365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 27

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Safe as Milk

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I’ve been watching this insane Captain Beefheart video for days now, and I can’t stop thinkin’ about the man, the musicians, and the music.

So today, the debut. The beginning. The arrival. The Genesis. The Alpha.

Captain Beefheart. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.

The video is so not insane, it’s insane. The band is just playin’. It’s just a blues song. They’re outside, for god’s sake. But somehow, it’s just interplanetary awesome. It’s the first song from their “debut” release, Safe as Milk. The song is Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do. You can find it here, FYI:

Captain Beefheart – Live, 1968

That’s really the thing with the Beefheart of this early era. It’s just so raw and so straightforward in so many ways, and yet it’s a total revolution. This is the spirit we so desperately need in blues music today. Imagination. Passion. Weirdness. Vision.

Are you a “blues musician?” Connect with this album. Watch the video. Then challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to find a new vision within what you’re delivering. Raw it up, man. Raw it.

Beefheart it.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 26

Hank Mobley – Workout

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I love Hank Mobley. And, I LOVE the band he has on the album. I mean LOVE. I mean, this is probably as good as it fucking gets in jazz:

Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Grant Green, and Philly Joe Jones.

I mean, that’s a dream line-up. And they don’t disappoint. Which is pretty remarkable. You see all those names together, you’re expectations are going to be high. Very high. But the music cooks from start to finish.

I think this is generally considered to be canonical “hard bop” but for me, it’s just straight up jazz. It swings hard, and everybody wails. It’s melodic, and it’s intelligent. The interplay is spot on, the improvisations stretch but don’t break, and the electricity is palpable. It’s honestly a very fun record as well—it really feels like the musicians are just fully in it, and havin’ a ball. It’s just brilliant music.

And, it was recorded on this day back in 1961, so we’re celebrating it today.

Couple additional things to note here. Historically, I think Hank gets a bit of the short end of the stick, because reputationally Miles cut him down a peg for not bein’ the right man to fill Coltrane’s shoes. That ain’t fair. Mobley’s his own man, and this album shows it.

Soul Station is generally probably the more well-known and well-regarded of Mobley’s releases, but for my money, this is a far better album, for two key reasons: 1) Blakey is out on drums, and Philly Joe is in. That’s a good move for this set. And 2) Grant Green is added to the line-up here. That’s a damn good thing.

So, this album is a killer. Go dig it, and do it today, so you’re timely …


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 25

Bukka White – Mississippi Blues

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It is essentially impossible to stress how important this record was and is to me. Virtually everything I understand about the country blues, and just about every little success I’ve achieved in my career, can likely be traced to something on this album.

Here is where I learned to sing. Here is where I learned to play. Here is where I learned to write. Here is where I learned what it was I wanted to be when I grew up.

I remember buying a vinyl edition; my first copy, and I still have it. I will always have it.

His version of Shake ‘Em On Down deeply, deeply informs the version I started playing some 30 years ago, and still play to this day. It’s on my 2016 album “The Country Blues.” My version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” which is wholly and totally dependent on Bukka White for it’s style and sound, is on “The National Blues,” also from 2016. The point being, these Bukka White recordings have been shaping my life for three decades now, and show no signs of stopping.

Q: How powerful does music need to be, to completely change a man’s life?
A: This powerful.

These recordings were made almost immediately upon Bukka White’s “rediscovery” in the 60s, for John Fahey’s crucial and seminal Takoma label.

I’ve said it with regards to many other country blues legends as well, but for a confluence of reasons, I find that often, these first “re-emergence” recordings are often the strongest of a country blues artist’s whole career. I think this can be said not just about Bukka White here, but also about Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt.

Please, please do yourself a favor, and if you haven’t yet done so, find these recordings, and give yourself over to them. They will change you.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 24

The Yardbirds – For Your Love

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I got a thing about The Yardbirds. I just really dig ’em.

This was their American debut, and it came out at a time when Eric Clapton was on his way out, and Jeff Beck was on his way in.

It’s got so many of my fave Yardbirds tunes, and they’re all rave-uppy delicious.

Particularly delightful are their takes on Mose Allison’s I’m Not Talkin’ and Calvin Carter’s I Ain’ Got You. But surely the best of all is their version of Ernie K-Doe’s priceless track A Certain Girl.

Even Putty is a gem.

Now maybe, just maybe I could live w/out them doing My Girl Sloopy. But if that’s the price we pay to get the proto-garage jam that is I Ain’t Done Wrong, then I’ll willingly fork my ducats over.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 23

Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

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Hands up for who has an original pressing on vinyl! Yep, me too …

So, the thing is, this isn’t his best album. In some ways, it’s barely even tangentially related to the material he earned his Nobel for.

All the same, you simply can’t fully comprehend the full measure of the man’s achievement without absorbing this debut.

And that said, many of the performances here DO rank high on the list of Dylan’s major accomplishments—Song To Woody, one of only two “originals” on the release, remains one of his greater songs, even in the context of everything that’s come after.

His performance of House of the Rising Sun, despite being arguably lifted right off of Dave Van Ronk’s plate, is incomparably beautiful, and his take on Baby, Let Me Follow You Down ranks as one of the better ones historically (tho some would say he “borrowed” the arrangement here as well!).

Spoiler alert: If Dylan’s rather singular approach to the harmonica ain’t your thing, this album may drive you crazy—it’s everywhere, in all its bovine, major-chord glory.

