Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 400-499

For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this list is all about – other than just plain fun – click here.

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #600-699 continue here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

499. Erika Simonian – All the Plastic Animals

A cult classic from 2004. Simonian’s wryly literate lyrics range from sardonic to casually savage, set to precisely fingerpicked, austere melodies sung in a minutely nuanced voice that can be deadpan hilarious…or absolutely brutal. An air of disillusion and betrayal creeps in with the opening vignette, sarcastically titled Food From the Cow, followed by the even more sarcastic Pretty Good Wife; the cabaret-inflected Self Made Drama Machine, a kiss-off to a selfish bitch; and Mr. Wrong, an amusing pickup scenario predictably on its way to going awry. The most unforgettable song here is Bitter and Brittle, a vivid portrait of the edge of madness; the blackly humorous Eternal Spinsterhood is awfully good too. Surprisingly, this one is AWOL from the usual sources of free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby, where there are also clips from each song. Simonian continues as a member of lyrical indie rockers Little Silver and the entertaining, punkish Sprinkle Genies.

498. Ian Hunter – Rant

Ian Hunter may have played in a stadium rock band back in the 70s, but his best years were ahead of him, and that may still be true – and he’s no less vital today, now in his early 70s. It’s amazing how ten years ago, at practically age sixty, he came up with this bitter, ferociously angry requiem of sorts for the entire world. Taking care to kick off the album with persuasive proof that he’s undiminished by all this, he revisits his glam side with Still Love Rock N Roll before the apocalyptic Wash Us Away, the relentlessly ferocious Death of a Nation and Morons, the anti-yuppie diatribe Purgatory and the vitriolic American Spy, directed at sellout ex-punks. There’s also the Bowie-esque Britrock of Dead Man Walking; the sarcastic Good Samaritan; the defiant Soap N Water and Ripoff; the lush, beautiful janglerock of Knees of My Heart and the alienated angst of No One. Dark, lyrical four-on-the-floor rock doesn’t get any better than this. Here’s a random torrent via [not sure what this blog is called, but it’s really good].

497. Hank Mobley – Soul Station

This 1961 album is sort of a tenor sax response to Almost Blue, with a similarly beautiful nocturnal vibe. Which on one hand makes perfect sense since it has Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass, with drummer Art Blakey in almost shockingly cool mode. Mobley made a name for himself playing just a hair behind the beat for maximum swing impact (something that didn’t ingratiate him to his hard-bop contemporaries), and he does that tunefully and memorably here, on their remake of the Irving Berlin ballad Remember as well as originals like the wryly soulful This I Dig of You, Dig This, the aptly titled, somewhat ambiguous Split Feelin’ and the high point of the album, the title cut. It ends on a poignant note with If I Should Lose. Who says sidemen can’t make great albums as bandleaders? Here’s a random torrent via Jazz Is My Life.

496. Patti Rothberg – Between the 1 and the 9

Discovered busking in the New York City subway (the album title references the local train running between Harlem and the Battery), Rothberg debuted auspiciously with this in 1996 and has replicated its clever lyricism and catchy, smoldering rock sensibility several times since then. The sarcastic garage rock anthem Treat Me Like Dirt went to #1 in Europe, while the characteristically tongue-in-cheek Inside reached the American top 40; the rest of the album ranges from pensive, symbolically charged purist slightly new wave-flavored pop tunes like Flicker, Forgive Me and It’s Alright to the sarcastic powerpop Perfect Stranger, Change Your Ways and Out of My Mind as well as the coyly sultry This One’s Mine. Everything Rothberg has done subsequently, especially the 2007 album Double Standards, is worth hearing. The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.

495. Robert Sirota – Triptych – The Chiara String Quartet

Arguably the most powerful, intense musical response to the horror of 9/11, composer Sirota’s anguished, horror-stricken suite for string quartet draws on artist Deborah Patterson’s triptych depicting the detonation of one of the towers, the death of NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge and the sky over the smoking hole at Ground Zero. The Chiaras premiered this at New York’s Trinity Church, barely two blocks away, in October, 2002. The frenzied horror of the first movement attempts to replicate sirens, a devil’s choir of car alarms and the chaos following the crash of the planes; the second is a grief-stricken lament; the third reaches for some sort of peace or closure. The only audio for this that seems to be on the web seems to be at cdbaby, where the album is still available, but terrific performances of this piece by the American String Quartet have made it to youtube in three segments, here, here, and here.

494. Buck Owens – On the Bandstand

Despite the title, this isn’t a live album, although it has the energy of one. Buck Owens began his career in the early 1950s as a highly sought-after lead guitarist known for his eclectic style, equally inspired by blues, Mexican music and what was becoming rock. By 1963, when this came out, he’d become a star as a frontman with his band the Buckaroos, including Tom Brumley on pedal steel and Don Rich on fiddle and lead guitar. Together they invented the “Bakersfield sound,” which is still about the hardest that country music has ever been. Some choice cuts: the sweetly twangy Sally Was a Good Girl, Kickin’ Our Hearts Around, One Way Love and Sweethearts in Heaven; a countryfied version of Leadbelly’s Cotton Fields; King of Fools, which foreshadows the buffoon character he’d play on Hee Haw; a boisterous Orange Blossom Special; and Diggy Diggy Lo, covered by many garage bands since then. Here’s a random torrent.

493. Carey Bell – Live at Bellinzona Piazza Blues Festival, 1999

The trouble with studio blues recordings is that labels didn’t stop exploiting the artists after Chess went under. As a result, even as late as the 90s, so many of those albums sound forced and furtive, everybody rushing to get their parts down before time ran out. This extremely obscure lo-fi live set recorded somewhere in Italy features the great Chicago blues harpist onstage, in his element, front and center over an anonymously competent band. Bell achieves his signature spooky, swirling, hauntingly watery sound by playing through a Leslie organ speaker. The set ranges from dark and ominous with Leaving in the Morning, Broken and Hungry, and Lonesome Stranger to the sly My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble and the big party favorite When I Get Drunk, along with a characteristically volcanic version of his big instrumental crowd-pleaser Jawbreaker. Some of this is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Renovcevic.

492. Rachelle Garniez – Crazy Blood

Garniez is unquestionably the most eclectic and quite possibly the best songwriter to emerge from the New York scene in the late 90s and early zeros. Serenade, her first album, is lushly pensive and unselfconsciously romantic, as you might expect from someone whose main axe is the accordion. This 2001 release, her second, was her quantum leap, where she established herself as a deviously witty master of every retro style ever invented, from the apocalyptic pop of Silly Me, the gorgeous Memphis soul of Odette and Mr. Lady, the sultry jazz ballad Swimming Pool Blue, the inscrutable psychedelia of Little Fish and Marie, the jaunty, tongue-in-cheek blues of New Dog, the blithe, meticulously arranged salsa of Regular Joe and the album’s chilling, intense tango centerpiece, Shadowland – which would become a tv show theme – and the anguished, Bessie Smith-tinged title track. Garniez’ multi-octave voice swoops and dips mischievously over a band of A-list downtown jazz types. She’d go on to even greater heights with 2003′s Luckyday and 2008′s Melusine Years, and has a new one coming out (the cd release show is November 11 at Dixon Place). Strangely AWOL from the usual sources of free music, it’s still available from Garniez herself as well as at cdbaby.

491. Magic Sam – West Side Soul

This 1967 release pretty much sums up the innovative Chicago bluesman’s career and offers more than just a cruel glimpse of where he might have gone had he lived. An energetic vocalist and talented guitarist, he very subtly and effectively brought elements of 60s soul, funk and rock into a straight-up blues format. Among blues fans, this album has iconic status, and has most of his best-known songs: That’s All I Need; the funky I Feel So Good; soulful, nocturnal versions of Otis Rush’s All Your Love and My Love Will Never Die, and B.B. King’s I Need You So Bad; a surprisingly original cover of Sweet Home Chicago; a plaintive version of J.B. Lenoir’s Mama Talk to Your Daughter; the propulsive Every Night and Every Day, the bitter I Don’t Want No Woman and the instrumental theme Lookin’ Good. Sam Maghett drank and drugged himself to death at 32. Here’s a random torrent.

490. Merle Haggard – 20 Greatest Hits

One of the great transformation stories in musical history, a guy who (either despite or because of his criminal past) started out as a supporter of the extreme right, looked around and then realized that there was a better way, one that made sense given his populist background. This covers pretty much everything. It doesn’t have the honkytonk classic Swinging Doors but the 20 tracks here include most of the others: Mama Tried; Workingman’s Blues; Okie from Muskogee; Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down; the reworked Irish ballad Branded Man; and the Ford/Carter recession-era If We Make It Through December, a tribute to striking Detroit assembly line workers that’s as resonant today as it was thirty years ago. Here’s a random torrent via Kerala MV; if you’re here, and you like this kind of stuff, you might also enjoy Bryan & the Haggards’ twisted jazz instrumental cover album of Merle tunes.

489. Bee & Flower – What’s Mine Is Yours

The New York/Berlin band’s 2004 debut is a stark, often haunting mix of stately, slow-to-midtempo art-rock songs: some of them dirges, some more atmospheric, with slight variations on frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter’s various shades of grey. The catchy, relentless opening track I Know Your Name sets the tone, followed by the aptly titled, glimmering Twin Stars and the menacing funeral processional Wounded Walking. The pastoral Carpenter’s Fern is as light as it gets here; On the Mouth the most upbeat, which is not really a lot. There’s also the sardonic Let It Shine and then anthemic, Joy Division-tinged closing cut, This Time. Everything else the band has released since then is worth a listen; here’s a random torrent via My Melomania. The album is still available from the band.

488. Tammy Wynette – Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad

She’d have an entire hall of fame career in the wake of this 1967 debut, but she got off on the good foot – and the album also doesn’t have the odious Stand By Your Man. Instead, it’s a bunch of ripping honkytonk numbers like the title track and the classics Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind), I Wound Easy but I Heal Fast along with ballads like There Goes My Everything, Don’t Touch Me, Almost Persuaded and Walk Through This World With Me. The band of Nashville pros is on top of their game and so was Tammy – it would be awhile before the pills caught up with her. Here’s a random torrent via I Could Die Tomorrow.

487. Guided by Voices – Do the Collapse

A lot of you will be scratching your heads over this one: of all the GBV albums, the one that Rick Ocasek produced?!? Yup. By 2001, GBV was a well-oiled (pun intended) road machine, and Robert Pollard had his arguably most lyrical, most straightforward and catchiest bunch of songs yet, equal parts British Invasion, powerpop and the Minutemen but without the phony beat poetry. The real gem here is Teenage FBI – as a teacher, Pollard knew a little something about high school fascism. The sarcastic, fragmentary Wormhole is also choice, as are the chromatically-charged riff-rocker Zoo Pie, the mocking Dragons Awake!, along with the subtly funny Liquid Indian, Strumpet Eye, Picture Me Big Time and the brief, under two-minute An Unmarketed Product among the sixteen characteristically unpredictable tracks here. Here’s a random torrent.

486. Sibelius – Symphony #4 – The BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham

This early 50s recording by one of the great late Romantic composer’s most forceful advocates captures all the brooding magnificence of this dark, stormy piece: the pensive first movement, with its vivid cello/bass figure; the more upbeat second movement, the big crescendoing third movement and its breakneck, anthemic conclusion. If you like this kind of stuff, the rest of his repertoire (especially if you can find Beecham recordings) is worth seeking out, including smaller-scale works like the Karelia suite. Here’s a random torrent via Vinyl Fatigue.

485. Eric Burdon & the Animals – Best of, 1966-68

This one is as good a mix of songs by the iconic white bluesman as there is. Some of this showcases him as a blues shouter, the rest as a surprisingly good hippie songwriter, without any of the Brill Building schlock other than Don’t Bring Me Down (a cursed title if there ever was one). There’s straight up blues with See See Rider, soul including Help Me Girl and a surprisingly strong River Deep, Mountain High; pensive, philosophical songwriting like Inside-Looking Out and Winds of Change; upbeat psychedelic pop period pieces including San Franciscan Nights and Monterey; and the real classic here, the swirling, phaser-driven Sky Pilot, one of the most potent antiwar anthems ever written. “You’ll never, never, never reach the sky!” If you like this stuff, the original albums, especially the 1968 Love Is album, are also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

484. Jazz at the Philharmonic 1949

These concerts were parties, not sedate mellow jazz, and the crowd got passionately involved. For that reason (and because the recordings tended to be noisy as a result), there is a jazz element that has looked down on this annual series of recordings that went on through the 1950s. This one is probably the wildest: after promoter Norman Granz’s interminable band intros, it’s got the landmark moment where Lester Young famously leaps in during Charlie Parker’s Leap Here. There’s also Coleman Hawkins wailing on Rifftide, chilling out on Sophisticated Lady and the whole crew (especially trumpeter Fats Navarro) getting involved on The Things We Did Last Summer along with bluesy, Bird-driven versions of Lover Come Back to Me and Back Home Again in Indiana. And where can you grab a download? Nowhere! Blame the snobs, not us.

483. The Maddox Brothers & Rose – On the Air

Some of this is corny but a lot of it is hilarious, and you get the picture that even when the band is being serious that they’re secretly laughing at you. Fred, Cal, Cliff and Don along with sister Rose, the star of the show are represented here by their very first radio broadcast, from 1940, plus another one from 1945 which on one hand is something else entirely, but also shows how well they had their act together when they first began. Their best stuff, the “hillbilly boogies,” foreshadows rock music, with its shuffle rhythm and lyrical innuendo: Hold That Critter Down, Small Town Mama, If You Ain’t Got The Do-Re-Mi, The Gold Rush Is Over and Too Old to Cut the Mustard among the best of them. There’s also rustic stuff like I’ve Rambled Around, bluesy stuff like Meanest Man in Town and Fried Potatoes and some requisite country gospel – Gathering Flowers For The Master’s Bouquet – and cowboy songs among the 40 tracks here. If you like this you might also like the 1961 compilation The World’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band, Vol. 2. Here’s a random torrent via the always rocking Rockin Gipsy.

482. Charles Brown – Driftin’ Blues: The Best of Charles Brown

This suave, impeccably tasteful blues pianist/crooner was sort of the missing link between Nat King Cole and Jimmy Reed – outside of the church, this is where soul music got its start. This 20-track reissue from the mid-90s collects sides from 1945 through 1956. Ironically, Brown remains best-known for a cheesy Xmas song, Merry Christmas Baby. But this also has his first big hit, Driftin’ Blues along with the aptly nocturnal In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down and a killler version of Get Yourself Another Fool. There’s also the surprisingly subtle Trouble Blues, the brooding Black Night, Seven Long Days, and Evening Shadows along with somewhat more upbeat stuff like Please Don’t Drive Me Away and Count Basie’s I’ll Always Be in Love With You. Brown gets extra props for being a major influence on both Elvis Costello and LJ Murphy. Here’s a random torrent via Rukus Juice.

481. Danny & Dusty – The Lost Weekend

This semi-legendary 1985 collaboration among several Paisley Underground types from the Dream Syndicate, Green on Red and Long Ryders has the feeling of an album made in a single afternoon fueled by a lot of alcohol, a story that Steve Wynn AKA Dusty has confirmed. Danny here is Dan Stuart of Green on Red. Most of the songs are about drinking, Wynn’s set in a typically surreal LA noir milieu. The Word Is Out focuses on a character who suddenly finds that he’s paying for everything he used to get for free; Song for the Dreamers and Miracle Mile are a memorable grab bag of boozers and losers, an idea they take to its logical extreme on King of the Losers. The best of the bunch is Wynn’s deliriously gospel-fueled Baby We All Gotta Go Down; there’s also the proto alt-country Send Me a Postcard and the creepy Down to the Bone, all of this good enough to make you forget about the pointless Dylan and Donovan covers at the end. Long out of print; here’s a random torrent. If you like this you may also like Danny & Dusty’s 2007 follow-up, still available at Wynn’s site.

480. Little Walter – The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

Walter Jacobs defined blues harp. His eerie, reverb-drenched, overtone-packed lines have a signature sound that’s often imitated but never duplicated. He wasn’t a bad singer, either, with an amazing, Willie Dixon-led band behind him. This is as good a mix of his own stuff as there is out there – and don’t forget that he also played with Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf and other giants of the era as well. It’s got his big first hit, the 1955 shuffle tune My Babe, as well as hot juke-joint instrumentals like Juke, Roller Coaster, Mellow Down Easy, the jazzy Last Night and the creepy Sad Hours. There are also inspired takes on classics like Key to the Highway as well as originals like the cosmopolitan Boom Boom Out Goes the Light, the stomping, blustery Off the Wall and the tensely exuberant Just Your Fool among the 20 choice tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via KNK Music Blog.

479. Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori

This one’s for the smoking section. By the time these Japanese stoners came out with this sludgy, creepy 1971 five-part suite, they were arguably heavier than Sabbath. Some of you may find this ugly and heavyhanded; the band alternates between bludgeoning blues and morbid, funereal dirges. The lyrics are in Japanese. Part one of the suite sets the stage for the slightly more Hendrix-inspired part two. Part three might be the high point, doom rock with Asian motifs; part four blends funk and even jazz touches into the murk; the concluding movement foreshadows where King Crimson would be in five years. Call it metal, or art-rock, or proto-goth, either way it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a random torrent via Lysergia.

478. Miles Davis – Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud

Hope it’s ok with you if we stick with the creepy stuff two days in a row. Davis came up with the soundtrack to this 1958 Louis Malle noir flick in two days in a Paris studio with a pickup band, much in the same way he did Kind of Blue: it’s a masterpiece of modal jazz, arguably as good or better than that album. The central, recurring theme is Nuit Sur Les Champs Elysees (represented by several takes, most notably the first and second). There are also two versions of Le Petit Bal (A Little Party), a murder scene, a car chase, an elevator scene, some tense moments at a motel, another chase scene and a couple of surprisingly calm vignettes that seem tacked on at the end for good measure: they’re pretty, although they don’t match the noir vibe of the rest of the soundtrack. Here’s a random torrent.

477. Orquesta Harlow – La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite

This is Fania Records’ All-Star pianist Larry Harlow’s 1977 attempt to capsulize the entire history of latin music in a six-part suite. As history, there are secret corners it misses – lots of them; as music, it’s a titanic, slinky blast of horns, percussion and orchestra. Nestor Sanchez sings the classic salsa of the title track, followed by the percussion-centric Africa; the Afro-Cuban Caribbean and Caribbean Pt. 2, which blends in soca and Puerto Rican sabor; the deliciously gritty New York 1950s and 1960s and the whirlwind Futuro which blends Mingus bustle with late 70s latin disco! Too surreal to imagine, you just have to hear it…and dance to it. Here’s a random torrent.

476. Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire

Here’s the creepiest and possibly least listenable album on this list so far, a 1940 recording with the composer himself conducting an insane clown posse with Erika Steidry-Wagner on vocals. The group – piano, violin, cello, flute and clarinets – do a chilly, methodical job with this four-part suite’s creepy atonalities, many of which you may recognize since they’ve been used over and over again in many horror movies. Catchy, singalong material? Hardly. But it’ll wake you up – and maybe keep you up. You can stream the whole thing and also download it free from archive.org. Those preferring a more up-to-date, slightly more polished (but less crazy) version might want to investigate the 1998 recording by Ensemble Intercontemporain with Pierre Boulez on piano and Christine Schafer singing, all up on youtube here, here, here and here. If you want to download the album, it’s here.

475. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading

The 1967 debut by this vastly underrated, eclectic psychedelic pop band combines the surreal folk-pop of early Jefferson Airplane with snarling garage rock and ornate chamber pop. Frontwoman Sandi Robinson’s vox are sort of a cross between Judy Collins and Grace Slick; the song arrangements are complex and sometimes haunting. The big innuendo-driven stoner-pop hits are Why Did I Get So High and You Took Too Much, both ostensibly love songs – back then, you couldn’t get on the radio if you sang about getting high on anything other than booze. There’s also the gorgeous chamber-rock of Then Came Love; the acid folk hit It’s a Happening Thing; the fuzztone-driven Twice Is Life; the punchy You Can’t Be Found, with its Leslie speaker guitar; and the intense, scampering Dark on You Now among the eleven tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Hippy DJ Kit. The album was reissued in the early zeros as a twofer with the band’s second, more erratic one The Great Conspiracy, which you can get via Acid at Home.

474. The New Trolls – Concerto Grosso

The New Trolls are sort of the Italian Genesis. This 1971 suite is something of a Mediterranean counterpart to Peter Gabriel’s playful, dramatic early Genesis, juxtaposing classical themes with catchy, surreal, Beatlesque art-rock that foreshadowed what ELO would be doing by the end of the decade. They kick it off with a lively, baroque tinged theme, rip off their fellow countryman Albinoni on the stately, stoic Adagio, go into potently chilling Vivaldi territory with the Cadenza – Andante and then the real classic, the darkly pensive Shadows. Side two is ostensibly a jam, although its endlessly shifting permutations, from Grateful Dead-style garage-rock vamps, to Blues Magoos stomps, to spacy drum-circle ambience, leads you to believe that it was all planned in advance. The band has been through a million different incarnations but are still around and still playing fascinatingly elaborate music. Here’s a random torrent via Prog Possession.

473. Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black

The iconic conscious hip-hop group followed up the erratic Fear of a Black Planet with this erudite, entertaining, snarling, politically-charged 1991 lyrical masterpiece. Although many of the references here are necessarily of its Bush I/first Gulf War era time, the criticism is timeless: the anti-racist tirade A Letter to the NY Post; the haunting, murderous By the Time I Get to Arizona (directed at then-governor Fyfe Symington, who abolished the MLK holiday there), the equally ferocious How to Kill a Radio Consultant; the cynical More News at 11; the bitter, eerie outsider anthem Get the Fuck Out of Dodge; and an antidrug/antibooze tirade, 1 Million Bottlebags. But there’s plenty of upbeat stuff too: anthems like Nighttrain, Can’t Truss It, Flava Flav’s unusually pissed-off I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga, the deliriously powerful Shut Em Down and an early rap-metal number, the band’s remake of the classic Bring Tha Noise, recorded with Brooklyn nu-metalheads Anthrax. Here’s a random torrent.

