Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#10: John Mayer - Born and Raised (2012)

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of country music but this album taught me something. I may not be as big into the blues, jazz, and country as others, but I'm very big into music that's heavily influenced by those genres. While this album is full of country sounds, it brings it all together with pop appeal and that's particularly why I enjoyed this album as much as I did.

Something Like Olivia
No question, the best song on the album and one of Mayer's all-time bests. In many ways it's just a standard blues song, however the vocal tone and harmonies really bring out the beauty of Mayer's lyrics. It's such a simple love song - and I'm a sucker for each and every one of them. I remember when I bought the album, I think I played this song about ten times before advancing to the next track. It also contains an extremely tasteful organ part throughout the song that I need to start using as a blueprint for comping.

Born and Raised
The title track of the album is chosen for multiple reasons. Not only is the music very solid with a beautiful overlay of a harmonica, but Mayer does here what hardly any musician ever does to me. He cuts right through me with his melody and lyrics. Anyone who doesn't listen to Mayer because they don't like him as a person is missing out due to moments like this: "I still have dreams, they're not the same - they don't fly as high as they used to..." He's one of the most talented musicians of our generation, apparently the man can write some of the best lyrics as well.

Love is A Verb
I love simple love songs and this is pretty much the definition. It's such a simple idea that you start to wonder why no one has thought of it before this moment. Whenever I do have children of my own they will never know songs like "Row Your Boat". They will be sung to sleep with beautiful songs such as this.

All in all, it's the first country influenced album I've ever really enjoyed. Granted, the songs I picked are not the most country tracks on the album. However, these are the tracks that stuck out to me the most. Other standouts are 'Queen of California' and 'Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey'. Mayer's lyrics on this album are among his best. Sometimes when musicians go out of the comfort zone you applaud them for it because they're growing as an artist, but when that's not the first thing you think about then they've truly done it right. At it's core it's another John Mayer album.

Tomorrow's album: Duke Ellington's Ellington at Newport (1956)

Monday, July 30, 2012

#9: Fats Domino - This is Fats (1956)

If Paul McCartney models 'Lady Madonna' after you, you must have done something well. Fats was influential not only to McCartney but to Lennon, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Neil Young, and Elton John and others. Domino has led a very interesting life and has left a lasting impression on the music industry.

Love Me
A great example of the rockabilly piano that still works today. While the right hand of the piano may never stop, the chords just keep comin'. My only complaint about the song is that it's just too short. It's got such a great feel to it, "If you love me you won't let me go." It's such a simple, yet effective, plea. Then there's that sexy, soulful sax solo...

It's You
I think this is his best vocal track on the record. He sings in a little lower register at times and has such a rich, warm tone. The song is carried by a quick step by the drums with a walking bass line that really allows the vocals and sax solo to ring out loud and clear.

Where Did You
While at times some of the songs can run together, this is a standout track. I'm glad to know I'm not the only person that makes trumpet sounds with his mouth. While most of the tracks on this album are dated, this is one of the more modern songs on the album. Very cool.

This was written in the era of short songs and all 12 of these tracks clock in at a whopping 25 minutes. So while it may be short, to a degree it works in it's favor. I definitely enjoyed the album, but I can't listen to too much 50's rock and roll without needing to hear something a little more modern. There's no doubt of Fats' influence on rock and roll and while there are a few stand out tracks that stand the test of time, for the most part it's a good lesson in music history.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 5/1001

Tomorrow's album: John Mayer's Born and Raised (2012)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

#8: Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams (2005)

Sometimes it's cool to hate Jack Johnson. I mean the guy wears shoes that look like feet. It's easy to pick on his laid back style, but he does it better than anyone else I've ever heard. It doesn't matter how bad of a day I've had - JJ keeps it cool, keeps it casual.

Better Together
While Billy Joel and Ben Folds make me question why I'd ever leave the piano, Jack Johnson continually asks me why I don't own an acoustic guitar... 'Better Together' is the perfect example of what a Jack Johnson song is: A solid, beautiful, broken bass line that keeps the song going under the rich pickings of a guitar with sweet nothings being whispered in your ear. It sounds lame on paper but it sounds amazing in your ears.

Banana Pancakes
Is there a better JJ song? The idea of the song is that it's raining - let's not go outside, let's stay in and make Banana Pancakes and pretend it's the weekend. If I ever met a woman who loved Jack Johnson and sang these words to me, I think I'd be sold. While the music is incredibly solid throughout, the lyrics really get me, especially on the bridge.

If I Could
It was so hard to choose this last song, it was either this or 'Crying Shame'. However, the lyrics on this song tear me apart. "I heard some words from a friend on the phone, didn't sound so good. The doctor gave him 2 weeks to live, I'd give him more if I could. You that I would now, if only I could. You that I would now, if only I could." Chills everytime, never fails. 

If you've enjoyed some of his music, you'll enjoy the rest of his album. I hate to say it's just more of the same, but really it is. That's why I've continued to love this album since the day I first heard it. There's not one bad track on this record. It's hard to say if JJ will stand the test of time, but for the moment I enjoy riding the feeling day in and day out.

Tomorrow's album: Fats Domino's This is Fats (1956)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

#7: Louis Prima - The Wildest! (1956)

This is the reason why I should be introducing myself to new music. This album is over 55 years old and it rocks. I don't feel like I'm listening to a history lesson, I'm genuinely entertained throughout this album. The hardest part was choosing three tracks to single out. From the warmness of the horns, to the pointed words of Keely Smith, from the beautiful tones of the stand up bass, to the cool, laid back drums, Louis Prima proves why he's the King of Swing.

Just A Gigolo / I Ain't Got Nobody
What an amazing song. It has since been covered by several artists most notably David Lee Roth. Thankfully, Roth didn't change the song all that much because it still holds up today quite well. The vocals on 'I Ain't Got Nobody' are particularly breathtaking. The crescendos are only overshadowed by just how unique and distinct Louis Prima's voice is.

Oh Marie
The train just keeps rolling throughout the album as Oh Marie comes on. The quick 4/4 demands a jumpy pace from the rhythm section while Prima's vocals keeps it going smoothly. The back and forth between the vocals and the sax is worth the price of the album with Prima even teasing the saxophonist at one point. Then Prima steps back and let's the horns do what they do best, sweeping lines from opposing sections overwhelm the listener and there's nothing to do but sit back and smile.

Jump, Jive, An' Wail
Of course, this was covered by Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats fame. While there are other tracks that probably should be highlighted over this song since most listeners have heard this recording - it's just so good. The only real difference between Prima's and Setzer's versions (aside from a newer recording) is the solos are different after the first break. It's just hard for me to believe this is 56 years old, Prima's voice just jumps out at you in such a jovial way with the horns just go nuts in the background. There's really not much better.

Remember Back to the Future? When they go into the hall for the Enchantment Under the Sea dance and that AMAZING horn part is playing? That's the song Night Train - I've always wondered. It's on this album and it's pretty swell. There's not one bad track on the album, this could very well be his greatest hits and I wouldn't know any better. This will most definitely be on my list of the 100 greatest albums of all time, I really, truly enjoyed it. There's only one question I've had with myself throughout listening to this album. Why haven't I listened to Louis Prima before today?

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 4/1001

Tomorrow's album: Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams (2005)

Friday, July 27, 2012

#6: The Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker (1990)

Is there anyone out there in the land of rock who has a cooler voice than Chris Robinson? There's something about this album that takes me back, maybe it's the strong guitars with the crystal clear leads? Maybe it's the sprinkles of piano in the background of this otherwise heavy blues album. While most listeners will already know 'Hard to Handle' and 'She Talks to Angels' the rest of the album certainly is no slouch.

Seeing Things
One of my favorite tracks on the record, for a moment they ditch the blues rock and go with something just a little slower, a little sweeter. The organ is the tastiest part in this smorgasbord of emotion. When the drums really kick in to add emotion leading to the chorus I always get goosebumps. The soulful background vocals on the chorus really makes a 'Wonder Years' sort of feel to me.
Hard to Handle
It's an Otis Redding song that the Black Crowes make their own. There's several differences between the songs, however, the same soul remains. Both are good in their own right, though the Black Crowes definitely rock a lot harder. It may have gotten plenty of radio airplay, but there's good reason for it. As for blues rock, this is near the top of the heap - also, what a cool solo.

She Talks to Angels (Acoustic)
So my uncle showed me the acoustic version of this song, apparently it's a bonus track I never got. I'm about to write a nastygram. This is by far the best track on the album (if I had gotten it on my copy of the album). Obviously, the original is a classic - the acoustic version is better. If you've never heard it you should do so now. Whoever is playing the piano should come over to my house and give me lessons. I'll pay any price. The amount of soul in the playing is ridiculous and it's only rivaled by Chris Robinson's voice. I've yet to hear a better Black Crowes recording.

All in all, a super solid album. I remember it with a lot of nostalgia from my younger days. If you're a fan of blues rock, it's one of the best out there. There's really no weak tracks, some are stronger than others, but I never find myself skipping any songs. If you've never heard a Black Crowes album, you should really start with this one.

