The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 600-699
For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this is all about (other than just plain fun), click here.
Albums #800-899 continue here.
Albums #700-799 continue here.
Albums #500-599 continue here.
Albums#400-499 continue here.
699. Paula Carino – Open on Sunday
Our pick for best album of 2010, it’s a cool, sometimes icy, sometimes velvety beautiful janglerock masterpiece, with some of the most clever lyrics of any rock record in recent years. Carino markets herself as part of the indie camp when she’s actually more of a missing link between vintage Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson, a deviously witty, wry observer who never fails to find some gallows humor in tough situations. This is a brooding yet occasionally hilarious concept album of sorts about dissolving relationships and what they leave in their wake. It’s got her best song, the poignantly metaphorical countrypolitan ballad Lucky in Love; the wry rockabilly-tinged Saying Grace Before the Movie; the wickedly catchy, minor-key rocker The Great Depression; and the gently swaying, rueful With the Bathwater – “It’s been raining since that day I threw your Nick Drake tapes away” – while The Road to Hell perfectly captures the exasperation that came before. There’s also the Rod Serling-esque Robots Helping Robots, the even more sinister The Others, and the irresistibly funny, rhythmically tricky Rough Guide with its faux-latin guitar. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers but the whole thing is streaming at myspace (be careful, you have to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad), and it’s also up at cdbaby.
698. Django Reinhardt – Swing de Paris
We’re going to make another exception to our “no box sets” rule for another guy who was making records back in the day when albums were bound up like books. This massive 4-cd set spans from the 30s through the early 50s, about a third of the tracks with his longtime collaborator, jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, some with brass, some without. What can we say about Django that hasn’t already been said? Guitar genius whose style was shaped – literally – when the surgeons put his fret hand back together again after a car accident; inventor of gypsy jazz; someone whose impact arguably ranks with Hendrix, at least as far as the guitar is concerned, maybe more (would Gogol Bordello exist if not for Django? Maybe not). This isn’t as exhaustive as you’d think (no Swing 36, for example), although it does have Swing 39 and Swing 48, along with Tiger Rag, Blue Drag, Djangology, Improvisation No.2, Nuages, Nagasaki and Nuit de St.-Germain. When Django wasn’t composing – which was seemingly all the time – he was covering the hits of the day: After You’ve Gone, Limehouse Blues, Japanese Sandman and Viper’s Dream are some of the high points among these biting, bristling gems. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of beyondmidnight.
697. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?
For the better part of 15 years, the Asylum Street Spankers were arguably the funniest band on the planet, a raucous acoustic Americana counterpart to the Dead Kennedys. Fearlessly political, they took on the Bush regime with a ferocious sarcasm matched by few other bands (their best being their last big hit, the Iraq War satire Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV). This 2008 double cd is sort of a greatest-hits collection, recorded in front of a packed house at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre. Frontwoman Christina Marrs and percussionist/singer Wammo banter back and forth over sizzling violin, guitar and manolin, through a mix of originals and classic blues and gospel tunes. The best of these is My Baby in the CIA, a hilarious, spot-on critique of corporate-sponsored American anti-democracy moves over the years. There’s also the equally spot-on Winning the War on Drugs, an equally funny update on Black Flag’s TV Party, the Medley of Burnt-Out Songs, the amazing, intricately arranged My Favorite Records, and Marrs’ Hawaiian-flavored homage to marijuana, Pakalolo Baby. They also intersperse several skits between songs, the funniest being the Gig from Hell, which every musician will relate to. Mystifyingly hard to find as a torrent; the Spankers (who’ve recently disbanded, reputedly for the last time) still have it at their site.
696. The Ventures – Live in Japan ’65
The holy grail of surf music. What Never Mind the Bollocks is to punk, what Kind of Blue is to classic jazz, this album is to instrumental rock. The Ventures weren’t the first surf band, but they were the most successful, at least during their 60s heyday. This has virtually all of the best versions of their best songs, recorded in front of a hilariously polite audience in a country where they’re still more popular than the Beatles. It’s got kick-ass rockers like Penetration and Diamond Head; darker, eerie stuff like a skittish Besame Mucho Twist, Pipeline and the irresistible yet wary medley of Walk Don’t Run, Lullaby of the Leaves and Perfidia; Beatlesque jangle including When You Walk in the Room and the Fab Four’s I Feel Fine; sci-fi themes like Telstar, Out of Limits and a pummeling Journey to the Stars; and the crashing encore of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, with the late Mel Taylor’s long, iconic drum solo. The cd reissue is poorly mastered and on the tinny side, but the original mono vinyl album is strictly a collector’s item. Here’s a random torrent via dreamexpress.
695. The Fania All-Stars – Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2
Conceived as a branding mechanism for the label, the Fania All-Stars were supposed to be the greatest salsa band of their era – a goal that wasn’t all that hard to achieve because virtually everybody in the band was a bandleader. The lineup reads like a latin music hall of fame: Larry Harlow, Justo Betancourt, Yomo Toro, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and literally dozens of others. From 1967 to the early 80s, they put out one ecstatic, danceable album after another, which makes this a particularly hard choice. The four-cd box set Ponte Duro: The Fania All-Stars Story was awfully tempting, but since this group was first and foremost a live orchestra, that’s where they did their best work. This scorching 1976 set, most of it actually recorded in Puerto Rico (the sound mix was better than most of the stuff from the actual session in the Bronx), captures them at the peak of their brass-heavy power. These are long, psychedelic jams: Hermandad Fania, which gets things cooking right off the bat; the eleven-minute Celia Cruz epic Bemba Colora; Ismael Quintana’s first big, soulful hit, Mi Debilidad; as well as Echate Pa ‘lla and the fourteen-minute stomp Congo Bongo. Here’s a random torrent via sogoodmusic.
694. Portishead – Roseland NYC Live
To say that when this album came out in 1998, it was the last thing anybody expected from Portishead is an understatement. This is the only good album the band ever made – it sounds nothing like anything they recorded before or afterward. Recorded with an orchestra and a (mostly) live band at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, it’s more like the Cure with strings and a girl singer. Together, the live percussion, orchestra, moody synth and guitar combine for a tense 80s goth vibe that offsets the occasional doofy electronic blip or the annoying turntable scratching. It’s a mix of downtempo trip-hop grooves like Humming, Cowboys and Only You along with the orchestrated wah soul of All Mine, the mood pieces Mysterons, Over and Half Day Closing, the fan favorite Glory Box and epic closers Roads and Strangers: slow, slinky stuff, sort of the equivalent of Isaac Hayes for white kids. Reputedly the band has since disowned this. Here’s a random torrent.
693. Paul Whiteman – Greatest Hits 1920-27
The jazz snobs are gonna kill us for this one. Ninety years after the fact, Paul Whiteman is still paying for the hubris of calling himself the King of Jazz in an era when Jelly Roll Morton was hot and Duke Ellington was coming up. Almost a century later, it doesn’t even seem that anybody wants to download his stuff. Which is too bad. His shtick was lushly ecstatic, lavish orchestrations of the hits of the day. In the 1920s, there were thousands of hot jazz bands working regional circuits all over the country – in fact, outside of the US as well – but nobody with the juice that Whiteman had, nor as much access to the new phenomenon of radio. Whatever you think of his arrangements, you can’t fault his taste: he was the first to have a hit with Rhapsody in Blue. This popular 1950s vinyl reissue – still kicking around used record stores – collects a lot but not all of the big hits, extending as far as 1932 (the album title actually gets it wrong). Can you argue with Paul Robeson doing Old Man River? Bix Beiderbecke on cornet on Ramona? The irresistibly towering grandeur that the band gives catchy pop songs like Japanese Sandman, Whiteman’s signature song Whispering, or My Blue Heaven? There’s also cinematic stuff like Valencia, Birth of the Blues and Song of India as well as comedic but still charming material including the cartoonish I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and the Three O’Clock in the Morning Waltz among the almost two dozen tracks here. A rigorous search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything – if we find something more interesting than an anthology, we’ll put it up here.
692. Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets
Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.
691. Chet Baker – The Best of Chet Baker Sings
Here’s something for the ladies. This is a guy whose vision never wavered: the warm, soulful, direct clarity of his trumpet matched his voice and made this one of the great bedroom albums. Pretty impressive, considering how wasted he was most of the time. Nobody ever did a jazz ballad better than this guy. This 1989 reissue includes everything on the iconic original 1952 Chet Baker Sings plus almost another album’s worth of mid-50s material with Russ Freeman on piano, Bob Whitlock on bass and the great Chico Hamilton on drums. It’s got all the hits: Let’s Get Lost; The Thrill Is Gone; Time After Time; I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes) and Just Friends. Among the later singles are That Old Feeling and It’s Always You (and yeah, it’s got My Funny Valentine too, but that song is so overrated). The jazz world hated this when it first came out: everybody thought this was a sellout. A couple of other Baker albums also worth seeking out are his Together album with Paul Desmond from the 70s, and his live Chet Baker in Tokyo album from 1987, just a year before his death. Here’s a random torrent.
690. Ice Cube – Death Certificate
Hmm…how do we follow the subtle urbanity of Chet Baker? With this cruelly obscene 1991 golden-age hip-hop classic. Ice Cube may be best known as the goofy guy from the Friday movies, but he was one of the world’s most formidable lyricists before Hollywood came calling and he gave it up. Time after time, Ice Cube gets it. Whatever was happening that year, he nails it. Black girl killed by bodega owner who thought she was stealing memorialized in Black Korea. Young black guys turning to crime since corporate America won’t hire them? A Bird in the Hand. Cops who’d rather watch a guy bleed to death in the hospital than solve a crime? Alive on Arrival. One of the best anti-Bush I numbers, I Wanna Kill Sam, lots of hilarious comedy stuff like Givin’ Up the Nappy Dug Out, Look Who’s Burnin’ and the high school reminiscence Doing Dumb Shit along with the vicious dis No Vaseline, aimed at his old NWA bandmates since he felt they’d sold out. Here’s a random torrent.
689. Shonen Knife – Brand New Knife
Shonen Knife don’t sing about choco bars or ripping the heads off Barbie dolls on this one. To be counterintuitive, we picked one of their most accessible albums, where Naoko’s guitar is multitracked and beefed up and Atsuko’s drumming is still skittish but better than anything she’d done before. By 1997, the lo-fi Japanese all-girl punk band had become an institution with a devoted cult following who didn’t care whether they’d ever actually get proficient on their instruments. In the meantime, that’s exactly what they did: for anyone who wants to claim them as kitsch relics of the 80s or 90s, eat shit and die. The classic here is the Black Sabbath parody (or homage – it could be both) Buddha’s Face. A close second is Fruits and Vegetables, a topic close to our hearts. There’s also the irresistibly catchy Wonder Wine (the Japanese version of Night Train?); the surreal E.S.P.; the amusement park tale Loop-Di-Loop; the ridiculously catchy but completely inscrutable Explosion and One Week. Here’s a random torrent.
688. Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland – Showdown
A blues guitar summit from 1985. Collins was one of the most intense, exhilarating musicians ever, icy fire blasting from his custom-made amp for the “cool” sound that made him famous. Although better known as a singer than guitarist, Copeland gave 100% here and Cray proves that he belongs onstage with any other great blues player. The songs are cool too: as you might expect from a Collins album, it’s a Texas vibe with only a couple of standards and those get reinvented: an edgy, low-down Bring Your Fine Self Home and Black Cat Bone, modeled on Hop Wilson’s lapsteel version. From the first track, T-Bone Shuffle, they’re wailing; Cray picks his spots and fires off one smartly chosen volley after another on She’s Into Something and the airy, psychedelic The Dream. As you’d expect, the Texas shuffles are also in full effect: Lion’s Den and the instrumental Albert’s Alley are as adrenalizing as you’d expect. And on the long volcanic outro to the closer, Blackjack, surprisingly it’s Copeland who really takes the energy up. Many, many notes, none of them wasted. Here’s a random torrent via mississippimoan.
687. Merle Travis – Guitar Rags and a Too Fast Past
A titan of Americana roots music, Merle Travis was one of the great country guitarists whose signature picking style has influenced most C&W players ever since. As imaginative at western swing as he was at bluegrass, he was a star from the mid-40s when he was doing anti-Nazi comedy songs under an assumed name, to the 60s. This massive 5-cd set, first issued on vinyl in the mid-70s in Europe, contains 145 tracks in all and includes most of his iconic songs: the bitter coal miners’ antems Sixteen Tons and Dark as a Dungeon, along with more lighthearted stuff from folk songs like John Henry and Nine Pound Hammer, to Hoagy Carmichael’s Lazy River, Bob Wills’ Steel Guitar Rag, and novelty numbers like Divorce Me C.O.D. CD #5 is mostly a waste, but the whole thing still has more than ten dozen cool songs. Essential stuff for guitar players and country music fans. Here’s a random torrent via lokaldensayo. Also worth checking out: Travis’s recently unearthed 1966 concert up at Wolfgang’s Vault.