472. Jenifer Jackson – Slowly Bright

This 1999 release was Jackson’s quantum leap: it established her as one of the world’s most astonishingly diverse, intelligent songwriters. Her vocals here are memorably hushed and gentle: since then, she’s diversified as a singer as well. The songwriting blends Beatlesque psychedelia with bossa nova, with the occasional hint of trip-hop or ambient music. Every track here is solid; the real stunner that resonates after all these years is When You Looked At Me, with its understated Ticket to Ride beat, swirling atmospherics and crescendoing chorus where Jackson goes way, way up to the top of her range. The title track, Anything Can Happen and the vividly imagistic Yesterday My Heart Was Free have a psychedelic tropicalia feel; Whole Wide World, Burned Down Summer and I’ll Be Back Soon are gorgeous janglerock hits; So Hard to Believe balances tenderness against dread. The catchiest track here may be the unexpectedly optimistic, soul-infused Look Down; the album closes with the lush, hypnotic, blithely swaying Dream. And believe it or not, this classic is nowhere to be found in the blogosphere or the other usual sources for music, although it’s still available from cdbaby. Her forthcoming one, The Day Happiness Found Me is every bit as good, maybe better; it comes out in December.

471. Sielun Veljet – Live

Sielun Veljet (Finnish for “Soul Brothers”) are iconic in their native land. Their earliest songs set eardrum-peeling, trebly PiL-style noise guitar over catchy, growling, snappy bass and roaring punk vocals. The Finnish lyrics are surreal and assaultive as well. This scorching 1983 concert recording takes most of the songs off their first album and rips them to shreds. The best of these is Turvaa (Saved), with its ominous, chromatics and catchy, burning bassline. There’s also Emil Zatopek, a hoarse, breathless tribute to the long-distance runner; the primal, tribal Haisa Vittu; the surprisingly ornate Karjalan Kunnaila; the spooky epic Yö Erottaa Pojasta Miehen; Politikkaa, a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic noise-funk tune; and the most traditionally punk number, Huda Huda (basically Finnish for “Yay, yay” – the sarcasm transcends any language barrier). Because of the album title (not to mention that it was never released outside Finland), it’s awfully hard to find online; in lieu of this, here’s a random torrent for their first album.

470. Howlin’ Wolf – The London Sessions

Reputedly the Wolf was hungover when he did this impromptu two-day 1970 session of remakes of many of his classic blues hits with an adoring band of British rock stars whom he’d influenced enormously. Ringo drums on one track; otherwise, the swinging rhythm section is usually Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (whose bass work on Sittin on Top of the World is pure genius). And believe it or not, Eric Clapton stays within himself and plays the hell out of possibly the best version ever of I Ain’t Superstitious, along with Built for Comfort, Who’s Been Talking, and Red Rooster. And he leaves plenty of room to the great Hubert Sumlin, whose guitar slashes as judiciously and unpredictably as always on Rockin Daddy, Worried About My Baby, and a quick run through Do the Do. At the end, the Wolf relents and even sounds inspired on Wang Dang Doodle, a song he absolutely despised. It’s a study in contrasts: the sly, low-key Wolf and a bunch of guys getting to play with their idol, well. Here’s a random torrent.

469. Tommy McCook & the Supersonics – Pleasure Dub

After Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, tenor sax player McCook broke up the band and went to work playing his soulful, spacious style on innumerable late 60s rocksteady hits for Jamaican producer Duke Reid. This 2009 compilation collects mostly instrumental versions of a whole bunch of them, sans the sometimes cloying lyrics or vocals. As dub, it’s pretty primitive: as grooves, most of this is unsurpassed. The chirpy organ behind John Holt comes front and center on Tracking Dub; another John Holt cut, Love Dub is much the same. There’s the surprisingly lush Dub with Strings; Prince Francis’ Side Walk Doctor; the punchy Ride De Dub; the big hit Bond Street Rock; the cinematic 7-11; and the scurrying Twilight Rock and Many Questions among the 18 slinky one-drop vamps here. Here’s a random torrent via Sixties Fever.

468. Leila Mourad – Sanatain: Arabian Masters

A star of stage and screen in Egypt in the 1930s and 40s, her career ground to a standstill after the Nasser revolution: Mourad being Jewish probably didn’t help. With expansive, powerful, soulful voice that these remastered 78s doesn’t adequately capture – like the rest of her contemporaries, she could jam vocalese for hours sometimes – she’s still fondly remembered in the Arab world. This sometimes lushly, sometimes starkly orchestrated compilation is hardly an adequate representation of her career, but her recordings are hard to find outside of the Middle East. This one has the hypnotic, chillingly insistent title track and seven other cuts, most of them clocking in at around three minutes. Because many of these are taken from musicals, there are occasional breaks that only make sense if you speak Arabic and know the source. If you run across anything by her, it’s probably worth owning. Here’s a random torrent.

467. Cannonball Adderley – Mercy Mercy Mercy: Live at the Club

More than virtually any other artist, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley successfully bridged the gap between R&B and jazz: he was terrifically popular in the urban juke joint scene, and did his best work live. This 1966 album with a kick-ass band including brother Nate on cornet and a young Joe Zawinul on piano gets the nod because it doesn’t have any of the schlock he occasionally tried to jazz up, like stuff from Fiddler on the Roof. Right off the bat, he spirals all over the place on the opening theme, aptly titled Fun, followed by the swinging proto-funk of Games, the title track (a surprise top 20 hit), the fiery Sticks, Zawinul’s Hippodelphia and a killer, eleven-minute version of Adderley’s own Sack O’Woe, taking the set out on an exhilarating note. If you like this stuff, get to know his other 60s material: it’s pretty much all great. As Joe Strummer said, only half-sarcastically, “Don’t step on my Cannonball Adderley lp’s or cds.” Here’s a random torrent.

466. Message – From Books and Dreams

A cynic would call this 1973 album a Nektar ripoff – and with the galloping tempos, trippy orchestration and soaring, growling, melodic bass, that influence is definitely there. But this German stoner art-rock/metal band with a Scottish singer is a lot more diverse than that here. And a lot darker too: the skull on the cover pretty much gives it away. Some of this is sludgy and Sabbath-y; other times it goes in a jazz direction, with alto sax far more interesting than you’d typically hear from bands like this. It’s a suite, if not a fully realized concept album, beginning ambient and creepy like ELO’s Eldorado Overture, then blasting into the first multi-part segment, Dreams, followed by the sax/metal guitar instrumental Turn Over (which has a hilarious ending). Side two is a quieter but just as macabre continuation titled Sigh, followed by the long, ominously crescendoing Nightmares and its absolutely chilling ending. Now that youtube allows for long tracks, there’s a stream of the whole album here; here’s a random torrent via Fantasy 0807.

465. Ella Fitzgerald – Twelve Nights in Hollywood

The “great American songbook” was the elevator music of its era – 99.99% of it is garbage. But when jazz musicians got ahold of it, magic could happen. This 2009 four-cd box set of previously unreleased 1961 and 1962 small club dates is notable for being Ella backed by a small combo – just understated piano, bass and drums – which gives her the advantage of not having to belt over the roar of a big band. So as with Sarah Vaughan (see #611 on this list), this gets the nod over the rest of her exhaustive catalog because she really gets to take it deep into the shadows. To be truthful, there is some schlock among the 77 tracks here, but there are also innumerable wee-hours gems, notably the original jazz and blues songs: Billie Holiday’s Lover Come Back to Me; Ellington’s Caravan and Squeeze Me; Ray Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Him So; Monk’s Round Midnight and Les Paul’s How High the Moon. There are also expansive versions of One for My Baby, The Lady Is a Tramp, Anything Goes, All of Me, Love For Sale (where she leaves no doubt that it’s about a hooker) and the famous moment where she decides to be a rock singer for thirty seconds before jumping back into Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot. Here’s a random torrent.

464. Gerry Mulligan – The Concert Jazz Band at Newport 1960

This one of those recordings that went unreleased for decades, most likely because the sonics aren’t quite up to cd quality. But in the age of the mp3, it’s not as if most people can tell the difference. And the versatile, nonconformist baritone saxophonist/composer’s big band is absolutely smoking, snaking their way up Kai Winding’s Broadway, taking the Theme from I Want to Live deep into noir territory, going Out of This World and then to gypsyland with Manoir de Mes Reves. They go swinging into the blues with the Johnny Hodges homage Carrots for Rabbit, then expansive versions of Sweet and Slow, I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ and go out on a high note with Blueport. There are also a couple of bonus tracks from European shows around the same time. Here’s a random torrent via Moha Offbeat.

463. The Shivvers – Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop 1979-82

Every day, there seems to be yet another rediscovery of a great band from decades ago that never “made it,” at least in the old mass-media sense. And more and more frequently,it’s becoming clear that those “unknown” bands were usually way better than what was on the radio at the time. This 2006 reissue includes most of this extraordinary group’s studio recordings as well as a surprisingly snarling, intense live set. In the studio, keyboardist/frontwoman Jill Kossoris’ vocals were quirky and detached, notably on the closest thing they had to a radio hit, the chirpy but cynical anticonformist anthem Teenline. But live, she was a powerhouse, most notably on the second version of You’re So Sure here, which sounds like the early Go Go’s. There’s also No Substitute, like the Raspberries with a girl singer; the scurrying new wavey/Beatlesque Please Stand By; the rich, ELO-inflected Remember Tonight; the punchy garage pop of My Association (“There’s a place I can go where I don’t have to be an outcast”); the George Harrison-esque Hold On; the absolutely gorgeous Life Without You; the Orbisonesque Nashville noir of It Hurts Too Much and Blue in Heaven, their offhandedly attempt at a big artsy (6 minute) synth/guitar anthem…sung by a dead girl! The whole thing is streaming at yucky myspace; here’s a random torrent.

462. Jazz on a Summer’s Day

This is a case where you really should get the movie: the visuals of this 1960 documentary of the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival are fascinating and often hilarious. It’s best known for Anita O’Day, stoned out of her mind, wailing her way through Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two with a great horn player’s imagination and virtuosity. That’s just the juiciest moment; there’s also a young, ducktailed Chuck Berry doing the splits on Sweet Little Sixteen; Dinah Washington making All of Me sound fresh and fun; Gerry Mulligan and his band; and cameos by George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, a lot of Louis Armstrong and a real lot of Mahalia Jackson at her peak doing spirituals and a final stirring benediction. Some of you may scoff at how mainstream this is…until you hear what this crew does with a lot of standard fare. The random torrent here is for the movie rather than the stand-alone soundtrack.

461. Rasputina – Oh Perilous World

The original cello rockers, Rasputina have been putting out great albums for almost 20 years, frontwoman Melora Creager backed by an increasingly shifting cast of characters. This is her finest hour, from 2007: she’s always been a great lyricist as well as a composer, but she really took it to the next level with these torrentially metaphorical songs that deliver a very subtle but absolutely brutal critique of the Bush regime’s reign of terror and the paranoia they spread in the wake of 9/11. All this takes place against a backdrop of global warming (1816 the Year Without a Summer), basic human rights taking a beating (Choose Me for a Champion), and anthrax scares engineered from inside the government (Incident in a Medical Clinic). Only in Draconian Crackdown does she let down her guard and blast the traitors of 9/11 for their cowardice. Otherwise, the journey from Child Soldier Rebellion to Bring Back the Egg Unbroken to Old Yellowcake (weapons of mass destruction – get it?) is a treacherous and grotesquely graphic one, and Creager leaves no stone unturned. A courageous and mighty blow for democracy whose time may not have come yet. Here’s a random torrent.

460. The Million Dollar Quartet

As portrayed in the film Walk the Line, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were all drinking buddies who’d frequently hang out and jam. This informal 1956 acoustic session was assuredly never intended for release, although it might have been an attempt to get some decent quality demos down, considering who was involved (some sources say that Cash wasn’t, since he doesn’t sing on it). Other uncredited Sun Records session guys may have been in on it as well. Obviously fueled by a little hooch and who knows what else, the low-key confidence of this band, whoever all of them were, is irresistible. Most of the songs clock in at less than a minute, among them Elvis’s Don’t Be Cruel and Reconsider Baby, Jerry Lee’s Rip It Up and a bunch of gospel numbers. While it’s a little incongruous to hear Jerry Lee Lewis on a Chuck Berry song, it just goes to show you never can tell who’s cross-pollinating with whom. Here’s a random torrent.

459. The Jazz Combo From I Want to Live

Noir jazz doesn’t get any more lurid, or any better, than this smoldering, haunted 1958 session featuring variations on Johnny Mandel’s theme from the docudrama about executed convict Barbara Graham, the last woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin, who may well have been innocent. The band, led by Gerry Mulligan and featuring Shelly Manne on piano, Art Farmer on trumpet and Bud Shank on alto sax, is first-rate. The album actually starts with the downright sexy, tiptoeing Black Nightgown before the brooding, doomed main title theme; the suspenseful Night Watch; the jaunty San Francisco nightclub scene where all the accomplices think they’ll get away with murder (they didn’t); the offhandedly wrenching, pleading Barbara’s Theme and a cruelly ironic Life’s a Funny Thing to end it. Here’s a random torrent via Groove Depository. Big shout-out to Nellie McKay for inspiring this pick – and for writing her own musical about this sad chapter in American “justice.”

458. Robert Nighthawk – Live on Maxwell Street

Here in the 21st century, we can record every concert we go to with our phones…but busking with electric instruments is usually against the law. Back in 1964 at Chicago’s Maxwell Street outdoor market, buskers congregated on every corner: it was like La Fete de la Musique every weekend. But if you wanted to get one of those shows on tape, you had to bring a bulky tape recorder…and that’s what one fan would do every weekend, eventually compiling a substantial private archive. A few of them have been released over the years, this one by Delmark in 1980, thirteen years after guitarist/singer Nighthawk’s death. The raw spontaneity of this impromptu jam is electric in every sense of the word. Nighthawk growls, takes his time and then works his way up to an erudite, jazz-infused style that won him the admiration of musicians from his circle who were far more popular. A lot of these performances had the feel of a cutting contest, especially the Maxwell Street Medley where Nighthawk jumps from one tune to another and whoever happened to be sitting in would try to leap along with him. There’s also his local hit Goin’ Down to Eli’s, instrumentals like Mr. Bell’s Shuffle and Yakity Yak, along with hard-edged stuff like Take It Easy Baby and I Need Your Love So Bad. Be aware that there are many versions of this floating around the web – if you like this one you might want to peek around other downloads. Here’s a random torrent via Way to Your Soul.

457. Neil Young – Living with War

From 2006, this is his best album. A ferocious, electric response to the criminality and genocide of the Bush regime, it’s political rock at its most insightful and tuneful. After the Garden coldly and cynically sets the stage for the sarcastic title track, and the equally scathing The Restless Consumer. Shock and Awe and Flags of Freedom call bullshit on the regime’s endless lies, while Families looks sympathetically at those left behind when Cheney sent the troops off to Iraq, from where 55% of the survivors would come home to disability pensions, unable to work because they’d been poisoned by depleted uranium. Let’s Impeach the President is a classic – and maybe the most intelligent song about an American President ever written. Looking for a Leader suggests that “maybe it’s Colin Powell, to atone for what he’s done;” Roger and Out looks back to Helpless, an enlisted grunt grudgingly admitting “that’s when we needed the hippie highway.” The closing cover of America the Beautiful is pretty pointless, but after all that, it doesn’t matter. The album itself is hard to find online, but the dvd with all the songs isn’t; here’s a random torrent via Three Times J.

456. Mos Generator – The Late Great Planet Earth

The artsy metal trio’s 2005 quantum leap, ironically, remains their mellowest album. Their earlier stuff is solid, but here they take their sound to the next level: this is a lush, atmospheric, genuinely haunting concept album about the apocalypse. The foreboding On the Eve kicks it off, followed by the epic dirge Crematorium; the rhythmically dizzying, manic depressive Six Billion People Dead; the aptly titled Opium Skies; The Myopic and its understated bitterness; the morbid Closed Casket; and the plaintive, Pink Floyd-ish Fall of Megiddo. Frontman/guitarist Tony Reed continued to assert himself as one of the underrated guitar heroes of the past couple of decades, while adding layer after layer of keyboards to the mix (which dominate as the album winds out, hypnotically). It winds up on a crushingly ironic, cynical note with the surprisingly funky title track and a mini-suite with a centerpiece titled Exit the Atomic Age. Long overdue for a reissue, the band is still selling it at cdbaby; if you’re looking for a torrent, try this random one.

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September 17, 2011 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, gypsy music, irish music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, ska music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Album of the Day 8/1/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #547:

The Wirebirds – Past and Gone

By the time this 2003 album came out, the great New York Britfolk band was finished: they did one final show that year, and that was the end. With three first-rate songwriters – frontwoman Amanda Thorpe, guitarists Will Dial and Peter Stuart – they alternated between lush, Richard Thompson-inflected anthems and more stark, bucolic material. This album is pretty much their entire catalog. The album opens with a blast of twelve-string guitar a la the Church with the big, sweeping Can You, winds through a bunch of warily apprehensive ballads before they hit their high point with Dial’s towering, apocalyptic This Green Hell (our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003). Stuart’s catchy, lusciously jangly, rueful One Way Ticket would have been the big radio hit in a smarter universe, a vibe he takes to the next level with Time Stands Still.  Fourteen tracks in all, including a biting cover of the English folksong Three Ravens, all with soaring three-part harmonies and layer upon layer of jangling, roaring, crashing guitar. Thorpe would go on to reach equally intense heights as a solo artist, and then with the Bedsit Poets. Strangely absent from the sharelockers, the whole thing is streaming at Spotify, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

August 1, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 500-599

For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this list is all about – other than just plain fun – click here.

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #600-699 continue here.

599. Angie Pepper & the Passengers – It’s Just That I Miss You

The greatest voice ever to come out of Australia, Angie Pepper was the frontwoman in the late 70s janglerock band the Passengers, an edgy, wickedly tuneful band who would have been famous beyond their home turf had the master tapes for their one album not gone AWOL. For years, the only Passengers album was a 1986 release of tinny but still gorgeous rehearsal recordings; this 2000 reissue collects the original late 70s masters along with Pepper’s first 1978 Aussie hit, Frozen World (written by her husband, Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek) plus additional material originally released on Tek’s 1988 Orphan Tracks collection. Pepper can say more in a wary bent note than most can in a whole album, best exemplified in the righteous rage of Last Chance, when she finally, finally cuts loose at the end. There’s also the sultry, Doorsy Miss You Too Much; the garage rock stomp No Way Out; the early new wave Love Execution, and the haunting pop anthems Face with No Name and My Sad Day among the thirteen tracks here. Pepper (and her talented daughter Hana) continue to record and occasionally play live along with Tek. Here’s a random torrent via Striped Sunlight.

598. The Jayhawks – Sound of Lies

Wounded angst has never sounded this romantic – or tuneful. From 1997, it’s the Minneapolis band’s most rock-oriented record, their only real classic. It’s frontman Gary Louris’ record all the way through, rich with jangly guitars, judicious piano and crystalline, three-part harmonies, more Beatles or Big Star than Nashville. The Man Who Loved Life is a majestically bittersweet homage to living intensely. They match that towering, angst-ridden ambience with Sixteen Down, Think About It, Haywire and the gorgeously sad foreshadowing of Trouble. Big Star manages to blend unbridled hope and cynicism, with a big, tongue-in-cheek guitar break. The most stunning track here is Dying on the Vine, a crushingly intense theme for anyone who’s ever been rejected, Marc Pearlman’s insistent, staccato bassline anticipating Louris’ pessimistic lyric: “I’m dying in the shadows.” The quieter tracks include the irresistibly bouncy It’s Up to You, the vicious Poor Little Fish (a dis for a spoiled bitch), drummer Tim O’Reagan’s bucolic Bottomless Cup and the pensive title track. Here’s a random torrent.

597. The Highwaymen’s first album

From 1985, this is the ultimate outlaw country summit: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Sly, often surreal, it’s a party, the guys trading verses (although not everybody sings on every song) through a mix of smartly chosen covers and originals. The funniest one is Cash’s Committed to Parkview, part nuthouse, part rehab; likewise, Welfare Line, a Reagan-era souvenir, perfectly captures the angst of the times. There’s also the defiantly gloomy Desperados Waiting for a Train; Cindy Walker’s elegaic Jim, I Wore a Tie Today; the Jimmy Webb-penned title track; a plaintive version of Woody Guthrie’s Deportees; a singalong of Big River; and Steve Goodman’s not-so-optimistic The 20th Century Is Almost Over. The only dud here is Bob Seger’s Against the Wind, which the band has absolutely no clue how to play. If you like this, the other two Highwaymen albums from the 90s are also worth a spin. Caveat: purists may have a hard time with the synthesizers and chorus-box guitar here – it’s a period piece for sure. Here’s a random torrent.

596. The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor

From 1968, this is one of the great stoner albums of all time, not bad considering that the band it’s credited to reputedly didn’t play on several of the tracks (history is fuzzy on this – a Canadian garage band, the Collectors, were reputedly brought in by composer David Axelrod to complete it when the Prunes basically broke up mid-session). It’s an attempt to make psychedelic rock out of imitation pre-baroque themes, and it’s successful beyond belief: with layers and layers of stinging reverb guitar, eerie organ and trebly, melodic bass, it’s a wild ride. The track everybody knows is Kyrie Eleison, which is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. All the song titles are in Latin, in the manner of a Catholic mass – Agnus Dei; Benedictus; Credo, Sanctus and Gloria – with occasional deadpan, monklike chanting amidst the chaos. Fuzz tones, feedback, all manner of cheap production tricks and some deliriously inspired (some would say sloppy) playing are everywhere. Here’s a random torrent.

595. Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith is the finest singer to come out of New York during the decade of the zeros, capable of extraordinary nuance as well as extraordinary power (check out her Memphis soul wail on the red-hot shuffle Feel You Go). This 2008 album showcases the diversity of her songwriting: the irresistible 60s style psychedelic pop of Firefly; the lush janglerock of Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn; the bucolic Pink Floyd-esque art-rock of In Late July; the chilling Nashville gothic of Nashville, Tennessee and The World Is Full of Pretty Girls as well as sultry bossa nova and hypnotic Velvets pop tunes. There are also two ferocious covers: Judy Henske’s Snowblind, done as early 70s style metal, and Blow This Nightclub’s Where and When, amped up like early new wave. Guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell (both of Love Camp 7) add rich layers of jangle and clang along with a devious jazz edge. Campbell’s unexpected death in 2010 brought an end to the 99 Cent Dreams; Smith continues to perform and record as a solo artist and with her husband, powerpopmeister John Sharples and his band. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Smith’s site.

