Category Archives: Album Recommendations

365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 17

Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders


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!


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


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


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


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


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.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – July 11

Lennie Tristano & Warne Marsh – Intuition


Just a strange and beautiful record. Recorded in 1949. Timeless. I have listened to this album over and over and over under headphones, and never grow tired of it. It’s eerie and cold, yet it bounces and percolates, and it’s introspective and insular, but it invites and cajoles, and it’s mesmerizing. It’s a landmark in the history of piano jazz, be-bop, cool jazz, and free jazz, all rolled into one hypnotically swinging LP.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 10

Jeffrey Halford & The Healers – Lo Fi Dreams


Trying to parse the complex interfusion of influences that courses through Jeffrey Halford’s blood is a bit like trying to sequence the DNA of a primate—on the one hand, it’s almost shocking how familiar so much of it is, but at the same time, you know you’re spelunking into the soul of a creature very different from you.

If Lo Fi dreams isn’t the best LP of this veteran troubadour’s exemplary career, it’s at least certainly the defining one—and it’s quite possibly the best at that.

How to describe what Halford has achieved here? How to explain the nuances of sound that make up this deceptively straightforward roots-rock release?

Start with this sonic vision: Imagine Jimmy Dale Gilmore singing Tom Waits’ “Get Behind The Mule.” Then throw in a healthy dose of Alejandro Escovedo circa A Man Under The Influence, and add in a touch of Gram Parsons, with a flavor not unlike “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In the Morning.” Add in some winsome Live at the Old Quarter-style Townes Van Zandt, and then have Jeff Tweedy sing something off Greg Brown’s Slant 6 Mind, with Bo Ramsey layin’ down the slide. Finally, maybe drop in a hint of 80’s roots-punk à la The Blasters and The Beat Farmers, and then hitch the whole thing to a truck being driven by John Fogerty and Levon Helm, and I guess you’d get something close to what Halford manages to so seamlessly assemble.

Full disclosure, I first met Mr. Jeffrey Halford way back in the early 90’s—during the glory days of San Francisco music—and I’ve been a fan ever since. His heart is of the on-the-sleeve type, and he’s got all the things you need to do what he does—a deep soul, a sharp pen, a cracked voice, and the calluses to play like you mean it.

A lot of what I recommend on this blog are LPs by artists long gone. Not so here. Halford is out there doin’ it right now, and this, his newest album, is as good as anything you’ll find in the field. Don’t miss your chance to get on board with someone who’s alive and well, and making the best music of his long career.




365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 9

Fats Navarro – The Fats Navarro Collection, 1943-50


As far as collections and reissues go, I don’t actually generally go in for the “all the outtakes” versions … I don’t need to hear the 5 versions of Cherokee that didn’t make the cut.

So this is a refreshing release, to say the least. Fats Navarro only had 7 years of recording before his lifestyle did him in at the tender age of 26. Of those 7 years, 4 of them were spent in New York, where Fats literally just tore the shit out of jazz.

Navarro is what you might call a bridge figure in this great music’s history; he’s a bridge—not unlike Charlie Parker, whom he played with often (more on that below)—between an earlier version of the music, and what would become be-bop.

Unlike Charlie Parker, Navarro could nail it in a large band setting, whereas Parker seemed to really need the small format to fly. Here we have Navarro’s trumpet in all its setting, and his tone, phrasing, and fire are always in pristine evidence.

What a player he was. One of the earliest and greatest trumpet stars of the “new” music.

His last gig, 5 days before he died, was with The Bird.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – June 8

Jimmy Reed – Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby – Singles As & Bs 1953-1961


8 years worth of Jimmy Reed singles, remastered on Jasmine? Oh hell yeah …

Jimmy Reed was the Vivaldi of the blues. He did one thing, one thing only, and he did it better than anybody.

Or was he the Mozart of the blues? A compositional prodigy who just spit out hit after hit after hit whether he was “on” or not …

He wadn’t any of that, actually. He was just a straight-up shuffle-groovin’, 3-chordin’, reed-bendin’, hit-writin’ motherfucker.

%d bloggers like this: