Here are some of the latest threads in the musical tapestry that is my life:
Sonny Boy Williamson * One Way Out – One of the very few blues artists to play with both Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, Sonny Boy Williamson’s story reads like a Blues primer, complete with shady name changes, nights spent riding the rails, and a bucket of blood. One Way Out is a collection of Chess recordings from 1955-1961, and it’s steeped in Williamson’s harp improvisations and Robert Jr. Lockwood’s rambunctious guitar. A gritty, gutty bunch of songs that are among the blackest of Blues.
Key Tracks: Born Blind, This Is My Apartment
Mandrill * Just Outside Of Town – This album is guaranteed to have listeners asking ‘Who is that??’ if only because the first song on Side 2 (or Track 6 for you digital weiners – ‘Two Sisters Of Mystery’) contains the main sample of Public Enemy’s hit ‘By The Time I Get To Arizona’. But beyond that, this is clearly a solid funk album that is full of quality grooves. Are there a couple of crappy soul/funk fillers buried on Side 2? Yep – but even so, this is an album that belongs in the collection of anyone who loves a good funk jam.
Key Tracks: Mango Meat, Two Sisters Of Mystery
Gabor Szabo * Blowin’ Some Old Smoke – Blowin’ Some Old Smoke reeks of the old guard trying to get fat off the popular trends in late 60’s music, and at the time of its release it must have been looked upon as about as real (and stylish) as a fake mink. But Gabor Szabo has benefited from the passage of time (and onset of postermodernism) that has rendered stale groups that were considered far hipper and more ‘authentic’ at the time – think Jefferson Airplane, Blind Faith, Emerson Lake & Palmer, etc. Lacking the context of popular opinion, Szabo’s renditions of ‘standards’ by Donovan, The Beatles, and Lee Hazlewood come off as refreshingly kitschy updates of songs you’ve heard too many times anyway.
Key Tracks: Dear Prudence, Galatea’s Guitar
Downliners Sect * The Sect – This British Blues band’s first album was a raw dose of rock for 1964, even if the Stones and Pretty Things were working in the same neighborhood. Less well-remembered than their rockin’ peers (even the Pretties get a nod now and again), Downliners Sect are the hardest Blues-Rock band of their era, and stand in direct lineage to groups like AC/DC and Black Sabbath, who mutated that sound into the heavier, darker fog that consumed some of the 70’s and most of the 80’s. Most of their stuff is out of print and scarily expensive, but if you dig Nuggets-style psychedelic garage rock, then join the Sect.
Key Tracks: Sect Appeal, Little Egypt
Shadows Of Knight * Dark Sides: The Best Of – Formed in Chicago in 1964, Shadows Of Knight were making punk music before the Summer Of Love had even convened. Lead singer Jim Sohns is one of the most amped and energetic frontmen of his era, and even though Them, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and others put up excellent versions of the song ‘Gloria’, it was Shadows Of Knight’s version that achieved the highest chart position. While lacking true originality, Dark Sides more than makes up for that with sheer enthusiasm, conviction, and drive.
Key Tracks: Gloria, You Can’t Judge A Book (By The Cover)
Andrew Bird * Armchair Apocrypha – Andrew Bird makes the kind of music that went out of style in the late 60’s – lush, psychedelic lullabies geared to move your heart and make your head spin. 2005’s The Mysterious Production Of Eggs was equal measures ghostly and gorgeous, and Armchair Apocrypha picks up right where that album left off. Like a one-man band Radiohead, Bird builds melodies from the outside in – constructing grand soundscapes that nearly make his lyrics beside the point. Each song is polished like fine silver, and the extra production only enhances the dreamscape quality of the music, setting free a highly original and inventive voice.
Key Tracks: Fiery Crash, Heretics
Zealous Records Presents Soul Sides Volume One (Compiled by Oliver Wang) – Oliver Wang (or O-Dub) has been spreading the gospel of lost soul and funk gems on his ‘audio blog’ Soul Sides since 2003, but this is his first proper compilation. Given Wang’s rep as a crate digger of the first order, the only surprise would be if this wasn’t a super hot mix of stuff you’d never heard before. Not to worry: Erma Franklin shreds Janis Joplin, Donny Hathaway reinterprets Lennon, and that’s just for starters. It’s just another day at the office for Dr. Wang…
Key Tracks: Piece Of My Heart, Jealous Guy
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band * Take One – This Zimbabwean group recorded from 1974 until 1979, and quickly became fan favorites throughout their home country for playing traditional ‘Zim’ style music. Comprised of skilled musicians from several different African nations, HCRB consistently find a hot groove and get locked in. Take One is so named because many of the songs on this album were recorded in a single take in the studio. A must for fans of world music or afrobeat.
Key Tracks: Kare Nanhasi, Murembo
[Next up: Atmosphere, Carl Stalling, Lee Dorsey, David Ruffin, Mark Knopfler, and more...]