594. Richard Thompson – Mirror Blue

In case you’re wondering, these albums are in totally random order – if we were actually trying to rank them (an impossible task), this would be somewhere in the top hundred for certain. The British songwriter/guitar god is best known for his volcanic live shows (our predecessor e-zine picked his concert album Semi-Detached Mock Tudor as the best one of 2002). This 1994 release is his hardest-rocking studio record. The anguish factor reaches fever pitch on the swaying, opening Britfolk anthem I Can’t Wake Up to Save My Life, echoed in the haunting shuffles Easy There Steady Now and Slipstream as well as the sad, closing breakup ballad Taking My Business Elsewhere. The obligatory guitar epic is The Way That It Shows, a real barn-burner; the best song here is the ferocious, bitter Mascara Tears, maybe the loudest song Thompson ever recorded. There’s also plenty of typical Thompson wit: the Jethro Tull-ish MGB-GT and the sardonic Fast Food along with the hypnotic, brooding Mingus Eyes and King of Bohemia and the big hit Beeswing, a thinly veiled, nostalgic ballad that has not aged well. Although the album has been criticized for having too many weird percussion tracks (fault of Suzanne Vega’s ex-husband, who was producer du jour that year), happily most of that is pretty much buried in the mix. Here’s a random torrent.

593. Gil Evans – The Individualism of Gil Evans

Best known for his arrangements for Miles Davis, pianist Gil Evans was also an extraordinary big band jazz composer. Almost fifty years later, this 1964 album is still so beyond cutting edge – there are other writers today doing this kind of thing, but nobody in the mainstream. Evans’ compositions are fearless, intense, often completely noir, sometimes lavish, sometimes skeletal and creepy. Here he’s backed by a killer band including Eric Dolphy, Thad Jones, and Elvin Jones on drums. It starts with the shattering, evil, mysterious, syncopated sway of Time of the Barracudas; Kurt Weill’s Barbara Song follows in a similar vein. Las Vegas Tango is a chilly, noir number where the Sketches of Spain influence really cuts through, while El Toreador could have been an outtake from that album. Flute Song/Hotel Me builds from whispery and murderous to a blithe, swinging piano blues. The rest of the album includes the ominous Proclamation, the bustling Nothing Like You, the bossa-tinged Concorde and closes with Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, thirteen minutes of twisted blues. Pretty much everything Evans ever touched, from the 30s onward, is worth a listen: composer Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project is due to come out with a new album of rare and unrecorded Evans works later this year. Most every track here is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Singers & Saints 2.

592. The Dils – Class War

An early Americana-flavored punk band and obvious inspiration for Social Distortion, San Francisco trio the Dils confronted issues of class and race in America head-on when so many of the era’s wannabes just jumped on the punk bandwagon to be cool. This compilation collects many if not all of their best-known late 70s/early 80s singles and b-sides. The best-known track is the trebly, super-catchy I Hate the Rich. You’re Not Blank makes fun of Cali hippie complacency: “the summer of love is ten years gone.” The best song here is the gorgeously jangly Sound of the Rain, steeped in alienation; the defiantly socialist Red Rockers Rule is a Social Distortion prototype for sure (and the inspiration for another band name); Mr. Big raises a middle finger at the powers that be. There’s also the sarcastic Tell Me What I Want to Hear, It’s Not Worth It, Gimme a Break, and the furious hardcore Class War, a casually vicious anti-racist broadside. The only dud here is an awkward Buddy Holly cover. The two brothers who fronted the band would move on to form one of the first alt-country bands, Rank & File. Here’s a random torrent via Ustedville.

591. Black Box Recorder – Passionoia

Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

590. Jean Shepard – Best By Request

Along with Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard was one of the few women who achieved genuine stardom in Nashville in the 1950s. This 1970 compilation of mostly 1950s hits often plays up the bad-girl persona she cultivated, with considerable relish – it may seem tame now, but it wasn’t then. Backed tersely and inspiredly by some of the era’s top honkytonk players, she can be coy one moment, vengeful the next, as I Learned It All from You, I’d Rather Die Young and Why Did You Wait. Uncharacteristically, her biggest hit was the considerably less downbeat A Satisfied Mind, since covered by a million country artists. Under Suspicion and Don’t Fall In Love with a Married Man are typically characteristic themes for her, and she nails them. She’s still around and well-loved for her sardonic sense of humor on frequent CMT appearances. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.

589. Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You

From 2006, this is the Texas Americana roots songwriter/chanteuse’s masterpiece so far. “My sullen songs have taken me far down this darkened road,” she drawls in the characteristically brooding Stubborn Beast, an insight that pretty much capsulizes her career. Setting wryly gloomy, often death-obsessed imagery to rustic, terse arrangements with resonator guitar, piano and sometimes strings, she evokes a way, way after-hours speakeasy of the mind. Crush in the Ghetto reminds that the boondocks are also ghettos; the jazzy title track’s offhandedness only raises the menace factor. There’s also the defiant waltz You’re Not Satisfied; C.R. Avery’s surreal, tormented Crazy Dreams; the austere Mehitibell’s Blues; the creepy piano waltz Don’t Tell’ Em; Moonshiner, a sultry, seductive blues; the whispery, nuanced Ghostly Girl; and the pensive nocturne Mexican Blue among the twelve tracks. Lately Holland has joined forces with similarly talented oldtimey siren Mamie Minch in the harmony trio Midnight Hours. Here’s a random torrent.

588. Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34

If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.

587. Larry Young – Unity

Hammond B3 organist Young pushed the envelope with this hot, wickedly tuneful, inspired and cerebral 1965 session with trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Elvin Jones pushing the juggernaut with characteristic intensity. It’s a lot more than just funky Jimmy Smith-style shuffles – melodic jazz doesn’t get any more interesting than this. The artful horn overlays on Zoltan, the shapeshifting version of Monk’s Dream, Shaw’s brisk Moontrane blaze along before the suspenseful If and Softly As in the Morning Sunrise, then the album picks up again, the whole band pushing each other, on the aptly titled Beyond All Limits. Young doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great organists of all time – this is our shout-out. Here’s a random torrent via Jazzgrita.

586. Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party

One of the iconic psychedelic remnants from the late 60s, this late 90s anthology assembles a bunch of obscure soundtrack cuts from some truly terrible German B movies. But the music is as inspired, and as trippy, as the dialogue and everything else about those flicks was awful. The two composers approach psychedelic rock with a mix of classical rigor and joy about being freed from that rigor: the brightly staggering faux jazz of Droge CX9; the fuzztone menace of The Lions & the Cucumber; the psychedelic piano theme There’s No Satisfaction; the lavish, funky Dedicated to Love; the noir bedroom theme The Message; Shindai Lovers, which inspired a million 90s downtempo themes; and the absolutely macabre, trippy Necronomania among the sixteen off-the-wall instrumentals here. Electric harpsichords, reverb guitars, fake Indian and soul music grooves: pre-internet syncretism taken to a deliriously entertaining extreme. Here’s a random torrent via Devo MK.

585. Loretta Lynn – Greatest Hits

As we’ve put together this list, one aspect that’s frustrated us is how hard it’s been to find country albums that are solid all the way through: there’s always a dud, an obligatory halfhearted country gospel tune, a favor to a friend of the producer that always takes the album down a notch or two. As a result, we’ve had to go to the well for greatest-hits collections like this one, a 1968 compilation that’s a solidly good representation of the fearless country siren and songwriter (who wrote her own stuff, and insisted on playing it instead of songs that had been selected for her, paving the way for dozens of other self-directed women artists) during her peak years as a honkytonk singer. It’s got her first big hit, Don’t Come Home A ‘Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind); the rustic Blue Kentucky Girl (redone famously by Emmylou Harris); the accusatory Before I’m Over You, and You Ain’t Woman Enough. The real stunners here are Dear Uncle Sam, a plaintive Vietnam-era antiwar number imploring the Johnson administration to end the war, and Success, the much more subtle, equally sad number, now a country classic, powerfully underscoring the fact that money doesn’t equal happiness. Here’s a random torrent.

584. Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days Lonely Nights

Kimbrough was sort of the Mississippi hill country equivalent of Roscoe Ambel: a bar owner who happened to be a hell of a guitarist (or a hell of a guitarist who just happened to own a bar). Mostly, it’s just Kimbrough with either a rhythm section, or just a drummer. But unlike T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, Kimbrough didn’t go for interminable, overtone-packed chordal vamps: his slowly crescendoing, gorgeously expansive, broodingly meandering blues songs go on for ten minutes at a clip, a clinic in subtlety and minimalism. This stuff is mournful, gently intense, soulful in the purest sense of the word. The title track from this 1993 album, generally considered his best, is the iconic one, setting the tone for a judicious, bent-note style he’d reprise again and again in Lonesome in My Home, Lord Have Mercy on Me, My Mind Is Rambling and Leaving in the Morning. Old Black Mattie is the closest thing to the raw, hypnotic dance music of Burnside and Ford here; I’m in Love is unexpectedly upbeat, but Pull Your Clothes Off is about the most cynically depressing attempt at seduction anybody ever made. And the version of Crawling King Snake here is seriously creepy, in fact barely recognizable compared to John Lee Hooker, or for that matter, the Doors. Here’s a random torrent via Rukusjuice.

583. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, Marty Willson-Piper is also a powerful and eclectic lyrical rock songwriter, much like Steve Kilbey, his bandmate in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. This 2009 masterpiece is every bit as good as any of his albums with that band. Willson-Piper proves as adept at period-perfect mid-60s Bakersfield country (the wistful A Game for Losers and the stern The Love You Never Had) as he is at towering, intense, swirlingly orchestrated anthems like No One There. The album’s centerpiece, The Sniper, is one of the latter, a bitter contemplation of whether murder is ever justifiable (in this case, there’s a tyrant in the crosshairs). There’s also the early 70s style Britfolk of Lullaby for the Lonely; the casually and savagely hilarious eco-anthem More Is Less; the even more brutally funny Feed Your Mind; the blistering, sardonic rocker High Down Below;and the vividly elegaic Song for Victor Jara. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is still available from Second Motion.

582. Kayhan Kalhor, Shujaat Husain Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri – Ghazal: Lost Songs of the Silk Road

This landmark 1997 cross-genre collaboration put “silk road music” on the global map. The medieval mercantile trail from Asia, through the Middle East, to Europe, brought a lot more than spices, fabric and luxury goods: it was arguably the world’s most important bridge for musical cross-pollination. Here, Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, one of the most important and compelling composers of this era, plays the kamancheh, the rustic, plaintive spike fiddle. Khan is a renowned sitar player, Chaudhuri a percussionist. Revisiting the centuries-old trail, they blend classical Indian and Middle Eastern sounds into a hypnotic, often haunting mix. The big epic here is the almost twenty-minute Saga of the Rising Sun, which is the most overtly Indian of the compositions; the concluding Safar (Journey) is the most Iranian. In between, the almost half-hour of Come with Me and You Are My Moon are a showcase for these great musicians branching out into unfamiliar territory and achieving mesmerizingly intense results. We were only able to find torrents for the whole album in two parts, here and here.

581. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

The 1974 highlight of Bowie’s completely over-the-top glam period, this eclectic, surreal, Orwellian concept album of sorts has always been underrated. It’s as notable for its strangeness (even for this guy) as it is for the fact that he played all the guitars and saxes here. The creepy, atmospheric vignette Future Legend segues into the scorching, iconic slide guitar-driven title track, followed by the fractured soul of Sweet Thing, the disquietingly disjointed Candidate and eventually the big riff-rock hit Rebel Rebel. 1984 takes Philly soul to the next level; We are the Dead, Big Brother and Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family work the creepy psychedelic side of the street. Lots of jarring segues, but a ton of good songs and a lot to think about too. Here’s a random torrent.

580. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa

Minamo is Japanese for “surface of the water;” Kuroi Kawa means “black river.” This largely improvisational double-cd duo album by Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and American violinist Carla Kihlstedt is aptly titled: it’s menacing, often impenetrable and sometimes downright macabre. There are amusing moments – a cat at play, two sisters struggling to open a window – but most of it is just plain white-knuckle intense. Kihlstedt moves from a whisper to a scream and back again against Fujii’s murderous cascades, ghostly music-box interludes and raw assaultiveness. It ends with long, color-coded suite: the rain-drenched Blue Slope; the head-on attack of Purple Summer; the surprisingly carefree Red Wind, hallucinatory Green Mirage and lethal, relentless snowstorm that winds up well over an hour’s worth of music. It came out on Tzadik in 2009 and still hasn’t made it to the usual sites but is well worth tracking down if raw adrenaline is your thing.

579. Kitty Wells – 20 Greatest Hits

The biggest female country star of the 1950s, Kitty Wells’ gently resolute, crystalline voice made her the perfect vehicle for songs about indomitable women gently and resolutely surmounting a never-ending series of obstacles. From her 1952 breakthrough It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, 1955′s Making Believe, 1957′s She’s No Angel and into the early 60s, she had her choice of Nashville’s top songwriters and honkytonk bands. This isn’t definitive, but it’s a good representation of Wells at her peak, with the defiant ballads This White Circle and I Gave My Wedding Dress Away, the wounded Lonely Side of Town, the outraged Will Your Lawyer Talk to God and the sardonic Meanwhile Down at Joe’s and Paying for That Back Street Affair. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.

578. Hector Lavoe – 15 Exitos

This is a decent if incomplete representation of the career of El Cantante, regarded by many as the greatest classic salsa singer of the golden age back in the 70s. His life, recounted in the 2003 biopic of the same name, was as uncertain as the angst and passion he channeled in his songs was direct. He died young, in 1993. This compilation, which covers pretty much his entire career, has his signature songs, El Cantante and Mi Gente; the tongue-in-cheek El Rey de la Puntualidad; the rough-and-ready Hacha y Machete, from 1970; the scorching Mentira, from 1976; the much slicker Noche de Farra, from 1980, and Cancer, from 1985. While the brass wails behind him, he’s never at ease: it seems that Fama was the last thing he wanted. Here’s a random torrent via Principiante Salsero.

577. The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

45 years later, the 1966 debut of this legendary, creepy Texas acid garage band – with an amplified jug that sounded a little like a tabla – is still the standard for pretty much every other psychedelic garage group. Setting Roky Erikson’s reverb-drenched, deadpan nasal snarl and nonstop barrage of surreal imagery against tinny, clanging riff-rock that frequently ventures into R&B and funk, it’s a trip, in every sense of the word. The iconic song here is You’re Gonna Miss Me, famously covered by Radio Birdman and a million others; the b-side, Tried to Hide, isn’t bad either. Roller Coaster introduces a macabre riff that would resurface in the Cramps; Through the Rhythm invents a new genre, apocalyptic soul music. There’s also Monkey Island, whose theme the J. Geils Band would echo ten years later, and the more ornate Kingdom of Heaven, You Don’t Know How Young You Are and Splash 1 (Now I’m Coming Home) along with the proto-punk Don’t Fall Down and Fire Engine. Here’s a random torrent.

576. The Larch – Larix Americana

The Brooklyn psychedelic Britpop band’s best and most recent album, from 2010, blends Richard Lloyd-style guitar sizzle, frontman Ian Roure’s clever Elvis Costelloish wordplay and wickedly catchy guitar-and-keys hooks. Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, with a characteristically paradoxical double entendre for a theme: it’s a trip, but where to? With Love from Region One is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American; Tracking Tina, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents. The offhandedly charming Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent: behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete. “Smile cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has a Moods for Moderns vibe; Inside Hugh chronicles a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” Space Vacation updates the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire; The Long Tail closes it, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet but it’s still available from cdbaby.

575. Telephone – Dure Limite

In their late 70s/early 80s heyday, Telephone were commonly known as the French Rolling Stones, but they were closer to the Boomtown Rats, especially by 1982 when they put out this eclectic mix of gritty riff-rock, snarling punkish broadsides and a small handful of artsy ballads. The former are well represented by the title track (“Hard Limit”), Serrez (Squeeze) and the funky, sarcastic Ça (C’est Vraiment Toi), which translates loosely as “Yeah, That’s You, All Right.” Bassist Corinne Marienneau takes over lead vocals on the sexy faux-jazz stripper groove of Le Chat, while frontman Jean-Louis Aubert brings a plaintive, brooding lyrical edge to Jour Contre Jour (Day After Day), Juste Un Autre Genre (Just Another Guy) and the slowly unwinding, Lou Reed-influenced Le Temps. The best tracks here are the scorching Ex-Robin des Bois (Ex-Robin Hood), a metaphorically-charged slam at a sellout traitor; the iconic Cendrillon (Cinderella), who goes from prom queen to dead junkie on the wings of Louis Bertignac’s gorgeously elegaic guitar; and the concluding, towering, angst-driven epic Ce Soir Est Ce Soir (Tonight’s the Night). In lieu of a torrent for this particular album, here’s one for all five of the band’s studio efforts: the first two are hit-and-miss, but everything else afterward is worth a spin, even if you don’t speak French.

574. The Microscopic Septet – Take the Z Train

Drawing as deeply from punk esthetics as from Monk and Ellington, the Microscopic Septet’s playful, often satirical, always swinging charts have tickled jazz fans since their inception in 1981: in a sense, they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of jazz. This is their debut from two years later. Imagine the Lounge Lizards if they’d showed off their chops and you get some idea of what this sounds like (pianist Joel Forrester, one of the group’s two main writers, would later come up with the theme for NPR’s Fresh Air). Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston is responsible for the spy narrative Mr. Bradley, Mr. Martin, the breathless, bustling Pack the Ermines, Mary, and the latin swing of I Didn’t Do It. Johnston’s compositions here include Chinese Twilight Zone (the album was recorded in New York’s Chinatown utilizing a piano that had once reputedly belonged to Eubie Blake), as well as the tongue-in-cheek title track, the coy Wishful Thinking and the psychedelic closing cut, A Strange Thought Entered My Head, the band’s four-sax frontline blazing through one devious, tricky chart after another. Here’s a random torrent; repackaged as a twofer on the absolutely dynamite 2006 double-disc Seven Men in Neckties, it’s still available from Cuneiform.

573. Emily Remler – Transitions

Emily Remler was such a proficient jazz guitarist that early in her career, she made good on a promise to learn a new Wes Montgomery song all the way through, every day. This 1983 album was where she took her talent to the next level, further establishing the warmly exploratory, insatiably curious voice that would come to define her work. At her best, she wrote songs that you can absolutely get lost in. Here drummer Rakalam Bob Moses gives her a swinging launching pad, and she gets trumpeter John D’Earth and bassist Eddie Gomez to take their game up a notch. It’s notable for her own tunes Nunca Mais, with its bittersweet latinisms along with the thoughtful title track and the psychedelic Ode to Mali. The covers are good too: the obscure Ellington tune Searchin’, a swinging version of Sam Jones’ Del Sasser and an intriguing arrangement of Keith Jarrett’s Coral. Remler undoubtedly would have gone on to even greater things had she not died of a drug overdose at 32. Here’s a random torrent via Virtuosos Guitarristas.

572. Don Drummond – 100 Years After

Classic ska instrumentals from the legendary Skatalites trombonist, 1965. Not only did the Skatalites record an enormous amount of material as a band, they also did numerous solo albums, most of them billed to individual group members Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso – a model that both George Clinton and the Wu-tang Clan would follow with similar success. Drummond was arguably the most talented of all of them, but also the most erratic. This whole thing has the feel of a late-night session fueled by ceiling fans and lots of collie weed. A handful of the dozen danceable cuts here have made it to youtube: the evocative Last Call; the energetic Heaven and Earth; a signature song of sorts, Roll On Sweet Don; a lively ska version of Vienna Woods; and a surprisingly subtle version of the Dick Tracy theme popularized by the Ventures. Drummond would shortly thereafter murder his girlfriend; he died behind bars in 1969. Here’s a random torrent via You and Me on a Jamboree.

571. Penelope Houston – Pale Green Girl

Best known as the leader of late 70s punk rockers the Avengers – who were sort of the American Sex Pistols – Penelope Houston subsequently forged out a brilliant career as a much quieter, mostly acoustic tunesmith. She’s literally never made a bad album. Among the many cult classics in her catalog, this 2004 release gets the nod, if only for its consistency all the way through. Aside from the Avengers, it’s her hardest-rocking effort to date, with a late 60s psychedelic pop vibe fueled by gorgeous twelve-string guitar. As you would expect, it’s eclectic, ranging from the hopeful, jangly Take My Hand, to the sad, ghostly Aviatrix, the disarmingly poppy, metaphorically-charged Flight 609, and the quietly savage outsider anthem that serves as the title track. Bottom Line veers from dark reggae to jangly Byrdsiness; Privilege & Gold, Walnut, and Snow are bitterly vivid, lyrical Britfolk-inflected laments; the album ends with Soul Redeemer, the searing account of a rape survivor, and a lushly beautiful cover of John Cale’s Buffalo Ballet. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers, surprisingly, but the whole thing is streaming at myspace (don’t forget to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad) and it’s still available from Houston’s site.

570. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – Trio

Three of the finest voices of the past decades joined forces in 1987 for this spirited, inspired mix of traditional Americana classics and a few originals. This is Dolly’s project, a landmark in her career because it represented her first break from the pop schlock she’d been covering for the previous ten years or so; likewise, it reinvigorated Harris’ career and underscored Ronstadt’s then-newfound cred as a purist equally adept at rancheras, country and jazz. They do the old Dolly/Porter Wagoner tune Making Plans as well as her own Wildflowers, take their time with The Pain of Loving You, These Memories of You and a plaintive Telling Me Lies, go more rustic with Jimmie Rodgers’ Hobo’s Meditation, the traditional English folk song My Dear Companion and the early Nashville gothic tune Rosewood Casket. Despite dating from the synth era, the musicianship is remarkably inspired as well; the only dud here is a forgettable Phil Spector bubblegum hit. Here’s a random torrent.

