365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 26

Neil Young – After The Gold Rush


In the boundaried ecosystem that is my music collection, this one gets filed as “the other Neil Young masterpiece.” Which is the same distinction afforded “Harvest,” making these two releases sort of the Cain and Abel of Young’s Old Testament.

It’s tempting to say that Harvest distinguishes itself within this duality on the strength of its songwriting, whereas After The Gold Rush rises above on sonic merits, but that’s too simplistic to really capture the respective achievements these albums ascend to.

Admittedly, other than Southern Man, there is no one song on After The Gold Rush that can really go toe-to-toe with the best tracks on Harvest, but it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges paradigm, to play that kind of game, because the After the Gold Rush tracks just aren’t the same kind of creations.

It’s sort of like trying to compare Van Gosh and Pollock. There is tremendous energy in the works of both—rich colors, striking forms, a certain angry garishness balanced against an indescribable sentimentality, but whereas in Van Gogh the stories are on the surface, the characters clearly defined, the elements simple and straightforward, the narratives of Pollock are submerged, open to interpretation, fractured, operating by implication, and depending on engagement from the viewer to detangle the thick webs of pastiche and collage.

The inscrutability of verses like these …

Blind man running through the light of the night
With an answer in his hand
Come on down to the river of sight
And you can really understand


Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones


When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over

… leave one blurrily reeling in the wake of an elegy for something lost we didn’t know we had, while simultaneously celebrating the achievement of something holy we didn’t know we were pursuing.

The album’s sonics support this daggered ambiguity perfectly, offering a consistently roiling tension between the sweet and the bitter. We’ve grown so familiar with this album over time, that it’s become easy to forget just how genuinely weird this record really is.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 25 [Christmas Edition]

Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song


My preferred Christmas singer.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 24

Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings


I, for one, love early Chet Baker vocals, and every single track on the original version of this debut is gorgeous. Really and truly gorgeous.

Side one:

“But Not for Me” 
“Time After Time” 
“My Funny Valentine” 
“I Fall in Love Too Easily” 

Side two:

“There Will Never Be Another You” 
“I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” 
“The Thrill is Gone” 
“Look for the Silver Lining” 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 23

Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True


It’s honestly really hard to just pick ONE early LP from Costello to recommend. A greatest hits culled from his first 9 albums would give you one of the greatest collections of modern, literate, angular rock n’ roll songs the world has ever known.

But on an album-by-album basis, ol’ Declan does manage to throw a few duds onto just about everything. But that’s fine. It just makes it harder to pick an as-released release.

So his debut is the obvious choice. Alison is obviously just a staggering accomplishment for a young songwriter, and with the now-canonized inclusion of Watching the Detectives, you can double that compliment. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes is no slouch either.

I’m Not Angry is perhaps the album’s legit sleeper, and not only are the performance and arrangement stellar, but the lyric is rock n’ roll perfection for being both so poetic, and so dumbly macho, simultaneously:

You’re upstairs with the boyfriend while I’m left here to listen
I hear you calling his name, I hear the stutter of ignition


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 22

Stevie Wonder – Talking Book


Of all the albums considered to be part of Wonder’s “classic period” (which I think you can safely define as post-Motown, pre-80s), this one is probably my favorite.

Obviously Superstition is one of the baddest tunes ever, and You Are The Sunshine Of My Love is one of the sweetest, and the whole collection is just rich, and soulful, and funky, and bluesy, and organic, and ambitious, and legendary for all the right reasons.

There are just SO many great moments on here. The opening of Maybe Your Baby. The vocals sweeps in the back half of You and I atop that gospel piano. Those horns on Tuesday heartbreak. The folksong simplicity of the final track.

Here’s a great little factoid about this album worth knowin’ if you don’t know it:

The  original pressings had Braille lettering on it, spelling Stevie Wonder’s name, and the album title. It also had a short message:

“Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.”

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 21

Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter


Townes Van Zandt wrote songs that were so painfully beautiful it hurts to listen to them.

His great songs—of which there are SO many—present a body of work that is so real, so powerful, so poetic, and so gorgeous, he simply has to be ranked as one of the most gifted troubadours history has ever produced.

Townes’ songs could also be funny, silly, lighthearted, obscene, ribald, rakish, and mundane. In short, his songs were the equal of the people whose stories he told.

Townes was a mythology of his own devising, but one which has antecedents going back thousands of years. He is a Texan Li Po, a hippy Dylan Thomas, a hobo Bacchus.

Here, on this album, he is simply a man, with a guitar, in a small Houston room, surrounded by friends and fans, playing a collection of songs that are delivered in so down-to-earthedly straightforward a fashion  it’s almost easy to miss their full import.

One after another, the effect of these songs on your spirit intensifies in ways you don’t even notice. So much so, that by the time you’ve listened to the last song trail away, you’ll wonder why you’re exhausted.

You’ll be exhausted because Townes will have crawled into your soul and felt every emotion for you, and then held himself up to you like a truth mirror.

By too many accounts to discount, these live, intimate, solo acoustic recordings definitively recreate what it was actually like to hear Townes Van Zandt do what he did best—which was to a) sing great songs and pick great guitar, and b) walk right into your spirit house, sit down on your chair, and commence to breaking and repairing and breaking your heart.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 20

The Stone Poneys – Evergreen, Vol. 2


So, yes, of COURSE the reason to include this is to hear Linda Ronstadt sing Different Drum. It’s just an exquisite song, with a great backstory. A quasi-feminist anthem written by a male quasi-legit musician, taken over completely by a quasi-feminist artist, and delivered like a great big cannon salvo from the heart of quasi-hip Laurel Canyon aimed quasi-squarely at the quasi-prepared ears of quasi-mainstream American.

Put another way, it’s West Coast folk-rock perfection, carried on the wings of one of history’s great voices.

“I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready
for any person, place, or thing
to try and pull the reins in on me”

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 19

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow


There’s no question the 60s gave us some pretty awful music, and there’s no question the various musicians in and/or associated with this band have given us some pretty awful music.

On the other hand, it’s exceedingly difficult to dispute the raw excellence of Somebody To Love, or the total grooviness of White Rabbit.

It also must be noted that, for a short while at least, Grace Slick possessed one of the great rock n’ roll voices. That long, held “love” towards the end of Somebody to Love is one of the great vocal notes of all time.

No matter which was you slice it, this album deserves its place in rock n’ roll history, and as such, you can’t much claim to understand the full scope of what rock n’ roll can offer, w/out understanding this album as well.

Highly recommended on vinyl, by the way!


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 18

Van Morrison – Moondance


It’s tempting to name this my favorite Van Morrison album, because I love it’s great songs SO much; and familiarity be damned: Moondance is an amazing song. As is And It Stoned Me.  As are Crazy Love and Caravan. As is Into the Mystic. And Brand New Day.

Geez, maybe it IS my favorite Van Morrison album.

Ralph Carney

Ralph Carney - Preacher Boy

I had the great pleasure and honor of writing, recording, and performing with Ralph Carney for many years. Those were remarkable and often magical times for me. I was surely one of the luckiest musicians in the world, to stand beside Ralph Carney on stage for so many performances.

Regrettably, I’m afraid it all happened at a time when I was still too young, too inexperienced, too immature, to really comprehend the full measure of his singular genius.

I knew he was extraordinary. Anyone who heard him knew that.

But I was trying to build a career for myself then, and too busy making too many of the mortifying mistakes one often makes in that process.

I’m much older now, and the temptation towards regret is almost overwhelming—if I could have known then even a fraction of what I know now, I would have preserved every minute I had with him. I would have recorded every sound that emerged from his instruments. I would have made as much music with him as he would have let me.

I believe Ralph Carney was a multi-instrumentalist because he had to be—there was simply too much music in him.

As to myself, I was a fraud then, certainly. There were nights I’d look to my left and I’d see Jim Campilongo, and I’d look to my right and I’d see Ralph Carney, and I’d think to myself, what the hell am I doing here?

I know now, that Ralph was a gift to me, as he was a gift to anyone who had the pleasure and the honor of making music with him—he gave of his genius so generously.

It’s often said that “catching” a yawn from someone is indicative of an empathetic connection. The feeling of making music with Ralph Carney was like the feeling of “catching” a laugh from a giggling toddler—it just felt too good not to smile.

As I have grown into my life, I have learned that the people I admire most are those who are deadly serious about doing those things that are ultimately very fun. I think of Ralph Carney, and I think of ancient Zen poets running laughing through the mountains.

Deep bows to you, Ralph Carney. What else could I possibly do but weep, and say thank you?


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