686. Ice-T – The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say
Before Ice-T was the leader of a metal band, or a character actor specializing in cop roles, he antagonized them with his lyrics – which were usually brilliant. This 1989 album by the self-styled “inventor of the crime rhyme” is the highlight of his rap career. It opens with a long, Orwellian Jello Biafra spoken-word piece over a Black Sabbath sample. The rest of the album mixes the verbal gymnastics of the title track and Hit the Deck with crime rhymes like the ominous drive-by scenario Peel Their Caps Back and the rapidfire, desperate Hunted Child, the hilarious The Girl Tried to Kill Me and the ferocious, antagonistic, politically spot-on This One’s for Me. The only dud here is an interminable party rap with one forgettable cameo after another. Here’s a random torrent via fromthaold2thanew.
685. Anita O’Day – The Lady Is a Tramp
Originally titled Anita O’Day Sings Jazz when it was first released in 1952, her debut album is sassy and fearless. With a carefree rasp as she went up the scale, she sang like she was bulletproof, which is probably how she felt since she was so wasted most of the time in those days. Some singers wrestle with their vulnerability, but Anita O’Day (pig latin for “I need dough,” appropriate for a junkie) swung her voice like a sharp little axe. Backed by a boisterous, inspired quartet, she rips through a bunch of mostly upbeat, bluesy numbers and ends up reinventing half of them. Rock n Roll Blues? Remember, this was before Chuck Berry. Love For Sale is sardonic to the extreme; she rocks out Lullaby of the Leaves, turns Lover Come Back to Me from sadness to cynicism, does an absolutely conspiratorial version of Speak Low and then flips the script and gives the novelty song No Soap, No Hope Blues some genuine poignancy. Pagan Love Song, however, is just what it ought to sound like. And maybe because of the title, finding a working set of files for this album is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In lieu of the needle (ha ha) we give you a marvelous Anita mixtape via planetbarberella.
684. Blur – The Great Escape
This is a ruthless, brutally sarcastic 1997 art-rock concept album that mocks the shallowness and vapidity of Tony Blair/Bill Clinton era yuppies – it was a similar kind of greed, after all, that built those Japanese reactors. Damon Albarn wastes no time getting going with Stereotypes, followed by the even harsher Country House, the sardonic Best Days and brutal Charmless Man. The blandness of yuppie status-grubbing gets excoriated in Fade Away, Mr. Robinson’s Quango and He Thought of Cars; the deathlike boredom in Ernold Same and It Could Be You; the fascism in Top Man and ultimately, death, personified in the lush, towering, epic The Universal. Blur made catchier albums – Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife are both full of killer tunes – but both of them also include a bunch of duds. Here’s a random torrent.
683. Death – For the Whole World to See
Signed to Arista Records in 1975 but dropped when they refused to change their name, this Detroit trio are remembered for being the first black punk band. That’s a bit of a stretch, but David, Bobby and Dennis Hackney took the raw power of the Stooges to new and unexpected places with this brief but intense proto-punk album, never officially released until 24 years later. Rock N Roll Victim foreshadows the Damned; Keep on Knocking is a delicious, shuffling rocker with some sweet Ron Asheton-style lead guitar from guitarist David Hackney, who sadly didn’t live to see this reissue see the light of day. You’re a Prisoner wouldn’t have been out of place on Fun House; Freaking Out, true to its title, is scorching, fast riff-metal. The best songs here are the most original ones; the psychedelic mini-site Let the World Turn and the ferocious, epic antiwar anthem Politicians in My Eyes. The rhythm section would continue later in the excellent roots reggae outfit Lambsbread. Recently reunited with a new guitarist, there’s supposedly more unreleased stuff due out at some point. Here’s a random torrent.
682. Muddy Waters – Muddy Mississippi Waters Live
With this icon, the question is not which Muddy Waters albums belong here, but which ones don’t. Basically, everything this guy put out between the Alan Lomax recordings from the late 30s until the 1956 Blues and Brass album is worth owning. After that, everything up to the grossly overrated Fathers and Sons album. After that, the pickings get slim among the studio albums, although he was still an unstoppable live act. This 2003 reissue of a 1979 release mostly recorded in the early 70s features Muddy at his matter-of-fact, sly, occasionally harrowing peak of his powers as both a singer and slide guitarist, includes a second disc recorded in Indiana in the early 80s. Johnny Winter handles a lot of the solos and doesn’t embarrass himself; Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson takes a stinging solo on what may be the best-ever version of Baby Please Don’t Go. There’s also the slow, growling She’s Nineteen Years Old, Nine Below Zero and Deep Down in Florida along with a casually potent version of Streamline Woman and the requisite Mannish Boy. The second disc isn’t quite up to the level of the first, but it’s mostly the same band including the ageless Pinetop Perkins on piano. Here’s a random torrent via dimosblues.
681. Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
Where armageddon right now looks like a water table saturated with plutonium, Roger Waters – and pretty much everyone else in 1983 – saw the world ending in a deluge of atom bombs. Part murderous response to the fascism of Thatcher and Reagan, part continuation of The Wall to its logical extreme, this was once rated one of the ten most depressing albums of all time by a fashion magazine – reason alone to make it worth owning. The raging hiss of vignettes like The Post War Dream, One of the Few and Get Your Hands Off My Filthy Desert put everything in historical context. It’s hard to imagine a more poignant requiem for lost time than Your Possible Pasts, nor a more plaintive war widow-to-be’s lament than Southhampton Dock. The Hero’s Return is beyond sarcastic; The Gunner’s Dream floats cruelly down to end in a fatal plane crash. And The Fletcher Memorial Home is a musical death warrant for some of the era’s evillest despots, among them Thatcher, Brezhnev and Begin. The gorgeously quiet, completely apt piano ballad Paranoid Eyes and the sweeping, epic grandeur of the title track complete the picture along with the sludgy metal anthem Not Now John (a big FM radio hit) and the rhythmically tricky, pensive end-of-the-world tableau Two Suns in the Sunset. Antiwar songs have seldom been more powerful. Here’s a random torrent.
680. The Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MGs – Back to Back
The ultimate soul groove band in the ultimate setting: live, onstage. This brief, barely thirty-minute 1967 album has organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and the guy who might have been the greatest drummer of the rock era, Al Jackson, taking their sly, slinky two-minute instrumental hits to new levels. It’s got Red Beans and Rice, an especially amped Tic-Tac-Toe, a funked-up Hip Hug-Her and contrasts them with a considerably more lush version of Rufus Thomas’ Philly Dog. Even Green Onions, as cheesy as that tune is, has an impossibly fat groove. Side two is the Mar-Keys (that’s Booker T. & the MG’s with a horn section) taking the energy up with Grab This Thing, Last Night and a cover of Gimme Some Lovin that blows away the original, along with the early Booker T. hits Booker-Loo and Outrage. Here’s a random torrent via kingcakecrypt.
679. Echobelly – On
Ferocious, fearless, sultry UK punk-pop from 1993. One of the most stunningly powerful voices in recent decades, Echobelly frontwoman Sonya Aurora Madan belts and wails over the roar and crunch of Glen Johansson and Debbie Smith’s guitars, through a mix of mostly upbeat, catchy songs lit up by the occasional George Harrisonesque lead line. Defiantly alluring, Madan romps through the irresistibly catchy, scorching Car Fiction, the similarly stomping King of the Kerb – a cynical tale of a pimp and his hookers – the unstoppable optimism of Great Things, the dismissive Go Away, the feminist-stoked Natural Animal and Pantyhose and Roses, and the sarcastic but swoony Something Hot in a Cold Country. Four Letter Word nicks an idea from the Sonic Youth playbook; the absolute classic here is the slowly simmering, psychedelic nocturne Dark Therapy, which winds up with an unreal crescendo delivered by steel guitarist BJ Cole, in what might be his best-ever cameo. There’s also the distantly X-influenced Nobody Like You and In the Year as well as the morbidly quiet, mostly acoustic closing cut. The band’s 1991 debut is also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.
678. Jeff “Tain” Watts – Watts
Most political and social commentary in jazz has been limited to musical portrayals of various type of pain and suffering. Inspired by the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and the malfeasance of the Bush regime, here’s a rare one that doesn’t limit itself to just the tunes. The iconic, powerhouse drummer and sometime bandleader is joined on this 2009 release, his most recent, by Branford Marsalis on saxes, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and another powerhouse, Christian McBride on bass. It’s a diverse mix of New Orleans second line tunes, funk and bracing improvisation, all imbued with Watts’ signature sense of humor, frequently vicious and satirical. Katrina James, a hurricane reminiscence, is cynical to the extreme; Wry Koln, with its tongue-in-cheek latin groove, isn’t the slightest bit teutonic. There’s also the bitter, intense Dancing 4 Chicken, the playful Monk homage Dingle-Dangle and the eerie atmospherics of M’Buzai. The centerpiece is a brutally funny evisceration of George W. Bush’s legacy, The Devil’s Ring Tone: The Movie – which includes a conversation between the devil and Bush’s attorney, and is reprised as a stand-alone instrumental at the end. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is streaming at myspace, and it’s still available from cdbaby.
677. Les Chauds Lapins – Parlez-Moi D’amour
One of the alltime great boudoir albums, and you don’t have to speak French to appreciate it (although that helps). This is the irresistibly charming 2007 debut by a group that began as a side project of two Americans, Roulette Sisters guitarist/chanteuse Meg Reichardt and former Ordinaires bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Hoffman. In the passing years, the band took on a life of its own, with a great new album Amourettes just out and a cd release show tomorrow at 10 at the 92YTribeca for all you New Yorkers. At the time they released this, Les Chauds Lapins (French slang for “hot to trot”) specialized in mining the witty wordplay and lushly jazzy arrangments of now-obscure French pop hits from the 1930s and 40s (the band has since broadened their palate a bit). This one’s got the coy Il M’a Vue Nue (He Saw Me Naked), the unselfconsciously romantic J’ai Dansé Avec L’Amour (I Danced with Love); the surreal Swing Troubadour; the sad shipwreck lament La Barque D’Yves (Yves’ Boat), the dreamy title track (whose original version was included in the soundtrack to the film Casablanca) and the not-quite-so-dreamy Parlez-Moi D’autre Chose (Let’s Talk About Something Else) among the thirteen sweepingly nocturnal tunes here. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available (also on vinyl!) from the band’s site.
676. Barbara Brousal – Pose While It Pops
One of the great voices of the last fifteen years or so, Barbara Brousal can pull more emotion out of a thoughtfully bent note than most people can with a whole album. A professional musician from Boston via Brooklyn, her background is Americana, and that’s one element among many in this diverse and intensely lyrical 2000 album, her second. The real classic here is the opening track The Human Arrow, a bitter and brilliantly metaphorical portrayal of love as a circus act. The slow, angst-driven country ballad Take These Tears wouldn’t be out of place on a Dolly Parton album from the late 60s; the carefree sway of Soap and Water contrasts with the stiletto dismissiveness of the lyric. Charm Bracelet and Picture Booth are offhandedly brooding without being maudlin; there’s also the irresistibly catchy, lyrical Throwing Bones, the hypnotic chamber-pop of Lay Down Your Soul and the long, intensely crescendoing Breathing Down Your Neck. Brousal’s excellent band here includes David Poe and Kevin Salem on guitars, John Abbey on bass and Jane Scarpantoni on cello. Awfully hard to find in hard copy form but still available from the usual download merchants, and myspace has several of her tracks streaming. If you like this one you might also enjoy her 2002 collection Almost Perfect, a collection of demos that frequently reaches the heights this one does.
675. The Jentsch Group Large – The Brooklyn Suite
Hope it’s ok with you if we stay in Brooklyn for a second album in a row. A fiery, David Gilmouresque guitarist and composer, Chris Jentsch’s largescale works (this is his second, released eight years after his lush 1999 Miami Suite) are towering, majestic and sometimes absolutely creepy, blending elements of jazz, classical, rock and even reggae. This bustling, bracing, nocturnal suite for sixteen-piece big band essentially works variations on a wickedly menacing four-bar theme, first introduced with deadpan ominousness by a tenor sax and then eventually picked up with slasher intensity by the guitar and then the whole band. Altogether, the suite is one of the greatest pieces of noir music ever written. Solos from the horns and reeds are interspersed between movements, along with hypnotic, ambient passages that foreshadow the fireworks ahead. Tacked on afterwards here are a long, blazing samba-jazz tune and a playful reggae instrumental titled Our Daily Dread. A rigorous search didn’t turn up any torrents, but much of it is still streaming at Jentsch’s site, and it’s still available there. If you like this you may also enjoy Jentsch’s even more lush, psychedelic and frequently creepy Cycles Suite from 2009.
674. Moisturizer – Moisturizer Takes Mars
The shortest album on this list, it clocks in at around nine minutes. Is this even an album? If you count ep’s, why not? And since it’s the only physical product one of the world’s most entertaining, exciting, danceable bands ever put out, it’ll have to do. For about ten years, there was no funner group in New York than this all-female instrumental trio. Blending their low-register sounds into an intoxicating, hip-shaking groove, baritone sax player Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Tomoyo literally never wrote a bad song. And they had dozens more than just the three on this 2004 release: the title track, Cash Incentive and Selfish: Not a Dirty Word. When they started right before the turn of the century, they were basically a surf band with sax instead of guitar; when they wrapped it up in 2009, they’d become one of New York’s best bands, blending funk, punk, trip-hop, soul and go-go music into a uniquely moist sound. Since then, Paula has gone on to recognition as a composer of cinematic soundscapes and plays with innumerable projects including ambient big band Burnt Sugar. Gina went on to play with the Detroit Cobras, World Inferno and continues to be sought out as a touring pro; Tomoyo left the band in 2004 and was replaced by a guy, Moist Yoshio. Tomoyo is Japanese and we hope she’s ok. This one was a very limited edition, but there’s a bunch of tracks up at the band’s myspace and all are worth owning.
673. Radio Birdman – The Ring of Truth
Hope it’s ok with you if we go with two ep’s in a row. If this 1988 release was a bootleg, as some say (all but one track were subsequently issued “officially,” for what it’s worth), the sound quality is amazing. Recorded at Dave Edmunds’ studio in Rockfield, Wales just prior to the band’s initial breakup ten years previously, this captures the Australian garage punks at the peak of their fret-burning, frequently macabre power. Just four songs here, all of them winners, each a good example of the band’s ability to tackle a surprisingly diverse number of styles, considering what a loud, ferocious group they were. If I Wanted You is a creepily pulsing, low-key guitar/organ tune; Dark Surprise is an example of their Stooges-inspired riff-rock style, and the surprisingly mellow Didn’t Tell the Man (a 1979 hit for the Hitmen) features one of the most wrenchingly beautiful rock organ solos ever, courtesy of Pip Hoyle. The centerpiece here is Death by the Gun, a country murder ballad done Detroit style, lead player Deniz Tek’s lightning rampages blasting over Warwick Gilbert’s insanely catchy, punchy bassline (done decently thirty years later by the Horehounds). Here’s a random torrent via thewickedthing.
672. The Dog Show – “Hello, Yes”
Ferociously literate oldschool R&B flavored mod punk rock from this Lower East Side New York supergroup, 2004. Everything the Dog Show – who were sort of New York’s answer to the Jam – put out is worth hearing, if you can find it, including their debut, simply titled “demo,” along with several delicious limited edition ep’s. Frontman Jerome O’Brien and Keith Moon-influenced southpaw drummer Josh Belknap played important roles in legendary kitchen-sink rockers Douce Gimlet; Belknap and melodic bassist Andrew Plonsky were also LJ Murphy’s rhythm section around the time this came out. And explosive lead guitarist Dave Popeck fronted his own “heavy pop” trio, Twin Turbine. O’Brien’s songwriting here runs the gamut from the unrestrained rage of Hold Me Down, the sarcasm of Every Baby Boy, the gorgeous oldschool East Village memoir Halcyon Days – which just sounds better with every passing year – and the tongue-in-cheek, shuffling Everything That You Said. Diamonds and Broken Glass is a snarling, practically epic, bluesy kiss-off; White Continental offers a blistering, early 70s Stonesy let’s-get-out-of-here theme. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers yet, the whole album is still streaming at myspace.
671. Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – May I See Some ID
This 2006 album by the Raymond Chandler of indie rock, as he’s been called, is generally regarded as his best – although everything the wry, cleverly lyrical, noir-tinged songwriter’s ever done is worth a spin. This one is most notable for the classic 40 People, a vicious swipe at greedy club owners and promoters told from the disheartened point of view of an obscure rocker trying to get a better slot than eleven on a Monday night. It’s also got the Orbisonesque janglerock of Whose Heart Are You Gonna Break Now; the spaghetti western sway of The Wild Bunch; the offhand menace of A Little Space, and the surreal shuffle of the title track, lit up by one of lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna’s trademark, incisive solos. There’s also the obvious but irresistible The Sky Is In Love With You; the eerie, off-kilter gothic stomp One of Us and the potently sarcastic Kissing Stand. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is still streaming at myspace, and it’s up at the usual merchants and cdbaby.
670. Ali Jihad Racy – Ancient Egypt
One of the world’s most extraordinary Middle Eastern musicians, Dr. Racy is a multi-instrumentalist equally skilled on the buzuq (similar to the bouzouki), ney flute, rabab lute and violin, among other instruments. This 1993 suite, based on selections from the Book of the Dead, is both homage to and an attempt to recreate the sounds of the age of the pharaohs. It follows a trajectory from the stark ney piece, The Lamentations of Isis, to the lush, rich jangle and clank of the buzuq and rabab in The Land Of The Blessed. Hymn to Osiris is balmy and otherwordly; The Boat of a Million Years, a ghostly, haunting tone poem, is the centerpiece. Racy follows that with the quiet, dreamy The Holy Lotus (the drug of choice among many around the region in those days) and the self-explanatory Funeral Processsion, which actually isn’t as dark as you might expect. After that, the gloom lifts with Hymn for the Sunrise and The Triumph of the Deceased, ending on an optimistic note. Here’s a random torrent via Like a Raging Bull.
669. Chet Atkins and Les Paul – Chester and Lester
This was an off-the-cuff jam session done in Nashville with a rhythm section in 1976, jazzy country legend and (occasionally) countryish jazz legend having a great time. Both of these guys were oldschool – there’s no explosive distorted passages or Hendrix-style noise here, but both of them are fast – lickety-split runs and staccato, sometimes Django-ish rhythm all over the place. For what it’s worth, it won a Grammy, not bad for a bunch of standards, even as fairly radically reworked as these are. It’s Been a Long, Long Time goes by in a short, short time. The Moonglow/Picnic medley does not. Caravan is a cross between Ellington and the Ventures; It Had to Be You gives them a rare breather here. There’s also an expansive version of Avalon (the jazz-pop hit, not the Roxy Music classic) as well as brisk, purist, somewhat bluesy versions of Deed I Do and Lover Come Back to Me, among the ten tracks here. It was reissued with some outtakes in 1998 as a twofer along with the follow-up disc, the duo album Guitar Monsters from the following year. Here’s a random torrent.
668. Mascott – Art Project
Here’s one that’s short and sweet. One of the most irresistibly tuneful bands of recent years, Mascott is the project of indie pop mavens Kendall Jane Meade (formerly of Juicy) and Margaret White. In December of 2008, we called this gem “pure concentrated sunshine,” and two years later that holds true. Meade’s warm, matter-of-fact vocals are a perfect match for the catchy mix of acoustic and electric guitar textures underneath, sometimes dreamy, sometimes jaunty. The video for Fourth of July, set in a now-vanished Coney Island milieu, perfectly captures the feeling of the song; the chimingly gorgeous Opposite is a high-water mark in indie pop craftsmanship. There’s also the brief, bustling Dream Another Day, the charming, harmony-driven Nite Owl, the surprisingly brooding breakup ballad Letting Go of the Sun and a campfire singalong of Wildwood Flower. Tragically obscure, even good old Captain Crawl didn’t turn up any torrents, although many of the songs are still streaming at the band’s myspace, and tracks are up at all the usual online merchants.
667. Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing at Baxter’s
The bass player owns this album. Jack Casady’s growling, spiraling climbs, slinking funky rhythm and burning chords defined the Airplane at peak altitude, 1968. Add to that Paul Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s crazed, jagged twelve-string leads, Spencer Dryden’s jazz-influenced drumming and Grace Slick’s presence (on the wane at this point) and you have a psychedelic rock classic. Kaukonen’s anxious ballad The Last Wall of the Castle, Slick’s darkly hypnotic James Joyce homage, Rejoyce and Kantner’s ferociously incisive Young Girl Sunday Blues are all great cuts. So is Two Heads, pulsing along on Casady’s bass chords. Watch Her Ride and Wild Tyme are slamming upbeat numbers; The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil a big crowd-pleaser and Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon a reversion to the folk-rock of Surrealistic Pillow. There’s also the woozy instrumental Spare Chaynge, which sounds like Jorma and Jack jamming out after way too much ganja, forgetting that the tape was rolling. It was the last good studio album the band would make. Here’s a random torrent.
666. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President
“If this is the only album the band ever does, at worst it’ll be a cult classic,” we said here in 2009, choosing it as best album of the year. Happily, the band is not only still together but still recording, with a ferocious series of singles coming out. What the Clash were to the UK in the late 70s/early 80s, the Brooklyn What are to New York thirty years later: fearless, funny, good at everything they do, eclectic beyond belief and armed with a social conscience. Where the Clash wanted global revolution, Brooklyn’s finest band at the moment would settle for an end to the gentrification that’s destroyed so much of the city over the last ten years. The acknowledged classic here is I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, a hilarious anti-trendoid rant that namechecks every silly indie fad and fashion circa 2004. No Chords echoes the anti-trendoid sentiment with a quite, satirical savagery; The In-Crowd mocks them again, much more loudly. The most intense point, musically is frontman Jamie Frey’s Planet’s So Lonely, a haunting, 6/8 blues with some screaming, intense lead guitar from Evan O’Donnell. There’s also the soul/punk We Are the Only Ones, an anthem for a new generation; the late Billy Cohen’s snarling, surreal Soviet Guns and Sunbeam Sunscream; the brooding For the Best; the Ramones-y She Gives Me Spasms, and a fiery tribute to Guided by Voices. Impossible to find at the sharelockers, but it’s still up at cdbaby and all the usual download merchants.
665. The Psychedelic Furs – Book of Days
Over the years, countless bands, from A Flock of Seagulls to the Editors, have tried to imitate Joy Division. All have failed, pathetically. Stylewise, it was probably only a matter of time before the Furs took their sarcasm to its logical, bleak extreme: this 1989 album remains the only one to ever reach the same extremes of existential angst that Ian Curtis evoked so well. It gets off to a false start with the pretty 6/8 ballad Shine before the title track, a chilling, atmospheric dirge that offers absolutely no escape. The shuffling acoustic requiem Torch maintains the funereal atmosphere, which lifts on side two, if only a little, with the manic depressive stomp of Shake This House. “This day is not my life,” frontman Richard Butler insists. There’s also the Jesus & Mary Chain-esque Should God Forget; the mystifying but catchy riff-rocker Mother-Son; the swirling Wedding, and Parade, evocative of the band’s early years; the sarcastic Entertain Me, and the noisy, thrashing, death-obsessed I Don’t Mine that drives the final nail in the coffin. Listen to this with the lights out. Here’s a random torrent.
664. Serena Jost – Closer Than Far
If we survive this year, you’ll see a lot more like this one on this list: not a single substandard song among the eleven tracks here, and for us, that’s what defines a great album. Alternately lush and austere, often mysterious yet richly tuneful, the former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist’s 2008 solo debut is a deliciously eclectic mix of chamber pop, early 70s-style art-rock, and Americana with unexpected, playful detours into funk and even surf music. It opens with a plaintive, gorgeous version of Iris DeMent’s Our Town, followed by the somewhat stark Halfway There and then the ridiculously catchy, cleverly lyrical pop gem Vertical World. Julian Maile’s twangy Ventures guitar lights up the mini-suite I Wait, followed by the shapeshifting Almost Nothing and Reasons and Lies. Jump (not the Van Halen song) contrasts a brooding melody with a tongue-in-cheek disco beat. The most classically-influenced number here is In Time; the album closes with the poignant yet hopeful Stowaway. A search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything, but the whole thing is streaming at myspace, and it’s still up at cdbaby.
663. The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy – Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury
Michael Franti’s second entry here (Spearhead’s Chocolate Super Highway is at #768) is his prophetic, low-key, smoldering 1992 hip-hop project that he toured as an opening act for U2. The most famous – and obvious – track here is Television, the Drug of a Nation, an update on a 1989 tune by his old funk-punk band the Beatnigs. Another big crowd-pleaser is his remake of the Dead Kennedys’ California Uber Alles, with its vicious dis of Reaganite governor Pete Wilson. Famous and Dandy (Like Amos & Andy) mocks the culture of celebrity; Everyday Life Has Become a Health Risk and Financial Leprosy are self-explanatory, like mini Michael Moore movies. There’s also the Salman Rushdie shout-out Satanic Reverses, the brooding, brutal Gulf War I narrative Winter of the Long Hot Summer, the bitter anti-racist Socio Genetic Experiment, the sardonic Music and Politics and Water Pistol Man, later reprised as a Spearhead song. Here’s a random torrent via musictraveler.
662. The Luniz – Lunitik Muzik
Oakland hip-hop duo Yukmouth and Numskull, the “Highest Niggaz in the Industry” as they called themselves on their 1997 sophomore album, were a couple of West Coast guys with East Coast flow. Redman was paying attention, and collaborated with them on the rapidfire classic Hypnotize. The rest of this crazily ganja-fueled lyric session spins between assaultive, gleeful gangsta stuff, comedy rap and weedhead rhymes. In My Nature features early Dirty South pioneers Eightball and MJG; My Baby Mamma, Jus Mee & U, and the sarcastic $ad Millionaire have the same surreal sense of humor. Killaz on the Payroll, Mobb Shit and the Tupac-influenced Why Do Thugzz Die work the dirty side; Phillies and the impossibly funny 20 Bluntz a Day – featuring the whole 2 Live Crew – represent for the smokers. A high point in the history of west coast rap. Here’s a random torrent.
661. The Dave Brubeck Quartet – The Last Time We Saw Paris
This is the last live recording the classic original group made, with Paul Desmond on alto, Gene Wright on bass and the late, great Joe Morello on drums, so, Joe, wherever you are, this one’s for you. What an amazing, and surprising, and unexpectedly wild improvisational album: as much as Brubeck’s greatest strength has been as a composer, what they do with a bunch of generically pretty standards here is a clinic in the kind of fun you can have deconstructing and then reconstructing a tune. Brubeck may have wanted to stay home and compose and spend more time with the wife and kids at this point in his career, but if this 1967 tour was anything like what’s on this album, the group definitely went out on a high note. They rip through These Foolish Things; the bossa-tinged Forty Days alternates between austerity and unselfconscious beauty. One Moment Worth Years is the most judiciously expansive number here; they elevate La Paloma Azul far above its generic Mexican folk-pop origins, follow it with maybe the best-ever version of the absurdly memorable Three to Get Ready and close the set with a barely recognizable, all-stops-out version of Gone with the Wind. Long out of print and never officially issued digitally,you’ll either have to spend some time going through the jazz bins at your local used vinyl place (that’s what we did) or try your luck with deeply buried google pages.
660. The Dream Syndicate – The Days of Wine and Roses
One of the most influential albums of all time, it’s hard to imagine much of indie rock – Yo La Tengo and innumerable noise-rock bands – or for that matter, much of dreampop and shoegaze, without this deliriously fun 1981 masterpiece. That the first full-length album that Steve Wynn would appear on would become so iconic, and would age so well, attests to his brilliance from day one. Here he builds the foundation for the cataclysmic guitar duelling, savagely direct, literate lyricism and potent tunesmithing that has defined his career, through his most recent success with the Baseball Project (despite going over to the dark side by rooting for the Evil Empire, Wynn remains one of the most articulate baseball writers on the planet). And for a noisy album, this one’s amazingly diverse: distorted janglerock with Tell Me When It’s Over; insanely catchy riff-rock with Definitely Clean and That’s What You Always Say; the blistering post-Velvets shuffle Then She Remembers; the gleefully allusive When You Smile; the vivid manic depression and insane crescendo of the title track; the creepy Until Lately; bassist Kendra Smith’s quietly deadpan, spot-on Too Little, Too Late, and lead guitarist Karl Precoda’s volcanic, macabre Halloween. Other songwriters have sold more albums; Wynn’s career, meticulously documented via youtube and archive.org, attests to his status as one of the best-loved rockers ever. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Here’s a random torrent.
659. Dexter Gordon – Our Man in Paris
To steal a phrase out of the JD Allen fakebook, this is jukebox jazz, low-key, nocturnal and irresistible, for wee-hours glass-clinking and whatever hopefully comes afterward. The famous tenor saxophonist doesn’t waste notes, he doesn’t overdo it, and in fact there are places where you’ll probably wish he’d trade that casual staccato pulse for a long wail. But this isn’t about wailing, it’s about setting a mood, and that’s what he does from start to finish, backed very tersely by pianist Bud Powell, drummer Kenny Clarke, and French bassist Pierre Michelot. The opening seven minutes of Scrapple From the Apple sets the tone, contrasting mightily with the stern, Sixteen Tons-style version of Willow Weep for Me. The best cuts here are the gorgeous, reverb-assisted Stairway to the Stars, and Like Someone in Love, an outtake that didn’t make it onto the original 1963 album, driven by Powell’s potently Romantic ripples and crashes. There’s also the jaunty Broadway, a solid version of A Night in Tunisia and a breezy postbop cover of Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here to Stay. Here’s random torrent via the excellent latin jazz blog bosquesonoro.
658. The Congos – Heart of the Congos
Considered to be dub producer genius Lee “Scratch” Perry’s finest hour, this 1977 roots reggae classic was reissued as a double cd in 1993 along with a handful of rare, consistently excellent, absolutely psychedelic dub versions of original album tracks. The harmony trio’s lead singer Cedric Myton’s falsetto soars over the oldschool backing unit, including Boris Gardiner on bass and Ernie Ranglin on guitar, as Perry moves one instrument and then another through the mix, twisting and turning them inside out, sometimes breaking it down to just the drums or the bass, everything drenched in reverb. The songs run the gamut: from the remake of the old mento song Fisherman (complete with a basso profundo shout-out to a local herb dealer); the hypnotic chant Congoman; the gospel-influenced Open Up the Gate, Sodom and Gomorrow and Can’t Come In; the sufferahs’ anthems La La Bam Bam (Jamaican patwa for “clusterfuck”) and Children Crying; and the Rasta anthems Ark of the Covenant, Solid Foundation and At the Feast. Here’s a random torrent.
657. Erroll Garner – Contrasts
A virtuoso jazz pianist with an inimitable style, Garner’s signature sound mixed classical flourishes into a highly ornamented, relaxed attack. With what looked like an effortless command, he’d play a song fairly straight through while expanding on the melody, rather than using it as a template for bebop. He’s best remembered for the iconic Misty, which is here, along with a dozen other tracks from this 1954 trio session with Wyatt Ruther on bass and Eugene Heard on drums, reissued in 1998. The big showstopper is the jaunty, bluesy 7-11 Jump (which is what the song clocks in at). There’s also a darkly Tschaikovskian Sweet and Lovely, a conspiratorial Exactly Like You, a fairly radical reinterpretation of You Are My Sunshine, an expansive Part Time Blues and a refreshingly bluesy, un-Broadwayish There’s a Small Hotel along with upbeat versions of Rosalie and Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me along with a luxuriant take on In a Mellow Tone. Highly recommend wee-hours listening. Here’s a random torrent.
656. Yomo Toro – Música Para El Mundo Entero
A surprisingly low-key but gorgeous and characteristically eclectic studio album from the Puerto Rican Jimi Hendrix, 1982. Playing his cuatro with his signature lush, jangly, watery tone, it almost sounds as if he’s using a twelve-string guitar. His most potent performances have always been live – he’s one of the fastest fret-burners on the planet – but other than his innumerable performances as a sideman with big orchestras, concert recordings by this guy are very hard to find. Stylistically, this one’s all over the map. It opens with the title track, a blazing salsa tune; after that, he offers a joyous, playful guided tour of the entire history of Puerto Rican music in six minutes and forty-seven seconds. The two best tracks here are lush ballads, Virgencita and Alma Llanera. There’s also the jazzy Le Vi Por Primera Vez; the catchy bolero La Cuesta De Josefina; the bouncy dance hit Popurri Sentimental and a salsa gospel tune. Even a Billy Joel cover – which the band manages to elevated a level above pure stench – can’t ruin this. The whole thing is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via bosquesonoro.
655. Kelly Hogan – Because It Feels Good
Hogan got her start in the obscure but smartly adventurous indie band the Jody Grind. She was a good singer then; by 2001, when she released this cruelly underrated gem, she’d become one of the most hauntingly compelling voices in any style of music. And as much as she can haunt, she can also be very funny. Backed by a killer twangy Americana band, she’s a David Lynch girl on the lush tremolo-guitar soul ballad I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You. She’s more of a Russell Banks character on the countrypolitan kiss-off to a white trash guy, No Bobby Don’t. The misty, creepy Speedfreak Lullaby reminds of Mazzy Star; Please Don’t Leave Me Lonely has a vintage 60s Dionne Warwick feel. The best of the bunch is the Nashville gothic (You Don’t Know) The First Thing About Blue. There’s also the echoey, sparse ballad Stay (an original, not the oldies radio hit); a spare, poignant version of Randy Newman’s Living Without You, and a Smog cover done as Castles Made of Sand-style Hendrix. Why an album so good would be so hard to find is a mystery: other than at Hogan’s myspace, which has some of the tracks, it simply doesn’t exist online. And if you stream the songs there, be careful, you have to reload the page AND clear your browser after every play or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad.
654. The Crippled Pilgrims – Under Water
By the time this lo-fi 1985 janglerock masterpiece came out, the band had broken up. One of the best of the first wave of indie rock outfits, the Crippled Pilgrims’ signature sound built from the snaky, intertwining, sometimes psychedelic guitars of lead player Scott Wingo and frontman Jay Moglia, with snarling, melodic bass from Mitch Parker, formerly of Government Issue. Pensive, sometimes sardonic but richly tuneful, they sound a little like the Meat Puppets but with better vocals and songwriting. The gorgeous centerpiece is Oblivious and Numb with its neat bent-note hook. What You Lost and Down Here are straight-up four-on-the-floor guitar pop; the sarcastic So Clean is as directly lyrical as they ever got. Dissolving twists and turns with some noiserock passages; the album winds up with the epic, crescendoing Calculating with its eerie major-on-minor bassline. Reissued in the late 90s by Parasol along with the band’s only other album, their 1983 debut ep, the whole thing is streaming at myspace (but be careful, you have to reload the page AND clear your browser after each song to avoid being blasted by a loud audio ad). Here’s a random torrent via digitalvinyl.
653. McCoy Tyner – Sahara
Conventional wisdom is that this 1972 album is the renowned John Coltrane Quartet pianist’s best solo effort, and it’s hard to argue with that: it’s adrenaline in a bottle. The most powerful left hand in jazz is in full effect here, along with a bunch of mighty melodies to match it, alongside Sonny Fortune on alto sax and flutes, Calvin Hill on bass and reeds and Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Ebony Queen might capsulize Tyner’s intense, chordal style better than anything he ever did, followed by the blistering, beautiful, rippling solo piece A Prayer For My Family, the Asian-flavored Valley of Life, with Tyner on koto, and the lickety-split Rebirth. Side two is the epic, cinematic, 23-minute title rack, simply one of the greatest pieces of jazz ever written, with its suspenseful flute/percussion intro, rampaging cascades and Fortune’s darkly acidic lines. That one’s up on youtube in three segments, here, here and here. Here’s a random torrent.
652. American Ambulance – Streets of NYC
Along with the Hangdogs, American Ambulance were the best Americana roots rock band on the planet from the late 90s – when Wilco went to La La land – through the early zeros. They literally never made a bad album, from their 2001 debut though this final gem from four years later. This is a defiant concept album about growing up in the 70s. It’s an allusive, whiskey-fueled 48 hours of fun despite it all, frontman Pete Cenedella’s snarling vocals set the stage with the Stonesy Down in the Basement and Won’t Be Home Tonight, lead guitarist Scott Aldrich firing off searing riffs that draw as deeply on the Yardbirds and Kinks as much as Johnny Cash. The hopeful Here Comes the Day and expansive Shimmering Rain set the stage for the tongue-in-cheek Don’t You Like Rock N Roll and First One of a One-Too-Many Night, a big concert favorite. The night peaks with the surreal Your Name Little Girl and the foreboding Bad Moon Over Brooklyn. The classic here is Ain’t Life Good, a cruelly beautiful hungover Sunday morning scenario lit up with Erica Smith’s wounded, beautiful harmonies. Cenedella hints at a bitter future with Leave This City, but that’s a false alarm. Too obscure to find at the sharelockers but still available at the band’s site, and much of this is streaming there.
651. Mahalia Jackson – Come to Jesus
Mahalia Jackson predated the album era, our excuse to give you this fine four-cd box set of perhaps the greatest woman to ever sing gospel. There’s one glaring absence here: Swing Low Sweet Chariot, otherwise this is as good an approximation of her career as there is. Some songs are solo vocal with piano; some with organ; some with a choir; some with all of the above, dating from the 30s through the 70s. It’s a mix of spirituals and 20th century gospel. Much of this foreshadows soul music and even funk. Highlights: Gonna Move On Up a Little Higher; Just Over the Hill; Go Tell It on the Mountain; How I Got Over; City Called Heaven; His Eye Is on the Sparrow; In the Upper Room; On My Way to Canaan; Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; and a titanic version of Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho. Here’s a random torrent via one of our favorite blogs, africangospelchurch.
650. Link Wray – Rumble! The Best of Link Wray
One of the guidelines we’ve been following here is no greatest hits albums unless the artist dates from the pre-album era. Link Wray claimed to have invented rock music, since he was playing his primeval, stomping instrumental blend of country and R&B in the late 1940s. We think that argument’s as good as any. This 1993 compilation mixes stuff from the late 50s through the mid-60s, many of the songs iconic in surf music circles. For lo-fi menace, nothing beats The Rumble, from 1958; Jack the Ripper, from 1961; the twisted Heartbreak Hotel theme Big City After Dark; Switchblade, with its tortuous slow pickslide intro; and The Shadow Knows, which is sort of his Harlem Nocturne. On the slightly lighter side, this one also has Run Chicken Run, Rawhide, the galloping Deuces Wild and Ace of Spaces. The Cramps, or for that matter Hasil Adkins, would never have existed without this guy. Here’s a random torrent.
649. Serge Gainsbourg – Aux Armes Etcaetera
Here’s a counterintuitive pick: the poete maudit of French hippie rock rapping in his Gauloise rasp over a deadpan groove supplied by Bob Marley’s band circa 1979. The lyrics only make sense if you understand uncouth 70s French slang, but the imperturbable bounce of the band is irresistible. The famous one here is the title cut, Gainsbourg doing the Marseillaise in a faux dancehall style. Lola Rastaquouere is a French pun (“rastaquouere” ironically means “vagabond,” with an immigrant connotation); Relax Baby Be Cool is fake R&B done almost ska style. Hostility gets out of hand with Brigade Des Stups, the bitter account of a stoner harrassed by the cops, as well as on Des Laids Des Laids (Ugly, Ugly) and Vieille Canaille (Old Bitch). Les Locataires (The Tenants) and Pas Long Feu (Real Soon) are more subtle. The cd reissue comes with an additional disc of outtakes and dub versions: all together, a twisted, weird idea that worked out better than anyone probably could have imagined. Here’s a random torrent.
648. The Gun Club – The Las Vegas Story
The late Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s fondness for the blues, garage rock and doomed sensibility meshed best on this impressively eclectic 1984 album. It’s hard to imagine much of the 90s glam/punk resurgence, from Jon Spencer to the Chrome Cranks – or for that matter, Nick Cave – without this. Abetted by the Cramps’ Kid Congo Powers, they scurry through the ominous Walking with the Beast and get eerie and hypnotic with The Stranger In Our Town. The Blasters’ Dave Alvin contributes a searing solo on the wickedly catchy Eternally Is Here. Side 2 begins with a murky solo piano miniature followed by a plaintive, torchy version of Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now, followed by the stomping Bad America, Moonlight Motel (a throwback to the swampy garage punk of the band’s first two albums) and the big anthem Give Up the Sun. The only miss here is a Blondie ripoff so blatant it’s funny. True to the doom and gloom of his lyrics, Pierce drank and drugged himself to death in 1996 at 37. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of c60lownoise.
647. Fairouz – The Olympia Concert
When the iconic Middle Eastern chanteuse played this show at the Olympia in Paris in 1979, her beloved Lebanon was under siege. You don’t need to speak Arabic to feel the pain and longing in the her stoic, carefully modulated voice: she’s sort of the Linda Thompson of the Arab world. Here she’s backed by a full orchestra plus a rock rhythm section and a brilliant oboeist who gets a lot of solos and makes the most of them. The acknowledged classic here is the sweeping, majestic epic Sheherezade, resplendent with oud, choir and orchestra. There’s also plenty of unselfconscious longing in another epic, Ya Aukht Zeinab, A Song for Paris, the bittersweet Ya Hawa Beirut (For Love of Beirut) and the slowly unfolding European-flavored ballad Rudani Ila Biladi (It’s a Pleasure). Habbaytak Bessayf (I Loved You in the Summer) is typical of the Rahbani Brothers’ songwriting (she married one of them): brooding Northern European Romanticism with Middle Eastern tonalities. The spooky, flute-driven nocturne Ya Markab’ Al Rih is rustic and cinematic; Bhibbak Ya Lebnan (I Love You Lebanon) could break your heart. It captures a moment like few songs can. The rest of the fourteen tracks here range from Arabic disco to carnivalesque pop to slow, sweeping ballads. Bootlegged to death throughout the Arab world (visit your local Arab music store if you have one; it’s probably there in one form or another), impossible to find in English. Many of the tracks are streaming at this Vietnamese site.
646. Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen – Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas
Did Commander Cody invent alt-country? Maybe. Pianist and stoner Americana maven George Frayne – who’s still going strong, with a different band behind him – is sort of the missing link between Dan Hicks and Little Feat. On this sprawling but tight live set from 1974, the eclectic showman and his three-guitar band blaze through a mix of western swing, roots rock, blues, and a snarling electric take on oldtime country. Lead guitarist Bill Kirchen, then in his early 20s, had already earned iconic status with his sizzling licks, and gets to air them out on his signature song, Too Much Fun. There’s also the C&W dance tunes Armadillo Stomp and Git It; the Chuck Berry style shuffle I’m Coming Home; the barrelhouse blues number Oh Momma Momma; a romp through Riot in Cell Block #9; a hippie update on the old cowboy song Sunset on the Stage; and a couple of sad ballads, Crying Time and “one of the world’s saddest songs,” as the Commander put it, Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues. The only thing missing here is the most obvious one, Lost in the Ozone. Here’s a random torrent via chocoreve.
645. Flatt & Scruggs – 20 Greatest Hits
Bluegrass guitar legend Lester Flatt first joined forces with iconic, paradigm-shifting banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs – who influenced pretty much every banjo player to come after him – in the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1946. There’s such a glut of their stuff floating around that we suggest this out-of-print collection (if you can find it) as a solid representation of their fast fingers at work. The one that everybody knows is Foggy Mountain Breakdown; other standards here include Sunny Side of the Mountain and Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms. Yonder Stands Little Maggie is actually an English folk song; Salty Dog Blues is a dirty song, while country gospel is represented by Preachin’ Prayin’ Singin’. There’s also a drinking song – Drink That Mash And Talk That Trash – sad ballads – We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart and Farewell Blues – the chain gang song Doin’ My Time, the wry I’m Gonna Sleep with One Eye Open, the nostalgic My Cabin in Caroline, a couple of instrumentals, a blistering bluegrass version of Dill Pickle Rag and a pointless Carter Family cover. Mysteriously hard to find in the usual places: as an alternative, check out two delicious discs worth of 1950s radio recordings with the Foggy Mountain Boys via scratchyattic.
644. Taraf de Haidouks – Band of Gypsies
Active in their native Romania since the 90s, this exhilarating 2001 album by the scorching acoustic gypsy band makes Gogol Bordello seem tame by comparison. It’s as otherworldly and ecstatic as you could possibly want. Brief, blistering violin dances – Dance of the Firemen, Sorry Only My Sorrow, A Storm Crosses the Danube in the Company of a Raven and Caricura Dances intermingle with the lickety-split fiddling of The Return of the Magic Horses, the tricky, Macedonian-flavored A Gypsy Had a House and Absinth I Drink You, Absinth I Eat You, which is much further from blissful than you would expect. Green Leaf, Clover Leaf sets a buffoonish duet to a gorgeous tune, followed by the stark lament Little Buds, Bride in a Red Dress – which sounds like a syncopated version of the Exorcist theme – and the closing showstopper, Back to Clejani, whose lead instrument sounds like a broken tuba. The entire album is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.
643. Los Saicos – Wild Teen Punk from Peru 1965
Los Saicos invented punk rock. In 1964. In Peru, off all places. Los Saicos (pronounced “los psychos”) had the raw, screaming vocals, amusingly antagonistic lyrics and sledgehammer guitars going a dozen years before the Ramones or the Clash (who most likely never knew they existed – sometimes great inventions happen in different places at different times). In their brief mid-60s heyday they never released an album or for that matter anything outside Peru. This reissue compilation collects pretty much their whole repertoire. Their big hit, still a cult favorite today, is Salvaje (The Savage); the surprisingly quiet, doo-wop tinged Ana was also a hit. There’s also the stomping, eerie surf punk of Come On; Lonely Star, which sounds like fast noir Orbison pop; the Peruvian ghoul janglerock of Cemeterio and El Entierro de Los Gatos (The Cats’ Burial); the brooding, hypnotic Fugitivo de Alcatraz; Te Amo, a sneering love song parody; Demolicion, a punked-out Twist; and the macabre R&B of the aptly titled Intensamente. Here’s a random torrent via Psychedelic Obscurities.
642. Ennio Morricone – The Platinum Collection
Everybody’s favorite Morricone is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly soundtrack, right? After all, it’s where the Italian film music maestro created his prototypical spaghetti western sound. Give him credit for basically inventing southwestern gothic all by himself, but he’s actually much more diverse than that. This exhaustive four-disc retrospective showcases his eclecticism, with tracks from the 50s through the late 80s. Many of these themes are probably better known today than the B movies in which they appeared (The Ballad of Hank McCain, for instance). From guitar tunes to sweeping, lushly orchestrated overtures, wrenching angst to balmy contentment, Morricone evokes it all, usually in five minutes or less – much less, sometimes. The sixty tracks here include the dark proto-Bacharach La Donna Della Domenica; the brooding Sicilian Clan; the cartoonish My Name Is Nobody; the sweepingly beautiful Deborah’s Theme from the pretty awful Once Upon a Time in America; the totally noir Dimenticare Palermo; the plaintive accordion waltz from The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man; the iconic Fistful of Dollars, and of course tracks from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly including the title theme and the climactic cemetery scene. Here’s a random torrent via sharingisliberty.
641. The Stanley Bros. – All Time Greatest Hits
We’re gonna sneak another greatest-hits package in here because it’s representative, not necessarily because it’s any better than any other collection by these bluegrass legends – and their stuff has been packaged and repackaged a million times. Ralph and Carter Stanleys’ high lonesome voices, banjo and guitar, along with some topnotch 1940s and 50s Nashville players, rip through eleven songs, many of which have become standards. The real stunner here is Rank Strangers, one of the most vivid depictions of alienation ever set to music – its quietly resolute, suicidal atmosphere will give you chills. The one everybody here knows is Man of Constant Sorrow; the rest of the gothic Americana includes Oh Death and White Dove. There’s also the prisoner’s lament Stone Walls and Steel Bars; the wry, amusing Don’t Cheat in Our Home Town; the English dance Little Maggie; the lickety-split Little Birdie, and for country gospel fans, there’s Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. Mysteriously, this one isn’t very easy to find, so in lieu of this particular item you might want to check out something just as interesting, the complete Rich-R-Tone 78s collection, which is decent although the journey from 78 to digital was somewhat less than successful.
640. King Crimson – Red
King Crimson have played an awful lot of styles over their off-and-on forty-year existence – mellotron-driven symphonic rock, crazed acidic jazzy stuff, nerdy staccato new wave, ambient soundscapes. This 1974 album finds guitarist Robert Fripp at his loudest and most metal-oriented, with bassist John Wetton amazingly terse and tuneful. Side one runs through the tricky time signatures and offhandedly ominous tones of the title track, Fallen Angel, the menacing One More Red Nightmare and violin-driven Providence. The sidelong suite Starless rips a riff from Olivier Messiaen’s Concerto for the End of Time and takes it to its logical, murderous conclusion in over fifteen minutes of increasingly brutal, slowly stalking, crescendoing intensity, including the best (and longest) one-note solo ever played on any instrument (that’s Fripp shrieking and firing off sparks over Wetton’s slowly ascending, growling bass). Here’s a random torrent.
639. Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream
Other than an extremely limited-edition acoustic ep, this 2006 album represents the entirety of this blissfully tuneful, catchy Brooklyn janglerock/powerpop trio’s recorded output. Imagine the Lemonheads if they’d stayed in college and majored in something interesting, and you have an idea what it sounds like. Frontman/guitarist Brian Silverman has a wit to match his supersonic chops, from the hilarious faux Steve Vai tapping solo on the album’s most surreally catchy number, Waterskis, to the crushingly deadpan anti-trendoid satire Our Parents Had Money. Burned to the Ground captures a drunken late-night party more vividly and captivatingly than that scenario would let you believe; the rest of the album slips in and out of focus artfully and entertainingly, from the opening track, Old Vampires, through the riff-rocking Done So Secretly and the inscrutably High Comedy and Walter. Too obscure to find at the sharelockers, but all the tracks are still streaming at the band’s site, and it’s still available from cdbaby.
638. Linton Kwesi Johnson – More Time
Conventional wisdom is that the great Jamaican-British dub poet’s incendiary work from the late 70s and early 80s is his best. To be counterintuitive, we’re going with this 1998 album, whose subject matter has a more diverse, international focus than the community-based broadsides that springboarded his career fronting a band. With bass genius Dennis Bovell and the Dub Band behind him, Johnson stoically intones his way through a couple of of elegies – Reggae Fi Bernard, Reggae Fi May Ayim – and reflections on the impact of art on politics, with the tongue-in-cheek If I Was a Top Notch Poet and Poems of Shape and Motion. The aphoristically explosive title track ponders what society would be like if leisure and family time were accorded as much status as material possessions; the even more explosive License Fi Kill namechecks pretty much everybody in John Major’s cabinet as complicit in the murder of innocent black people in British police custody. The album wraps up with the eerily prophetic New World Order. Here’s a random torrent.
637. The Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass
This is as outside as we’re going to get here. At the risk of alienating some of you, we give you this sprawling 1970 theatrical acid jazz tour de force by these legendary improvisers. Burnt Sugar would be impossible to imagine without them. As much as this is free jazz per se, the reality is that this was an extraordinarily tight band that practiced sometimes as much as twelve hours a day, meaning that many of the motifs you hear here were minutely finessed in rehearsal. Here the classic late 60s/early 70s lineup of Lester Bowie on trumpet, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell on reeds, Malachi Favors on bass and Don Moye on drums is joined by Fontella Bass who contributes both vocals and piano. Two long, sidelong suites: How Strange/Ole Jed on side one, Mitchell’s Horn Web on side two, which is more of an outright jam and features some characteristically tasty interplay between the saxes. Don’t hold it against these guys that they’re one of the grand total of two – two – jazz acts included on the best-albums list at that awful Chicago indie rock site run by those gay dudes. Here’s a random torrent via African Gospel Church.
636. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands
Angst-ridden atheist post-Velvets powerpop from 1986. It’s the only really solid album the band ever did, a template they tried to fit into many times afterward without nearly as much success. Much as the idea of putting an album by a rock band propelled by a drum machine on this list is pretty abhorrent, it’s hard to argue with the catchy death-obsessed title track, or the stark, gorgeously bitter defiance of Deep One Perfect Morning, the strongest song here. There’s also the hook-driven, overcast goth-pop of Happy When It Rains and April Skies; the brisk, stomping Down on Me; the Stoogoid garage-punk of Fall; the poppiest number here, Cherry Came Too and a couple of impressively successful attempts at ethereal grandeur, Nine Million Rainy Days and About You. Here’s a random torrent.
635. Mr. Airplane Man – Moanin’
Boston duo Mr. Airplane Man started out in the late 90s as a two-woman Howlin Wolf cover band. By 2002, when they put out this one, they were one of the best garage rock bands on the planet. Guitarist Margaret Garrett and Tara McManus – who often played a Casio while drumming – beat the White Stripes to the guitar-and-drums thing by a couple of years, and were many leagues above them. Lo-fi but richly tuneful and often haunting as hell, the album opens with the punk blues Like That, the hypnotic title track and the gorgeous 60s garage-pop of Not Living At All. The shuffling Highway 61 blues Somebody’s Baby, the stomping riff-rock of Drive Me Out and the popular Jesus on the Mainline follow that. Then they do the dark, scurrying Uptight and a tensely suspenseful version of the Wolf’s Commit a Crime. The three classics here are noir rock masterpieces: the brooding Very Bad Feeling, the wickedly catchy Sun Sinking Low and the fiery, chromatic Podunk Holler, ending with the slow, meandering W*Nderin’. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via Oh Robot.
634. The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us
The Cramps took Link Wray, Hasil Adkins and the darkest side of surf music to its logical punk extreme. Produced by Alex Chilton – who gave Kid Congo Powers a wall of feedback here that might never be topped – the late Lux Interior, guitarist Poison Ivy and drummer Nick Knox primitively stomp their way through a bunch of menacing originals – TV Set and Garbageman being the best of them – as well as completely over-the-top covers of Strychnine and The Fever, done the opposite of Peggy Lee with no bass. The fun continues with I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Lux panting like Norman Bates on steroids; What’s Behind the Mask is like that too. There’s also the ghoulabilly of Sunglasses After Dark, Mystery Plane and Zombie Dance among the thirteen tracks here. The Memphis Morticians and a million other goulabilly bands would be pretty much unthinkable without these guys. RIP, Lux. Here’s a random torrent.
633. Webb Pierce – King of the Honky-Tonk: The Original Decca Masters 1952-59
Webb Pierce was the prototype for Elvis. He wore Nudie suits, always had great musicians in his band, pulled a lot of girls, was no stranger to intoxication and was one also one of the best country singers of his era. Why was Elvis more popular? Because he was tamer than this guy. Pierce lived hard, was a lot more versatile as a singer, with a high lonesome, wounded wail, and also wrote some of his own stuff. This album collects most if not all of his best and most popular stuff from the peak of his career. Pierce’s signature song is There Stands the Glass – “it’s my first one today.” His other hits range from heartbreak songs – Wondering and It’s Been So Long – to cheating songs – Broken Engagement and Back Street Affair – to more retro stuff like a killer cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ In the Jailhouse Now, his first big hit Slowly and the defiant Tupelo County Jail. Here’s a random torrent via Western Swing.
632. Gil Scott-Heron – From South Africa to South Carolina
Choosing one of the great revolutionary jazz poet and his Fender Rhodes colleague Brian Jackson’s politically-fueled psychedelic funk/jazz albums over another is a judgment call; for better or worse, we’re going with this 1975 release, the second with their legendary Midnight Band. It’s got Johannesburg, the first rock song to call attention to the horrors of apartheid, and the chilling cautionary tale South Carolina, about nuclear waste being dumped on unsuspecting rural communities. A Toast to the People is an optimistic shout-out to freedom fighters around the world; it’s also got the warm, captivating Summer of ’42, Essex and Fell Together, the hypnotic Beginnings and the unexpectedly summery Lovely Day. It doesn’t have the casually terrifying We Almost Lost Detroit, which at this point in history may be the most important song ever recorded, a cautionary tale which cruelly came true when Fukushima blew. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of Flabbergasted Vibes.
631. Steely Dan – Katy Lied
Let’s stay in 1975 for two in a row, shall we? This is self-mythologizing, deviously literate jazz-funk from Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and a cast of studio pros. Great band, but practically every one of their albums has a real clunker to go along with the good stuff, so that’s why we picked this one.There’s only a couple of super standouts here – Any World That I’m Welcome To, where Fagen lets down his guard and bares his fangs at the morons he grew up with, and the absolutely macabre Black Friday – but it’s solid all the way through. Bad Sneakers is a spot-on period piece, a couple of losers “with a transistor radio and a whole lot of money to spend” making their way up Sixth Avenue past Radio City. Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More works an oldschool blues vernacular better than any of the band’s contemporaries could, while Chain Lightning goes in a slow, funkier direction. Rose Darling and Everyone’s Gone to the Movies offer a leering, cynical look at romance, the surreal Dr. Wu was a pseudo-hit, and Your Gold Teeth II and the closing track, Throw Back the Little Ones reach for a distant, offhand menace. Here’s a random torrent via Walrussongs.
630. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Sweet Nothing
Back in the 70s, while the southern midwest had bands like the fictitious Stillwater (the sadly spot-on stoners from the movie Almost Famous), Detroit had hard, intense, uncompromising bands like these guys. Tragically, the bandleader didn’t live to see this album or its successors, and during the band’s lifetime, Sonic’s Rendezvous band (named after its leader, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5) released only one vinyl single. This 1998 collection was the first in a series of reissues that culminated in a six-cd box set for you completists who have to have every outtake with Smith messing around on the saxophone. From the aptly titled first track, Dangerous, it’s careening riff-rock with a surreal, bluesy menace: it’s hard to imagine a lot of garage-punks bands like Radio Birdman without them. There’s some resemblance to the Stooges, but this stuff is heavier, slower and more soul-oriented, especially with the influence of Detroit legend Scott Morgan. The one track that sort of made it into the public eye is City Slang, one of the catchiest rock songs ever written: it blows the Ramones to shreds. There’s also the swaying, potent Getting There Is Half the Fun, the stalking, eight-minute title track; the warped boogie Asteroid B-612; the hammering Song L; the cynical Love and Learn and a careening cover of the Stones’ Heart of Stone. Here’s a random torrent via digitalmeltdown.
629. Absinthe – A Good Day to Die
Sam Llanas may be known as the soulful baritone co-founder of Milwaukee roots rock legends the BoDeans, but this 1999 album by his other project Absinthe – with the Violent Femmes’ Guy Hoffman on drums and Jim Eanelli, formerly of the Shivvers, on guitar – is the best thing he’s ever done. Inspired by the suicide of Llanas’ older brother, this anguished, death-obsessed, semi-acoustic rock record follows the Bukowskiesque trail of a life in a long downward spiral so harrowing that when it ends with Time for Us, a surprisingly warm, comforting ballad that his main band would pick up later, the mood still resonates. This guy just never had a chance. Bully on the Corner gets the foreshadowing going on early (although the narrator looks back and basically forgives him: his life must have been hell too). Defeat, with its mantra-like chorus, is just crushing; the title track is all the more haunting for its dignified treatment of the suicide. They follow that with the wistful, pretty Spanish Waltz, the unconvincing It Don’t Bother Me and then the two absolute masterpieces here, the down-and-out scenario Still Alone and the wrenching, Orbisonesque Messed Up Likes of Us. There’s nowhere to go from there but the bitter Dying in My Dreams, the denial of What I Don’t Feel and the paint-peeling noise-rock of A Little Bit of Hell, Eanelli’s great shining moment here. Surprisingly obscure, there don’t seem to be any streams of this anywhere, but it’s still up at the BoDeans’ site; here’s a random torrent.
628. Astor Piazzolla – Hommage a Liege
In putting this list together, we’ve tried to limit the number of albums per artist to one or two. Which with Astor Piazzolla is just plain absurd: there must be at least a dozen, maybe several dozen of his recordings that belong among the 1000 best albums ever made. Did the iconic Argentinian composer, bandleader, bandoneon player and inventor of tango nuevo put out one that stands over the rest? Frankly, no – they’re pretty much all good. We picked this dark, richly lush 1985 live album because A) Piazzolla plays on it and B) even though it doesn’t have any of his signature songs, like Libertango, it represents him well. Backed by two guitarists plus the Liege Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leo Brouwer, this is Piazzolla the classical composer rather than Piazzolla the pop tunesmith (he was both, and preferred to think of himself as the former). It’s two suites: first the epic triptych Concerto para Bandoneon y Guitarra (Intro, Milonga and Tango), then the four-part Histoire du Tango (does anybody besides us think it’s funny that the concerto is Spanish but the history is French?). This one is a musical portrait of how the style developed (with major contributions by the composer himself), from the whorehouse in 1900, to the Cafe 1930, Nightclub 160 and Aujourd’hui (Today). If Piazzolla is new to you, get to know him via Piazzolla Radio streaming 24/7. Here’s a random torrent via musicaparalacabeza.
627. Bernard Herrmann – The Film Scores: Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen
This 2005 reissue of an early 90s recording covers many if not all of the great film composer’s greatest moments, most of them from Hitchcock movies. It’s also maddeningly hard to find. At least it’s nice to see the guy who was arguably Hollywood’s foremost composer getting the full symphony orchestra treatment. The first track is the opening theme from The Man Who Knew Too Much, followed by most of the string quartet stuff from Psycho, notably the creepy intro, rainstorm scene, mommy getting offed and of course the shower scene. There’s also the stormy intro from Marnie, the even more ominously blustery North by Northwest theme, a ton of stuff from Fahrenheit 451, from the intro to the closing overture and the most noir moments from the Taxi Driver soundtrack. The one piece that really ought to be here but isn’t is the “concerto macabre” from Hangover Square, arguably Herrmann’s finest ten minutes – but the movie is obscure and the snobs probably felt it wasn’t well-known enough. A rigorous search didn’t turn up any torrents for this album, but you can download the Taxi Driver soundtrack, as well as the Marnie, Fahrenheit 451, NXNW, Torn Curtain and Vertigo soundtracks via The Cheerful Earfull.