569.Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

A virtuoso guitarist equally adept at delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, early jazz and rock, Lenny Molotov is also an acerbic, brutally perceptive songwriter and lyricist. This is his latest album, from 2010, an eclectic mix of all of those styles: if the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might have sounded something like this. Here he’s backed by a rustic, inspired string band including bass, drums, fiddle and blues harp. The early Dylanesque Wilderness Bound chronicles a symbolically-charged journey its narrator never wanted to make; Book of Splendor and the eerily hypnotic Ill Moon hark back to the delta, while Glorious evokes Woody Guthrie. The classic here is Freedom Tower, dating from the early days of the Bush regime, a witheringly sarcastic sendup of fascist architectural iconography (he says it much more simply and poetically than that). David Reddin’s Blues follows a similar tangent, a sardonic modern-day outlaw ballad, its killer on the run caught in an Orwellian snare. There’s also the swinging Faded Label Blues, a wryly bitter Jelly Roll Morton homage; the quietly defiant Devil’s Empire, and the bucolic waltz New Every Morning, which leaves no doubt where Molotov stands: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues, and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” This one’s real hard to find, but still available at shows – or check the blues bin at your local used record store, if you have one.

568. Sally Norvell – Choking Victim

Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.

567. Squeeze – East Side Story

Ironically, this 1982 album is best known for the band’s worst song (and biggest hit – go figure), Tempted, the only cut that keyboardist Paul Carrack, who was in the group for only this album, ever gave them. But the rest of the songs are so good that they make you forget it’s there. More effectively than any of the well-loved British new wave band’s other albums, it contrasts Chris Difford’s quintessentially English, vaudevillian-tinged, lyrically dense tableaux with Glenn Tilbrook’s more diverse, Beatlesque tunesmithing and blazing lead guitar. Many of these songs take a sardonic but genuinely warmhearted look at romance from a woman’s point of view, without being sappy, notably Woman’s World, the poignant Someone Else’s Heart, the scurrying Is That Love and playful Mumbo Jumbo. The rest of the album is more eclectic than anything the band would do before or afterward, with the bitter country ballad Labelled with Love; the shapeshifting psychedelia of There’s No Tomorrow and F-Hole; Heaven, with its eerie, lickety-split banjo outro, the bouncy, cheery Piccadilly, Someone Else’s Bell and In Quintessence among the fourteen tracks on the original vinyl release. Here’s a random torrent via Ustedville.

566. Rasputina – A Radical Recital

Since the 90s, cellist/songwriter Melora Creager has created an eerily surreal, twistedly lyrical, frequently hilarious, visionary body of work that ranks with any other songwriter or composer’s output during that time. Literally everything she’s ever made is worth owning. This particular edition of Rasputina, from 2005, features three cellos and drums (the drum guy sings a silly English folk song, When I Was a Young Girl, for comic relief from the relentless, dark intensity) plus Creager on vocals doing essentially a greatest hits-live set. It’s a strong if incomplete representation, with the searing chromatics of Saline the Salt Lake Queen; the ferociously sarcastic Howard Hughes; the ethereally sad Sign of the Zodiac and Watch TV; a blistering cover of the old swing tune If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love; the amusing Mama Was an Opium Smoker; the entertainingly vicious anti-Rudy Guiliani broadside The Mayor; the pensive suicide anthem A Quitter, plus tongue-in-cheek chamber rock versions of Led Zep’s Rock & Roll and Barracuda by Heart. The cd is still available at the band’s site; here’s a random torrent.

565. Sade – Lovers Live

At the risk of alienating our entire base with the poppiest album on this list so far, here’s a counterinituitive pick, to the extreme. Why? Sade was the default boudoir chanteuse for an entire generation. As with Al Green fifteen years before, thousands (maybe millions) of babies born in the late 80s and 90s owe their existence to Helen Folasade Adu’s wistful, slightly smoky, come-hither vocals. This surprisingly energetic 1999 live album cements her reputation not only as an avatar of seduction, but also as a first-class singer who transcends the torch-song limitations of most of her material. As expected, this set is heavy with bedroom anthems from early in her career: Cherish the Day, Kiss of Life, The Sweetest Taboo, No Ordinary Love, By Your Side and of course Smooth Operator, which is actually pretty ragged here. There’s also Jezebel, a sad ballad for a heartbreaker; the quietly poignant Slave Song, and a swaying, blues-infused version of Is It a Crime among the thirteen tracks here. The band don’t quite make it to the level of jazz, but as trip-hop, nobody ever did it better than they did. Break out the incense, wine and candles, and this random torrent.

564. Canibus – Mic Club: The Curriculum

A rare example of a lyricist who more than lived up to the extreme hype surrounding his 1998 debut, Canibus represents the pinnacle of East Coast hardcore hip-hop wordsmithing: he’s never made a bad album. This 2002 underground classic is where he really took his game to the next level: erudite, serious as hell but also funny as hell with the mot juste when he wants to skewer someone. He’s so articulate here that he doesn’t even feel the need to use any curse words until track six. The rhymes come fast and furious with Poet Laureate; Masters Thesis; the scathing Behind Enemy Rhymes; Allied Meta-Forces, with a typically potent Kool G Rap cameo; Cenoir Studies 02; C Section; Literal Arts (featuring heavy-hitting Philly artist Jedi Mind Tricks) and Curriculum 101. As much as hip-hop has always been more about the lyrics than the backing tracks, the samples here are especially imaginative (when’s the last time you heard somebody sample Pink Floyd’s Summer ’68?). Here’s a random torrent.

563. Firewater – The Ponzi Scheme

A pre-millennial concept album about the deadly consequences of capitalist excess: the personal as political taken to a stunningly prophetic extreme. Fiery art-punks Firewater get extra props for spawning both Balkan Beat Box and Botanica, groups they heavily influenced. This 1998 release is intense and brilliantly lyrical all the way through, along with a couple of evilly cartoonish Balkan brass instrumental romps. The gypsy barroom rock of Green Light comments on the perils of chasing the almighty dollar, “going down like a pederast in a boys school;” Dropping Like Flies sounds like the Damned on a literate gypsy rampage. Caroline cruelly chronicles a girl who “starved herself of everything that money couldn’t buy,” while the noir piano boogie Whistling in the Dark reminds that you can only live on borrowed time for so long. There’s also Isle of Dogs, a snarling, spot-on hypocrite’s tale fueled by Oren Kaplan’s reverb guitar; the twisted tango Another Perfect Catastrophe; the savagely mocking So Long Superman, essentially a punk rock remake of Tainted Love; I Still Love You Judas, proof positive that there really is no honor among thieves; Knock Em Down, a savagely sarcastic noir cabaret tune, and the potent concluding song, Drunkard’s Lament, a searing look at the psychology of spectacles like reality tv a few years before it existed: “Misery loves company, that’s why everybody loves me.” Firewater frontman Tod A. has kept the band alive over the years with a shifting cast of characters, slowly moving further away from rock toward the East, with excellent results. The whole album is streaming at Spotify (as of July 2011) ; here’s a random torrent via Cosmo Zebra.

562. The Modern Lovers’ first album

We’re trying hard not to duplicate the two best-known “best albums” lists on the web, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. Recorded in 1972 (back when Jonathan Richman still had an edge, before he turned into a parody of himself), not released until 1976, enormously influential and still a great party album after all these years, it’s a mix of scurrying second-generation Velvets vamps and poppier janglerock. The iconic one here is Roadrunner (memorably butchered by the Sex Pistols). Richman may have held hippies in contempt (the hilarious bonus track I’m Straight), but he goes in that direction on Astral Plane. Otherwise, he’s cranky and defiantly retro on Old World and Modern World, hauntingly poignant on She Cracked and Hospital, LOL funny on their cover of John Cale’s Pablo Picasso (who really was an asshole), and only gets sappy on Someone I Care About. The early zeros reissue comes with a bunch of bonus tracks which include the Boston classic Government Center but otherwise aren’t up to the level of the John Cale-produced originals. Extra props to the band for contributing members to both the Talking Heads and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. Here’s a random torrent.

561. The Hangdogs – Wallace ’48

These New York hellraisers got their start as sharply literate if drunken alt-country types in the late 90s. By 2003, when this final album came out, they’d gone in more of an Americana rock direction: imagine Jello Biafra fronting Social Distortion, and you’ll get some idea of what the Hangdogs were all about at the end. This is a slice of life from the early Bush era, a scathingly hilarious account of everyday people battling sadistic bosses, broke and too wasted on reality tv to realize how much closer to slaves they became every day. The title track is a bluegrass homage to perennial Socialist Party candidate George Wallace, followed by Waiting For the Stars To Fall, the towering, elegaic ballad that Oasis never wrote. Lots of funny country songs here: Memo from the Head Office, making sure that we max out our credit cards on the all shit we don’t need; Drink Yourself to Death, a spot-on satire of “new Nashville” music; the self-explanatory Alcohol of Fame, and Serious Guy, who’s somebody you hope you never work for. And just as many genuinely serious songs: the workingman’s lament Early to Bed; the plaintive She’s Leaving You; lead guitarist Texas Tex’s hallucinatory, somber Porch Swing; and the bitter band-on-the-road anthem Goodnight, Texas. Frontman Matthew Grimm would go on to equally good things as the leader of socially aware Iowa rockers the Red Smear later in the decade. Utterly impossible to find as a torrent; the usual pay sites have mp3s, and the whole thing is streaming at Spotify (as/of July 2011).

560. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Join Hands

Over the course of their long career, Siouxsie & the Banshees have pushed the envelope with punk rock, goth, psychedelia and gamelan-inspired experimental sounds. This 1979 album, their second, is where Siouxsie Sioux crystallized her inimitable microtonal vocal style, along with her outraged-witness persona. Side one of this album follows a loosely thematic World War I theme, beginning with the acidic, atonal Poppy Day (sort of a punk version of the famous antiwar poem In Flanders Field). Guitarist John McKay hits his chords like he’s swinging a machete, through the scorching Regal Zone and Placebo Effect, while bassist Steven Severin’s minimalist chords fuel the fires in the savagely menacing Icon (which kicks off with the distant rumble of cannon fire). Premature Burial is as morbidly memorable as the band ever got; Playground Twist a vivid look at the cruelty children inflict on each other; Mother, a horror-movie music-box theme. The album ends with the eleven-minute, dadaist sacrilege of The Lord’s Prayer, originally done by Sid Vicious’ first band the Flowers of Romance. It’s most likely the only instance ever where anyone called Muhammad Ali a ”fucking dick” on vinyl. Here’s a random torrent.

559. Jethro Tull – A

Some of you may be wondering what kind of drugs we’ve been doing, considering that there are not only one but two Jethro Tull albums here (Aqualung is also on the list – see our “obvious picks” page). And while there is a track on this album called the Pine Marten’s Jig, it’s the only hobbity tune here. All the jigging and whistling – and the band’s atrocious metal albums from the late 80s – obscure the fact that when this band was at the top of their game, they made several albums’ worth of terrifically lyrical, absolutely unique, metal and Britfolk-flavored art-rock. This is a 1980 concept album about nuclear armageddon (back then, everybody thought that the world would end in a shower of bombs instead of a meltdown in Japan). Thematically, everything that can go wrong here does. Crossfire was inspired by a hostage situation at the Iranian Embassy in London, while the catchy, spiraling Fylingdale Flyer looks at the logical extreme created when a false alarm signals a nuclear attack. The swaying Working John, Working Joe is a call for solidarity; the real gem, Black Sunday is a tricky, eerie countdown to the end. The metalish Protect and Survive has lyrics taken from a Soviet army manual, followed eventually by the creepy, surreal Batteries Not Included, the nonconformist anthem Uniforms, and the requiem And Further On. In lieu of the album – absolutely impossible to find online because of the title, and because ours is on vinyl – we give you this contemporaneous 1980 live set, with many of these tracks, via theultimatebootlegexperience.

558. The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager

Did the Moody Blues invent art-rock…or at least chamber pop? Maybe. Fans of the tuneful, philosophically inclined psychedelic pop band are probably mystified why we chose this 1981 reunion album of sorts over well-loved 60s releases like In Search of the Lost Chord or On the Threshold of a Dream. Answer: all of those albums have some great tunes, but also a bunch of real clunkers as well. This, on the other hand is solid virtually all the way through, and the songwriting is arguably the band’s strongest. The production manages to be ornate and genuinely majestic despite the heavy synthesizers. The big, brisk top 40 hit was The Voice, followed closely by the artsy, ELOish, disco-tinged Gemini Dream (a great song to cover if you played it loud and fast like a lot of bands of the era did). The irresistible Talking out of Turn is a seven-minute pop song that actually works. Guitarist Justin Hayward’s lush kiss-off anthem Meanwhile is genuinely poignant, as is bassist John Lodge’s sweeping, understatedly anguished art-pop ballad Nervous. There’s also the morbid 22,000 Days, the twisted cabaret of Painted Smile and the even more twisted Veteran Cosmic Rocker, a surprisingly snarling satire of aging hippie rockers by a band who knew a little something about being one. Here’s a random torrent.

557. The Jam – Setting Sons

Maybe someday in 2013 when this list is finally finished, we’ll move this 1979 punk rock classic a little higher…or maybe into the alltime top 10, where it probably deserves to be. This might be the best rock bass record ever made, Bruce Foxton growling and punching his way through one fiery, melodic riff after another. The best of all of them might be the one in Private Hell, frontman/guitarist Paul Weller’s searing, sarcastic account of a day in the life of a yuppie shopper. There’s also the ripping, mod-punk Girl on the Phone; the rueful, metaphorically-charged Thick As Thieves; the scorching, anti-imperialist Little Boy Soldiers and The Eton Rifles; the alienation anthems Burning Sky and Wasteland; the populist Saturday’s Kids; the best version of Smithers-Jones, done with a string quartet here; and a punked-out cover of the old Motown hit Heat Wave. Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler still tour, with a new guitarist; Weller sadly and unexpectedly lost his touch as a songwriter when the band broke up in 1984 and never got it back. Here’s a random torrent via Mod 64.

556. Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto – Sabroso y Caliente

Rustic yet cutting-edge for its time, this is an update on classic Cuban son. Bandleader Rodriguez, blinded in a childhood accident, played the Cuban acoustic guitar known as the tres. Highly sought after in his later years as a sideman, he was a major influence on the great salsa bands of the 70s. This flavorful, hot 1957 session carves out a niche halfway between the blazing big band sounds of Tito Puente or Perez Prado, and the Cuban country music that Rodriguez grew up with. Some may find the vocals a little over the top, but the band is cooking. The dozen tracks here include the soaring, upbeat Carraguao Alante; the lush, minor key Hay Fuego En el 23; Buenavista en Guaguancó, an old song from Rodriguez’s small-combo period in the 40s; the slinky Blanca Paloma; the sly mambo Mami Me Gusto, the hypnotically insistent La Fonda de Bienvenido, and Adorenla Como a Marti, which evades the censors by allusively referencing the notorious 1912 massacres of Afro-Cubans on the island. Here’s a random torrent via Global Groovers.

555. Bartok – String Quartets Nos. 1-6 – The Alban Berg Quartett

Angry, sardonic, brooding, bitter but also surprisingly peaceful in places, Bela Bartok’s six string quartets are among the most gripping pieces of chamber music ever written. Demanding? Yes. Offputting? Not really, unless your ears can’t handle anything more sophisticated than Lady Gag. They’re extremely difficult to play, utilizing the entire sonic spectrum and complicated technique (Bartok, a pianist, performed many small-group or duo concerts with string players and was obviously paying close attention to the challenges his work afforded his bandmates). He drew heavily on the most jarring tonalities of the Hungarian gypsy music he came to love so much, but as abrasive as some of these are (the first is one of the most wrathful compositions you’ll ever hear), they can also be very memorably tuneful. This 2004 box set is notable for being one of the last made by the group’s excellent violist Thomas Kakuska shortly before his death…and it’s also mysteriously hard to find on the web. In lieu of this one we suggest another excellent collection from a couple of years later by the Emerson String Quartet via Holy Fucking Shit 40000.

554. The Who – The Who Sings My Generation

OK, OK, this is “classic rock,” the one thing we’re trying to stay away from here. But what a rhythm section – and a tragedy that both John Entwistle and Keith Moon both left us so young. This album came out in 1965, when the band’s sound was new and fresh, before Pete Townshend turned into a Jimmy Page wannabe and Daltrey…well, the music here is good enough to make you forget he’s on it. With his completely unpredictable rumbling thunder attack, Moon absolutely owns La-La-La-Lies and Much Too Much. A Legal Matter mines the same amped-up R&B style as the Pretty Things and the early Kinks; the Good’s Gone foreshadows the Move. There’s also the country dancehall stomp of It’s Not True, the blue eyed soul ballad I Don’t Mind and Out in the Street, with its cool tremoloing intro. Oh yeah, there’s also an oldies radio standard, a future movie theme and a primitive, fuzztoned quasi-surf instrumental. The band only miss when they misguidedly try their hand at James Brown. Here’s a random torrent.

553. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

A caustic, wickedly tuneful concept album about the struggle for a musician to reach an audience in the last dying days of the major label era, 2009. Treat of the Week scathingly chronicles a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame; the deadpan 60s Britpop bounce of Discount Store masks its sting as an anthem for the current depression. The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: the funniest song here, Apologia is a faux power ballad ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to fight the system. The classic here is City Of… a cruelly spot-on analysis of music fandom (and its Balkanized subcultures) in a Toronto of the mind; Street Team, a spot-on, Orwellian look at how marketers attempt to create those Balkanized audiences; My Alleged Career, an alienated distillation of how Bryk’s music was probably received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a pretty ballad, a musical joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad: “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry,” Bryk insists. Mystifyingly, this one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s streaming at Spotify (as of July 2011) and it’s still available at Bryk’s site, where you can also hear the whole thing.

552. Wadi Al-Safi: Ajmal Aghani – The Very Best of Wadi Al-Safi

The career of crooner/oudist Wadi Al-Safi, “the Voice of Lebanon,” has spanned eight decades. Essentially, he’s a soul singer, with a warm baritone characterized more by nuance than bite. Like so many levantine artists dating back to the 1940s, he was also a star of screwball comedies; much of his repertoire has iconic status that extends beyond his home turf. This is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a decent overview. Lots of hits here: the lushly orchestrated La La Aini La; the sweeping Tallou Hbabna; the plaintive, hypnotic, accordion-driven Remche Ouyounek; the suspenseful, slow Ma Atwalak Ya Layl; the slinky snakecharmer dance Albi Yehwak; Betrehlak Mechwar, with its cool qanun/bass intro; and Ya Rabe’ena, which works equally well as military march or wedding dance. The whole album is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Folk Music SMB.

551. Greta Gertler & Peccadillo – Nervous Breakthroughs

Recorded mostly in the late 90s but not available outside Australia until 2004, this is a lush, sweeping classic of chamber pop and art-rock. With her sometimes stratospheric high soprano voice, sizzling keyboard chops and playful, unpredictable songwriting, Gertler comes across as something of a down-to-earth Kate Bush (hard to imagine, but try anyway). With a rock band and string section behind her, she veers from the Supertramp-style pop of Happy Again and the vividly anxious Highest Story to more austere, windswept pieces like Away and the quirky I’m Not a Lizard, and even a blazing Russian folk dance, The Hot Bulgar. The bitterly triumphant, intensely crescendoing Moving Backwards is the real killer cut here, although all the tracks are strong. With its killer chorus, Julian should have been the big radio hit; there’s also a boisterous Aussie football song, and the bouncy, Split Enz-ish Charlie #3. Mysteriously absent from the blogosphere and the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby. Gertler has since taken her game up yet another notch as leader of the symphonic rock crew the Universal Thump, whose current album in progress is every bit as good as this one. You may even see it on this list someday.

550. Machito – Kenya

A landmark of latin big band jazz. Hard to believe, but this stuff was actually mainstream in 1957 when the album came out (one of Machito’s most popular albums was marketed as being recorded at the Catskills resort where he held an annual summer residency for years). On one hand, this doesn’t have the raw bite of the legendary bandleader’s stuff from the 30s and 40s, but the songs and the charts are killer. All of these are originals save for percussionist Chano Pozo’s noir classic Tin Tin Deo. Lots of flavors here: the brisk, blazing guaguanco of Wild Jungle; the slinky, suspenseful Congo Mulence; the lush, majestic title track; the stop-and-start intenstiy of Oyeme; Holiday, with its surgically precise Cannonball Adderley solo; Cannonology, a sideways Charlie Parker tribute; the sinister-tinged Frenzy; proto-ska Conversation; bustling Minot Rama; hypnotically soulful Tururato, and Blues A La Machito, which is more Machito than blues. Here’s a random torrent via Hasta Luego Baby.

549. Genesis – Nursery Cryme

While the veteran British art-rockers’ legacy suffers under the weight of a lot of lousy material from the Phil Collins years and then the 80s, up through the mid-70s they were a sensationally good, theatrical, guitar-and-keyboard-driven symphonic rock machine. This 1971 album may be the best of the bunch, although everything else they did while Peter Gabriel was in the band is worth hearing. Trippy, surreal and often macabre, it’s got many of the band’s best-loved epics: The Musical Box, a metaphorically-charged suite; The Return of the Giant Hogweed, which reminds that in the end, nature always wins; the bizarre, mythological Fountain of Salmacis; the wistful folk-rock vignette For Absent Friends, and Harold the Barrel, one of the weirdest, creepiest three-minute songs ever written. Gabriel imbues it all with a defiant, literate individualism, much as Roger Waters did in Pink Floyd. Here’s a random torrent.

