Category Archives: Album Recommendations

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 16

Great Bluesmen at Newport

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It’s December 16th. So I’m recommending what is probably the most important album in my life. This is the one that started it all for me. I was sixteen years old. I had “The Country Blues” by Samuel Charters under my arm as I boarded the city bus to go to the U District in Seattle. There was a Tower Records there, and that’s where I was headed. Because I’d fallen in love with the names and stories in this book, but I didn’t know their music. I knew Muddy Waters. I knew Howlin’ Wolf. I knew Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins. I didn’t know Son House, or Lightnin’ Hopkins, or Bukka White, or Mance Lipscomb, or Mississippi John Hurt. I had to know what they sounded like.

I had been playing guitar for a couple years at that point. I wanted to be Joe Strummer. But a strange spell was taking me over. This blues spell. Something was growing inside of me. And it was leading me to Tower Records with “The Country Blues” under my arm. I was determined to find an LP by one of the names in the book.

What I found, was this album. Robert Pete Williams. Son House. Fred McDowell. Skip James. Reverend Gary Davis. They were all there.

I got home. I put the record on. Side One. First song. Mississippi John Hurt. Sliding Delta. For the first time in my life, I knew. Right away. That was it. That. That was what I wanted to do with my life.

And that IS what I did with my life.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 15

Fugazi – (EP/7 Songs)

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I am a patient boy.
I wait, and I wait, and I wait.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 14

Morphine – Yes

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You dig funky music. You dig smart music. You dig dark music. You dig film noir. You dig downtown jazz. When I say, two-string slide bass & saxophone jams, you say, yes.

Does this sound like you?

Then you like this album. You like Morphine.

Do you like Morphine?

Yes.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 13

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane – Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

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Of all the various “staged” albums recorded with Ellington that saw him paired with various “young guns,” this is certainly my favorite, followed very closely by Money Jungle with Mingus and Max Roach.

This version of In A Sentimental Mood is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever recorded.

Two things that should be immediately apparent about Ellington and Coltrane from this album—in case you weren’t aware already—are that a) Ellington is a really masterful and unique pianist, and b) Coltrane is a master of tone.

My Little Brown Book is almost as beautiful as Sentimental Mood, and Big Nick is probably the best example of a true blend of the two artists’s style, but note for note and pound for pound, this is simply a must-have recording for anyone who believes in—and wants to learn more about—the genius of jazz, in the hands of the masters.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 12

The Smithereens – Especially For You

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#RIP #PatDiNizio

I remember one particularly eye-opening incident. We were living in Denver, Colorado for a spell. There was a street concert happening in the then-still-new- LoDo. The Smithereens were playing. I was over the moon. I told my best pal at the time about it, urging him to come with me. He had no idea who The Smithereens were. I couldn’t believe it. At the moment, I realized that the entire world WASN’T in fact aware of one of the great rock n’ roll bands of all time.

I was in high school when Especially For You came out. I was already playing guitar, already trying to be in bands. 1986 was a pretty good year for a young musician. REM came out with Life’s Rich Pageant. Billy Bragg released Talking With The Taxman About Poetry. Husker Du had Candy Apple Grey. Simultaneously, Dwight Yoakum arrived with Guitars, Cadillac, etc. Steve Earle gave us Guitar Town. Add to this XTC’s Skylarking, Costello’s King of America, and Nick Cave’s Kicking Against The Pricks, and you had a pretty good year.

And then came “Blood and Roses.” For where I was at, this was perfect music. Moody, noirish, heart-on-its-sleeve 4-chord rock. Simple poetry, minor melodies, big guitars. I was in. “Behind the Wall of Sleep” was right up my emotional alley as well. God, I loved this record.

The Smithereens kept it coming across 2 more beautiful albums. We got “Only A Memory” from Green Thoughts. “A Girl Like You” from 11. I loved it.

By 1991, and Blow Up, I had moved on, admittedly. But I’ll always love the first 3 albums, and especially Especially For You.

RIP Pat DiNizio, and thank you.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 11

Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come

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It’s hard in this day and age, to fully understand how controversial this album was upon release. To modern ears, it sounds beautiful, possibly quirky, certainly original, but it unquestionably sounds like … JAZZ. Tho that’s not what ALL folks thought at the time.

It was probably the quartet’s fabled residency at the Five Spot that followed the release of this album that REALLY cemented the revolutionary reputation—those shows BLEW people’s minds!

Maybe it was the lack of a chord-based instrument; in Ornette’s musical cosmology, that allowed for more harmonic freedom. But Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan had gone sans piano before, tho admittedly not to quite the same effect. Maybe it was Ornette’s almost infantillacly squeaky plastic sax tone—tho honestly, was that any worse than many of Bird’s recordings? Maybe it was Don Cherry. Certainly to my ears, he’s the true freak of the show, in all the best ways. There never was anything quite like Don Cherry, and there never has been since.

Whatever it was, the album and quartet both were a lightning rod, and the album still compels today. Peace is one of my favorite works on the record, and of course Lonely Woman deserves every accolade it receives. And Congeniality bounces as bouncily as anything Bird ever bounced off Billie. If this was the shape of jazz to come, then jazz had a good future in front of it. And it did.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 10

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

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As with Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Bitches Brew was a work of art that I just couldn’t GET, no matter how many times I tried. With Faulkner, I GOT As I Lay Dying right out of the gate, just like I got The Birth of the Cool right out of the gate. But The Sound and the Fury was something I had to try, and try, and try with.

Same for Bitches Brew. I listened, I didn’t get it. I didn’t dig it. I couldn’t get through it.

What changed? With Faulkner, it was a conversation with my Dad. He gave me simple advice—just be patient. Don’t worry if you don’t know what’s going on through the first third of the book. Just absorb the words, the language, the feeling. Don’t worry too much about the story.

And he was right. I stopped trying to wrestle the first third into submission, and just experienced it. And suddenly, the book fell into place. It’s extraordinary. One of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

I could have used that advice for Bitches Brew. Ultimately, it was reading ABOUT the album that got me across the impasse. Something about reading HOW the album was recorded, WHY it was recorded the way it was, and WHAT was going on in Miles’ world at the  TIME it came together made it all make sense.

And then, when I went back for another listen, it all clicked. it GOT it. It’s extraordinary. One of the greatest albums I’ve ever listened to.

The trick of it is, is that it’s that thing—that whole “being deadly serious about that which is incredibly fun” thing. You have to get that Zen thing if you’re to understand this album. You have to understand both its seriousness and its fun, and you have to transcend them both. That’s the brew.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 9

John Hammond Jr. – The Best Of

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There was a time when I pretty much bought ANY LP that said “blues” on it, and was a Vanguard Twofer. The Twofers were my Dead Sea Scrolls. They were somehow MORE than just holy, the were revelatory in a way that CHANGED history.

John Hammond Jr’s early career took a bit to get into proper gear, and his first few albums are a little uneven—this can of course be forgiven, given what it was he was attempting; becoming a legit country bluesman.

That’s why I recommend this Twofer; partly, because it’s a Vanguard Twofer, and partly because it largely collects the best of Hammond’s early work to paint a strong picture of who and what he was and had become, by 1970, when he was the tender age of 28.

For those who know him as an acoustic troubadour, you may be surprised by the juke joint jumps and Chicago romps that populate the track list, but trust me, they’re just as legit as his acoustic workouts, and it’s all permeated through and through with that soulful freneticism that marks ALL of Hammond’s best work.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 8

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3

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Dylan’s peculiar genius is maddening, and possibly never more so than on this collection. Whether it’s his preternatural ability—at such a young age—to deliver a masterpiece performance like “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” or the fact that it turns out he was recording incredible work like “Blind Willie McTell” at a time when we despaired that he’d ever write anything good again (i STILL can’t fathom why he’d leave the recording on the cutting room floor), Dylan has been confounding and delighting us for so many decades it’s virtually impossible to remember he’s actually just another mortal like the rest of us. Admittedly, as these recordings make clear, a bizarrely talented mortal, but a mortal all the same.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 7

Richard Shindell – Blue Divide

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With this, his 2nd album, Shindell gave the world a genuine folksong masterpiece. The song is entitled “Fishing,” and it does every single thing a story song is supposed to do. It’s perfection. There’s a wonderful live version from 2002 available on a Shindell album entitled “Courier,” and I recommend you listen to that too. But you first owe it to yourself to listen to the original.

Shindell is a wonderful songwriter all the way around, and wonderfully consistent, and in heaping praise upon “Fishing” I don’t mean to disparage his other work. It’s just that I’m really in awe of this song …

If you delve into his career, you’ll have to excuse him for collaborations with the likes of Dar Williams, of whom the less said the better …

Instead, just remember that, thanks to the ongoing contributions of Richard Shindell and a handful of others, there is still hope for the story, for the song, for the folks …

 


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