no else has ever done. Also, listen to the work of McCoy Tyner on the title track. Has he ever sounded better. His work on this track makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it. –Jon

Van Halen “Van Halen” (1978)

Born from the clubs of LA's Sunset Strip, Van Halen is a manifesto of life lived in the extreme - hot nights in pursuit of booze and babes, all else be damned. An album that embodies rock's basic love of wild, party-hearty recklessness with a shot of danger, Van Halen's personality lives and breathes it's two frontmen, as over a rock solid rhythmic foundation laid down by Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen, Eddie dances on a six-string, nickel plated tightrope, while Diamond Dave gives his best peacock impression throughout the classic disc. Decades later, Eddie's seemingly second-nature abilities still astonish, while Roth is from a land that time forgot, possessing a sense of showmanship and confidence that simply wouldn't make it past today's thought police. Van Halen's timelessness is insured by this cocksure combo of intoxicated revelry and overflowing talent. A solid half of Van Halen has become ubiquitous: "Ain't Talkin' About Love," the steamy "Runnin' With the Devil," hard rock candy of "Jamie's Cryin'," prowling "Feel Your Love Tonight," and the smirking cover of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me." But the rest of the disc is just as stellar, featuring the blazing "On Fire," high voltage aggression of "Atomic Punk" and "I'm the One," jokey blues strutter "Ice Cream Man," and the blurry-eyed "Little Dreamer." And one can't forget "Eruption," a two minute, tossed-off guitar stunt suited perfectly to this album's blaring braggadocio. Ted Templeman's production breathes with a sweaty, live energy, and with it's bulletproof lineup, Van Halen rolls down the boulevard crusin' for action, it's wares on full display, ready to take on all comers. –Ben

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Smiths “The Smiths” (1984)

If Smiths fans had a propensity for violence, I would've been beaten up quite a bit in middle school. You see, I was eleven and quite liked Bon Jovi - might as well get that skeleton out of the closet now. The most I got from the older Smiths fans at school (and ooh they ever were soo cool) were dirty looks or eye rolls. Well, whatever...I don't like Bon Jovi anymore (don't hate 'em either, they seem like nice chaps), and do consider myself a Smiths fan, but it wasn't really anything to do with my school experiences. Enter Morrissey and Marr. The latter's distinct guitar style is what blew me away first. He comes across as a kind of post punk Roger McGuinn. I guess I realized that one didn't have to be a "shredder" like Eddie Van Halen to stand out as a good guitarist. Then the Moz...well, not many have managed to duplicate that croon of his have they? I remember the Smoking Popes didn't sound anything like the Smiths, but their singer had the dry tuneless croon down pat. I find the Moz's singing on this debut strangely attractive, even funny - especially on "Miserable Lie" on which he eventually gives up singing altogether and just kind of hoots. But everything here is instantly memorable, especially the smash hits on the latter half of the album. –Neal