548. Bessie Smith – Complete Recorded Works 1922-23

The real primo Bessie Smith albums are not available digitally: they’re double-vinyl reissues from the 60s and 70s, a series with faux-antique trellis edging the album covers in various colors, still frequently found in used record stores. If you see one, pick it up, because pretty much everything the Queen of the Blues ever did is worth owning. We suggest this double-cd reissue because it has a mix of her most iconic songs, i.e. Down Hearted Blues, Bleeding Hearted Blues and ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do, some of her famously suggestive stuff like Nobody In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine and also a whole bunch of her creepiest sides. It doesn’t have Sing Sing Blues, but it does have Sam Jones’ Blues, the chillingly surreal Graveyard Dream Blues, Cemetery Blues, Frosty Morning Blues, Haunted House Blues and the absolutely awesome Hateful Blues. There’s cleverly funny stuff like Eavesdropper’s Blues and topical songs like the escaped-slave allegory Ticket Agent, Ease Your Window Down and for the country crowd, Boweavil Blues. Most of the songs are just piano and vocals, some with the guy who was arguably the greatest blues pianist ever, James P. Johnson. No Louis Armstrong duets here – while it’s quaint to imagine him smoking her up, her strongest songs were always her darkest ones. If you don’t already know her, this will hook you for life. Here’s a random torrent via Dirty Music.

547. The Wirebirds – Past and Gone

By the time this 2003 album came out, the great New York Britfolk band was finished: they did one final show that year, and that was the end. With three first-rate songwriters – frontwoman Amanda Thorpe, guitarists Will Dial and Peter Stuart – they alternated between lush, Richard Thompson-inflected anthems and more stark, bucolic material. This album is pretty much their entire catalog. The album opens with a blast of twelve-string guitar a la the Church with the big, sweeping Can You, winds through a bunch of warily apprehensive ballads before they hit their high point with Dial’s towering, apocalyptic This Green Hell (our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003). Stuart’s catchy, lusciously jangly, rueful One Way Ticket would have been the big radio hit in a smarter universe, a vibe he takes to the next level with Time Stands Still.  Fourteen tracks in all, including a biting cover of the English folksong Three Ravens, all with soaring three-part harmonies and layer upon layer of jangling, roaring, crashing guitar. Thorpe would go on to reach equally intense heights as a solo artist, and then with the Bedsit Poets. Strangely absent from the sharelockers, the whole thing is streaming at Spotify, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

546. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Complete Recorded Works 1942-44

A gospel guitar goddess who frequently collaborated with the jazz and blues stars who revered her, from the 1940s into the 60s. Not all her songs were completely sanctified, either: I Want a Tall Skinnny Papa, or Trouble in Mind, for example. She played acoustic, she played electric, didn’t waste notes, kept her solos terse and intense. This is as good an overview of her career as any, although if you like this stuff you’ll want to investigate the rest of her extensive catalog. This double-disc set has Big Bill Broonzy’s This Train, gospel hits like What He Done for Me, I Want Jesus to Walk Around My Bedside and inspired, rocking versions of spirituals and folk songs like All Over This World and Down by the Riverside.  There’s also the plaintive Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares and the inspiring Strange Things Happening Every Day among the 27 tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Flabbergasted Vibes.

545. Cocktail Angst – Our Big Top Parade

Like Richard Cheese, New York band Cocktail Angst made fun of lounge music, but much more subtly. Frontwoman Toby Williams, keyboardist Jon Dryden, vibraphonist Tom Beckham, bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer John Mettam gave their songs period-perfect torchy 1950s latin jazz arrangements, then gently and expertly mocked them. This 2001 release is the better (or at least longer) of their two often pricelessly funny albums, much of it foreshadowing the considerably darker direction Beckham would take as a solo artist. It’s got the title track’s seedy circus milieu; the absolutely silly, over-the-top, Pineapples, a spoof of 50s “exotica;” Samba de Angst, a cynical look through the eyes of a gold-digging stripper; and Mindless, which reminds that the New York City subway was just as bad fifteen years ago as it is now. Last Tango in Vegas is actually a creepy blues lamenting the Disneyfication of the city: “Be wary of the great American dream/The Elk’s Club bids you all a good night.” With its big Henry Mancini-esque crescendos, Kama Sutra is even creepier. There’s also Bates Motel, a twisted noir vacation scenario and the blithe yet bitter Case of Cheap Goodnight along with a John Denver cover which is as hideously awful as the original, probably for a reason. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from cdbaby.

544. Pulp – Separations

The best British band of the 90s made a bunch of great albums. This one, from 1992, is their most theatrical. There’s a distinct A-side and a B-side, the first an update on noir 60s American pop, the second a cruelly deadpan parody of the era’s computerized disco music. Love Is Blind and Don’t You Want Me Anymore are Jarvis Cocker at his most glammy and sarcastic; She’s Dead, the title track and the absolutely creepy Down by the River aren’t particularly subtle, but they’re troubling nonetheless (Cocker has always dealt with death and tragedy by exposing others’ callousness and obliviousness to it, and these are prime examples). Side 2 is just plain funny, even if the joke starts to get old by the time they reach the end, with eight mindlessly throbbing minutes of This House Is Condemned. Leading up to it are the moronically repetitive Countdown, the catchy synth-pop of My Legendary Girlfriend and Death II, which revisits the morbid vibe of side one. Here’s a random torrent.

543. Ruben Blades y Seis Del Solar – Escenas

One of the most socially aware artists of the classic salsa era, Ruben Blades gets extra props for introducing Hector Lavoe to Willie Colon while working in the Fania Records mailroom and writing songs on the side. The rest is history. While he bridges several eras, Blades’ songwriting has never wavered. The production on this 1984 release isn’t as ballsy as it would have been ten years previously, but the songs are consistently excellent, even Silencios, which is badly miscast as a pop ballad. Otherwise, there’s the starkly scurrying widow’s lament Cuentas Del Alma; the scathing Tierra Dura, which addresses famine in Ethiopia; the blackly humorous La Cancion Del Final Del Mundo; Sorpresas, which continues the story of the struggling blue-collar Pedro Navaja, star of Blades’ signature song; Caina, a gritty look at the not-so-glamorous side of the cocaine trade (“Why would you want to do coke/It makes you edgy and obnoxious”) and an update on the Los Van Van hit Muevete. Here’s a random torrent.

542. The Long Ryders – Native Sons

This 1984 album is one of the best early alt-country records. Frontman Sid Griffin – who would go on to write an acclaimed Gram Parsons biopic – shifted from Stonesy stomp, to twang, to the occasional venture into the psychedelic paisley underground sound that the other northern California bands of the era were so well known for. The real gem here is the ferocious Cali gothic Wreck of the 809, driven by its eerily soaring bassline. The rocking stuff includes the surreal Final Wild Son and Run Dusty Run (a Steve Wynn reference); the country is represented by the bittersweet Ivory Tower, I Had a Dream, Fair Game, the wry bluegrass-tinged Never Got to Meet the Mom and a boisterous cover of Mel Tillis’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge. The band would stay together through the 80s; everything they put out is worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent via Gas Music.

541. Elvis Costello – Costello & Nieve Live

Recorded on tour in five different cities, one per cd, this limited-edition box set went out of print shortly after its 1996 release – but thanks to the folks at For the Dishwasher, you can still download it. Just Costello playing acoustic guitar, and genius noir pianist Steve Nieve turning in a lot of characteristically transcendent performances. Highlights of the 27 tracks here: the best-ever version of what might be Costello’s most paradoxically brilliant song, Man Out of Time; an especially creepy Long Honeymoon; a skeletal, low-key Temptation; the surreal, seven-minute Brecht/Weill-influenced My Dark Life; a plaintively plainspoken cover of the Grateful Dead’s Ship of Fools; a biting, jaunty You’ll Never Be a Man; a real showstopping version of the suicide anthem All the Rage; and a lot of stuff from All This Useless Beauty, including takes of The Other End of the Telescope, Little Atoms, Poor Fractured Atlas and I Want to Vanish, all of which are even better than the studio versions. To those who say there are too many Elvis Costello albums on this list: he’s probably made at least a dozen classic albums, and plenty more than that are also worth hearing, so why shouldn’t we include half of them?

540. The Kinks – Something Else by the Kinks

This was a tough call. Everybody loves Village Green; Arthur is also a great album. But how about this 1967 release? What an eclectic, smart, catchy bunch of songs. The ones everybody knows and loves are Waterloo Sunset and David Watts (thanks to the Jam for making that one a punk classic). But the rest of the album is just as strong: the sarcastic Situation Vacant; the austere chamber pop tunes Death of a Clown, Two Sisters and No Return; the antiwar Tin Soldier Man, no less true today than it was then; the sly stoner anthem Harry Rag; Lazy Old Sun and Afternoon Tea, which foreshadow what was to come on Village Green; and the soul-infused ballad Love Me Til the Sun Shines, which would be a hit for the Lyres almost twenty years later. Here’s a random torrent via Oldish Psych Prog.

539. Either/Orchestra – The Calculus of Pleasure

Before Ethiopiques, before Either/Orchestra became Mulatu Astatke’s North American backing unit, they were a very clever, original, often noirish big band. When they weren’t doing cinematic, genre-defying instrumentals that bridge the gap between rock and jazz, that is. Literally everything saxophonist/composer Russ Gershon’s long-running Boston outfit has released is worth hearing; this 1992 album gets the nod because it’s probably their darkest and most cohesive. The real stunner here is a sad, elegaic ballad aptly titled Grey. There’s also the bracing, uneasy swing of Whisper Not; Bennie Moten’s Weird Nightmare, with its tongue-in-cheek Mingus echoes; the cinematic, suspenseful Consenting Adults; Ecaroh, which alternates between creepy bossa nova and swinging contentment; Unnatural Pastime, which begins as an animated jump blues but gets dark fast; and the epics Miles Away and The Hard Blues. Most of this is streaming at myspace (and surprisingly, this playlist isn’t interrupted by ads); here’s a random torrent via Six By Six.

538. Bobby Vacant and the Weary – Tear Back the Night

We picked this as one of the best albums of 2009. It’s as much a masterpiece of simple, potently imagistic wordsmithing as it is musically, multi-instrumentalist George Reisch a.k.a. The Weary giving these haunted, alienated songs the gravitas they deserve with some stunningly eclectic arrangements. Stand in Time gets an elegaic, vintage Moody Blues arrangement, while the surprisingly witty Waveflowers paints a portrait of slipping away in the night against a vividly nocturnal mid-period Pink Floyd style backdrop. Bobby Vacant opens the album by cautioning everybody to stay away; by the end, he’s willing to open the door a crack. In between, he chronicles acid casualties, sold-out ex-idealists and the down-and-out on the Arthur Lee-esque Clark Street and the snide country-rock romp Dylan’s Dead. The death obsession goes front and center on the dirge Some Walk; the most powerful tracks here are the title track, a creepy post-party scenario, and Never Looking Back, a bitter, morbid escape anthem set to a triumphant janglerock tune that will resonate with anyone who ever felt surrounded and threatened by people who just don’t get it. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers, it’s still available from the excellent Chicago label Luxotone, where you can hear the whole thing. Bobby Vacant continues as a solo artist while running another excellent upstart label, Switzerland’s Weak Records.

537. Mama Cass Elliot – Dream a Little Dream

What a voice. What soul, and longing, and sensuality. Some of the tunes on the 60s cult heroine’s torchy 1968 debut release, like Burn Your Hatred and Rubber Band, are a little dated, but those vocals are timeless. And it’s too bad she isn’t with us anymore (the story about choking on a sandwich is cruelly untrue – it was bad dope that did her in). As you would expect from the hippie milieu she inhabited at that point, a lot of usual suspects stepped up to help out. Steven Stills’ guitar spices up the surprisingly plaintive Talking To Your Toothbrush; the Band’s Richard Manuel contributes Blues for Breakfast; John Sebastian throws in the pensive chamber-pop Room Nobody Lives In; and Leonard Cohen – who knows something about sexy allure – gives her You Know Who I Am (and she reciprocates mightily). There’s also the heavily reworked title track, a Bessie Smith hit forty years previously; California Earthquake, a psychedelic pop period piece that still resonates;  the big ballads What Was I Thinking Of and Long Time Loving You; the blue-eyed soul of Sweet Believer, and the jokey but actually very spot-on Jane the Insane Dog Lady. Here’s a random torrent via Jensen Brazil.

536. Ward White – Pulling Out

One of the world’s most literate rock songwriters, Ward White’s sardonic, sometimes scathing lyrics use devices usually found only in latin poetry or great novels – but he makes it seem effortless, maybe because he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s also a great tunesmith, and a first-class lead guitarist. Choosing from among his half-dozen albums is a crapshoot, since they’re all excellent. This one, from 2008, has a purist janglerock vibe, with keyboardist Joe McGinty turning in his finest, most deviously textural work since his days with the Psychedelic Furs. It opens with the bitter Beautiful Reward; Getting Along Is Easy cruelly chronicles a high-profile breakup; Let It All Go hilariously explores family dysfunction in Connecticut WASP-land. Miserable contrasts the catchiest tune here with the album’s most morose, doomed lyric. And The Ballad of Rawles Balls (White was once their bass player) immortalizes the legendary, satirical New York cover band from hell. There’s also bleak, jaundiced chamber-pop and a Big Star homage of sorts. Too obscure to make it to the share sites, it’s still streaming at White’s own site, where copies are also available. And his latest, 2011 release, Done with the Talking Cure, is just about as good as this one.

535. Exotica – Original Soundtrack

Canadian composer Mychael Danna has gotten a lot of Hollywood work; the best of his extensive career is this obscure 1994 score for an Atom Egoyan film that pretty much sank without a trace. Marketed as a suspense flick about a Montreal stripper and her stalker, it’s reputedly awful. But the music is a treat. It’s the kind of thing you might have discovered around that time on an adventurous late-night show on a good NPR affiliate. It’s notable for including several haunting, astringent Armenian melodies, including the folk songs Dilko Tamay Huay and Mujay Yaad (the latter completely redone as proto-bhangra). Some of these themes Danna expands on for his own compositions, most chillingly a series titled Field 1 through Field 4, a simple motif that in the end has grown to become downright macabre. There’s also the (possibly deliberately) silly disco title theme; the appropriately titled Something Hidden, Snake Dance, and the final track, The Ride Home, lush and more than a little exhausted, a bit of a respite from all the intensity. Here’s a random torrent via Judy Step.

534. New York City: Global Beat of the Boroughs

This 2001 Smithsonian Folkways release may be a long series of ludicrously bad segues, but multicultural party playlists don’t get much better than this. It’s predominantly latin and Balkan music played by obscure but frequently brilliant expatriate New York-based groups, although other immigrant cultures are represented. While the tracks by Irish group Cherish the Ladies and klezmer stars Andy Statman and the Klezmatics are all excellent, it’s surprising that the compilers couldn’t come up with the same kind of obscure treasures they unearthed from Puerto Rican plena groups Vienta de Agua and Los Pleneros de 21; or Albanian Besim Muriqi’s scorching dance tunes; or stately theatrical pieces by the prosaically titled traditional groups Music From China and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association. There are also rousing Greek and Bulgarian romps from Grigoris Maninakis and Yuri Yunakov, respectively; a soulful suite of Lebanese songs by crooner Naji Youssef; and even a spirited if roughhewn version of the Italian theme for the Williamsburg “Walking of the Giglio,” a big wooden tower paraded through the streets by a large troupe of hardworking men every August, among the 31 fascinating tracks here. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from the folks at the Smithsonian.

533. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Also strangely AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.

532. Linda Draper – Bridge & Tunnel

Quietly and methodically, New York tunesmith Linda Draper has established herself as an elite lyrical songwriter. This 2009 release is the best and slightly most rock-oriented of her six consistently excellent, melodic albums. In a cool, nuanced voice, backed by her own nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a terse rhythm section, she stakes out characteristically sardonic, richly literate territory from a defiant outsider’s point of view. With its chilly organ background, the title track (Manhattanite slang for “suburban moron”) packs a quiet bite; the nonconformist anthems Sharks and Royalty and Broken Eggshell reflect a similar gentle confidence. Pushing up the Days is a snarky, pun-infused kiss-off, while Time Will Tell reverts to the psychedelic stream-of-consciousness vibe of her earlier work. The charmingly rustic Last One Standing hints that there could be a third choice other than leading or following; there’s also a casual, fun cover of the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper. Here’s a random torrent via The Terminal; cd’s are still available at Draper’s site, with a highly anticipated new one due out sometime around the end of 2011.

531. Monty Alexander – Yard Movement

What the Jamaican pianist did on this 1995 live release was pretty radical at the time, but when you think about it, all he did was basically bring reggae full circle. Consider: reggae comes from rocksteady, rocksteady from ska, ska from calypso and calypso from jazz. Alexander has been a lyrical, exuberant player for decades, and immersed in reggae even if he didn’t start out playing it, so it was a natural progression for him. His equally ecstatic band here includes reggae guitar icon Ernest Ranglin (a jazzcat himself – see #903 on this list). They kick it off by winding their way up slowly and deliberately into a twelve-plus minute version of Bob Marley’s Exodus, hitting the same hypnotic groove as the original but with cascading, incisive leads by the piano instead of the guitar. The rest of the album is all Alexander originals: the more stern Regulator; the blissful ballads Crying, Love Notes and Moonlight City, his popular tribute to his favorite Jamdown spot, Strawberry Hill, and the hot closing jam, Sneaky Steppers. Pretty much everything Alexander has ever done is worth a spin, including his latest, Harlem-Kingston Express live record. This one is streaming in its entirety at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Ras Cope.

530. Devi – Get Free

The 2009 debut release by this Hoboken, New Jersey psychedelic powerpop trio is a feast of good guitar and solid tunesmithing. But Debra, the band’s frontwoman, doesn’t let her virtuoso chops clutter the songs: instead, she goes for intricate layers and textures, with the occasional long, exhilarating, blues-infused solo. The genuine classic here is Welcome to the Boneyard, a haunted 9/11 memoir told from the point of a ghost in the rubble, drenched in watery riffs played through a Leslie organ speaker. When It Comes Down and the title track are the big concert favorites, all rises and falls and scorching solos. There’s also the wickedly catchy, gritty Howl at the Moon; Another Day (which could be the Runaways if they’d had better chops); Demon in the Sack, which pokes fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics; Love That Lasts, which finally crosses the bridge over into exuberant metal; and a richly textured cover of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done. The album is streaming in its entirety at bandcamp and available as a free download at the band’s site.

529. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

We go to the well, or to be precise, to a church in the wilds of Pennsylvania for this one, a hypnotic, often downright macabre 2009 set of originals and improvisations by this dynamic baritone sax/piano duo. Shah’s glimmering chromatics evoke Erik Satie as much as they do Keith Jarrett, livened and eclectically flavored by Evans’ panoramic lines – he uses the entirety of his range including all kinds of harmonics. Yet as bracing and strange as this is, most of it you can hum. It’s a couple of mini-suites, a playful, bluesy Jan Roth cover, and many lengthy passages alternating terse, blues-based purism with murky, often menacing suspense from both instruments. Too obscure to make it to the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Moppa Elliott’s fantastic Hot Cup Records label.

528. Memphis Minnie – I Ain’t No Bad Gal

The prototypical blues guitar goddess, Memphis Minnie’s career spanned from the delta into the Chicago era in the early 1950s. She could outplay most of the guys around her and never really got the credit she deserves. Like many blues artists of the time, she recorded for quick money, very frequently – she wrote hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. This 1998 reissue doesn’t have her signature tune When the Levee Breaks (famously covered by Led Zep), but it’s as good a representation as any. Most of the sides here date from the late 30s or early 40s. Some, like Can’t Afford to Lose My Man and You Need a Friend echo popular artists like Bessie Smith; others (Looking the World Over and Down by the Riverside) offer an update on old folk themes; but the best are her most defiant, rebellious ones like the title track, Remember Me Blues, You Got to Get Out of Here and I Am Sailing. It’s surprisingly absent from the usual sources for free music, but in lieu of this one you can check out the first volume in the “complete recorded works” collection via On Muddy Sava Riverbank.

527. Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins

2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.

526. The JPT Scare Band – Past Is Prologue

Legendary in the midwest, the Kansas City power trio of drummer Jeff Littrell, bassist Paul Grigsby and guitarist Terry Swope recorded most of this between 1973 and 1975. While none of these tracks were officially released until 2001, the band was a cult favorite of the “cassette underground” for years. The opening track here, Burn In Hell, a forest of tense, flanged minor chords, was actually recorded that year and shows that the band was keeping up with the times. But it’s the old stuff that’s the most riveting: Sleeping Sickness, practically fourteen minutes of virtuoso Texas blues with metal flourishes, ten years before Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the art; the wildly Hendrix-inspired proto-noiserock of I’ve Been Waiting and Time to Cry (which clocks in at a modest 12:59); Jerry’s Blues, which sounds a lot more like Jimi than the Dead; and the riff-rocking psychedelia of Titan’s Sirens. Recently reunited, the band played their first show in thirty years earlier this summer and are reputedly as scary as ever. Most of the tracks are streaming at myspace (without ads, happily); here’s a random torrent via Cavites Pride. The album, along with the equally good, bizarrely titled Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden, is also still available from Ripple Music.

525. Melomane – Glaciers

This eclectic 2007 release captures the lushly lyrical New York art-rockers at the top of their game. It opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy Crowded House-ish art-pop tune, frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely chatting up a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. Unfriendly Skies is Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio for the millennial generation, followed by the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The real classic here is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, stately funeral march in advance for the Bush regime. There’s also the defiantly populist, catchy Little Man’s Castles; the quirky, psychedelic mini-suite This Is Skyhorse; the clever satirical, Gruppo Sportivo-esque Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”) and the pensive Thin Ice. The whole thing is streaming at myspace, of all places; strangely missing from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Melomane’s site. In the years since this came out, De Gaillande has gone on to equally gripping projects including the Snow (see #890 on this list) and his Bad Reputation project, which plays witty English translations of classic Georges Brassens songs.

524. Black Fortress of Opium’s first album

Led by a charismatic multi-instrumentalist who goes by Ajda the Turkish Queen, the Boston noir rockers’ 2008 debut alternates between assaultive, noir anthems and more hypnotic but equally dark stuff. Martin Bisi’s raw yet rich production blends layer upon layer of reverb guitar in with Ajda’s mandolin, banjo, wind instruments and “field recordings,” creating an irresistible sonic tar pit. The gothic-titled House of Edward Devotion sets the stage for what’s to come with its eerie overtones, the melody only baring its fangs in the quietest moments, followed by the savage Black Rope Burns. The most stunning moment here is the seven-minute Ari (dedicated to the son Nico had with Alain Delon) with its ferocious sheets of distorted slide guitar and an earth-shattering plummet into the abyss at the end. There’s also the wistful Crack + Pool and its reprise; the Nina Nastasia-esque Twelve Gross; the jarringly percussive Your Past; the sad, sarcastic lament Model Café; the sultry, bluesy soul ballad From a Woman to a Man and the trance-inducing, ominous, nine-minute Dulcet TV. Most of this is streaming at the band’s myspace; AWOL from the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby.

523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two – with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.

522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack

This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.

521. The Violent Femmes’ first album

When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up may blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.

520. Noir Desir – Dies Irae

Often compared to Joy Division, these French rockers were actually closer to the Gun Club, with a twangy, noir, often Middle Eastern-tinged guitar sound and frontman Bertrand Cantat’s bitter, doomed lyricism. This blistering 1994 double-disc live set is the band at their most raw and assaultive, and contains most of their best songs, including the hypnotically galloping Mexican immigration epic Tostaky and the savage anti-globalization anthem Ici Paris. It opens with a signature song of sorts, La Rage, and closes with the bitter, cynical En Route Pour la Joie (Looking for Some Fun). In between, the 22 tracks include Les Écorchés (The Burnouts); the punked-out folk song Johnny Colère; the hallucinatory La Chaleur (Heat); the furtive À L’arrière des Taxis (In the Backs of Cabs); and dirges like Marlène and Sober Song (about the hangover from hell). Cantat is vastly more articulate in French than English, although he means well, as in The Holy Economic War. The band broke up in 2003 when Cantat murdered his mistress in a coke-fueled rage; a comeback after his release from prison generated considerable controversy. Here’s a random torrent.

519. The Angelic Upstarts – Live

A high point of the classic punk era. Over the course of a long career and innumerable lineup changes, this captures the original 1981 edition of the band playing most of their best early songs. It’s a long album, 15 songs: the alienation anthems Never Had Nothing and Leave Me Alone; the kids-against-the-world broadsides Teenage Warning, Kids on the Street, 2,000,000 Voices and their signature song, I’m an Upstart; and the antiwar Last Night Another Soldier. Aware of what was going on in the outside world, they sided with the people of Poland in Solidarity; with the Afghans against the Soviets in the ironic-to-the-extreme Guns for the Afghan Rebels (which had absolutely nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden or the CIA); sided with the outlaws and the kids against the cops with Machine Gun Kelly, Police Oppression, Who Killed Liddle Towers (a West Indian immigrant who died suspiciously in police custody) and a version of the Clash’s White Riot that beats the original. Here’s a random torrent via Mirotvorce.

518. King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown

Not bad for a bunch of cover versions that were all initially released as b-sides. Along with Lee “Scratch” Perry, the late King Tubby is considered to be one of the inventors and early giants of dub reggae, and this is his high-water mark. As you would expect with a hit album from Jamaica, 1976, versions exist which are credited to King Tubby himself (who engineered it), others to the other groove genius behind this, producer/melodica player Augustus Pablo. Either way, it’s a woozy, intoxicating ride, guitar, horn flourishes and all those echoey drum bits fading up and then out of the picture. Many of these songs rework hits by Jacob Miller, including the title track, Stop Them Jah, and Each One Dub, while Frozen Dub reinvents an old Heptones hit. There’s also Keep on Dubbing; Young Generation Dub; 555 Dub Street; Brace’s Tower Dub (part one and part two); Corner Crew Dub; Skanking Dub and Satta Dub. The late 80s reissue comes with four bonus tracks, included here in this random torrent via It’s Coming Out of Your Speaker.

517. Iron Maiden – Live After Death

“Scream for me Long Beach!” Bruce Dickinson howls again and again. By the time the standard bearers of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM for short) made this double vinyl monstrosity, they were a well-oiled machine in the midst of a 1985 tour that would take them around the world more than once in over a year. It’s basically their greatest hits live done by the classic lineup with the two-guitar attack of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, with the unsurpassed, nimble rhythm section of bass god Steve Harris and Nicko McBain on drums. Every facet of the band is represented: the pounding, punkish Aces High, Die with Your Boots On, Running Free and 22 Acacia Ave.; the artsy, classically-flavored epics Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Powerslave and Phantom of the Opera (no relation to the musical); and catchy, anthemic classics including Run to the Hills, 2 Minutes to Midnight and of course The Number of the Beast. Tuneful, melodic and intelligent, this band transcends any metal stereotype. Don’t confuse these guys with another great British band called Iron Maiden, a proto-metal group from the late 60s/early 70s. Here’s a random torrent via Sergio Maiden.

516. Bahamadia – Kollage

One of the tracks on this late golden-age hip-hop album is simply called Innovation, which pretty much sums up what Bahamadia is all about. She was respected in her native Philadelphia before Guru and Primo from Gang Starr discovered her and produced most of the tracks on this 1996 debut. It’s easy to see why they liked her. She’s a purist who – other than on Tru Honey Buns, where she gets off on playing a clueless guy for his money – puts lyrics and ideas out front rather than posturing for fame or namechecking luxury brands. Think a mature Roxanne Shante without the Brooklyn accent. Some of the best of the 15 tracks here: Spontaneity, a rapidfire freestyle with Razhel; the calmly erudite Wordplay; the Nas-influenced Rugged Ruff; the plaintive I Confess, ecstatic Uknowhowwedo, kick-ass Total Wreck and the single that should have been huge, 3 the Hard Way. The only dud here is a maudlin, sentimental piece that samples 70s elevator-pop band Ambrosia. Here’s a random torrent via Blazewon.

515. Mike Ness – Cheating at Solitaire

The reaction to this one was mixed when it came out in 1999, but it’s aged well, especially since this foreshadows so much of what the Social Distortion frontman would do with his main project in the years ahead. A lot of the covers here hint at the more somber, straight-up country direction he’d take, particularly the carpe-diem anthems Charmed Life, If You Leave Before Me, Rest of Our Lives, the troublemaker’s lament  that serves as the title track, and also the unexpectly upbeat kiss-off number Ballad of a Lonely Man. Bruce Springsteen guests on Misery Loves Company, and the covers are absolutely killer as well – have you ever heard a more intense version of Long Black Veil…or an actually good version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice? Hank Williams’ You Win Again isn’t bad either. This random torrent has everything except the bonus track that appeared on the vinyl version.

514. Motorhead – No Sleep Til Hammersmith

How does Motorhead manage to sound so titanic with only one guitarist? Lemmy’s wall-of-sound bass chords. He plays bass like a guitarist, which enables whoever’s on guitar – in this case, Fast Eddie Clarke, in his last stint in the classic original lineup – to take off and go way, way out into the bluesmetal ionosphere as much as he wants. This raw, cheaply produced but intensely adrenalinized 1981 live set – which went to #1 on the British charts – includes the longer anthems like Capricorn and Bomber that the band was beginning to introduce alongside their more punk numbers like their signature song, Stay Clean (what a joke that title is), The Hammer, Overkill and of course Ace of Spades. The best track is actually a mammoth version of We Are the Road Crew, the irresistibly catchy tribute to the guys who lug all the gear and never get any credit; the band also tackle a cover of Born to Lose and actually avoid embarrassing themselves. Why’d we choose this one? Only because everybody else seems to choose Ace of Spades. Here’s a random torrent.

513. Nina Simone in Concert

How do you choose one Nina Simone album over another? You don’t. You could point, blindfolded, and still hit a bullseye most of the time with the iconic, fearless, badass soul siren. We picked this one because it’s from when she was young and embittered but not worn down by that bitterness: she still had an awful lot of fight left in her. This one’s got her fronting a solid jazz quartet – with her playing piano of course – doing a few tracks from her popular debut album like I Loves You Porgy and a towering, theatrical version of Kurt Weill’s Pirate Jenny along with a coy take of Willard Robison’s Don’t Smoke in Bed, her own sultry Go Limp and Plain Gold Ring. But the real stunners here are the civil rights anthems Old Jim Crow and the totally punk rock Mississippi Goddamn – you can hear the mostly-white audience laughing nervously, especially after she introduces it as a showtune for a musical “that hasn’t been written yet.” In 1964, it hadn’t. Here’s a random torrent.

512. George Jones – The Best of George Jones: Hardcore Honkytonk Vol. 1

Let’s stick with iconic voices for two days in a row, ok? If you’ve followed this countdown for any length of time, you’ve noticed that most of the country albums here are greatest-hits collections, and that’s not just us being lazy: it’s because so many of the great C&W artists date from the pre-album era, and also because a lot of country albums have a lot of filler. Not this one! It doesn’t have She Thinks I Still Care (the Definitive Collection 1955-62 does, and that album’s also impossible to find as a download), but it’s a good representation of the great honkytonk singer’s career, before he turned into No-Show Jones. Some primo drinking songs: Just One More (“Put the bottle on the table/Let it stay there til I’m not able…”); Relief Is Just a Swallow Away, and The Last Town I Painted. A bunch of anguished ballads: You’re Still on My Mind; Out of Control; Color of the Blues; Mr. Fool; and more upbeat stuff like Why Baby Why and Window Up Above among the 20 choice cuts from the late 50s and early 60s. Here’s a random torrent via Down Underground.

511. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

At the risk of losing our entire subscriber base, here’s something that might be kind of obvious to some of you and completely offensive to everybody else. In order to “get” Led Zep, you have to remember that they were a bunch of hippies, consequently, they didn’t take themselves all that seriously (especially the goofball singer). Ironically, this is the one place where they reached for epic grandeur and actually nailed it, particularly on the magnificently arranged, utterly chilling Ten Years Gone and the eleven-minute bluesmetal epic In My Time of Dying. The rest of this sprawling 1974 double album is eclectic to the extreme: woozy stoner metal like Custard Pie, Sick Again (a prototype for AC/DC) and the tongue-in-cheek prog-rock Houses of the Holy; In the Light, with its almost nine-minute, twisted Indian vibe that the Beatles reached for but never quite achieved; Trampled Under Foot, which sounds like Stevie Wonder gone metal; the delicate instrumental Bron-Yr-Aur; the gentle, bucolic Down by the Seaside; the completely sick funk-metal of The Wanton Song; The Rover, a midtempo riff-rocker; Night Flight, a 1971 shot at a pop hit with swirling organ; an amusing Beggars Banquet-era Stones ripoff, a jam with the Stones’ keyboardist, and, oh yeah, that song from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Here’s a random torrent.

510. Esma Redzepova – Queen of the Gypsies

This 2007 album from the legendary Macedonian chanteuse includes both a disc of songs from her native land as well as the Roma songs she was brought up on, which earned her fame throughout Europe. The Macedonian stuff here tends to be more plaintive, Zosto Si Me Majko (Oh Mother Why Was I Born) being a prime example. Backed by a rustic, often haunting acoustic band, Rezdepova makes her way through anthems like Zapej Makedonijo (Macedonia Sings), Svadba Makedonska (Macedonian Wedding) and the wistful Grade Moj (My Town). The gypsy material is a lot more upbeat, often absolutely exhilarating,  a showcase for both her wild vocal ornamentation and also her minutely honed nuance, especially on dance numbers like Esma Cocek and Romano Horo, and the towering, dramatic Hajri Ma Te Dike. Pretty much everything she’s recorded is worth hearing; these 24 tracks are a good overview of her career. Here’s a random torrent.

509. The Knitters – Poor Little Critter on the Road

This is basically the X record between More Fun in the New World (#936 on this list’s “such an obvious choice that we didn’t bother to explain” page) and Ain’t Love Grand. From 1985, it’s not the first alt-country album, but it is one of the best. Foreshadowing the popular Pete’s Candy Store sound that came out of in Brooklyn in the late 90s/early zeros, it’s a bunch of punk rockers playing old country and folk music, with both passion and chops. Before country was cool, Exene and John Doe really understood the kinship between hillbilly music and punk, exemplified by the blithely grisly title track, sad songs like Silver Wings and Poor Old Heartsick Me, the defiant Baby Out of Jail and rattling versions of Rock Island Line and Walkin’ Cane. There are also mellower yet still edgy versions of a few X tunes including The New World and The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball, which the band has amusingly updated over the years. X has done a couple of tours as the Knitters in recent years: if you get the chance to see them, don’t pass it up. Here’s a random torrent.

508. Amalia Rodrigues – Com Que Voz

The best-known and most influential singer in the world of fado – the sad ballads considered to be the national music of Portugal – was 49 when she made this album in 1969. It’s a collection of iconic Portuguese poems set to music by her longtime musical director Alain Oulman, who gets credit for expanding her sound to include styles from all over Europe. The sonics are lushly orchestrated but not cheesy, and Rodrigues’ steely, resolute, plaintive voice is in top form, through the bitter expatriate anthem Trova Do Vento Que Passa (Tradewinds); a remake of her 1961 hit Maria Lisboa; ballads like As Mãos Que Trago (I Give You My Hand); the stately title track, swaying Gaivota and Formiga Bossa Nova; the haunting Cuidei Que Tinhas Morrido (I Saw That You Died) and Naufragio (Shipwreck); nostalgic Havemos de Ir a Viana (Back to Vienna), Madrugada de Alfama (Alfama Morning) and Meu Amor, Meu Amor. Everything else Rodrigues did before this point is also worth seeking out, if your taste runs to quiet, emotionally vivid songs, Portuguese not required. Most of this album is streaming at myspace; here’s a random torrent.

507. Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride

On one level, this mammoth four-cd retrospective box set is kind of overkill: everything by Willie that you’ve ever heard on the radio – you know, On the Road Again, and Whiskey River, ad infinitum – plus a solid mix of stuff from throughout his career. It’s got pro songwriter Willie, outlaw stoner Willie, jazz crooner Willie, and also ridiculous eclecticist Willie, which is most of cd four, when the overkill factor kicks in. Ironically, the choicest material here is the stuff he wrote for other people: Crazy for Patsy Cline; Night Life for B.B. King; Hello Walls for Faron Young; and Funny How Time Slips Away, to name a few. And delightful oddities like Texas in My Soul and Mr. Record Man, along with modern-day standards like Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Yesterday’s Wine and Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, to name just a few of the one hundred tracks here, many of which you know by heart. Here’s a random torrent via Nathan’s Hideaway.

506. Tandy – To a Friend/Did You Think I Was Gone

This is cheating a little, since this twofer combines Steve Earle’s favorite rock band’s two most recent albums, from 2005 and 2006. But it’s double the goodness. Frontman/guitarist Mike Ferrio’s jangly, lyrically driven songs linger in your mind, pensive and often haunting. Some of them, like The Fever Breaks, Evensong and I Am the Werewolf, mine a creepy southwestern gothic vein; others, like Home and Girls Like Us look back toward Springsteen when he was still blue-collar. There’s also the brooding Epitaph, On the Hill and Bait along with more upbeat stuff like the first album’s title track, which reverts to the Wilco-inflected pop that Ferrio was writing around the turn of the century. The band was until very recently extremely popular in Europe, but suffered a tragic setback with the unexpected death of their brilliant, eclectic lead player Drew Glackin. Since then, the band has performed sporadically but extremely well with a number of guest guitarists. Both albums are streaming in their entirety at cheesy myspace, here and here; surprisingly, the blogosphere hasn’t caught up with them yet, but the double cd is still available from the band.

505. The Very Best Of Marlene Dietrich

42 tracks from the prototypical world-weary chanteuse, goth girl and lesbian icon, 1930 through the late 50s. As you would expect, there are a million Dietrich anthologies out there, and pretty much anything she did in German before 1940 is worth a listen. We chose this one because A) it’s downloadable and B) it’s a good mix of both the teutonic and the American stuff. It wouldn’t be here if it didn’t have Lili Marlene and My Blue Heaven; it’s also got Ich bin die fesche Lola, and its American translation; Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen (and Blonde Women); Das Lied is aus; the amusing German version of Miss Otis Regrets, Mein Mann ist verhindert; along with risque American dancehall stuff like The Boys in the Back Room, Makin’ Whoopee and You’re the Cream in My Coffee. If you think this is all camp, give a listen: it’s actually pretty creepy. Nico couldn’t have existed without her. Here’s a random torrent.

504. Crowded House – Together Alone

Their best album, an alternately lush, jangly, and sensual Beatlesque psychedelic pop gem from 1993. The opening track, Kare Kare offers swirling atmospherics, followed by the catchy pop tune In My Command, and the album’s best track, the absolutely gorgeous, crescendoing Nails in My Feet. Neil Finn, as good a guitarist as he is a tunesmith, gets dark and edgy on the biting mood piece Fingers of Love; Pineapple Head and Private Universe are gently romantic, while Black and White Boy and Locked Out are scorching, guitar-fueled riff-pop. A janglerock masterpiece, Distant Sun has one of the alltime great choruses; there’s also the jagged Skin Feeling along with the slightly trippy Catherine Wheels and the title track. The suicide of excellent drummer Paul Hester made the prospect of a reunion unlikely, but Finn’s put the group back together with a new one, and they’re reputedly as entertaining and tuneful as ever. Here’s a random torrent via Neurotico y Romantico.

503. The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock

This is XTC in 1985 doing a loving parody of pretty much every 60s psychedelic band and every 60s psychedelic rock production trope, having a great time making fun of stoners in the process. Blippy loops, echoes, thumps and swirls pan back and forth across the speakers as they parody the Electric Prunes on the title track, early Pink Floyd on Bike Ride to the Moon, the Yardbirds on My Love Explodes, the Beatles and Stones on What in the World, the Stones again with the fuzztone-fueled Your Gold Dress (whose leapfrogging brontosaurus drums are LMFAO funny) and finally the Move on the surprisingly sweeping, majestic The Mole from the Ministry. The keyboard settings are as trebly and cheesy as you would expect; perhaps surprisingly, Colin Moulding would never play more interesting, soaringly melodic basslines than he does here. There’s also a full-length album, Psonic Psunspot, which includes these songs along with several vastly less interesting Beach Boys ripoffs. Here’s a random torrent.

502. The Only Ones – Even Serpents Shine

Although this British band got their start during the punk era, they’re not particularly punk at all. Sometimes jangly, sometimes growling, their two-guitar attack reminds a lot more of a more terse, powerpop-oriented version of Television than any punk band. This 1979 album, their second, doesn’t have their big hit Another Girl Another Planet: it’s a lot more serious. The real stunner here is the opening anthem, From Here to Eternity, as assaultively menacing as it is seductive, frontman Peter Perrett’s suave croon giving nothing away. There’s also the sarcastic No Solution; the glamrock-inspired Out There in the Night; the seedily picturesque Programme; brisk pub-rockers like Oh No and Curtains for You as well as more slowly unwinding, guitar-fueled tracks like Flaming Torch, You’ve Got to Pay, In Betweens and the wryly titled Instrumental. Here’s a random torrent via Straighten Out.

501. JB Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim – Live ’63

Recorded in lo-fi mono by blues enthusiast Norman Oden at the obscure Chicago nightspot Nina’s Lounge and reissued 37 years later, this is a prime example of the blues as blue-collar neighborhood drinking music, not cultural tourism for politically correct yuppies. As The Hound has insightfully observed, Lenoir’s subtly chordal guitar style was a big influence on Ali Farka Toure, helping to jumpstart the desert blues movement. This doesn’t have Lenoir’s “protest songs” like Eisenhower Blues or Vietnam Blues, but this mostly solo set on his home turf is a treat. Pianist Sunnyland Slim – the guy who introduced Muddy Waters to Big Bill Broonzy and springboarded Waters’ career – plays with his usual casual, incisively smart style as Lenoir makes his way through the understatedly biting Harlem Can’t Be Heaven, hits like It’s You Baby and Brown Skin Woman along with a bunch of jams with titles obviously not supplied by the musicians, i.e. J.B.’s Harp-Rack Blues.The whole thing is streaming at spotify if you have it, deezer also (if you haven’t used your allotted monthly hour or whatever it is now); here’s a random torrent via The Blues-That Jazz.

500. Twin Turbine – Jolly Green Giant

The second album from these New York underground rock legends blends the surreal guitar assault of Guided by Voices with more straightforwardly melodic British Invasion and punk sounds. It’s got creepy, intense stuff like Fade For Sunday – frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck sounding like Roger Waters doing his best Darth Vader imitation – along with the scathing Made for TV Murder, a Jon-Benet Ramsey narrative. Downsizer, the single, is even more timely in these depression days, with its bitter lyrics and catchy Stiff Little Fingers-inflected tune. The best of all of these is Susquehanna, a gorgeous, vengefully hallucinatory anthem setting layers of guitars over a swaying country backbeat. There’s also the squalling Love Rock & Roll, the Stoogoid Stop This Thing and Womankind, and Both Kinds, which sets an old 60s garage rock riff to 90s GBV crunch. A cult classic from 2005, it’s AWOL from the usual sources for free music – even Spotify doesn’t have it – but it’s still available from the band.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music, rock music, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 4/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #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.

April 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 MysteronsOver 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.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, folk music, funk music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, ska music, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 600-699

The 100 Best Tracks of 2010, 100 Best Songs of 2010, 100 Best Cuts of 2010, Whatever You Want to Call This

Keep in mind that the songs are in completely random order (other than #1 of course, heh heh). This is just one of our many ways of spreading the word about all the good music out there that the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere won’t touch because it’s too edgy, too much fun, or too intelligent. In response to your requests for as much variety as possible, we give you 100 songs by 100 of the coolest artists out there, in a wide variety of styles. Whenever possible, we link to each individual song, but because some of them are so new they haven’t been recorded or youtubed yet, that’s not possible. We try our best to get titles right, but in the case of the unreleased stuff the artists may not have settled on definitive ones yet.

Because we’re a New York blog, this is a very New York-centric list. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Albums of 2010 list, our Best Songs of 2009 list, our 50 Best Albums of 2009 list and our 200 Best Albums of the Decade list for the entire decade of the zeros.

1. Changing Modes – Moles
A punk rock classic with all the extras: a wicked catchy tune, a scream and a sizzling guitar solo. It looks at the life of a crazy homeless person living in the bowels of the New York subway, where it’s “worse than your nightmares and better than your wildest dreams.”

2.  The Brooklyn What – Punk Rock Loneliness
Chilling, vintage punk-infused wintertime scenario at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, by the brilliant, eclectic New York band.

