Monday, September 19, 2005

Continuation from last entry,

11. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol, 1967). It's impossible to imagine what the '60s would've been like without this album. Where Rubber Soul and Revolver leave off, this takes the gauntlet and runs all the way to the finish line. And while I sometimes prefer the hard-edged rock of Abbey Road, there's no denying the ebb and flow of this: their signature album. A+

12. Sly and the Family Stone: There's a Riot Goin' On (Epic, 1971). In the late '60s Sly made his bones as front man for the best rock-n-roll band this side of Creedence (See Greatest Hits 1970). Here he descends into the despair of the ghetto and turns that despair in on itself. Bleak and desperate with no hope. The light at the end of the tunnel is in fact a train, and he knows it. But rather than run away from its pessimism, Riot runs straight toward it with defiance. Bitter, but courageous. A+

13. Derek and the Dominos: Layla (Atco, 1970). The genius here is not in Clapton's guitar playing, which historically has always been a little over the top. No, what cinches this extraordinary album is the ego-deflating of our resident hero, who's ego could always use deflating anyway. With Duane Allman on slide, the duo complement each other like no other tandem in rock history and for one shining moment art subsumes commerce. The crescendo is the title track about an affair Clapton had with the wife of best friend George Harrison. A+

14. Marshall Crenshaw: Field Day (Warner Bros., 1983). Crenshaw is a hopeless romantic caught in a musical time warp somewhere between Buddy Holly and Phil Spector. His voice is genuine, his lyrics never pretentious, and the melodies tight. Then why doesn't this guy get airtime? Simple, he's genuine and unpretentious. He refuses to compromise his integrity as an artist. As a result Whenever You're on My Mind is the finest rock-n-roll song you'll likely not here on your F.M. dial. A damn shame. A+

15. Joni Mitchell: For the Roses (Asylum, 1972). Somewhere between the jazziness of Blue and the pop-smartness of Court and Spark, this gem almost goes unnoticed. Mitchell is that rarest of sights: a strong woman in a man's world who won't reduce herself to industry expectations just to get a hit. Instead Mitchell ventures beyond those boundaries. Politically left-leaning of course, but introspective. Her failed loves are heart-warming as are her cynical, yet ultimately practical, views of the world she lives in. Her eloquent and husky, but still all too feminine, voice is matched brilliantly to these tunes. Overall, her finest effort. A+

16. The Replacements: Let It Be (Twin/Tone, 1984). The best of the indie groups to emerge out of obscurity and set the tempo for the decade, this Minneapolis-based garage band hit their stride here. Spare on principles but long on attitude these guys waste no time stating what they like and don't like, such as androgyny (the former) and answering machines (the latter). The well-crafted I Will Dare is as close as they come to realizing a hit, which for these guys would be heresy. A+

17. James Blood Ulmer: Odyssey (Columbia, 1983). What to make of this music? It's equal parts funk, blues and jazz, and yet it is none of the above. Calling it fusion would do insult to the term. Simply, what Ulmer has done here is unique. He has taken the minimalist approach and recrafted it for his own intentions. Using the violin as lead allows him to showcase his guitar more effectively. It also hides brilliantly the fact there's no bass. Love Dance and Are You Glad To Be in America? (the former an instrumental free-for-all, the latter the most rhetorical question in popdum) are the best moments on this truly remarkable album. A+

18. Tricky: Maxinquaye (Island, 1995). This slow-mo British hip-hopper's obsession with lust is as accomplished as it is seductive. Hypnotic, its throbbing backbeats and sexual overtones roll over and over you until you cry uncle. Brand New You're Retro is pure hip-hop, angry and relentless, while the lead track Overcome comes off as some LSD trip where the listener lands safely on another planet. A+

19. The Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros., 1969). Eschewing my general contempt for live albums, I not only give this one a nod, I bow to its greatness. Unlike most bands, they not only thrived on the road, for them it was home. Hence this is not only easily their best, but it is among the finest albums ever recorded. And check out the 23 minute anthem opener Dark Star followed by the equally impressive St. Stephen. Live don't get no better than this. A+

20. Freedy Johnston: Can You Fly (Bar/None, 1992). Turning tragedy into peace and confusion into control, Johnston pulls the proverbial artistic rabbit out of the hat. His brilliance is as profound as the repressed rage on the lyrics of the tortured song Responsible about the death of his little girl. "The streets are slick with dew and motor oil/A girl walks in and out of the morning sun/A barred window reflects the cloudless sky/No blue reaches those eyes." But Johnston isn't lost in his grief. In fact, he transcends it. Also has a sense of humor too. On the opening track he admits he had to sell the farm just to "feed the band." You wait for the punch line until you realize you just heard it. Haunting but uplifting at the same time, the way good art should be. A+

To Be Continued . . .

Bye for now!

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