Tomorrow's album: Louis Prima - The Wildest! (1956)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

#5: Louvin Brothers - Tragic Songs of Life (1956)

So the idea of this project was spawned upon the idea of wanting to hear more new music, wanting to hear older albums that have slipped through the cracks, digging up some older favorites, and having a "conclusive" list of my top 100 favorite albums. This album was chosen off the list from the book, '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die'. Knowing me, I'll never review all of the albums on their list even with the greatest of intentions. If it weren't for this book, I would have never written a review for the Louvin Brothers - I'm just not a country fan. However, music is music and I'm sure I'll learn something from listening.

What Is Home Without Love
If I ever get pegged to choose the music for 'Tremors 6: Revenge of the Graboids' and there's a scene where two guys are just relaxing on their porch with the radio on - I have the perfect song. Imagine the creek of the wood underneath the rocking chairs... and then... an ominous bass to indicate trouble... All joking aside, it's a solid song and while it may sound like old country is supposed to sound I believe these guys probably helped to make that stereotype happen.

In The Pines
Focusing on the positives of this record, I really enjoyed the harmonies. Not only are they excellent, they're very clear. If I were to choose to cover a Louvin Brother's song, I'd have no problem figuring out the harmonies, bass, guitar, etc. It's all quite simple and elegant.

Katie Dear
This song made the whole listen worth while. While I may have not enjoyed the majority of this record, I can respect what it is and what it did for it's time. Lyrically, I really enjoyed this song and I think strong lyrics are a staple of country music. The music isn't over powering, nor is it all that interesting. However, this song has a good story, good melody, good feel, and good harmonies. Definitely the best track on the record.

All in all, it's just not my style. If you know what old country sounds like, then you have a very clear indication of what this record will sound like. The recordings are good, the stories are good, it's just not my cup of tea.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 3/1001

Tomorrow's album: The Black Crowes' Shake Your Money Maker (1990)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#4: Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five (1995)

Another album that I've always been a big fan of. Throughout the tracks we hear a very distinct sound, jazzy, angry, bouncy piano with a fuzz bass guitar and tasteful, emotional drums. No guitars are on the album as this is a three piece band throughout. Most people are familiar with Ben Folds Five from the 'Whatever and Ever' album that contained the single 'Brick'. They've described their music as "punk rock for sissies."

The song begins with a very open "I was never cool in school" which melds into a piano pop rock song featuring lots of falsettos. The first time hearing it I remember being surprised at just how much a piano based trio can really, really rock. The song ranges in emotion from jovial, to honest, from rocking, to jazzing out, and it has no problems poking at itself.

The Last Polka
One of Ben Folds Five's best songs. This is the reason I fell in love with them and the reason why no matter what they'll ever record - I'll buy it. Speaking of which - Ben Folds Five is coming out with a new album for the first time in 13 years. This song does an amazing job blending genres. The drums keep a very polka-esque feel, the bass keeps the fuzz going to keep the rock, and the piano is just all over the place. Really that's the key to all of their music, an amazing rhythm section that does something different from the piano to help showcase Ben Folds' chops. "Well I hate that it's come to this, but baby I was doing fine, how do you think that I survived the other 25 before you?" Check out the live recording here or that's linked on the name of the song above.

Another reason they are one of the most underrated bands. Boxing is a song about Cassius Clay's (Muhammad Ali) indecision on weather or not to continue or retire from boxing. The song could simply sung with just a piano the song and convey more emotion than any other track on the record, but strings and drums come in to fill it out perfectly. That's not to say the rest of the album isn't sung without soul - it just speaks to the amazing job Ben Folds did in the booth on this song.

All in all, it's one of my favorites. It's not the greatest album ever written or recorded but it hits me in a spot that few other albums have ever found. One of my favorite little facts about the band is that they used to tour with an actual piano even when they couldn't afford it because it gave them street cred. I mean, if these guys are bringing an actual piano to a gig - they must be good.

Tomorrow's album: Louvin Brothers' Tragic Songs of Life (1956)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

#3: Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley (1956)

This is exactly why I started this blog. It's embarrassing. How have I never listened to an Elvis Presley album? This is his debut album and it stayed at number 1 on the charts for ten weeks. It's also the first rock and roll album to sell a million albums.

I Got A Woman
A very pleasant shock to hear a Ray Charles cover on the album. While I still prefer the original this has a wonderful gritty feel to it that really showcases the 'Elvis Sound'. I probably shouldn't be surprised to hear Ray considering Elvis didn't write any of his own music...

One-Sided Love Affair
You can really hear the 'Elvis Sound' on this one - vocally the accents are just all over the place. The jumpy vocal style perfectly fits in with the bounce of the bass and drums. I had to look up the lyrics to reference it, but the part where he says, "Well, fair exchange bears no robbery, and the whole world will know that it's true," was unintelligible the first time through. That being said - it was awesome.

Blue Moon
The man oozes soul - that's why he's timeless. He's got the dynamics, he's got the falsetto, he's got the look, he's got everything. This is the most beautiful track on the album and also the best. Recordings like this is why he's an icon.

All in all, it's super solid. If you don't do a little dance during 'Blue Suede Shoes' I'll question if you're human. If you're a fan of Elvis or 1950's rock and roll then this will probably be up there with the absolute bests. While at times you can hear the dated technology and recording techniques the album oozes character. I'm glad I listened to it, at times it was easy to hear who all was influenced both by these recordings and into them. While I may not be listening to it again anytime soon, I'll definitely hear it again at some point.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 2/1001

Tomorrow's album: Ben Folds Five's Self Titled Album (1995)

Monday, July 23, 2012

#2: Billy Joel - 52nd Street (1978)

While I enjoy finding new music through this project of reviewing albums I also would like to take some time to revisit some of my all-time and current favorites. Billy Joel has been a huge influence on both my career and life. His lyrics are both full of emotion, thought, and they strip back the bull from the absolute truth.

I was flipping through the channels and caught Billy Joel Live at Yankee Stadium performing 'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant'. It was then I knew I wanted to play music for the rest of my life.

My Life:
It's impossible for me to be impartial to not only this album but this song. Only a man from New York would be so brutally honest about things you probably shouldn't be so honest about. I'm not one to usually dwell on lyrics, however, some songs have both the unique blend of amazing lyrics and music that together melds into an amazing song.

Quite possibly my favorite Billy Joel song. What's always amazed me is that Joel can sing, growl, and howl at the moon in anger and then the next track sing, "Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue." Nothing about this song is over the top, I can easily fake the piano part just by glancing at the chords. Maybe that's the appeal - it's simple, effective, powerful, and just breaks it down to the basics as honestly as possible.

What's cooler the opening sax or the ba-dun-dun of the piano? While this is an amazing song, I think after the song got road tested it got even better. He released this same song on Kohuept as a live version and it rocks just that much more. Versions aside it's an incredibly well crafted song with lyrics such as, "When she says she wants forgiveness, such a clever masquerade." From the rock/bounce of the verse to the march of the chorus this song keeps the listener entertained for a solid four and a half minutes.

Billy Joel makes me wonder why I bought a guitar. No other musician has made the piano quite as cool as Billy Joel. Again, I don't claim to be viewing this album impartially. In fact all of these reviews are based upon music quality, some historical quality, and just how much the album really resonates with me. If you're a fan of either Billy Joel, Elton John, or any type of piano based rock then you really need to own this album. For me, there's not much better.

Tomorrow's Album: Elvis Presley's Self Titled Album (1956)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

#1: Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours (1955)

There's no denying Frank is one of the all time greats. He's influenced damn near every musician since 1950. Some of my favorite musicians clearly draw from him, for instance Jamie Cullum. 'In The Wee Small Hours' is Frank's 9th studio album and was released in April of 1955. The album was well received and reached number 2 on the US charts staying there for 19 weeks.

In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning:
One of my favorite crooner songs of all time. Frank proves why he's an icon right off the bat. His deep, rich baritone glides through the song with a somber yet peaceful feel to it. While I would classify the strings and production as "standard crooner style" I start to wonder if this is the album that made this a staple. The strings are meant to be heard at times and are felt more often than not, carrying the emotion of the song.

Glad to Be Unhappy:
Personally, I think that Frank's voice on this is the reason people fell in love with him. It's such a beautiful tone that's not spoken as much as it is sung with no confusion over the words being spoken.

Can't We Be Friends:
This is the point where people will start stoning me in the comments... I prefer Jamie Cullum over Frank Sinatra. Both have recorded this song and have made it their own. Both are amazing versions. Granted, Frank Sinatra helped to pioneer the idea of crooning, however, I find Sinatra's version to be dated. In fact, I find most of this album to sound dated. However, that doesn't take away from what Sinatra has done - it only proves his overwhelming reach on popular music.

All in all, it's an incredibly well done album - it's just not my taste. I'd really like to make this review longer because I wish I had enjoyed it more than I did. I find myself, however, viewing it more as a lesson in music history than I do a piece of entertainment. If you love crooners such as Frank, I'm sure you'll love this album. If you're coming from more of a Michael Buble' background - it may not be as pop-centric as you'd like it to be.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 1/1001

Tomorrow's Album: Billy Joel's 52nd Street (1978)