Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Elliott Smith "From a Basement on the Hill" (2004)

Released posthumously, FABOTH sounds like the partially finished work that it is.  Not as smooth and beatlesy as the high points of his LA years, it is also worlds away from the lofi DIY feel of the earlier Portlandia records.  For the completists only.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jack Rose "Raag Manifestos" (2004)

Does the cover art give away too much?  This album is Rose as acoustic psychedelic warrior.  There are not many with both the technical chops and the inclination to record long acoustic drone work.  Rose somehow pulls off what sounds like it should be terrible.

Dave Alvin "The Best of the Hightone Years" (2009)

I really don't know why Dave Alvin isn't in the conversation for best contemporary songwriter.  Is it some personal issue?  Is it because he's based in California?  Is it because his label doesn't spend the money or do the politics correctly?  For whatever reason, he seems to be overlooked.  This collection makes the case that he is every bit the equal of Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, or whoever you normally talk about as being the best.

Ben Nichols "The Last Pale Light In the West" (2009)

It's been at least 20 years since I read Blood Meridian.  But I can understand Ben Nichols' fascination with the book, and his desire to write a group of songs based upon it.  Nichols' weathered voice is a great fit for the earthy, violent material of McCarthy's tale.  Highly recommended.

The Mountain Goats "Heretic Pride" (2008)

The Mountain Goats are what I think of as internet famous.  On the internet, everyone seems to know who John Darnielle is, and there are lots and lots of fans.  In real life, people don't seem to have heard of him, or of his band.  It's a shame really, because he's been making some of the best most literate rock music of the last decade.

Mercury Rev "Deserter's Songs" (1998)

90s psychedelia.  For me, the closest comparison is probably the Flaming Lips.  There's the same lack of guitar muscularity, but with a real sadness.  This kind of thing seems to really have a certain time & place, & it's hard to listen to this without it being early morning in a cheaply furnished apartment.  I think you know the scene.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Woven Hand "10 Stones" (2008)

I love love love this album cover.  I do not love this album.  There's a certain undergraduate seriousness to it.  A firm commitment to the fact that it is ART and ART can NOT be fun. 

Van Morrison "In All Your Revelation" (1979)

This is an absolutely stunning bootleg of a show or shows from Ireland in 1979.  Van straddles the line between rock and jazz musician, with a top notch band behind him.

Paul Weller "Studio 150" (2004)

A decidedly minor effort from the ModFather.  An entire album of covers is a bit much, at least for me.  One or two sprinkled around with originals is really the way I prefer things.

The Hold Steady "Stay Positive" (

It's not that this record is anything new.  At this point, The Hold Steady do what they do.  You either like it or you don't.  While not as solid as some of the other albums, Stay Positive has more than enough boozy rock to make you feel good.

Greg Brown "The Live One" (1995)

These things are facts.  Greg Brown is great.  All his live albums are great.  Every live album has a certain magical moment not found on any of the others.

My Morning Jacket "At Dawn" (2001)

On their second full length, My Morning Jacket are perhaps at their best.  They are still playing slightly melodic haunting rock.  The Neil Young influences are worn on their sleeves, proudly.  This is a band with something to prove, at a time when those classic rock influences were not so hip.

Josh Ritter "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" (2007)

By all rights, an album with a title so pretentious should not be any good.  It should be pompous and overwrought.  Somehow, this particular record is a lot of fun.  Great songwriting that is built upon, but not only in mimicry of, Boomer classics like Dylan et al.  Mr Ritter should be much more popular than he is.

Kathleen Edwards "Asking For Flowers" (2008)

My memory of this album is of a much more country album that what it actually is.  It seems to split the difference between her earlier folk/country persona & her more contemporary female indie singer songwriter persona.  While I fully support Ms Edwards doing the sort of music she wants to do, I really don't enjoy the indie stuff nearly so much.

Whitehouse "White House" (2003)

I'm thinking that the "New Supergroup" label was a bit premature.  This is the only release from this group, and there's almost no information about it online.  That being said, it's good Stanley style bluegrass.  I hadn't listened to this record in years, & I don't feel like I'd been missing anything.

Split Lip Rayfield "Never Make It Home" (2001)

Albums like this are examples of what Blood Shot Records did best:  get a bunch of punk rock kids who want to play country(ish) music & let them have fun.  While it's not so hot technically, it's high energy & a lot of fun.

Chris Knight "The Trailer Tapes" (2007)

While this did not get released until 2007, these songs were actually recorded as demos in the 90s. Fortunately, stripped down acoustic versions of country songs seem to sound timeless, so it's hard to tell exactly when Knight wrote or recorded this material.  Highly recommended for fans of Steve Earle & the like.

Cherryholmes "Cherryholmes II: Black and White" (2007)

Future musicologists exploring the connection between bluegrass and power metal are going to *love* this album cover.

Cherryholmes are one of the many bands to follow in the wake of Alison Krauss.  Slick production and soft, whispy vocals are the first thing that you notice over the technical perfectionism.  They developed quite a following before their breakup, but this sort of thing inevitably leaves me cold.

The Modern Lovers "The Modern Lovers" (1976)

Sometimes you come across an artifact that seems impossibly out of its time.  The cover of this first Modern Lovers album looks like it could be for a Babys album or something like that.  However, the music is perhaps the best of all the first generation punk albums (even though it was recorded in 1973!) and has elements of what we think of as post-punk.  Just get your head around that.  Why is this record not issued to all high school students?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Minutemen "Double Nickels On the Dime" (1984)

This is on the short list for best album of the decade.  And yet strangely enough, why didn't it inspire more followers?  Stop reading and go buy it if you don't have it already.

Chatham County Line "IV" (2008)

Chatham County Line are one of the new breed of bluegrass bands.  They have one foot in tradition, but aren't so bound by it as the pure traditionalists.  At the same time, they clearly are more invested in the tradition than some of the new bands that are only tangentially bluegrass at all.  Anyway, this is a great album.  These guys are players to watch out for in the future.

Andrew Bird "Noble Beast" (2009)

Andrew Bird is one of those musicians who I feel like I should like a lot more than I actually do.  I try.  I really do.  But for some reason, I just have trouble actually connecting with the material.

Concha Buika "Nina De Fuego" (2008)

This is an absolutely gorgeous flamenco record.  Traditional, yet with influences from contemporary acts.  Wonderful wonderful stuff.

The Ruby Suns "Sea Lion" (2007)

With their upbeat poptimism and vague world music affectations, The Ruby Suns make me think of Haircut 100 2.0.  AND THAT'S OK.  There's a combination there that works, but for whatever reason it's not a sound that has ever been a dominant pop sound.  Unfortunately, The Ruby Suns just can't seem to get all these pieces together at the same time.  There's a lot going on, and it doesn't always work together.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Randy Newman "Harps and Angels" (2008)

This morning I was listening to this album & thinking about how much I liked it.  And at the same time thought that somehow meant that I must be getting old.  Yeah, I can't pick that apart yet either.

Freestyle Fellowship "Innercity Griots" (1993)

An absolutely crazy rhymefest.  The MCs keep coming and coming.  It is chaotic and anarchic and totally fantastic.

Joan Baez "Day After Tomorrow" (2008)

This is exactly the  sort of album that legendary folk singers should be making in the 21st century.  Baez brings in Steve Earle to produce. The band is composed of A list Nashville cats.  The songs are all written by modern day heavyweights.  If you don't like this, you just don't like folk music.

Jesse Malin "On Your Sleeve" (2008)

Wow.  This may be the craziest trainwreck that I've heard on this whole adventure.  This is an entire album of covers.  There is no consistency to how it is done.  Tracks sound like they belong to certain eras independently of when the original recording was made.  It's fascinating because you really don't know what will happen next.

Tift Merritt "Another Country" (2008)

The sun kissed cover photo does a fantastic job of telling the listener what you need to know about this record.  It's a throwback to the early 70s when women sang country pop songs that were crossover hits. (At least they were in the South).

Magnolia Electric Company "Trials & Errors" (2005)

Is this the apex of Jason Molina's career?  Recorded live, this is a blistering hunk of Neil Young influenced indie rock. Absolutely fantastic.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Black Milk "Tronic" (2008)

It's obvious to me why I have this one.  This is clearly a "if you like..." pick.  Black Milk is more or less a Dilla copy.  Unfortunately, like so many copies, it doesn't live up to the original.

Various "Chica For the Jet Set" (2005)

It's taken a couple hundred titles before I have stumbled across something that wasn't actually ever available for sale.  This is a compilation put together by an Argentine DJ.  A nice set of vintage South American dance music, if that's your thing.

Ry Cooder "Boomer's Story" (1972)

Another Ry Cooder album, another time I'm underwhelmed.  Oh well... it's gotten so that I groan a bit inside when one of these appears.  The amazing thing is how many I seem to have....

Blueridge "Side By Side" (2004)

There's a certain category of bluegrass bands -- and I think that this album falls into that category -- that sound more or less generic to my ears.  It's not that there is anything particularly wrong with the recording, but nothing really stands out.  If anything, it feels a bit too safe.  The musicians in this band are very talented.  I'd like to feel that they are taking some risks.

Ali Farke Toure "Ali Farke Toure" (1988)

This was Toure's introduction to most Western listeners.  25 years later it still sounds wonderful, a powerful mix of blues and traditional music from Toure's Mali.