All in all, it’s not an album to listen to through and through, every day. But it’s  an album you must listen too, through and through.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 22

Blind Lemon Jefferson – The Complete Classic Sides Remastered: Chicago 1926 Disc A

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If there is an official “sound” of the acoustic blues, it’s the sound of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Blind Lemon Jefferson’s music is the well from which all subsequent artists must ladle.

The imagery in the lyrics, the lyric form—these words and forms are canonized with the recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The long first vocal syllable, the tumbling melodic descent—these sounds are canonized in the recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The irregular bar counts, the idiosyncratic melanges of single-string runs, chordal moves, and bass line thumps—these brilliant eccentricisms are all canonized with the recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

These recordings are remastered by JSP—my favorites.

These are Blind Lemon Jefferson’s first recordings.

If you do not know these recordings, you do not know blues music.

Pro tip: When you take your first ride through this album, skip the first two gospel songs. They’re anomalies. They’re important, and you will listen to them. But skip them the first time. Start on track #3: Got The Blues. Suddenly, every other blues song you’ve ever heard will suddenly make a whole lot more sense.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 21

Charlie Christian & Dizzy Gillespie – After Hours

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While Dizzy Gillespie is name-checked on the cover, and is present on some of the recordings, the real story here is Charlie Christian.

Charlie Christian was, is, and forever will be the greatest jazz guitarist of them all, and I’ll tolerate no dissent on that matter.

Contrary to many who revere Mr. Christian, I LIKE his “official” recordings with Benny Goodman, and I don’t take offense at the truncated solos. I enjoy hearing a pro do his job.

That said, the outtakes and snippets of radio performances that exist are definitely awe-inspiring and fascinating—those moments when Benny calls a blues and just lets the band jam a bit.

This album is sort of the holy grail for that kind of thing. These raw, live recordings offer a sonic window into the world of Minton’s in 1941, when bop was just beginning to happen, and Christian’s talent was beginning to demolish everything that dared stand before it.

Start at the top, and let Swing to Bop prove it to you. Christian was the greatest of them all.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 20

Memphis Minnie – All The Published Sides 1929 – 1937

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Lizzie Douglas, known to the world as Memphis Minnie, had a career that pretty much encapsulated the history of country blues music’s first and arguably greatest period. She was something truly unique, something unlike any of the other legendary “women of the blues”—Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, etc. She was country blues in that smaller, rawer, more intimate way—she was a singer, a guitar player, a performer, a poet, a raconteur, a rover, a rough-and-tumble force of nature, a myth, a legend, and by all accounts, someone not to be messed with. In short, she was the real deal.

I picked this collection because it covers some of her greatest years, includes so many of her legendary songs, and because it’s from JSP, whose reverential masters I just adore. There is a later collection as well, also from JSP, that covers her later years, but this is absolutely where you should begin.

Recommended track to start with: Meningitis Blues.

This is THE sound of raw, early, creepy country blues. Just phenomenal … only, and I mean ONLY Memphis Minnie could do this.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 19

Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues

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When I was comin’ up as a young blues music fan, there was a lot to learn, and not too many ways to learn it, outside of just plain ol’ listenin’. So many of the greats were already gone, only so much had been written about them, video footage was scarce, and there was no internet. There were albums, and there were libraries. Libraries were actually a great place for albums. I spent a lot of time at the library.

So it took me awhile to work my way through to understanding just exactly the role Willie Dixon played in the formation of the next wave of the blues. As a composer, as a performer, as a talent scout, he was pretty much everywhere all the time, yet at the same time, he was kind of elusive.

Until I got to this album.

Is this the best blues album ever? Not by any stretch. Is Willie Dixon one of the great blues singers? He is not. Does this album make abundantly clear the full measure of just what it was Willie Dixon both created, and personified? It does.

There is always, of course, that question of whether it can truly be said that Willie Dixon was indeed the “writer” of these songs. You can’t really say that, to be honest. At least, you can’t if you go by the conventional definition of what counts as writing a song.

What we can say, is that Willie Dixon created what can surely be considered the modern canonical versions of these compositions—in successful enough fashion that they indeed comprise core elements of the modern blues canon.

So hats off to Mr. Dixon. He certainly earned the right to sing these blues, and the versions here are really excellent—ace performers include Sunnyland Slim, Walter Horton, Johnny Shines, and Dixon himself, and the album is a treasure chest. Open it up, and savor the jewels.

 

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations March 18

The American Graffiti Soundtrack

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For the first 4-5 years of my life, I don’t know that I knew there was any other music other than this music. I pretty much grew up on this soundtrack. And this is where I discovered Chuck Berry.

It is testament to the importance of the man’s music that 90 years feels too short to have had him on this planet.

I recommended a Chuck Berry collection a few recommendations ago, so it occurred to me that it would be nice today to both honor the moment I first heard his music, but also, to present him in the context of his own history. This is the music that was going on around him as he was coming up, and while I absolutely love everything collected here, it’s also patently obvious that as a songwriter, and as a master craftsperson, Chuck Berry was simply heads above the rest.

To me, Chuck  Berry was a cross between a fly in amber, and a haiku master. In some respects, he never really changed or “evolved” what he did, and in that respect, he sort of remains a gem locked in time. But at the same time, the revelations he provoked within the seemingly simple constraints of a rock n’ roll song are on par with Basho for their timeless relevance.

It is with boundless respect and deep bows that I bid farewell to Charles Edward Anderson Berry. The greatest rock n’ roll master of them all.


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