Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Soul Time!

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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Soul Time!

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul Time!

2011 – Daptone Records

 

The album starts off with “Genuine”, part 1 and 2 and one would be hard pressed to find a funkier track anywhere. The bass is high in the mix, which works perfectly for this sort of music. The drummer is crisp and has a groove that hits you in your soul. As we move to the next track, “Longer and Stronger”, we get to experience the full power of Sharon Jones. When she sings, there is an authenticity added to the track. If you had the privilege of seeing her perform live, which I luckily did, you know how much energy she put into each performance. This translates to the record, which is not an easy thing to do. Once the visual of a performance is stripped away, the musical part needs to be able to stand on its own. Jones was the queen of this. Her live shows were epic and her records retain the energy and feel of the shows. The band is amazing as well. They sound like they are playing from a different decade. They decided on a sound, did the listening and playing so that they could do it genuinely, and now churn out really fun recordings. You can’t go wrong with any Sharon Jones, Dap-Kings, or any Daptone Records in general. They are always a crowd pleaser!

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Michael Mantler, No Answer

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Michael Mantler, No Answer

Michael Mantler – No Answer

1974 – Watt/2

 

This is an odd album, and it is hard to explain, but I am going to do my best. Michael Mantler composed the music, and although he is a trumpet player, he decided not to play, just conduct. It is a trio of musicians for this date; Jack Bruce, Carla Bley, and Don Cherry. Just from that lineup, we know it is going to be weird outing, but add words by Samuel Beckett over it and you have something really unique. I had heard of Mantler because of his work with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. There is a great double album that I have that features Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, and a ton of other great musicians that maybe I will review at some point. This group is a very pared down version of that orchestra. Carla Bley and Don Cherry are legends in the creative improvisation world and their contributions to this trio album are superb. The name that surprised me was Jack Bruce. I had only known him for his work with the rock group Cream, with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. After doing some quick research, I realize I completely underestimated him. He worked with Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Frank Zappa, and tons of other great musicians over the course of his career. It’s funny how a musician can be defined by their “pop” outing. Many of these other collaborations would be more interesting to me than Cream.  It is important to dive completely into an artist’s catalog before you pigeonhole them. Anyway, back to this album. Carla Bley is the star of this outing for me. She plays interesting and engaging piano phrases throughout the two sides. Her playing is creative and has such a good feel to it. I would be interested to see the compositions for this album, to see what was written out and what was improvised. I wonder how much direction was given, were whole chords written out? Or melody lines? Or was it more of a “for this section, I want…..” ? Jack Bruce takes on the vocals and bass, and asserts himself at the front of the group. Don Cherry sits in the back and plays very sparingly, which after listening to a lot of his work, is very much his style. He knows when to play, when to sit out, and exactly what notes and feel to play. Mantler chose to put together an ambitious project here, and I am glad he did. It is definitely a fun listen, but maybe not one to throw on at your next cocktail party. This one demands some serious attention.

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Bob Moses, When Elephants Dream of Music

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Bob Moses, When Elephants Dream of Music

Bob Moses – When Elephants Dream of Music

1983 – Gramavision Records

 

I hadn’t listened to, or heard of this album before today. I just picked it up based on knowing that Bob Moses is an incredible drummer, musician, and artist. What gave me another cursory level of approval was the musicians enlisted; included are Bill Frisell, David Friedman, Steve Swallow, Michael Formanek, Lyle Mays, and a bunch of others. If anything, this album would be an interesting listen to hear the interactions of those musicians. I’m now only into the second track on the first side “Picolo and Lulu” and I’m blown away! The writing and arrangements are amazing, musicianship is top notch, and it grooves like crazy. David Friedman sounds great on vibraphone and marimba here. I am glad I get to check him out, as I don’t believe I have anything of his on vinyl, and I’ve heard about his playing for a while. He is never front and center in the arrangements, but his playing is central to the tunes. His playing is original and jumps out at you as you listen. He complements other musicians as well as takes his own journeys through the sound. The rest of the band is spectacular as well. Compositionally, this album takes an almost New Orleans approach, but twists it to give it an edge. There is a lot of collective soloing with a steady groove behind it, but then backgrounds that seems to push against the beat creep in. It almost feels like two compositions are happening at once and they somehow line up perfectly. As I flip to side two, Frisell comes into the foreground. He has such a distinctive sound and while he isn’t soloing or the lead on the track, he is very much present and integral. The common thread throughout this album is the musicians making themselves stand out as part of the whole without thrusting themselves out front. That is a very complicated thing to do; to keep yourself playing very much for the piece, but identifying your playing as vital to the sound. This LP was a great find and I’m sure it is going to become a regular on my turntable.

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Jason Isbell, Southeastern

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Jason Isbell, Southeastern

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

2013 – Southeastern Records

 

As I’ve worked through my vinyl collection, there have been some records that have intimidated me to cover. Most of the time, this trepidation arises because complex arrangements, compositions, and/or instrumentation. With Southeastern, the overall density is the element that makes it hard to dissect. I don’t usually comment on lyrical content in my reviews, but in this case, I think it is necessary to state that something special is happening. In the folk tradition, stories are told with music as a backline. What separates Isbell from this tradition is that he not only uses lyrics to tell the story, but uses the music itself to convey messages. His chord choices, as well as their length, echo and add to the stories being told. The arrangements change and move. Instruments enter and exit to help accent plot points. As you work through this album, Isbell invites you along to sidle up beside his main characters as they navigate their trials. The listener is part of the narrative. The mixture of all the elements (musical and lyrical) is what makes this album whole. To speak of one without the other would be doing disservice to this work of art. The playful interplay between the violin and guitar add depth and honesty to the tunes (Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, is behind the bow). The real life connection intermingled with the instrumentation and arrangements gives weight to the stories. Aside from all of that, Southeastern is a really enjoyable album to listen to. Even if you aren’t analyzing the stories or breaking apart musical themes, the tunes groove and have a nice feel to them. Isbell’s newest album with the 400 Unit is spectacular as well, perhaps I will write about that effort in the future. In the meantime, make sure to check out all of Isbell’s music an support him live!

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Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls

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Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls – Indigo Girls

1989 – Epic

 

The Indigo Girls are icons that have been churning out great music for decades. This album, which was their first major label release, showcases their brilliance and hints at what is to come. On Indigo Girls, the arrangement of each track is perfectly suited to fit the needs of the song. No noise is out of place and it is clear that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers took considerable time to harness the essence of each composition with instrumentation. While they surrounded themselves with exceptional musicians, the core of these tunes boils down to the two of them, their songwriting, and their performance. I don’t usually comment on lyrical content, and I won’t stray from that here, but what I would like to discuss is how these two women use their voices together. It would have been easy for them to go towards a straight harmonization route for the music, but if they had, this album wouldn’t be half as magical. They trade off phrases, use call and response, and then at times harmonize to keep the listener engaged and surprised at what is coming next. There is some really solid songwriting happening throughout this LP as well. The chord movement, song forms, and hooks are great. I really can’t say enough positive things about this effort. The Indigo Girls have a deep body of work to delve into and luckily, they are still creating new music and touring almost 30 years after this album came out!

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Iron Maiden, Live After Death

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Iron Maiden, Live After Death

Iron Maiden – Live After Death

1985 – EMI Records

 

They say don’t buy a book for the cover, but in the case of vinyl, I think it’s alright. This cover has amazing artwork, featuring the band’s mascot, Eddie, in chains, on fire, with lightning coming out of his head in a graveyard with a tombstone engraved with an H.P. Lovecraft quote. Although it was the artwork that brought the vinyl into my collection, the music pressed into it holds its own. Steve Harris, the bassist, is such a joy to listen to. His playing is crisp, imaginative, and super technical. His lines make the music at times heavy, at times light and moving, and at times both. He is rock solid and transitions between feels, time signatures, and tempos effortlessly. The rest of the band is spectacular as well. Great musicianship, interesting songs, and explosive energy flow from this album. Being in the crowd for this tour (which was massive) must have been amazing. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a highlight for me. This track is epic and moves in so many directions. The band is so tight on all the hits and stops. I love bands that have substance to them. I think a lot of people dismiss metal music because they believe the flash and showmanship are there to hide a lack of musicianship. Bands like Iron Maiden prove that you can have it all! They are still releasing music and touring, so do yourself a favor and check them out. I’ll definitely be at the next show they have locally.

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Tim Berne, Sanctified Dreams

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Tim Berne, Sanctified Dreams

Tim Berne – Sanctified Dreams

1987 – Columbia Records

 

I picked this gem up on a trip to Portland, ME this weekend. $8 well spent! I’ve already written about Berne’s other release on Columbia for Vinyl Me, Please in a list of the best avant-garde jazz albums to own, but thought this would be good to review as well. There are some classic Berne elements, like super interesting grooves and repeated phrases underneath solos and oddly pulsed melodies. Joey Baron, as usual, is amazing behind the kit. I love his use of cowbell here, he plays it exactly where it needs to be. He is always in the pocket, but then can change a little piece of the pattern to completely alter the mood. One of the arrangement choices that I really like about Berne is that he sometimes uses the saxophone as part of the background. Most of the time, historically, the sax is front and center, taking a melody or soloing. In many of his compositions, the sax joins in with the bass or cello backing soloists or melod-ists. There is a great dynamic range presented. There is also a nice mix of density and space. With such complex compositions, it is nice to hear the musicians take deviations into sustained notes and feels. At the end of side one, there is a beautiful spacy melody with an inconsistent march beat underneath that needs to be heard to believed (I’d say to be understood, but I don’t even get it after a few listens). That being said, I love it. Hank Roberts’ vocals on side two are a welcome treat. They bring a creepy atmosphere to the record that I haven’t heard on other Berne releases. As I’ve said before, any of Tim Berne’s albums are worth checking out. If you get a chance, see him live. His performance at the Newport Jazz Fest this year was amazing! It’s great to hear such a great artist consistently releasing wonderful material.

 

 

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Cal Tjader, Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof

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Cal Tjader, Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof

Cal Tjader – Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof

1965 – Verve Records

 

Though I make an effort to consistently listen to all of my records, there are a few that invariably slip through the cracks. “Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof” is an LP that I haven’t given the proper attention that it deserves. The lineup of Vibes, Bass, Piano, Drums, and Percussion create a great atmosphere that permeates throughout both sides of the album. The mood set feels perfect for the background of a swanky 60’s cocktail party. A mix of standards and original groove tunes weave their way out of the speakers to make a perfect pairing for your small talk and Manhattans. Nothing here is that complicated, it is more about feel than virtuosity or complex compositions. Perhaps that is the reason that I haven’t given this album too much of a second thought. I tend to gravitate towards musically intricate pieces (which should be evident by the vinyl blog posts thus far). Though this album doesn’t hit the level of complexity I usually look for, the music is done with exceptional skill and feel. The musicians showcased have been a part of some heavy sessions. Richard Davis, on bass, played on Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch”. Grady Tate, on drums, was a part of the Schoolhouse Rock Sessions (as a vocalist). Paul Griffin, on piano, was a great session musician who played on tons of hits, including many with Bob Dylan. Armando Peraza, on percussion, has long been associated with Santana. This is definitely a top notch band that could fit into any situation expertly. Stepping back and listening to this album as it is, not what I would want it to be to fit my tastes, I can appreciate it more. It is a fun, well played, snapshot of another time. I may have to have a cocktail party just so I can spin this!

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Anthony Braxton, Five Pieces 1975

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Anthony Braxton, Five Pieces 1975

Anthony Braxton – Five Pieces 1975

1975 – Arista Records

 

I just picked this up today, so this post contains my first impression of the record. It starts with a duo, Braxton and Dave Holland, playing through the standard “You Stepped Out of a Dream”. Hearing those two play a standard is amazing, their phrasing and note choices are clearly their own, but they stick to the format of the classic model of jazz. From there this album opens up a bit. Kenny Wheeler and Barry Altschul join to make this a formidable quartet. Something that jumps out at me is the way the group is segmented. Sometimes the bass and drums are together, other times the bass and sax, other times the sax and trumpet, as well as other combinations that pop up. They utilize the groupings to make the listener feel like there are more than four instrumentalists recorded. Another high point is their commitment. For example, the last tune on the first side of the record features bass and drums hits that the trumpet and sax play the melody over. As the solos progress, the hits remain, but each instrument starts to go out of sync with the others. Sticking with that one idea instead of jumping into a more chaos infused solo section makes the song memorable. No one plays out of turn; all notes and silences are made for the overall benefit of each composition. This chord-less group, similar to the group on Holland’s Conference of the Birds, sub Sam Rivers for Wheeler, gets into some interesting territory. The freedom that they play with, in terms of feel, harmony, melody, time, is really something special. I haven’t heard an album from this time period (early to mid 70s) with these musicians that hasn’t been spectacular. If you are in a record store and happen upon any vinyl with these guys on it, pick it up!

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Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise

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Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

2005 – Asthmatic Kitty Records

 

Illinoise is one of my favorite records. With this being a double LP, there is much to dig into. This album is unique in that it mixes pop music with more sophisticated arrangements, instrumentations, and time signatures. Glockenspiel, vibraphone, string section, banjo, trumpet, oboe, and tons of other instruments mix to form a playful atmosphere for this outing. The use of trumpet throughout is great. Craig Montoro, the trumpeter, accents the compositions perfectly, whether that means playing a background line or doubling the melody. Without him, I don’t think this album would have worked half as well. Another aspect that I love, obviously, is the vibraphone. It is used in the arrangements in a way that accents its positive characteristics. The vibes shine through with moving lines that highlight the songs with its distinctive, cutting voice. If you know me, you know that I don’t ever listen to lyrics. I hear the voice just as an instrument so I have no idea what songs are about, even if I’ve been listening to them for years. A little while back, I read an article that highlighted some of the most disturbing songs of all time and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” was on the list. After going back and listening to the lyrics, it truly is terrifying. I should dig into lyrics, but when I hear music, there is so much going on instrumentally to dissect that I can’t imagine analyzing the lyrics too. I know that is the opposite of what most people think, but that’s how I roll. Anyway, the artwork here is really cool as well. All around, this is definitely an album to own on vinyl.

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Chick Corea, the Leprechaun

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Chick Corea, the Leprechaun

Chick Corea – the Leprechaun

1976 – Polydor

 

The second side of this LP finishes with “Leprechaun’s Dream”, which is a 13 minute third stream masterpiece. I’ve loved Chick Corea for a really long time, there is something about his writing and playing that just gets to me. This one composition bundles up much of what I love about his catalogue. The musicians on here are great, with a rhythm section of Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, and Eddie Gomez, it would be hard to go wrong. Vocals, brass, and strings set this piece up in a playful way. It feels like an Alice in Wonderland type situation, a sort of demented dream world. The keyboard moves linearly through chords at a quick pace and then Steve Gadd kicks in….only he could play with the kind of feeling needed here. Joe Farrell jumps in with a great flute solo, which only hints at what is to come. The theme for the first part of this song is hypnotic, drifting in and out through different instruments and voices. When the strings hit again, the mood changes. It gets sort of frantic and intense. Gadd’s drumming is perfect (isn’t it always!) in that it is never too much. He sits out when needed and plays the perfect feel for everything. The two basses (electric and acoustic) offset each other perfectly. It is something I’ve never noticed on previous listens, but now that I hear it, it’s amazing and perfectly suited for this song. This whole tune is so intricate and well balanced. There is not much more to say about this except that if you haven’t heard it, you need to listen. It’s hard to imagine composing at this level. Chick Corea is a legend for a reason.

 

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Tom Waits, Alice

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Tom Waits, Alice

Tom Waits – Alice

2002 – Anti Records

If you have ever been around a campfire with me, you have surely listened to some Tom Waits. This is one artist that I come back to again and again. I first heard Alice a few years after it initially was released, but only recently have dug into it. I credit the deeper listen with owning the vinyl. This is a very laid back and slow album, but there is a lot to unpack. Having the vinyl makes you sit down and really listen to the music, which is what this album calls for. This album sounds like you have travelled to an alternate dimension, where everything is a little bit off. Looking through the credits, and knowing much of Wait’s music, there are many instruments mentioned that are not commonplace. Instead of going into each of these tracks, I thought it would be interesting to do some quick research on some of these instruments. Here we go:

            Mellotron – this is a keyboard instrument that works by using magnetic tape. If the tape is used in different sections, different sounds can be produced. This was used by the Beatles, Moody Blues, King Crimson, and many other prog rock bands.

            Chamberlin Vibes – this is a precursor to the mellotron. Waits apparently wanted the original sound, no reproductions would do.

            Swiss Hand Bells – this is literally what it says it is, bells held in your hands and rung. They are pitched. They are used very well in the music, it is hard to distinguish them, they are just part of the whole sound, which is great.

            Stroh Violin – these are those cool looking violins that have a sound bell coming out of them. I never knew what they were called. Listening to Wait’s music, the visual of these violins as opposed to the normal version, fits perfectly.

            Pump Organ – with these organs, you use your feet to pump air past a reed, which makes the noise. Again, the visual of this instrument fits perfectly with the music.

 

 

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Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

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Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

2015 – High Top Mountain Records

 

Sturgill Simpson is the real deal. He is a great singer, songwriter, arranger, and guitarist. Those who have read this blog, or know me, may be a little surprised that I am writing about a modern (metamodern) country album. While I am super picky about music, I don’t let genres bias my preferences. If music is well done, I can appreciate it. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, or what tradition it draws from, real musicianship is an easily definable quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean technical proficiency. The music needs to be genuine, and not made for the purpose to having a “hit”. In the modern country scene, there are very few artists that are putting out what I would actually call music, but Simpson is one. He writes great songs and his musicians are great. They all play with energy and the songs contain little twists and turns that make them interesting. In “Living the Dream” there is one measure of 6 that is just a subtle change in the norm that keeps this album interesting. This music is definitely rooted in the 70s country and bluegrass tradition, which makes it an interesting album to listen to for me, not really having those as direct influences on my music. If you haven’t heard Simpson yet, it is time to check him out. He had a great performance on SNL last year that is definitely worth looking up. Get to listening!

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Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy

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Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy

Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy

1978 – Elektra/Asylum Records

 

Abby picked out the vinyl this week for me. Many people know Zevon for “Werewolves Of London”, which is featured on this LP, but there is much more to his catalogue than that. He has an interesting perspective in his lyrics, but as usual, I’m not going to write about lyrics, just the music. The feel through these tunes is great. All the songs are well played and fit right in the pocket. There are some interesting (in a good way) chord choices and modulations. “Accidentally Like A Martyr” features some really cool key changes over a section in 7 that moves the whole song forward. Details like that are definitely not on all pop/rock tunes from the 70s.  Waddy Wachtel, who plays guitar throughout this LP is a high point for me. He is a big studio musician who has played with tons of people (Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, James Taylor, and more). He is very tasteful and is just a great rock guitarist. The first track on the second side is decidedly funkier than the others, which makes sense when reading that Jeff Porcaro is on the drums. He was a drummer that had a distinctive style and sound. Overall, this is a really nice album from a songwriter that stands above many of his contemporaries.

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Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

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Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

1973 – Motown Records

 

There is not much that I could write that hasn’t been stated about this album before. It stands as one of the greatest LPs of all time. Time hasn’t diminished any part of it. The songs sound fresh and are still completely entertaining. The thing that jumps out to me is that most of the instruments recorded here are played by Wonder! He is known for his piano, vocals, and harmonica, but I think his drumming should be recognized. The drums on “Living For The City” are SO funky. He has more feel than many “famous” drummers out there. *Just got to the end of the album and had to jump back in here, Stevie plays the drums on “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”….good lord* This album covers so much ground. Each song sounds different, but they all fit together. The atmosphere created is unbelievable (all the modulations at the end of “Golden Lady”). I am not going to go too in depth into anything here. Take this post as a reminder to listen to this album again (or if you’ve never heard it, GET IT). I’m about to go back to the top and listen again.

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King Crimson - Red

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King Crimson - Red

King Crimson – Red

1974 – Island Records

 

This album is heavy. King Crimson has gone through many lineups and directions for their sound through the years since their inception in 1968 (they are still on tour right now)! This album came right before a temporary hiatus and featured the trio of Robert Fripp, John Wetton, and Bill Bruford. There are guest musicians throughout the tunes as well, but the core trio really hammers it home. John Wetton’s bass playing holds together the arrangements and gives it the dark, sinister sound that I love.  As usual with King Crimson, time signatures change pretty regularly, but never in a way that is jarring. They all flow together nicely. Tunes like “One More Red Nightmare” feature super heavy riffs that transform, at least in this tune, into a demented dance track under the vocals. There is a live improvisation called “Providence” that was recorded at PPAC before it was called that. The real highlight of this album, to me at least, is “Starless”. This tune encapsulates all that is right with this LP. It starts as a nice standard tune with a cool guitar/alto sax counterpoint then devolves into one of the heaviest points on the album. Fripp repeats a single note in a cool pattern while Wetton sneaks in with a slow, but propulsive bass part. The way that the bassline interacts with the guitar is awesome and totally sets the mood. Scraped, bowed, and rolled cymbals mix with various percussion to signify the change in atmosphere. As the drums build in intensity, everything starts to open up a bit more. I could be wrong, but I think it’s in 13 (which makes it even cooler). It jumps to a doubletime for the sax solo, then recycles the vocal line from the top of the tune with the guitar over different chords. It all builds in the end, mixing everything together. This is such a well written song, as is the entire album. I’m sure I’ll review another King Crimson from another era another time, so stay tuned for that!

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Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left

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Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left

Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left

1969 – Island Records

 

Five Leaves Left was Nick Drake’s first album (he only released 3). As I’ve talked about before, the arc of albums, especially trilogies, is very interesting to me. In this case, the first album features a small ensemble playing through the tunes. For his second album, Bryter Layter, the ensemble is expanded to feature brass and a larger string section, very heavy on production. For his final album, Pink Moon, that is all stripped away and most of the album is just Drake’s voice and guitar (with piano on one tune).  Five Leaves Left, though, is probably my favorite. The mood that is set by this LP is one of its best features. Drake battled serious depression through his life and this album could be viewed through that lens, but there is much more to it. Yes, the songs are laid back, sparse, and feature minor keys, but there is a string of hopefulness that runs just beneath the surface. For some reason, this album reminds me of the Fall, with is relief from Summer heat and the promise and uncertainty of a new school year. Perhaps this is where the hopefulness comes into play, drawing upon personal experiences removed from the music. In addition to the tone of the album, the musicianship stands out as a high point. Drake was known for unusual tunings of his guitar, but I don’t know enough about the guitar to hear if he utilized that on this album or just on his later ones. His voice is unique and completely calming. The string arrangements are great and the studio musicians do a great job of playing for the song. The sequencing of tracks was well crafted. The album flows up and down all leading to the final track, “Saturday Sun”, which is the first and only occurrence of vibraphone on the album. This closer is perfect in that is sums up the album as a whole. If you were to pick one track to describe this LP to someone, “Saturday Sun” would be it. The back cover features a picture of Drake standing against a wall gazing at an out of focus man running past. This is the photographic embodiment of the album. Drake was focused and sure of his musical identity as the world passed him by. He was not popular during his lifetime, but has had a posthumous recognition by fans and critics alike. If you haven’t listened to him yet, do yourself a favor and check him out. You won’t be disappointed.

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Bjork, Vespertine

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Bjork, Vespertine

Bjork – Vespertine

2001 – One Little Indian Records

 

This album sounds completely unique. I’ve never heard anything else that remotely sounds like Vespertine. All these tunes take place at whisper level, but still retain a forward motion and dynamic range. The beats don’t knock you over the head, they creep in and slowly change. They aren’t made with traditional drums or an electronic set; they seem to be constructed from little sound clips that are put together. On top of that, the songs feature strings, chorus, and all kinds of bells, chimes, and toy pianos. The vocals are quiet and breathy (which works perfectly). Perhaps my perception is biased by the cover, which features a black and white photo of Bjork with a swan drawn on top, but this album feels like a wintertime album (why I’m writing about it in the middle of summer, I don’t know). The progression of songs on this album is great as well. It is a double LP, and across all four sides it builds up and lets down again and again, always moving forward. If you’ve never listened to Bjork, this is a great one to start with. It is completely original and never boring. If you haven’t guessed by now, it is one of my favorite albums of all time!

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Jim Croce, Life and Times

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Jim Croce, Life and Times

Jim Croce – Life and Times

1973 – ABC Records

 

Jim Croce wrote some catch tunes, was a great storyteller, and great mustache wear-er. I didn’t really know much about him, but when looking him up, I found that he died at age 30 in a plane crash after a gig. We’ve all heard some of his music (and if you haven’t, check it out now!), but I had no idea about any of the musicians on these iconic tunes. So I thought that I would do some quick research on the guys that made these songs come to life. For this album, Croce used Gary Chester on the drums. He was a big studio drummer on the East Coast who was featured on hundreds of hits! He was the drummer on “Stand By Me”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “Up on the Roof”, “It’s My Party”, “Sugar, Sugar”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, and “Brown Eyed Girl” as well as tons of others. He obviously was able to quickly hear a song and understand exactly what it needed for its feel. Kenny Ascher, the organist on this recording, co-wrote “The Rainbow Connection”. During his career, he has worked with John Lennon, Carly Simon, John Prine, the J.B.s, Meat Loaf, Rod Stewart as well as many others. He also wrote many jingles during his career. Michael Kamen, who played synthesizer on the Croce album, wrote scores for many movies, including Die Hard. Eric Weissberg, who played violin, was the banjoist the recorded “Dueling Banjos” for Deliverance. There was so much talent on this session. Listening to this album, there is nothing out of place, the instruments serve the music. With so many talented guys on the session, it would be easy to overplay, but that is not what happens here. It is clear that they were all great studio musicians, who were able to put egos aside and play what was called for, nothing more. Life and Times is a really enjoyable record to throw on while you are cleaning, or cooking, or any kind of household chore where you can dance around. Jim Croce had some great stuff, and it is sad that he didn’t get to progress any more in his career, the results would have been interesting!

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Punch Brothers, Ahoy

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Punch Brothers, Ahoy

Punch Brothers – Ahoy!

2013 – Nonesuch Records

 

This EP has some really great stuff packed into its short run time. Although only one song on here is an original from the band, they have a way of making covers sound like their own songs. A great example here is “Moonshiner” which has been done by Bob Dylan, Eliott Smith, Cat Power, and tons of others. The Punch Brothers effort sounds nothing like these versions, but still retains the traditional elements of the tune. The mix of straight bluegrass with darker harmonies and virtuosic playing is present on this EP, all adding up to a supremely fun album to listen to. There is a breakdown/solo instrumental section in “Icarus Smicarus” that needs to be heard to believed. I’ve seen this band many times live and they always put on a great show. All the members are always busy with side projects that it is hard to fathom how they can make such great music on a consistent basis with this band. Their ability to take traditional tunes and re-orchestrate them to sound fresh and interesting is amazing. Definitely a band that is worth checking out!

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