365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 21

Ida Cox – Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 1, 1923

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Ida Cox was one of the truly great early pioneers of the blues form, and while she gets lumped in with “classic blues women” on the 20s and 30s, she certainly stood alone as a singer, performer, songwriter, and businesswoman.

She was “discovered” twice by John Hammond over the course of her long career, and her performance at Hammond’s now-legendary Carnegie Hall “Spirituals to Swing” concert certainly cements her place in the blues hall of fame, tho it’s likely she’s more known to contemporary audiences for her song “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues,” as this is a phrase that has fully entered our common parlance by virtue of all the covers done of it since; including, oddly enough, a rather successful one by Cyndi Lauper!

I love these very early recordings of hers, cuz you can just already feel the vitality of her voice wanting to jump out and git ya …

She had a really unique voice, both objectively, and for the era. She wasn’t a growler, and she wasn’t particularly coy, or heavy with innuendo; she had a hard vibrato, and a cutting tone, and she could really hit a blues hard, despite not really coming off like a tough blues artist … listen to somethin’ like Ida Cox’s Lawdy, Lawdy Blues, and you’ll dig what I mean …

She would record it much later in life, with far better recording quality, but this early version of I’ve Got The Blues For Rampart Street, crackly as it is, is just totally magic. Please, please check it out.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 20

Elmore James – Slide Order of the Blues, The Singles As & Bs 1952-1962

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You would think, being a slide player, that I’d love Elmore James for his slide playing. But that’s not really what gets me about Elmore. Too little credit has been given to his vocals over the years, but honestly, that’s what slays me the most about his sound.

His voice just has this really crazy, on-the-edge character to it that’s totally wild. Whether it’s soul-blues classics like Sho’ Nuff I Do, where you get the rougher, shouting side of his thing, or that high, breaking wail you hear on something like I Held My Baby Last Night, his voice just has such presence, and it hits me every time I hear it.

Don’t cut me wrong. That fuzzy, cutting slide thing of his was killer. But the voice is somethin’ else altogether …

This is a great collection that covers all the necessary stuff, and it’s another outstanding remaster job by Jasmine.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 19

Ted Hawkins – The Final Tour

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Not many artists disappear into self-imposed obscurity virtually immediately after receiving a 5-star review in Rolling Stone, but that’s what Hawkins did. It was a disappearing act he performed many times over in his peripatetic life. Sometimes it was because he was in trouble—heroin, jail, etc. Other times, he just didn’t like the scrutiny.

The rich and famous kept on tryin’ to “discover” him, but he kept outwitting them.

Life caught up tho, and death took him at just 58. Fortunately, we have this album from him, recorded just before he passed. The first 2/3 of the album are from a set at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, not far from Venice Beach, where he played on the streets for decades. He’s in great form on these performances, my favorite of which is Bring It On Home Daddy …

We still miss ya Ted.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 18

John Mayall – Bluesbreakers (w/ Eric Clapton)

 

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The period of time during which I listened to this album was a pretty short one, but it was a really important landmark on my journey backwards into the country blues.

I started, like a lot of people do, with Eric Clapton. That got me back to Cream, and then The Yardbirds. From there, this album. Which got me back to Chicago, and so forth.

It’s actually not my favorite Mayall disc (Crusade is!), and I was never a Les Paul player (save for one epic session in SF when I got to record w/ a mid-60s Gold Top through a Crybaby into a Marshall!), but all the same, I dug this intensely for the short while that I dug this intensely.

Favorite on here was always All your Love (great Otis Rush tune!) …


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 17

Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders

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There is so, so, so MUCH material to choose from when it comes to talking about Sonny Rollins. So, as a point-of-entry, because I need one, I’ll rely on the first album of his I ever heard. A friend gifted me this on cassette in the late 80s, and rarely a month has gone by where I haven’t listened to it at some point since. The cassette is long gone of course, but the music remains!

This is an album of some significance in the Rollins canon, as it was the last he’d record before his self-imposed 3-year exile from professional music; a sabbatical famously spent practicing on the Williamsburg bridge, and time off that would ultimately lead to The Bridge in 1961, upon his return.

The album was a West Coast date that featured Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar, and Shelly Manne, all of whom were also “leaders” for titles on the Contemporary label.

The album is so playful, and inspired, and it swings so hard, and it’s just truly a joy to hear this music. Highly, highly recommended.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 16

Etta James – At Last!

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Another staggering debut.

With all the stories that have accumulated around James over the years, it’s sometimes all too easy to forget just how incredibly impressive she was as a vocalist; it’s particularly instructive to go back and listen to this young, raw, preternaturally talented new singer on her debut, already tearing songs to pieces with the power of her pipes; here she digs into everything from “I Just Want To Make Love to You” to “A Sunday Kind Of Love” to “Stormy Weather.” Just a monster, monster singer.

Technically, she was already a veteran of a kind, and a handful of these songs had already been released as singles. But still, an extraordinary early album that announced a major, major vocal power to the larger world.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 15

Leroy Carr – The Essential

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As a bluesman, he had it. That thing. That combination of pathos and playfulness. He had it. And as a composer, he had it. That thing. He could turn a phrase, nail a progression, bury a hook, and craft a language. As a collaborator, he had it. That thing. That ability to, through partnership, become more than a sum of parts. He had it with many artists, none so important as Scrapper Blackwell. As a recording artist, he had it. That ability to deliver when it was time to deliver.

I can’t overestimate how influential Leroy Carr’s great performances are. Don’t get me wrong; alot of it is repetitive, formulaic of-its-era blues. But the good songs are so, so, so good. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes terrifying, sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, always so, so good. That’s why “The Essential” (or something equivalent) is ultimately what you have to get, so you can make sure you get all the beautiful ones, like:

  • How long, how long blues
  • Papa’s on the rooftop
  • Blues before sunrise
  • Don’t start no stuff
  • You got me grieving
  • It’s too short
  • Suicide blues
  • Church house blues
  • Six cold feet of ground

and so many more …

If those titles look familiar, by the way, it’s because they’re ALL part of the songlist for The Westside Sheiks!

 

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 14

Jacques Brel – Enregistrement Public à l’Olympia 1964

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If you haven’t yet experienced Jacques Brel’s live performance of “Amsterdam” from 1964, then there remains a part of your soul that has not yet been moved.


365 Days of Album Recommendations _ June 13

Bill Withers – Just As I Am

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Anytime you want to talk about devastatingly, mind-blowingly, earth-shatteringly perfect debut albums, you just call me up, and we’ll talk about Just As I Am by Bill Withers.

Because this album is UNBELIEVABLE.

This album would be amazing no matter when on a timeline it was released. It would have been amazing in the bloody Middle Ages, and it will be amazing in the year 2525.

Yes, yes, Ain’t No Sunshine. But you know what? It’s STILL a fucking amazing song.

And Grandma’s Hands? You can’t tell me nothin’ about that song, unless you tell me it’s a fucking amazing song.

The man even managed to make Let It Be sound good. That qualifies you as a mother-fucking WIZARD in my book.

If you don’t own this album, shame on you.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 12

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In

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At the center of any discussion around the achievements of Nick Cave sits this central truth—that to reach those great and rare moments of devastating artistry, one must be willing to risk horrible, ghastly, failures.

And this is the career of Nick Cave, in a nutshell. When he is great, he is frighteningly, bravely, fearlessly great. And when he is not great, he is embarrassingly terrible.

Your interest in, and appreciation of, the music of Nick Cave will inevitably hinge on how good you think his good is, vs. how unbearable you think his bad is.

I believe in his good music, because I will always take a brave musician over a careful one, provided there is craft, intention, and skill at the heart of the brave endeavor.

Song for song, I think this is Nick Cave’s strongest collection. Its romanticism borders on gothic, vampiric excess, and it’s doomful seriousness rides along the edge of pretension, but ultimately, this is a powerful and violently saturated tragedy that plays out over its 12 songs as a sort of Shakespearean tribal blues symphony; one that manages to restrain its self-conscious theatricality enough so that its raw roots can show through.


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