3. The Larch – Tracking Tina
Tongue-in-cheek retro new wave about paranoid yuppie parents putting their kids under surveillance, from the band’s career-best new album Larix Americana

4. Clare & the Reasons – Murder, They Want Murder
The natives in “Ditmasville” are restless and they want blood – an eerie, Orbisonesque noir pop song from the Brooklyn art-rockers.  

5.  Bobtown – We Will Bury You
The New York bluegrass/Americana band’s soaring but unsettling, funereal highlight from their new albumm.

6. Tris McCall – First World, Third Rate
Suburban New Jersie anomie and angst perfectly capsulized and set to catchy piano-based art-rock, from the songwriter’s excellent new album Let the Night Fall. 

7.  Flugente – People Come from All Around
An anti-gentrifier anthem from a first-class songwriter memorializing a better time and place in NYC without being sentimental. From his excellent new one Flugente II.

8. Norden Bombsight – Raven
Careening art-rock monstrosity from the fiery, psychedelic band – probably the only song ever to memorialize (or mention) West Haven, Connecticut.

9. Walter Ego – I Am the Glass
Metaphorically rich, tuneful, Costelloish rock from the excellent lyrical New York acoustic rocker (who needs a website so his fans can hear this song).

10. 3ology with Ron Miles – Nightmares of My Youth
Cornetist Miles’ jazz trio with Tim and Doug Carmichael vividly evokes a dark night of the soul. From the group’s debut album together.

11. Chicha Libre – Rich Guy Theme
Early in the year, the psychedelic Brooklyn chicha revivalists debuted this live as one of two main themes for Charlie Chaplin’s The Idle Class. It’s as evil and as catchy as any of the stoner surf themes that came out of Peru in the 70s that the band emulates so perfectly.

12. Liz Tormes – Read My Mind
Bitter, intense, ferociously literate kiss-off song from the New York Americana chanteuse. From her most recent album Limelight.

13. Kasey Anderson – Torn Apart
A warning to get out of a small town before it suffocates you, done sort of growly, Steve Earle style. From Anderson’s new album Nowhere Nights.

14. Edward Rogers – Passing the Sunshine
The blithe neo-Britpop melody masks the ache for a New York neighborhood lost to greedy developers and the gentrifiers who moved in and ruined it. From Rogers’ excellent most recent album Sparkle Lane.

15. The Snow – The Silent Parade
An understatedly majestic art-rock anthem about the snowstorm to end all snowstorms, from frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s ongoing “disaster song cycle,” and the band’s latest album I Die Every Night.

16. Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs – Long Way Home
Lusciously jangly but savagely dismissive 12-string guitar rock song for a clueless gentrifier girl who finds that New York isn’t all just trendy and nice like pitchfork says it is.

17. Tall Tall Trees – Sallie Mae
Characteristically edgy, hilarious banjo rock tune that brings the instutition to life: she left him and stuck him with a debt he’ll never be able to repay.

18. Avi Fox-Rosen – White Collar Crime
Sly, Steely Dan-esque funk-rock with a message: if you want to be a crook, this is the right way to go.

19. Bad Reputation – I Made Myself Small
Pierre de Gaillande’s English-language Georges Brassens cover project’s version of the classic Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit: gypsy-tinged art-rock about being pussywhipped.

20. The Toneballs – Max Planck’s Time
Middle Eastern-tinged, angst-ridden art-rock from songwriter/filmmaker Dan Sallitt’s post Blow This Nightclub project. Lead guitarist Paul McKenzie blew us away with a version of this at Freddy’s Bar right before it closed earlier this year.

21. Abaji – Menz Baba
Bouzouki rock has seldom been this catchy or this intense. From the Greek/Turkish multi-instrumentalist’s new one Origine Orients.

22. Thunderball – To Catch a Vixen
Trippy, cinematic downtempo/trip-hop crime theme from this irrepressible crew.

23. Kathleen Supove – Trepidus, by Louis Andriessen
Watching the avant garde piano titan play this brutally taxing piece with perfect staccato intensity and groove in Brooklyn this past spring was one of the highlights of 2010.

24. Sean Kershaw & the New Jack Ramblers – Woke Up Dead
Creepy noir Americana from the Coney Island Cowboy’s long-awaited new full-length cd.

25. Rick Barry – Atlantis
Pensive, brooding apocalyptic folk-rock from the New Jersey songwriter.

26. The Tivoli Trio – Two for Tea
Macabre, phantasmagorical piano jazz theme from Frank Carlberg and his rhythm section.

27. Wormburner – Peekskill
Depression-era heartland hell from a highway rock band who know their way around smart, realist meat-and-potatoes anthemic rock songwriting.

28. Tribecastan – Starry Stari Grad
Sad, haunting Macedonian-tinged waltz from these eclectic world music hellraisers.

29. The Jack Grace Band – If You’re Gonna Raise a Drunk
Definitely one of the  alltime classic drinking songs: a how-to guide for the drunk parent, from the Martini Cowboy’s excellent new Drinking Songs for Lovers cd.

30. Elvis Costello – National Ransom
The greatest English-language songwriter turns his poison pen and Americana rock band on the Wall Street swindlers who gave us the new depression – title track from his excellent album.

31. Girl to Gorilla – Evil Man
New York noir meets southwestern gothic with punk energy – they kicked the hell out of this one at last spring’s upstate Beefstock Festival.

32. Mojo Mancini – The Bunker
Dub reggae meets Tuatara-style South Asian hypnotic ambience on this one from NYC’s best noir soundtrack band’s self-titled debut album.

33. Mostly Other People Do the Killing – The Christian Life
Characteristically hilarious, sacrilegious cover of the Louvin Bros.’ country gospel standard.

34. Carolann Solebello – Behind the Door
Vividly lyrical, wounded yet triumphant anthem for anyone with a checkered past – from the Red Molly multi-instrumentalist’s most recent album Glass of Desire.

36. Elisa Flynn – Close Your Eyes
The indie songwriter’s haunting evocation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair disaster – she did a riveting version of this at Small Beast this past spring.

37. Smoothe Moose – Ghouls n Ghosts
Theme from the classic 1980s video game, done dubstep style.

38. Las Rubias del Norte – Navidad Negra
Noir cumbia much in the same vein as their brother band, Chicha Libre, from their career-best new album Ziguala.

39. Greta Gertler – Teacher
Casually dramatic, intense ballad from this state-of-the-art, playful art-rock composer.

40. Pal Shazar – People Talk
Elvis Costelloesque nonconformist anthem from the cult hero songwriter from 80s legends Slow Children.

41. Fishtank Ensemble – Espagnolette
Blistering gypsy intensity from the Bay Area band’s latest album; they slayed with this at BAM last winter.

42. Black Death – Live Free or Die
Not a cover of the Bill Morrissey comedy-rock classic – this punk-metal stomp is closer to the UK Subs at their early 80s peak.

43. Gamelan Galak Tika – Tire Fire
Evan Ziporyn’s gamelan-rock band’s showstopper is this long, aptly titled, scorching triptych.

44. The One and Nines – Walked Alone
Defiant, sassy oldschool Memphis soul from siren Vera Sousa and her talented band.

45. Gaida – Levantine Indulgence
Sweeping, majestically slinky title track to the Syrian/American chanteuse’s new album.

46. Masters of Persian Music – Taqsim #1
Iranian spike fiddle virtuoso/composer Kayhan Kalhor and his accomplices dedicated this long, mournful jam to a recently bereaved friend at their show at NYU’s Skirball Center this past spring.

47. The Smiles & Frowns – Mechanical Songs
Cleverly satirical, period-perfect retro 60s psychedelia.

48. Lorraine Leckie – Don’t Giggle At the Corpse
Blackly amusing funeral scenario, solo acoustic, from the New York noir chanteuse’s new album Martini Eyes.

49. Newspeak – If You See Something Say Something
Brutally sarcastic cover of the Taking Back Sunday song by this amazingly eclectic New York avant-garde/rock outfit.

50. Matt Keating – Asbury Park
A bitingly realistic antidote to Springsteen-style romanticism – as yet unreleased.

51. Sarah Manning – The Owls Are on the March
Alto sax genius Manning’s latest album Dandelion Clock contemplates the finitude of time: this is a characteristically angst-drenched, richly melodic composition.

52. The New York Scandia String Symphony/Bjarke Mogensen – Anders Koppel: Concerto Piccolo
Danish composer Koppel’s richly diverse suite for accordion and orchestra was stunning this past spring when Mogensen and the NY Scandia Symphony’s chamber orchestra played it at Victor Borge Hall.

53. Mary Lee’s Corvette – Big Things
From frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ as-yet-unstaged musical about legendary, obscure heartland songwriter Beulah Rowley, this is a darkly lyrical oldtime swing song.

54. The City Champs – Comanche
Noir Link Wray-ish gospel-inflected theme from the Memphis organ groove trio’s excellent latest album.

55. Fernando Otero – Fin de Revision
Cinematic solo piano suspense theme from the eclectic Argentinian pianist/composer’s excellent latest album, Vital.

56. Elaine Romanelli – Faust Revisited
Cruelly funny yet insightful look at the psychology of anxious yuppie vanity, from the NYC siren’s compelling album The Real Deal.

57. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Saro
Memorable West African tribute to a fallen family member, from the ngoni star’s latest album I Speak Fula.

58. The Debutante Hour – Galax
Creepy Nashville gothic from the irrepressible, theatrical all-girl trio.

59. The Disclaimers – We’re the Disclaimers
A soul/rock band this good deserves their own theme: the two frontwoman deliver sultry harmonies over the two guitars, keys and violin. They killed with this at Spike Hill almost a year ago.

60. The Dixons – The Lonesome Side of Me
Oldschool Bakersfield-style Telecaster-driven country with Johnny Cash style vocals – awesome.

61. LJ Murphy – Waiting By the Lamppost for You
Characteristically vivid, cinematic, brooding ballad from the NY noir legend. Unreleased, but a current staple of his live show.

62. Spanglish Fly – Open Container
An anthem for anybody who’s ever been busted by a New York cop out to make his quota of cheap arrests. Unreleased, but a real crowd-pleaser at the bugalu revivalists’ live shows.

63. Audrey Chen – Untitled
Chen improvises everything – using a homemade effects box, she growled, purred, whispered and roared through an amazing wordless set including this one last month at Issue Project Room.

64. Jeremy Messersmith – Deathbed Salesman
Darkly hilarious, jangly Rickenbacker guitar powerpop from the excellent Minnesota tunesmith’s Reluctant Graveyard album.

65. Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – River King
Vividly evocative, bitter Americana-tinged resignation from one of NYC’s foremost song stylists. Unreleased, but she plays it live a lot.

66. Cousin Silas – A Passing
Ominous, allusive ambient soundscape from the British composer’s marvelous Canaveral Dreams album.

67. Ted Hearne – Brownie You’re Doing a Heck of a Job
The Bush regime may be out of office, but it’s still fun to make fun of them. This white hip-hop number from Hearne’s Katrina Ballads album is a doozy.

68. Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch – Cutesy Bootsies
Absolutely hilarious anti-trendoid anthem from the noir chanteuse and the Botanica pianist/bandleader.

69. Daria Grace & the Pre-War Ponies – Moon Over Brooklyn
An unselfconsciously romantic cover of an obscure 1920s swing number that deserves to be the borough’s theme song.

70. Ana Milosavljevic – Reflections
Brooding, Satie-esque piano-and-violin masterpiece based on an old Serbian folk song that offers just a hint of hope at the end; title track from her new album.

71. The Snow – Albatross
Richly lyrical, psychedelic art-rock from Pierre de Gaillande’s excellent chamber-pop band’s new album I Die Every Night.

72. The John Sharples Band – The Impostor
A noir Tom Warnick classic done with extra guitar fury by the world’s best cover band, whose raison d’etre is to play only brilliant obscure songs.

73.  The Spy from Cairo – Leila
Deliciously trippy downtempo version of the serpentine Mohammed Al-Wahab classic.

74. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Jah Mercy
Conscious African reggae from this ecstatically intense crew’s most recent album.

75. Paula Carino – The Great Depression
Characteristically catchy, lyrically rich janglerock from Carino’s career-best Open on Sunday album.

76. iLa Mawana – 40 Hours
Defiantly conscious roots reggae workingmans’ anthem; from their new album Soldiers of Sound.

77. Hot Club of Detroit – Restless Twilight
Gypsy jazz shuffle from the excellent Detroit band’s latest album It’s About That Time.

78. Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band – Gungu Walk
Hilariously rustic proto-reggae by this Jamaican crew. “Gungu walk” is oldtime Jamaican slang for “do the nasty.”

79. Tom Warnick & World’s Fair – I’m a Stranger Here
Characteristically surreal, carnivalesque noir rock from Warnick’s latest excellent album, The Great Escape.

80. Botanica – Who You Are
Rich, towering noir angst from this era’s foremost art-rock band – beware anyone who caters to your desire for someone to know who you are and what you need.

81.Randi Russo – Alienation
Potently crafted, pretty self-explanatory, dark artsy rock from one of its best practitioners over the last ten years: look for a release in 2011.

82. Special Patrol Group – Only an Oasis
Subtly lyrical 1990s style Britpop with bite: a snide reflection on a southern New England upbringing.

83. Dollshot – The Trees
Creepy improvisationally tinged art/jazz/rock from this brilliantly unpredictable New York crew.

84. Sonia’s Party & the Everyone’s Invited Band – Can’t Tear My Heart
Oldschool 1960s style soul music – a real showstopper in concert.

85. The Oxygen Ponies – I Don’t Want Yr Love
Snarling, sarcastic and intense track from the NYC art-rockers’ forthcoming 2011 album.

86. Æ – Thalassa
Otherworldly track from the new album by Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s hypnotic, haunting duo a-cappella project.

87. Devi – Tompkins Square
A stomping, riff-rocking remake of the False Prophets’ punk classic.

88.  Razia – Ny Alantsika
Stately, haunting eco-disaster anthem by the eclectic Malagasy chanteuse’s new album Zebu Nation.

89. Electric Junkyard Gamelan – Life on Mars
Typically richly intertwined gamelanesque trip-hop from Terry Dame’s amazing homemade instrument-playing band. They did an especially amazing version of this at Barbes last spring.

90. Black 47 – Bankers & Gangsters
Aptly snide title track to the Irish-American rockers’ tuneful new album.

91. Bern & the Brights – Sangria Peaches
Tricky, artsy, bracing violin-and-guitar driven chamber-rock from this completely original New Jersey band’s debut cd Swing Shift Maisies

92.  The Newton Gang – A Woman Scorned
Careening, noirish paisley underground intensity from J.D. Duarte’s powerful Americana rock outfit. They murdered with this at this past summer’s Brooklyn County Fair.

93. Cudzoo & the Fagettes – Walk of Shame
Pretty hilarious early morning scenario when everything goes wrong at the worst possible moment, by these fearless faux-girl group punks.

94. Redhooker – Black Light Poster Child
Trance-inducing, minimalist atmospherics from the Brooklyn avant/baroque ensemble’s debut cd Vespers.

95. Rev. Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir – Not for Sale
A ferocious gospel tune reminding the corporate types who would sell off New York to the highest-bidding gentrifier that the natives won’t tolerate it. It’s a highlight of their amazing live show.

96. Brooklyn Rider – Achille’s Heel
A fascinating, shapeshifting Debussy tribute from the adventurous string quartet’s latest album Dominant Curve.

97. My Education – Lust
Hypnotically crescendoing, atmospheric, cinematic postrock guitar theme from these excellent Texas instrumentalists.

98. The Fast Sails – Wayside
A catchy, retro 80s look at struggling bands dealing with greedy club owners from rock siren Simone Snaith’s latest project. 

99. Robin Aigner – Great Molasses Flood
Somebody had to immortalize the 1918 disaster in Boston that claimed over a dozen lives, derailed a train and flooded the North End – good thing it was this soaring Americana siren.

100. My Pet Dragon – Something Between Us
Majestic, swirling, hypnotically intense Radiohead-flavored art-rock.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The 100 Best Tracks of 2009, 100 Best Songs of 2009, 100 Best Cuts of 2009, Whatever You Want to Call This

Some things you should know about this if you’re here for the first time:

1. This is not an attempt to list the bestselling or most popular stuff out there – it’s strictly for fun.

2. If you’re looking for Taylor Swift or Jason Mraz or anyone who’s ever been on American Idol, you are about as faraway from all that garbage as you can possibly be right now. Welcome to our world of incredibly good, fun songs that 99% of the world (ok, maybe not 99%) have never heard of!

3. Because our primary raison d’etre is our role as a New York live music blog, this is a very New York-centric list, with some welcome guests from around the world.

4. Because all of these songs are so good, there’s no real ranking here other than what’s sitting at the #1 position. Virtually all of these links will take you to each individual song. Enjoy!

If you’re interested, here’s our 50 Best Albums of 2009 list, our Best-of-2008 list and our Top 50 Albums of 2008. And we’re now working on the 100 Best Songs of 2010

1. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Never Looking Back

Scary stuff, an anthem for anyone with a checkered past. From the new album out on Luxotone.

2. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

The gleefully morbid title track.

3. The Brooklyn What – Planet’s So Lonely

A blues number, part Otis Rush, past Stooges, from the Brooklyn What for Borough President cd. Great guitar solo!

4. Dan Bryk – My Alleged Career

A funny, spot-on slap at major label stupidity from the killer new cd Pop Psychology.

5. Maynard & the Musties – Elvis Museum

Smartly metaphorical urban country. Ryan Adams (who produced) on piano. From their new cd So Many Funerals.

6. The Brooklyn What – Gentrification Rock

The Brooklyn band are possible the only group in town whose raison d’etre is to fight the waves of trendoids and tourists turning the city into a sterile, bland mall town, and the greedy developers destroying entire city blocks to make room for them. This is a furious, sarcastic punk rock dance number and the title track from their latest ep.

7. Dan Bryk – City Of

The most hilariously accurate view of the state of the music world, 2009. Also from Pop Psychology.

8. Jay Bennett – I’ll Decorate My Love

Haunting solo acoustic from the late Wilco virtuoso’s final album, Whatever Happened, I Apologize.

9. Jay Bennett – The Engines Are Idle

Even more haunting, also from Whatever Happened, I Apologize.

10. Daniel Bernstein – Joyless Now

The most gorgeously jangly depiction of madness ever written – once a staple of Bernstein’s old band the Larval Organs’ shows, he held the room riveted with this at Sidewalk last summer.

11. The Brooklyn What – The In-Crowd

“Is this the crowd, the crowd you wanna be in? Nah, nah nah nah, nah nah, nah nah!” From The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

12. The Brooklyn What – No Chords

A quiet, funny, brutally satirical number about gentrification and trendoids, also from the Brooklyn What for Borough President.

13. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Sugar for the Horses

Aptly aphoristic, sardonically cynical oldtimey ragtime number from the excellent NYC banjoist/tunesmith. From his Wirewalkers & Assassins cd.

14. Botanica – How

Check their new live cd americanundone for this killer gypsy punk broadside. “How many idiots on the head of a pin?”

15. The Oxygen Ponies – Love Yr Way

Love in a time of choler – under the Bush regime. From their amazing new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

16. The Motion Sick – Some Lonely Day

With its snarling bass intro, funky bounce and haunting 60s psych-folk melody, it’s about the price you pay for being a nonconformist. From the winner of the Boston Phoenix’s 2009 Best Boston Band competition.

17. Jenifer Jackson – Maybe

Typically gorgeous, brooding art-pop song from this multistylistic rock goddess. Unreleased.

18. Elisa Flynn – Timber

Towering, majestic art-rock dirge from the NYC rocker’s excellent new cd Songs About Birds & Ghosts

19. Gillen and Turk – Dear Mr. President

Undoubtedly written during the Bush regime; doesn’t appear to have beeen released. The duo slayed with this at Beefstock upstate this past spring.

20. Jang Sa-ik – Wild Rose

Big Orbison-esque hit for the Korean crooner, soon to be a big world music crossover hit here in the US.He brought down the house with this at his show at NY City Center in April.

21. Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble – The Nod

Arguably the most charismatic frontwoman in rock, the ferocious, dramatic contralto chanteuse attacks this with gale force. It’s on her myspace.

22. McGinty and White – Knees

One of the great lyrics of the decade. “You can keep my heart, you bitch, just give me back my knees.” From their new cd McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty &White Songbook.

23. Jenifer Jackson – Groundward

Dark, murky, minimalist fingerpicked dirge. Unreleased.

24. The Asylum Street Spankers – My Baby in the CIA

Hilarious, spot-on Bush-era commentary from the Texas oldtimey crew.

25. Livia Hoffman – All My Imaginary Children

Intense, casually sardonic ballad by one of the most under-the-radar songwriters out there.

26. Marty Willson-Piper – The Sniper

The ethics of assassination in about six understated riveting minutes from the great songwriter and twelve-string guitarist of the Church.

27. The Jazz Funeral – Goodnight (Is How I Say Goodbye)

Bitter, propulsive janglerock anthem from maybe the best band ever from Staten Island, NY. Free download.

28. Kelli Rae Powell – The Craggy Shuffle

The sultry oldtimey siren gets dark and apocalyptic here. “There’s nothing bad that can’t get worse.”

29. Marty Willson-Piper – Feed Your Mind

Margaritaville transposed to an unnamed tourist bar somewhere in western Europe – absolutely hilarious.

30. The Asylum Street Spankers – TV Party

Black Flag cover updated for the end of the zeros. Also hilarious.

31. System Noise – Untitled

This is a real departure for the NYC-based art/noise-rockers, a Jorma Kaukonen-style acoustic ballad with one of frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s most intense lyrics. Unreleased.

32. LJ Murphy – This Is Nothing Like Bliss

The NYC noir rock legend goes deep into vintage soul/R&B territory for this one. Unreleased.

33. Juliana Nash – Love Song for New York

“It’s 3 AM and I’m drunk again!” A fond evocation of a time before the trust fund set discovered New York. Unknown if this was ever released or not.

34. Carol Lipnik & Spookarama– Cuckoo Bird

Typical phantasmagorical noir cabaret from the 4-octave siren.

35. Paul Wallfisch – Swimming in the Ocean at Night

A solo version of his band Botanica’s menacing classic Botanica vs. the Truth Fish – it was pretty evil when he played it at Small Beast at the Delancey back in March.

36. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – John Wilkes Booth

A more sardonic, tongue-in-cheek version of #26. From the Taking Up Serpents cd.

37. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Sweatshop Fire

Scorching, characteristically historically imbued banjo punk from the charismatic NY songwriter. Also from Wirewalkers & Assassins.

38. Steve Wynn – 405

An old Dream Syndicate song (a LA freeway reference) resurrected on Wynn’s sensational new live cd.

39. Steve Kilbey – Forever Lasts for Nothing

Sort of an update – melodically at least – on the Church classic Bel Air, with a more timely lyric. From his Painkiller cd.

40. Kerry Kennedy – One from the Mountain

Absolutely haunting southwestern gothic dirge from the James Jackson Toth catalog, resurrected by the NYC noir siren. It’s on her myspace.

41. Kerry Kennedy – Dive

This is a Kennedy original, a characteristically menacing anthem. Unreleased; look for a 2010 album.

42. Ivo Popasov – Dance of the Falcon

Adrenaline-fueled title track from the legendary Bulgarian gypsy clarinetist’s latest album Dance of the Falcon.

43. Ivo Papasov – Prayer from the Mountains

A more ornate, orchestral composition but still amazingly intense. Also from Dance of the Falcon.

44. Ten Pound Heads – All Hands on Deck

Dark brooding art-rock anthem from the Brooklyn band’s superb debut album.

45. Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Allentown

We won’t spoil the joke other than to describe this as a Billy Joel cover by the world’s funniest free jazz band, from This Is Our Moosic.

46. And the Wiremen – Sleep

Southwestern gothic in the tradition of Friends of Dean Martinez or Giant Sand, by this excellent, atmospheric Brooklyn crew.

47. Edison Woods – Dear Heaven

Typically wrenching, poignant lyrics and understated, amospheric beauty from frontwoman Julia Frodahl

48. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Some Walk

Sardonic Bukowskiesque ballad: “Don’t look to tomorrow, just get through the day.” Also from Tear Back the Night.

49. Ian Hunter – Man Overboard

Big anguished 6/8 anthem, title track from Hunter’s superb new cd.

50. System Noise – Now We Know

Magnificent, Pink Floyd/Procol Harum style epic. The band has gone on hiatus, but expect a recording out sometime in 2010.

51. The Whiskey Daredevils – Stories About Texas

Spot-on, hilarious portrait of a guy who’s not exactly what he says he is, by the killer Cleveland roots rockers.

52. Jang Sa-ik – This Is Not It

The art-rock crooner is a superstar in South Korea, not yet known here outside the Korean community: this big carpe diem anthem could help change that.

53. Mark Steiner – Cigarettes

One of the great noir rocker’s signature songs, a towering, 6/8 tremolo-guitar anthem released on his Fallen Birds cd in 2007, he absolutely slayed at Cake Shop with this in August.

54. Amy Allison – The Needle Skips

A battered 45 as metaphor for life itself, bittersweet and poignant and funny too. From her new career-best cd Sheffield Streets.

55. Livia Hoffman – Infinite Jest

Big rocking anthem with a characteristically anguished lyric from the underground chanteuse.

56. The New Collisions – Caged Us Kids

A blast of furious fun by the Boston new wave revivalists. On their killer new ep.

57. Abby Travis – Now Was

The highly sought-after bassist is also a first-rate noir cabaret songwriter, and this is one of her best. She killed with this at the Delancey last winter.

58. Warsaw Village Band – Circle No. 1

Dark gypsy instrumental stuff from the Polish group’s excellent new cd out on Barbes Records.

59. The Snow – Undertow

Clever, sardonic art-rock from Melomane frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s latest project.

60. Ingrid Olava – It’s All Right, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding

Absolutely riveting, perfect cover of the Dylan classic. Unreleased – this was the high point of her show at the Delancey in NYC last winter.

61. Myles Turney – Nobody’s Prize

Scathing, dismissive anti-trendoid number by the excellent Americana/blues guitarist. It’s on his myspace.

62. Kelli Rae Powell – Some Bridges Are Good to Burn

Centerpiece to the oldtimey siren’s stupendously good, frequently bitter new cd New Words for Old Lullabies

63. Balthrop, Alabama – Bride of Frankenstein

Self-explanatory track from the Brooklyn rock behemoths’ viscerally menacing new ep.

64. Balthrop, Alabama – Prom Story

60s teen pulp redone with savage black humor. Also on the new ep.

65. Balthrop, Alabama – Red Hook Pool

This is the most New York-centric of the songs and has characteristically bite.

66. The Church – Anchorage

Savage, magnificent Steve Kilbey anthem – whether this is a mea culpa or a distribe about someone else, it packs a wallop. From their new one Untitled #23.

67. Chris Eminizer – Ashes to the Sun

Spot-on, artsy post-9/11 anthem from the New York-based songwriter.

68. Fishtank Ensemble – Spirit Prison

Careening, rocking gypsy stuff by the crazy Bay Area crew.

69. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai Over Serbia

This blends the band’s gypsy feel with Asian influences.

70. Alpha Blondy – Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd cover, maybe better than the iconic original, by the African reggae legend. High point of his show at Central Park Summerstage this past summer.

71. The Motion Sick – God Hates Kansas

Briskly incisive, insightful rocker from this excellent, lyrical Boston band.

72. Ward White – Getting Along Is Easy

Sardonic, bitter and wickedly lyrical stuff from the great underground NYC songwriter (and half of McGinty and White). From his new one Pulling Out.

73. Dan Bryk – Apologia

The Canadian-American rocker offers this hilariously tongue-in-cheek mea culpa from an imaginary record executive. From Bryk’s excellent new cd Pop Psychology.

74. The New Collisions – The Beautiful and Numb

Lush sweeping new wave-inflected apocalypse anthem, a perfect soundtrack piece for NYC’s Lower East Side. Figures it would take a Boston band to write it.

75. Dan Bryk – Street Team

Graham Parker’s Mercury Poisoning updated for the end of the zeros with much more deliciously funny detail. Also from the new cd Pop Psychology.

76. Amy Allison – Mardi Gras Moon

A typically witty, sardonic number, this one about drinking and popping pills: “I hear the distant music of the band/I’m losing all the feeling in my hands.”

77. The Asylum Street Spankers – Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV

The smartly political oldtimey band’s big late-Bush-era hit.

78. Joe Pug – One Thousand Men

Antiwar anthem that recasts a Jefferson quote as something that Stalin might have said. Confrontational, to say the least. From his new ep In the Meantime.

79. Kelli Rae Powell – Don’t Slow Down, Zachary

A road trip to hell – or away from hell? Wrenchingly poignant. Also from New Words for Old Lullabies.

80. The American String Quartet Robert Sirota: Tryptich

A haunting and evocative 9/11 composition; forthcoming on cd in 2010.

81. Spanking Charlene – Requiem

That’s obviously not the title – but that’s what it is. Unreleased; the version the fiery NYC punk/Americana rockers did at Lakeside this past July was majestic and heartwrenching.

82. The Ulrich/Ziegler Duo – Since Cincinnati

Written by Big Lazy frontman Steve Ulrich, this is a cinematic blue-sky theme featuring all kinds of gorgeous guitar. Unreleased – yet another great live moment from Small Beast at the Delancey.

83. Love Camp 7 – (Beware of) The Angry Driver (Yeah)

A tasty, jangly, brutally sarcastic number about sadistic city bus drivers in Brooklyn. From their equally catchy, jangly new cd Union Garage.

84. The Asylum Street Spankers – My Favorite Records

A hilarious theme for vinyl lovers (and fans of contrapuntal vocals) everywhere. From their killer live cd What? And Give Up Show Business?

85. The Oxygen Ponies – The War Is Over

Fiery, murderous Bush-era broadside from the excellent art-rockers’ new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

86. Jeff Zentner – Burning Season

Brilliantly metaphorical Nashville gothic, from the North Carolina songwriter’s new cd The Dying Days of Summer.

87. Little Annie – In the Sand

The noir cabaret chanteuse’s cute, catchy seaside resort ditty is actually a devastatingly funny anti-trendoid rant. Unreleased and due out in 2010; she killed with it at Galapagos in December.

88. The Motion Sick – Grace Kelly

Viciously metaphorical sendup of a drama queen by the Boston rockers, from the Her Brilliant Fifteen cd.

89. The Oxygen Ponies – Finger Trigger

More late Bush-era fury from Harmony Handgrenade.

90. The Oxygen Ponies – Villains

This one doesn’t name names, but it doesn’t need to. Raw power. Another one from Harmony Handgrenade.

91. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – Ayn Rand Sucks

This song needed to be wrtten and it’s a good thing this guy did it. And it’s hysterically funny. From his new, career-best cd The Ghost of Rock N Roll.

92. The Church – Deadman’s Hand

Murky, sweeping, angry Iraq war parable from the Australian art-rock legends’ latest Untitled #23.

93. McGinty and White – Rewrite

One of Ward White’s greatest lyrics – and he has dozens – this breaks every wall, fourth wall, convention, whatever you can think of. Surreal and also very funny in a mean way. From the duo’s brilliant new debut cd McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty &White Songbook.

94. Dan Bryk – Treat of the Week

Savage blast of fury against record label blandness and corporate culture. Also from Pop Psychology.

95. Lenny Molotov – Devil’s Empire

Fiery and ultimately triumphant Woody Guthrie-style antifascist tirade. From the new cd Illuminated Blues.

96. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – White

Can the great Americana rocker do hip-hop too? You bet. As funny as anything else he’s ever done. Also from The Ghost of Rock & Roll.

97. Alice Texas – Oh, My Beautiful

NYC noir rock doesn’t get any more sweeping or beautiful than this towering anthem. Unreleased; the version she did at Small Beast at the Delancey in June was transcendent.

98. Lenny Molotov – Freedom Tower

A metaphor for life in a surveillance state, from the NYC Americana songwriter. This was supposed to be what the replacement for the World Trade Center was supposed to be called. But this one has helicopter gunships on the roof, and spycams everywhere…from Molotov’s new cd Illuminated Blues.

99. Liza & the WonderWheels – Cold Wind

Uncharacteristically chilly anthem by the usually psychedelic, catchy new wave rockers. Unreleased – the acoustic version they did at the Parkside Lounge this fall was amazing.

100. Post No Bills – GDDUMOA

One of the funnest things about youtube and myspace is the amateur stuff you find there. We stumbled across this hilarious acoustic song while looking for another band with the same name. The title is an acronym for God Damn Donut Under Mike Owens’s Ass. Apparently poor Mike Owens, whoever he is, needed an operation, and the recovery process included sitting on a glorified inner tube. “I’m the only cure for the hemorrhoid you got from a strap-on,” sings the inflatable ring in a lazy southern drawl. Until Mike Owens finds out about this and fires off an irate message to myspace to take the song down, here it is.

And just for fun (and to give some added perspective to this list), here are the #1 songs of the year for 2008 from this site and our predecessor e-zine going all the way back to its inception in 2000:

2008: Steve Wynn – I Don’t Deserve This

2007: Amy Allison – Turn Out the Lights

2006: System Noise – Daydreaming

2005: LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor

2004: Botanica – Good

2003: The Wirebirds – This Green Hell

2002: Bob Dylan – Mississippi

2001: Mary Lee’s Corvette – Idiot Wind

2000: Ninth House – Put a Stake Right Through It

March 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

The Top 50 Albums of 2008

Conventional wisdom be damned: the cd is far from dead, in fact maybe more alive than ever since independent bands and artists have reclaimed their turf from the major labels. Most of what’s here are independent releases, with a few smart independent labels represented. For the rationale behind this list, we set up a rationale page for the truly obsessed.

 

Three of these cds in particular stand out from the hundreds of thousands – or maybe even millions – released in 2008. Our pick for best album of 2008 wasn’t by a multimillionaire New Jersey trust fund kid living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or a computer nerd with glasses the size of Elton John’s head, or a silicone-poisoned porn actress with a cable tv reality show. Rather, it was put out by a veteran Irish-American rock band whose lone brush with mainstream stardom came and went in the blink of an eye about fifteen years ago. Iraq by Black 47 isn’t just a good collection of rousing, Celtic-tinged rock tunes: it’s the most important album of the year, an unforgettable look at the war through the eyes of the soldiers just trying to get out of there alive. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also an accomplished novelist, and it shows in these songs: the black humor, the dialogue and the war’s sad drama have never been portrayed more powerfully or evocatively than they are here.

 

The party album of the year, the one that everybody was talking about and to which we assigned the #2 spot, was Sonido Amazonico by Chicha Libre. With this wickedly smart, fun, sometimes lovingly satirical collection of classic covers and originals, the Brooklyn band singlehandedly spearheaded a revival of the wildly psychedelic, surfy sound that was all the rage in the slums of the Peruvian Amazon 35 years ago. With its playful, hypnotic bounce, it made an irresistible soundtrack for the summer of 2008.

 

The darkest and most haunting album of the year, clocking in at number three, was Celestina by long-running California art-rockers 17 Pygmies. Based on a short story by frontman/guitarist Jackson Del Rey about love and betrayal in outer space, it’s a majestic, epic, eleven-part symphonic rock masterpiece.

 

And the rest of the list is incredible as well. Last year, our best albums list stopped at #20; this year, it felt egregiously unfair to cut this one off at #50. Many of these you know; some you may not. Enjoy!

 

4.  Marcel Khalife – Taqasim

A dark, stately, beautiful trio suite for oud, bass and percussion from the great Palestinian oud virtuoso.

 

5.  Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider – Silent City

The Iranian multi-instrumentalist string player/composer teamed up with the adventurous Brooklyn string quartet for a lush, intensely beautiful, powerfully compelling collection.

 

6.  Matt Keating – Quixotic

This gorgeously jangly double cd marks the high point in the New York rock songwriter’s career.

 

7.  Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

The NYC noir Americana songwriter/chanteuse proved equally mesmerizing at janglerock, bossa nova and even an early 70s style heavy metal song.

 

8.  Mascott – Art Project

Simply gorgeous, sunny, gemlike guitar-and-keyboard pop song perfection.

 

9.  System Noise – Give Me Power

The NYC rockers’ second official release proved they could be as melodic and danceable as they are savagely ferocious, frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s unearthly wail soaring over the din.

 

10. Aimee Mann – Fucking Smilers

She just keeps going, maybe better than ever; this one’s more keyboard-based but no less brilliant than anything she’s ever done.

 

11. Elvis Costello – Momofuku

A return to his lyrically dazzling, scorched-earth late 70s style guitar-and-keyboard lyrical rock, yet another addition to his pantheonic body of work.

 

12. Steve Wynn – Crossing Dragon Bridge

Wynn’s best cd studio cd since…his last one is a sometimes majestic, sometimes stark detour into hauntingly orchestrated rock, his trademark menace front and center as always.

 

13. Melomane – Look Out!

Frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s ongoing disaster song cycle is a clinic in brilliantly lyrical, orchestrated rock understatement, a particularly timely release.

 

14. Ward White – Pulling Out

His best album: the New York underground janglerock songwriter has never been more catchy, more brilliantly acerbic or savagely funny.

 

15 Mavrothi Kontanis – Sto Kafesli Sokaki

One of the oud virtuoso’s two debut cds released this past summer, this is a haunting mix of Greek and Turkish songs from decades past, many of them obscure but all of them first-rate

 

16. Mark Sinnis – Into an Unhidden Future

The Ninth House frontman’s solo debut, a haunting collection of Nashville gothic songs, was impeccably produced with the same dark, minimalist restraint as Johnny Cash’s Rick Rubin albums.

 

17. Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

The darkly riveting chanteuse’s second solo release was worth the wait, all stark, rain-drenched beauty and anguish.

 

18. Patty Ocfemia – Heaven’s Best Guest

There are few songwriters who tell a story as well as this relatively under-the-radar New York artist with a strikingly subtle, breathy vocal delivery.

 

19. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Wirewalkers & Assassins

The oldtimey banjoist is also a first-rate songwriter with a potently lyrical edge and a distinctly oldtimey New York ragtime feel.

 

20. Teslim – Debut cd

The Bay area Middle Eastern improvisers blend klezmer and Arab maqams into a deliriously psychedelic acoustic brew.

 

21. Ljova & the Kontraband – Mnemosyne

The multistylistic Russian/Balkan string band mix rousing dances, haunting ballads and atmospheric soundtrack-type stuff on their superb debut cd. 

 

22. Natacha Atlas & the Marzeeka Ensemble – Ana Hina

A career-best for the former Transglobal Underground frontwoman,  mostly acoustic, heavily Fairuz-influenced versions of classic Arab film music and also a Frida Kahlo poem set to music.

 

23. Sounds of Taarab – Zanzibar, NY

New York‘s pioneering Zanzibar revivalists have singlehandedly renewed interest in the great dance music and ballads from the area from the 20s and 30s, dark Middle Eastern melodies over catchy African rhythms.

 

24. Katie Elevitch – Kindling for the Fire

The NYC noir siren’s finest hour, a rivetingly lyrical, passionately intense effort.

 

25. The Dixie Bee-Liners – Ripe

The brain trust of the RMA’s Bluegrass Band of the Year, 2008, Buddy Woodward and Brandi Hart are the Richard and Linda Thompson of the bible belt, pushing the envelope with a fire and a dark vision unsurpassed in their field.

 

26. Mavrothi Kontanis – Wooden Heart

The second of the great oud player’s debut cds released this year – the title refers to the oud, made of wood –  is a stark, mostly instrumental mix of Mediterranean classics and originals that sound like classics.

 

27. Des Roar – Demo ep

One of NYC’s most exciting rock bands, with a viciously satirical edge, their punk/garage intensity never lets up. This one contains the classic Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man

 

28. Black Fortress of Opium – First cd

Aptly titled, this dark, anthemic Boston band adds a majestically beautiful Middle Eastern tinge to their eerie, macabre, noisy gothic-tinged anthems.

 

29. The Dog Show – Nicotene & Bluz

The band may be on hiatus, but frontman Jerome O’Brien keeps writing and recording good songs, in a smart, virtriolic mod punk vein not unlike the Jam.

 

30. Metropolitan Klezmer – Traveling Show

One of New York’s finest live acts, this live cd was a stroke of genius and is pure bliss to listen to, every style of haunting or boisterous Jewish roots music you could ever want.

 

31. The Roots of Chicha compilation

Barbes Records’ collection of brilliant, obscure Peruvian surf-dance songs available for the first time ever in North America.

 

32. Lee Feldman – I’ve Forgotten Everything

A subtly powerful, rivetingly dark piano-based concept album that traces one man’s descent into madness.

 

33. Patti Rothberg – Double Standards

The powerpop masterpiece that the Go Go’s should have made after Talk Show but didn’t.

 

34. Municipale Balcanica – Road to Damascus

The Italian Balkan dance band crosses genres and raises the temperature to boiling point with their fiery instrumentals.

 

35. Jenny Scheinman – Crossing the Field

The latest smart, counterintuitive instrumental album from the multistylistic violinist/composer and frequent Bill Frisell collaborator 

 

36. Willie Nile – Live from the Streets of New York (live)

Also available as a DVD, this is the great underground NYC anthem songwriter and his volcanic band at the absolute peak of their power, live at the Mercury Lounge. 

 

37. Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

Imaginative, subtly nuanced, utterly captivating, artsy songs that bridge classical, jazz, torch song and rock, by the former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist.

 

38. The Nice Outfit – Kissing Jocelyn (ep)

Slashing, somewhat Radio Birdman-inflected garage punk from these excellent Milwaukee vets. 

 

39. The Lash Outs – First cd

True to the spirit of classic punk, this ferocious Dallas band refuses to submit to authority, stands up for the cool kids and generates a lot of laughs on their debut cd.

 

40. This Reporter – Five Smooth Stones (ep)

Mostly acoustic dreampop with sultry vocals from frontwoman Jennifer Curtis. One of the most captivating ipod albums of the year.

 

41. Devi – Get Free

This snarling yet beautifully melodic, guitar-fueled, female-fronted power trio just gets more and more interesting, with a smartly improvisational edge.

 

42. The Romeros – Better Than Your Girlfriend

Roaring punk-pop in the style of Stiff Little Fingers from this fiery Chicago band.

 

43. Lazy Lions – Keep Your Love Away

When they’re at the top of their game, this New York band’s snarlingly lyrical, sardonic songs rank with anything Elvis Costello ever did.

 

44. Burning Spear – Jah Is Real

The best studio cd in ages from this roots reggae legend, a contemporary of Bob Marley who though now in his sixties remains absolutely undiminished.

 

45. Mighty High – Mighty High in Drug City

Arguably the funniest album released in many moons, this heavy metal parody band nail absolutely everything they set their sights on because they know the source material so well. 

 

46. Zikrayat – Live at Lotus

Classic and obscure Levantine dance music, slinky and gorgeous, recorded all-acoustic so as to capture the vitality of the originals.

 

47. Little Pink – Gladly Would We Anchor

Frontwoman Mary Battiata and her rootsy Washington, DC band evoke Richard & Linda Thompson at their most lyrical on this impeccably crafted, often haunting cd.

 

48. The Bedsit Poets – Rendezvous

The harmony-driven New York band explore new territory – pretty much every cosmopolitan European style from the 60s – as well as bossa nova and Mediterranean ballads on their sophomore effort.

 

49. The Sweet Bitters – Debut ep

The folk/pop duo of Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir blend their beautiful voices together in a mix of deviously funny and wrenchingly haunting songs.

 

50. Edward Rogers The Bedsit Poets’ singer offers a masterfully crafted mix of late 60s/early 70s Birmingham, UK style anthems and irresistible pop hits.

 

And just for fun – and to add some perspective to this list – here’s Lucid Culture’s pick for best album of 2007 along with our predecessor e-zine’s picks for best album of the year going all the way back to its inception in 2000:

 

2007: Rachelle Garniez – Melusine Years

2006: Radio Birdman – Zeno Beach

2005: LJ Murphy – Mad Within Reason

2004: Botanica – Botanica vs. the Truth Fish

2003: Richard Thompson – Semi-Detached Mock Tudor

2002: Bob Dylan – Love & Theft

2001: Steve Wynn – Here Come the Miracles

2000: Mary Lee’s Corvette – True Lovers of Adventure

December 20, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments