365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 8

Bob Dylan – Another Side of Bob Dylan


It happens sometimes. You get on a Bob Dylan kick. I’m on a Bob Dylan kick.

Is this Dylan’s funniest album? Possibly. It’s also one of his weirdest, and greatest.

That it could be all that, and still be entirely solo acoustic—all recorded in one single session—is pretty fucking remarkable.

You could pretty much rank the importance of this album entirely by the cover versions of its songs, if you wanted to. It’s almost unbelievable how many classic tracks there are here.

It’s also almost impossible not to read meaning into these lyrics, given how much we know of what was going on in his life at the time:

Go melt back in the night
Everything inside is made of stone
There’s nothing in here moving
An’ anyway I’m not alone
You say you’re looking for someone
Who’ll pick you up each time you fall
To gather flowers constantly
An’ to come each time you call
A lover for your life an’ nothing more
But it ain’t me, babe

But on the other hand, we can just read them, listen to them, and thank God for this man’s songs.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 7

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’


This is one of the most important albums ever recorded.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 6

Legends of Country Blues


If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll have noted that I favor JSP remasters.

In case you don’t want to buy 5 CDs worth of any one artist, I’m recommending this lil’ package for ya. It’s as advertised, Legends of Country Blues. All done up in a JSP bow.

This is pretty much the textbook if you want to study the prewar recordings of some of the most important figures ever to be recorded. A vast amount of early Skip James, and all far better sonically than the Yazoo versions we used to have to rely on. (Don’t get me wrong, I am SO grateful to Yazoo for keeping me alive for so long! But, JSP has straight up outdone ’em here …).

Plus, pre-war Son House (which, in my opinion, isn’t actually as mesmerizing as his later recordings, but still, it’s fucking Son House!), pre-war Bukka White (ditto vis-à-vis mesmerizing, ditto vis-à-vis it’s fucking Bukka White!), the eerie, eerie, eerie magic of Tommy Johnson, and even a slew of Ishman Bracey.

In short, legends of country blues, indeed.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 5

Johnny Azari – Songs From A Motel Room


There are far too many artists out there today throwing inordinate amounts of marketing money around trying to put forth a facade of authenticity the likes of which very few actual artists have actual claim to. Put another way, you’re not a musician just because you play one on TV.

And then there is Johnny Azari.

In the hands of virtually any other aspiring troubadour, Songs From A Motel Room would sound like yet another hapless ivory tower attempt to play Bukowksi by way of Cohen for a hapless pack of damp-knickered co-eds still prone to getting titillated any time love, sex, and death walk into a bar together.

And then there is Johnny Azari.

Is there a more straightforward way to say this, than to say that this is the real shit? Songs From A Motel Room is not aspirational marketing-speak for the next high-fashion Townes Van Zandt to come down the No Depression pipe, nor is it a season on the street for someone’s thesis.

My favorite part of the whole aurual spelunk into Azariville is the fact that he provides geo-notes on where the songs were recorded—turning these songs into genuine songs of place in a way we rarely experience anymore.

I’ll confess, at first listen to Don’t Mind The Dyin (Track 1), I got hung up on the sound. I mean, it SOUNDS like it was recorded in a motel room. It’s a bit tinny, and abrasive, and distorted, and it’s not “not-pretty” in a chick-with-a-limp kind of cool way, it’s literally just not pretty. But honestly, could it be any other way? That’s where the risk comes in.

One of the things I admired so much about Nelson Algren’s writing, is that he wasn’t afraid to point out that poor people are often assholes, because being poor sucks. That’s what I feel here, in this music. Being away from home, alone in motel rooms, with the echo of no applause ringing in empty ears—that can suck. And it can make you an asshole. Or, at least, it can make your songs assholes.

Picture the scene. Johnny Azari, shirtless, sweaty, looking both half-crazed and half-exhausted, as he wavers in a kind of anti-spiritual post-reverie. He’s wedged into the corner of a spare motel room. There’s a wall-mounted air conditioning unit inches from the headstock of his guitar, and a single bed two feet from his right thigh. Two microphones on boom stands loom in—one a broken crow, the other a spindly vulture. In front of him, a laptop on a makeshift table. He dazedly fingers a staggering arpeggio, then tilts his head back, opens his mouth, and sings:

Standing before, the lord’s darkest door …

This is the Dead Sea Scroll moment. The moment you uncover something that changes history as you’ve understood it. Azari’s revelation is neither musical nor spiritual. It is simply human. In some ways, this is the simplest album ever made, as it is nothing more or less than exactly what it says it is.

It is: Songs From A Motel Room. By Johnny Azari.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 4

Blind Lemon Jefferson –  The Complete Classic Sides Remastered: Atlanta & Chicago 1926 Disc B


Oh, JSP remasters, are you the gift that keeps on giving? Oh, yes you are!

We recommended Disc A back in about March, and now, finally, we get ourselves on to the almighty Disc B!

Which is a tour de force, right from the start. Check out song 1-3

  1. Black Snake Moan
  2. Match Box Blues
  3. Easy Rider Blues

Pretty much the history of the blues in a nutshell, right there. And if that weren’t enough, check out the 3 songs Disc B concludes with!

21. See That My Grave’s Kept Clean
22. One Dime Blues
23. Lonesome House Blues

Hopefully needless to say by now, but Disc B is a motherfucker.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 3

Leadbelly – Important Recordings 1934-1949


“Important Recordings” is a bit of an understatement, to say the least.

But anyhow, as long as we’re on the subject of how much I love JSP remasters, let’s have some Leadbelly then.

This is an impressive overview of the man’s music—it starts in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and ends with a live track recorded in Texas just 6 months before he passed on.

In between, you’ve got a massive crop of Library of Congress recordings, joint performances with everyone from Sonny Terry to Willie “The Lion” Smith, and everything from gospel to blues to folk, and all points in between.

There never was a Leadbelly before Leadbelly, and there never will be again.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 2

Blind Willie McTell – Classic Years: 1927-1940 (Disc 1)


Bob Dylan said it. I agree with it. That settles it.

No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell

And, no one can remaster the blues like JSP.

I think I own every single country blues remaster project that JSP has ever done. I love ’em that much.

And yes, I’m reviewing the set a disc at a time, cuz there’s just too much good stuff on each one.

Disc: 1
1. Writin’ Paper Blues
2. Stole Rider Blues
3. Mama, ‘Tain’t Long Fo’ Day
4. Mr. McTell Got The Blues
5. Mr. McTell Got The Blues
6. Three Women Blues
7. Dark Night Blues
8. Statesboro Blues
9. Loving Talking Blues
10. Atlanta Strut
11. Travelin’ Blues
12. Come On Around To My House Mama
13. Kind Mama
14. Teasing Brown
15. Drive Away Blues
16. This Is Not The Stove To Brown Your Bread
17. Love Changing Blues
18. Talkin’ To Myself
19. Razor Ball
20. Southern Can Is Mine
21. Broke Down Engine Blues
22. Stomp Down Rider
23. Scarey Day Blues

Yeah, everybody knows Statesboro Blues, because of the version by The Allman Brothers. But that version sucks. At least, as a “version” it does. On its own, it’s a personally reasonable song. But as a “version” of the Willie McTell song, it sucks. If you get my drift.

And anyhow, what about Mama, ‘Tain’t Long Fo’ Day? If that song don’t break your heart, your heart must be dead.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 1

Blind Blake – All the Published Sides 1926-1932


If the success of a musician can be assessed via the influence they have on ensuing generations, then Blind Blake must surely be considered a towering figure in the history of country blues.

He’s been credited as an influence by no less a player than Rev. Gary Davis, himself surely one of the greatest guitarists this country has every produced. Also citing him as an influence are Ry Cooder, Leon Redbone, Bob Dylan, John Fahey, and more.

Like far too many black musicians of his era, he died young, from an illness that should have been easily preventable and/or treatable. Despite having bequeathed some 100 outstanding musical recordings to the world—recordings that would inspire generations of virtuoso players to come—he died young, poor, and under-appreciated.