626. Ran Blake & Jeanne Lee – The Newest Sound Around
Pianist Blake and singer Lee were just out of Bard College when they recorded this in 1961. Her recorded debut, fifty years later, remains the definitive noir jazz album. Mostly just piano and vocals, it’s shattering and intense, Lee’s quietly otherworldly, understated alto matching Blake’s often gleefully macabre cascades for a chemistry that has seldom existed anywhere between a singer and instrumentalist. They’re off with a menacing flourish and a couple of icy blood droplets as Blake launches into Laura, Lee deadpan and chilling against the relentless suspense. The chill factor goes up a notch higher on the spacious, doomed Where Flamingos Fly and the quietly anguished vocalese of Vanguard. Love Isn’t Everything also understates its case, potently, and Lee’s a-cappella version of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is heartbreaking. Yet not everything here is sad: there’s also the cynically funny Season in the Sun, the distantly gospel-tinged Church on Russel St. and a luridly sexy cover of Willie Dixon’s Evil. Forty-nine years later, Blake would recreate this mood with another another extraordinary singer, Sara Serpa, on their collaboration Camera Obscura. Here’s a random torrent.
625. The Act – Too Late at 20
Before Nick Laird-Clowes had the easy-listening radio hit Life in a Northern Town with his chamber-pop band the Dream Academy, he fronted this ferocious, sharply literate, Elvis Costello-influenced two-guitar new wave rock band with David Gilmour’s kid brother Mark playing lead. Their lone 1981 album is a masterpiece of catchy tunes, snarling guitar and restless lyricism. “I belong to the ones that got away,” he sings on the album’s best track, the resolute escape anthem Long Island Sound – but by the end, it’s hard to tell whether he’s singing “I belong” or “I’m alone.” That moment is characteristic here. Zero Unidentified is about as exhilarating as a three-minute song can get: it won’t take no for an answer. Get It While You’re Young has an uneasy undercurrent beneath the ecstatic two-guitar powerpop intensity, while The Art of Deception salutes the cheaters amongst us, Clash-style. There’s also the sizzling, upbeat Sure Fire; the reggae-tinged, cynical Protection and Skip the Beat; and the surprisingly tender Touch and Go. Only one dud amongst all this fun. Issued on the same label that would put out Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights only a few months later, it’s been out of print for decades. Here’s a random torrent via Powerpop Criminals.
624. Roy Ayers – Coffy: The Original Soundtrack
Conventional wisdom is that the classic blaxploitation soundtrack is Curtis Mayfield’s score for Superfly. Great album, no doubt, but have you ever heard this one? Ayers had already made a name for himself in jazz before the movie came out in 1973, but here he really gets to be eclectic and also funny as hell. Mid-70s stoner funk jams with electric piano, wah guitar, vibes and strings don’t get any more fun than these. As you can expect from the movie, some of these are a little over the top: Coffy Is the Color (Pam Grier’s theme), as well as the themes for the evil Pricilla and King George. Then there’s Aragon to the rescue; the irresistible Coffy Sauna scene; the elegaic King’s Last Ride; self-explanatory Brawling Broads; the brooding Bernard Herrmann-esque Escape; the hard yet sultry funk of Exotic Dance; the LOL boudoir scene Making Love and the pensive electric harpsichord piece Vittroni’s Theme. The movie is a hoot too. Here’s a random torrent.
623. Ferlin Husky – Greatest Hits
Although his career reached into the 80s, country singer Ferlin Husky’s best years were the 50s and early 60s and for that reason, we’re breaking our “no greatest hits” rule since those songs predated the album era. Husky’s persona was more vulnerable, maybe Orbisonesque, than his contemporaries and for that reason he had a huge cult following, especially among women. The big early 50s hit was Gone, which set the stage for Dear John Letter, his duet with Jean Shepard. The longing in Once and Every Step of the Way is visceral; for fans of country standards, there’s Wings of a Dove and Heavenly Sunshine. Just for You shows him still at the top of his game in 1968; I Feel Better All Over was resurrected thirty years later by Knoxville Girls. This 70s reissue is also awfully hard to find outside of church sales and junk shops; instead, you can check out his 1967 I Could Sing All Night album via Some Local Loser.
622. Public Image Ltd. – The Flowers of Romance
Just when it seemed that PiL couldn’t push the envelope any further, they came out with this bitter, astringent album that’s arguably even more cutting-edge than Second Edition. The melodies may seem Middle Eastern, but it’s actually inspired by the ancient Celtic music that John Lydon had been listening to around 1981. It’s also Martyn Atkins’ great shining moment: he fills the spaces between these eerie, ghostly, skeletal tunes and Lydon’s ominously wailing monotone with some of the most memorable rock drumming in decades. The intensity never lets up, from the claustrophobic, terrorized Four Enclosed Walls, Track 8 and Phenagen; the ridiculously catchy, anthemic yet completely avant-garde title track; the creepy, singsongey Under the House; the hypnotic instrumental Hymie’s Him; the snarling Banging the Door, antifascist anthem Go Back and elegaic Francis Massacre (about an IRA activist sentenced to life in Mountjoy Prison). This was also the group’s last adventure in experimental music: from there, they’d go through a funk phase, a generic stadium rock phase and end in the early 90s with something of a return to their punk roots. Here’s a random torrent.
621. Abdel Halim Hafez – Ala Aal El Shoaa On: Greatest Hits
The iconic Egyptian film music crooner is best known for his anguished, improvisational epics – throughout his almost thirty-year career, from the 50s to the late 70s, he never sang a song the same way twice. The pain in his voice may have had something to do with the fact that he was plagued by a chronic skin condition that eventually killed him at age 47. The fifteen tracks here range from something beyond epic – about 38 minutes of Zay El Hawa (Feels like Love) – to the remarkably brief, five-minute Al Toba. Most of these are iconic in the Arab world, including the Mohammed Abdel Wahab standard Ahwak (I Love You), Sawah (The Wanderer), Gana El Hawa (Love Came to Us), Ouloulu, and the title track, all set to lush, haunting orchestral arrangements. Like so many of his contemporaries, his recordings have been bootlegged to death; we’re suggesting this one because it represents his career well, and actually exists in digital form (many don’t). Here’s a random torrent.
620. Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach – We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite
In 1960, folksingers weren’t the only ones doing socially conscious music: plenty of jazz people were doing it too. This fiery civil rights-era suite is as inspiring and relevant today as it was when it came out that year. The chanteuse and her brilliant, innovative drummer husband are joined by an inspired, eclectic band including Coleman Hawkins on sax and African percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. They open with the insistent minor gospel-flavored Driva’man, follow with the irrepressible indomitable Freedom Day and then the album’s epic centerpiece, Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace. It’s possible they inspired a young Gil Scott-Heron with the early anti-apartheid broadside Tears for Johannesburg. There’s also the hypnotic, percussion-driven All Africa. Here’s a random torrent.
619. Richard Cheese – Lounge Against the Machine
What Weird Al was to the 80s, Richard Cheese was around the turn of the century – and he’s still going strong, making fun of the suckiest songs you’ve ever heard. And he’s more than just a one-trick pony – his parodies make fun of lounge music just as much as they skewer the lamest corporate rock songs of the last 20 years. Caveat: if you weren’t tortured by a younger sibling (or, even worse, an older sibling) with bad taste in music back in the 90s, you may not know a lot of these songs. Ironically, the most popular track on Cheese’s 2000 debut is the best one, the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia, which when you think about it is even more punk than the original. Creep, by Radiohead, another good song, is also better – and creepier – than the original. Otherwise, the satire is brutal: with his cover of Guerrilla Radio, the lounge lizard exposes Rage Against the Machine for the limousine liberals they were. He gets gleefully cruel with the fratboy standards Closer (“I wanna fuck you like an animal”) by Nine Inch Nails, the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and the ultimate frathouse atrocity, the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right to Party. Anybody remember Papa Roach? They get turned into noir cabaret here. And Fatboy Slim – remember him? – gets subjected to more of a spoof of lounge music than of whatever he was (if you missed him, you don’t want to know). Here’s a random torrent.
618. Blind Blake – Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker
The album title doesn’t do justice to this kick-ass guitarist who pushed the envelope and mixed blues, country, ragtime and early swing into a catchy, tuneful, inimitably original style. This album collects many of his best 78 RPM singles from 1926 through his last dates in 1932. A lot of the British blues guys from the 1960s took a stab at Diddie Wa Diddie, but the original still beats all of them; the one that Albert King, Jimmy Reed and a lot of their contemporaries picked up was Early Morning Blues (which actually isn’t on this album). The rest of this is as ghetto as ghetto gets: songs about raising hell, going on the lam, police brutality, an execution, illegal gambling, domestic violence, drugs, unfaithful girlfriends, and lots and lots of sex among the 23 tracks. Their rustic charm and defiant energy still resonates eighty years later. Here’s a random torrent.
617. The New Race – The First to Pay
Think about this for a second: in 1988, the late great Ron Asheton was so broke that he had to sell the master tapes for this album to a French record label, since no American one would put it out. Another shocker is that it’s been out of print pretty much since then. The New Race were a Detroit rock supergroup with the MC5′s Dennis Thompson on drums, Asheton and Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek on guitars, plus Warwick Gilbert on bass and Rob Younger from that band on vocals. They did a single Australian tour that resulted in three live albums of raw, searing, primevally intense garage punk metal. It’s a mix of Birdman and Stooges songs plus three tunes the group came up with together: the metalloid space shuttle tribute Columbia, the surprisingly poppy Living World and the maniacally scurrying Haunted Road. Gilbert’s menacing bass chords take the doomed intensity of Love Kills to another level; likewise, the chromatically-charged Smith & Wesson Blues and All Alone in the End Zone are completely unhinged. They also do a very satisfying, amped-up cover of Destroy All Monsters’ November 22, 1963 along with the Stooges’ Loose and TV Eye. The whole album is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via rogkentroll.
616. Mulatu Astatke – Ethiopiques Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-74
The best-known Ethiopian jazz bandleader, Mulatu Astatke continues to be sought after as a collaborator by all sorts of western musicians. His career on this side of the globe may have been springboarded by his numerous contributions to the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers, but he was well-known as the father of Ethiopian funk long before that – he’s every bit as much of an innovator, and a great dance tunesmith, as Fela Kuti was. This album collects most of the bittersweet, memorable themes from early in his career: the iconic Tezeta (Nostalgia), the longing of Metche Dershe (When Will I Get There), the love songs Munaye and Gubelye, the eerie, reggaeish Sabye and the rousing overture Dewel (The Bell) among the fourteen tracks here. Intricate, complex yet danceable, it’s a good introduction to a guy who needs none among African music fans. Here’s a random torrent via Totem Songs.
615. The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2
A 1951 recording reissued in 1955 and digitized in the 90s. We picked this one rather than the almost identical Vol. 1 because it doesn’t have that horrid Judy Garland song that everybody knows. Here the certifiably crazy pianist leads a quintet with Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, along with a handful of trio and solo performances. It’s got two takes of his signature song, Un Poco Loco, on one hand absolutely creepy, on the other a welcome example of Afro-Cuban music infiltrating the jazz world. There’s also the similiarly foreboding Dance of the Infidels, the wary nocturnal bustle of Monk’s 52nd St. Theme, the expansive, surprisingly gentle It Could Happen to You and the totally amazing Parisian Thoroughfare, which has echoes of Debussy. And also the popular Bouncing with Bud, Ornithology and A Night in Tunisia (this list must have at least a half a dozen versions of that song on various albums – is 50s jazz great or what?). Here’s a random torrent; if you really want Vol. 1, here’s a random torrent for that one.
614. Live Skull – Snuffer
The best New York band of the 80s wasn’t Sonic Youth. It was Live Skull. They shared a producer, Martin Bisi, whose ears for the most delicious sonics in a guitar’s high midrange did far more to refine both bands’ sound than he ever got credit for. As noisy as this band was, they also had an ear for hooks: noise-rock has never been more listenable. By the time they recorded this one, guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., fretless bassist Marnie Greenholz and drummer Rich Hutchins had brought in future Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek, but on vocals rather than guitar. It’s a ferociously abrasive yet surprisingly catchy six-song suite of sorts, Zedek’s assaultive rants mostly buried beneath the volcanic swirl of the guitars and the pummeling rhythm section. By the time they get to Step, the first song of side two, they’ve hit a groove that winds up with furious majesty on the final cut, Straw. Like Sonic Youth, their lyrics are neither-here-nor-there; unlike that band, they had the good sense to bury them in the mix most of the time. Very influential in their time, it’s hard to imagine Yo La Tengo and many others without them. Here’s a random torrent via Rare Punk.
613. Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Original Recordings
Dan Hicks was literally a half-century ahead of his time. The title of his 1969 debut alludes to a much earlier era – the 1920s and 30s – whose music he updated, yet keeping a sultry roaring 20s feel courtesy of the harmonies of Lickettes Sherri Snow and Christina Gancher. It’s all low-key acoustic stoner swing Americana with funny lyrics. The funniest – and most vicious – number here is Canned Music, in a way 50 years ahead of its time, as a parody of lite FM cliches. There’s the sardonic How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away; the faux gypsy I Scare Myself (another one that was way ahead of the curve); the proto-Moonlighters shuffle Evening Breeze; the tongue-in-cheek boogie Waiting On the 103; the noir diptych Shorty Takes a Dive and Shorty Falls in Love; It’s Bad Grammar Baby (sort of his All Along the Watchtower); the sort of obvious Milk Shakin’ Mama, and after all this, they pull out all the stops for the Jukie’s Ball. They were steampunk 30 years before that term existed and remain one of the funnest, funniest retro swing bands ever recorded, Here’s a random torrent via Smalltown Pleasures.
612. Jackie McLean – Jackie’s Bag
Jackie McLean was an alto saxophonist with a bright, hard-hitting style. This 1960 album comprises two sessions: one with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Sonny Clark on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, the other with Chambers plus the great, underrated Tina Brooks on tenor sax, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Kenny Drew on piano and Art Taylor on drums. The title is a pun: at the time he recorded it, McLean was a heroin addict, and he wasn’t the only one in the band. Nevertheless, it’s a swinging record, steeped in the blues yet consistently surprising, with some great solos. There’s the vivid, scurrying Quadrangle; the blazing minor swing of Blues Inn; the genially optimistic Fidel (how little they knew then, huh?); the pensive but wickedly catchy Appointment in Ghana; the brisk, bright Ballad for a Doll; as well as Brooks’ blistering Isle of Java (another pun) and gritty, gospel-infused Street Singer. The cd reissue also includes the klezmer-tinged Melonae’s Dance and darkly smoldering Medina. Here’s a random torrent via toukoutou.
611. Sarah Vaughan – Sarah +2
To a generation of fans, Sarah Vaughan is divine; another camp (guess which one we’re in) thinks she could have done more with less. On this 1962 album she does exactly that, backed magically and tersely by Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass. Kessel absolutely owns this album, reminding why he was was one of the most sought-after (and today, underrated) guitarists ever. No effects, no frills, no overplaying, just richly counterintuitive syncopation, surgical precision and a dynamic chordal attack, and Comfort’s even more minimalist bass is just as cool. The spacious arrangements mean that much of the time it’s Vaughan solo, or with the bass, or the guitar. The big hit here was The Very Thought of You. Just in Time starts out like Peggy Lee’s The Fever until the guitar finally comes in; When Sunny Gets Blue doesn’t have the intensity of Jeanne Lee’s version, but what does? All I Do Is Dream of You works surprisingly well with such a cosmopolitan arrangement, as does the stripped-down Ray Noble big band hit Goodnight Sweetheart. The early Ellington hit Just Squeeze Me nails the coyness of the theme. There’s also a wary reinterpretation of Bessie Smith’s Baby Won’t You Please Come Home and a dreamily surreal, bossa-tinged version of Key Largo. Here’s a random torrent.
610. The Delmore Bros. – Classic Cuts 1933-41
Alton and Rabon Delmore really weren’t brothers, but that didn’t stop them from pretending they were. A lot of that kind of stuff happened in country music back in the old days. This massive 4-cd box set spans from the fire-and-brimstone country gospel of No Drunkard Can Enter There and Goodbye Booze – did anybody ever take these songs the least bit seriously? – to blues like Nashville Blues and I’ve Got the Railroad Blues, standards like Lay Down My Old Guitar and Blue Hills of Virginia along with creepy southern gothic tales like The Dying Truck Driver. Rustic, provocative evidence that there was an awful lot of cross-pollination between black and white musicians in those days. This one hasn’t showed up in the usual places, so in its place you might be interested in these 1933-35 radio tracks via Did You Remember El Diablo Tuntun.
609. Jimmy Smith – Midnight Special
Conventional wisdom is that Back at the Chicken Shack is the great Hammond B3 jazz organist’s alltime classic (although pretty much everything the guy ever recorded is worth hearing). We picked this 1963 release A) to be perverse, B) because the tracks are a little better, and lesser-known, and C) because it’s everything BUT Smith’s signature shuffle grooves. Everything on both albums was recorded in a single day – to say that Smith and his band (Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Donald Bailey on drums and Kenny Burrell guesting on guitar on three tracks) were on top of their game is an understatement. Basie’s One O’Clock Jump gets a terse, biting blues treatment, alongside Bird’s Jumpin’ the Blues, while Why Was I Born? makes funk out of the Rodgers/Hammerstein showtune. Turrentine’s A Subtle One is a wickedly catchy song without words; the title track, a straight-up blues, swings with a jaunty, summery joy. Here’s a random torrent via Oufar Khan.
608. The Secret Museum of Mankind Vol. 7 – North Africa: Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-48
This seems to be the last in the wild and eclectic Secret Museum of Mankind series of reissues of old public domain 78s from all over the world. The first was old hillbilly music from the 20s; the other volumes include gospel, zydeco and stuff you’d otherwise only find in a museum – literally. This one’s the best, a collection of famous oud players, flute players, horn players, male and female singers, bellydancers, solo acts, small combos and big ensembles. The best-known names here are oldtime Moroccan oud star Raoul Journo and Algerian rai hitmaker Cheikh Hamada (who was doing trip-hop 70 years before it became a popular corporate pop rhythm), but the obscurities are just as fascinating. Here’s a random torrent via Major Bonobo.
607. Shostakovich: String Quartets 1-13 – The Borodin String Quartet
This 1967 recording with Valentin Berlinsky on cello, Rostislav Dubinsky and Nina Barshai on first and second violins and Rudolf Barshai on viola is considered the gold standard for the iconic composer’s complete quartets. It’s literally a journey from somewhat brash, to wounded and bitter, elegaic (the literally terrifying 11th is one of the most haunting pieces of music ever made) and quiet, almost mystical. Awfully hard to find in digital form: here’s a random torrent for #3, #7 and #8. Otherwise, here’s a torrent for the Emerson Quartet’s terrific box set of these pieces from 1999.
606. Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch
This gorgeously melodic 1963 album – which transcends any attempt to categorize is as “postbop” or otherwise – features the great reed player along with with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis and an 18-year-old Tony Williams absolutely astonishing on drums. Dolphy plays bass clarinet on the Monk homage Hat and Beard, later switching to flute on Gazzelloni; Something Sweet, Something Tender is lyrical and aptly titled. The title track is a cinematic mini-suite, surpassed here only by the surreal epic Straight Up and Down, ostensibly meant to illustrate a long walk home after closing down the bar. Here’s a random torrent via Holy Fucking Shit 40000.
605. The Strawbs – Grave New World
The Strawbs started out in the UK in the late 60s as the Strawberry Hill Gang, playing bluegrass; they backed Sandy Danny on her first full-length recording, not issued til decades later. By 1972, they were taking British folk and making towering, anthemic, psychedelic art-rock out of it, sort of like Jethro Tull without the gnomes and hobbits. This one’s all over the map: there are a couple of duds, but otherwise it’s a masterpiece, a loosely thematic collection of songs that ponder aging and death. Benedictus takes a 12-string Byrds theme and makes a hypnotic, circular anthem out of it; the title track, with its murderous, crashing mellotron intro, is one of the most vengeful songs ever written: “May you rot, in your grave new world!” There’s also the apprehensive, Procol Harum-ish Tomorrow; the artfully backward-masked Queen of Dreams; the psychedelic folk of Heavy Disguise and The Flower and the Young Man and the surprisingly quiet, resigned concluding track Journey’s End. After all these years, and a turn in a harder-rocking direction, frontman Dave Cousins continues to tour a more acoustic version of the band. Here’s a random torrent.
604. Farid Al-Atrache – 25 Ans Deja
What B.B. King or Richard Thompson are to the guitar, Farid Al-Atrache was to the oud, the ancient Middle Eastern four-string bass lute. B.B. is probably the better comparison: Al-Atrache had supersonic speed on the frets when he felt like cutting loose, but he was more about soul than flash. And he was a lot more than just a musician, with a long career as a star of screwball Egyptian musical comedies. The title of this late-90s compilation alludes to the years since his death. Most of this is lushly orchestrated levantine dance music, many of the tracks, like Adnaytani Bel Hagr and Ich Inta having become a part of the standard bellydance repertoire. There’s also the catchy, upbeat Hebbina Hebbina; the sweepingly majestic Baa Ayez Tensani; and the hits Zaman Ya Hob, Ana Wenta We Bass, Manheremch el Omr and Odta Ya Yom Mawlidi among the eighteen tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via ubdocleahq.
603. Graham Parker – Songs of No Consequence
For more than thirty years, Graham Parker has been making snarling, wickedly melodic lyrical rock albums: you could make the case that several of them belong on this list. We picked this vastly underrated 2007 release because it represents everything that’s good about him: his unapologetically savage, literate lyrics, his tunefulness and ability to perfectly match musicians to the songs. Here he’s backed mostly by powerpop cult heroes the Figgs. Right off the bat, Parker thumbs his nose at the media with the spot-on Vanity Press. She Swallows It is a typical Parker pun, less corrosive than perplexed; Suck N Blow is the opposite. The real stunner here is Chloroform, a murderous send-off to a record label exec on his slow, painful way down. There’s also the sardonic soul shuffle Bad Chardonnay, the surreal Dislocated Life, the self-explanatory Evil, the Elvis Costello-ish There’s Nothing on the Radio, the wry Did Everybody Just Get Old and the insanely catchy Local Boys, a tongue-in-cheek follow-up to his old 70s British hit Local Girls. Mysteriously impossible to find at the sharelockers, this is a rare album that’s actually worth owning as a hard copy: cdbaby still has it.
602. Knoxville Girls – In the Woodshed
Active from the late 90s through the early zeros, darkly swampy New York rockers Knoxville Girls inhabitated a stylized world of Jim Jarmusch noir Americana. With Dimestore Dance Band leader Jack Martin, former Cramp Kid Congo Powers and the Chrome Cranks’ Jerry Teel on guitars, Barry London on organ and original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, they were the “the ultimate Lower East Side resume band” as one blog aptly billed them. As entertaining and occasionally menacing as their two studio albums are (In a Paper Suit, from 2004 is highly recommended), onstage they were an unstoppable beast. From 2000, this is their only live album, released only on vinyl and sold exclusively as tour merch. When Teel croons Warm and Tender Love, somehow it feels like just the opposite, a feeling that recurs on I Had a Dream and Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly standard Have You Ever. They take Ferlin Husky’s I Feel Better All Over to the next level, careen through the shuffling Armadillo Roadkill Blues, Kung Pow Chicken Scratch, the tongue-in-cheek One More Thing and the instrumental Sixty-Five Days Ago with an unhinged abandon that peaks in the sprawling, closing jam, Low Cut Apron/Sugar Fix. It doesn’t look like this has ever been digitized: try your local used vinyl joint. The band’s two studio albums are still available from In the Red.
601. Richard Strauss – Death and Transfiguration – The Berlin Philharmonic/Ivan Fischer
Strauss is best known these days as a composer of opera and lieder: his trademark is lavish arrangements, most of them possibly devised to conceal the fact that the music is not all that deep. This is his career highlight, a massive multi-part tone poem inspired by the Nietszche work. It has the potential to be stormy: it usually isn’t. What makes it work is the tension: it’s meant to portray a relatively incessant struggle for redemption. We picked this 2009 release because it works the dynamics more boisterously than other recordings: it’s not supposed to be all ambience and suspense, and when they reach a peak here, it packs a wallop. Here’s a random torrent.
600. T-Model Ford – Pee Wee Get My Gun
Primeval menace at its most raw and ramshackle, this 1997 live-in-the-studio recording is a fair approximation of what the Mississippi hill country blues legend is like onstage. A convicted murderer who let his reputation proceed him and seems to have a lot of fun letting people believe how bad he is, T-Model Ford was a nonmusician until his late 50s. His pounding, hypnotic style doesn’t indicate that he was listening to much of anything other than the careening one-chord juke-joint vamps popular in his neck of the woods. Where Junior Kimbrough was all about nuance, this is all about the adrenaline rush. By the time he made this, he was in his late 70s, with a bad hip that forced him to play sitting down. But it doesn’t hold him back, just him and his drummer Spam. Marilyn Manson is G-rated compared to this guy. It’s angry, assaultive stuff, kiss-off numbers like Cut You Loose; the defiant Nobody Gets Me Down; the T-Model Theme, a warped boogie; the completely unhinged I’m Insane and seven other tracks, most of them in the same key, otherworldly overtones flying from the muted strings of his cheap guitar. Still vital at almost ninety, he keeps playing and recording. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via I Hate the 90s.
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