Far too many sins remains as stains upon our national conscience, for having treated so many so poorly.

Blind Blake was at best a conventional vocalist, and his solo performances are notable largely for his guitar playing. But, oh, such guitar playing! West Coast Blues is literally a textbook on ragtime blues, and honestly the only one you need to listen to, should you wish to want to try to master the sound.

His work as an accompanist is understandably uneven, by definition being dependent on whoever he was playing with. But when the combinations are great, they’re truly great. A personal favorite is Grievin’ Hearted Blues, on which Blake backs the great Ma Rainey.

Blind Blake’s recording life lasted all of 6 years, but in those 6 years, he changed the future of music, and the lives of countless musicians as well.

365 Days of Album Selections – July 31

Charley Patton – The Complete Recordings 1929-1934 (Disc 2)


With international week now over, we can get back to the Delta Blues, and when we do the delta blues, we do Charley Patton. Simple.

We reviewed Disc 1 of this incomparable collection, which is in effect the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Delta Blues. We now do Disc 2.

Disc: 2
1. Hammer Blues: Take 1
2. I Shall Not Be Moved
3. High Water Everywhere: Part 1
4. High Water Everywhere: Part 2
5. I Shall Not Be Moved
6. Rattlesnake Blues
7. Going To Move To Alabama
8. Hammer Blues: Take 2
9. Joe Kirby
10. Frankie And Albert
11. Magnolia Blues
12. Devil Sent The Rain Blues
13. Runnin’ Wild Blues
14. Some Happy Day
15. Mean Black Moan
16. Green River Blues
17. That’s My Man – Edith North Johnson
18. Honey Dripper Blues: No. 2 – Edith North Johnson
19. Eight Hour Woman – Edith North Johnson
20. Nickel’s Worth Of Liver Blues: No 2 – Edith North Johnson

High Water Everywhere, Parts 1 & 2, is a musical accomplishment of such staggering excellence it’s hard to convey my excitement when I first heard it, and every time since, including right now, as I’m listening to it again.

While I understand much of the idolatry that surrounds Robert Johnson, and while I understand why in many ways it’s justified, one thing I’ve never understood is the notion that his guitar playing was so otherworldly better than anything that had been heard prior, or why Lonnie Johnson is so often cited as the only precursoring influence who could give him a run for his 6-string money. Listen to High Water Everywhere, Part 1. It’s just a fucking tour de force. Patton does more with a guitar than any one human has rights to do. It’s funky, it’s melodic, it’s sophisticated, it’s raw, it’s so bloody complicated. He thumps, and pulls, and slaps, and bangs, and he rings chords, and he runs single strings, and he throws down inversions and walks and segues and turnarounds, and it’s just bloody remarkable.

And that’s just 2 of 20 songs. Get religion, people. Patton is a god.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – July 30

Dmitri Shostakovich – The String Quartets


Our international week concludes in Russia, with the music of Dimitri Shostakovich.

I was first introduced to Shostakovich via his symphonic works, and became fascinated by the story of his relationship to the ruling powers of Russia. His symphonies over time have in fact become hotly debated topics, as no one can seem to agree on the extent to which he was working to subvert, working to appease, a little of both, or none of the above.

What does seem certain is that his symphonies were definitely influenced by the pressures he was under, and they are of varying flavors accordingly.

His chamber works, on the other hand, seems universally to be considered more personal, less externally influenced, and far darker.

At the end of the day, I am in some strange fashion often more drawn to the symphonies, as something about the tensions within and around them seems just so compelling. But the string quartets are simply too beautiful to ignore, and I’m not sure one can truly begin to understand the complexities of this composer’s inner and outer lives without experiencing this music as well.

This particular collection won 2 Grammys, and justifiably so; the Emerson String Quarter (formed at Juilliard, named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, and inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2010), delivers what NPR describes as “Subversive Neoclassicism” in live performances over a number of years at the Aspen Music Festival, all of which are collected here. These performances have been described as fiery, eloquent, and romantic, and I think that rather perfectly sums this all up!

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