Friday, August 31, 2012

#41: Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959)

I'm, once again, ditching the familiar format to write this review because it only has six tracks while two of them are the same.

It's better than the last Miles Davis album I reviewed (Birth of the Cool). The rhythm section is much more enjoyable to listen to and it seemed there were more solos by musicians not named Miles Davis. I realize that he's got his name on the album, but sometimes I need a little more variation. Track length proves to be a double edged sword, if you enjoy a song ('Blue and Green' and 'So What') then it will be on for the next ten minutes - if you dislike a song then buckle up for ten minutes of not enjoying something. Then again, not many songs can be enjoyable for ten minutes. Songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, etc. get a free pass on this judgement due to the music changing drastically throughout the song.

It's great background music but I think my age may be an issue. Music, entertainment, movies, and everything today constantly snaps its fingers in front of our faces, trying to keep our attention. This album does not do that (nor should it) - there's a place for what Miles has done. If you want to listen to one of the all-time greats then Miles is your man. If I had given Davis more of a chance when I was studying jazz, I think I'd enjoy him a lot more and I think it could have been good for me.

I listen to each of these albums with my undivided attention regardless if I want to or not. I wanted to enjoy this album more and I wanted to turn it off early. Especially since the last two tracks are the same exact song. Even though I didn't enjoy it I can still appreciate just how good Miles Davis was and how good this album is.

Tomorrow's album: Ingrid Michaelson's Human Again.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

#40: Fiona Apple - Tidal (1996)

It's vacation time, it's time to bring out all of my favorite artists while I stare at the beach. Fiona Apple is an American treasure, while some may see her as 'too intense' I find her to be riveting. Musically she puts out some of the best made albums in my generation. The older I get the more I don't want to listen to a "technically" well crafted song - I want something honest, real, and complex.

Sullen Girl
This not radio material and maybe that's why I enjoy it so much. Apple was raped at a very young age and while I may never understand how it can affect someone, she's honest about it - which can't be easy. The lyrics are deep and cryptic, if you didn't know about her past you may not know what the song is about, or may even attach a different meaning to it. The strings, the tasteful drums, the swells, and the lyrics make this one of the many bright spots on the album.

Shadow Boxer
"I'm a shadow boxer baby, I wanna be ready for what you do. I've been swinging around at nothing I don't know when you're gonna make your move." The guitars on this track add such a different vibe than the slow, thoughtful licks from the piano. The drums and bass create the sense of a dark alley fight, while the strings add warmth to the best track on the album. If you're not familiar with this track or Fiona Apple, this is where you need to start.

A quick snare march creates a train that's doing it's best to sneak up on you, the bass stays with this quick movement which is further accented by the guitar that's quite catchy and slightly funky. However, the dissonant strings really define the mood. Apple proves soft, almost whispering vocals - until the end where it bursts out of it's own chest. Instrumentally the chorus is much louder, but Apple really doesn't react to it - she keeps her same volume and tone letting the music carry the emotion instead of forcing it.

All in all, it rocked my socks off when I first heard it. I'm used to piano music sounding like Billy Joel, Elton John, and Ben Folds. This is nothing like those artists and it proves that Apple is a true talent. It's piano driven but the wheels are a rich/full bass, simple drums, swelling sometimes dissonant strings, and bells. It's not my favorite of her albums but it's awfully good. Her music is not necessarily radio friendly, but that doesn't mean it's not solid. Those that base how good an artist is by the amount of #1 singles they have are missing out on a lot of great artists and Apple just may top that list.

Tomorrow's album: Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#39: Ray Charles - The Genius of Ray Charles (1958)

This album's contents was unexpected. When I think of Ray Charles I think of blues and soulful piano mixed with Ray Charles' patented vocals. However, this album was more of a big band / blues album with just a smidge of gospel. Quite possibly one of the most influential musicians in my life was Billy Joel, who's biggest influence was Mr. Charles. For that reason alone I've been looking forward to this album. It did not disappoint.

A mix of rock and roll, blues, and big band. The big horns are really what threw me off the most, with the lack of a big piano sound. However, it's used incredibly effective. The horns clear the way to let Charles' vocals really ring through - however, keeping the same amount of energy. "I got 50 cents more than I'm gonna keep - so let the good times roll."

I chose to highlight this song because of it's focus on the crooning style. The man pulls it off. The mix of the crooning with a little blues adds a very modern sound to it and it's hard to believe it was recorded 54 years ago. The vocal parts where he throws the last word straight up is just amazing. However, even after the big horns keep the silky parts coming - the piano comes in with a little ditty that allows Charles to re-enter the song in such a smooth way. The ending takes the cake, Charles goes falsetto while the horns finish it off and you know it can't get any better. Until it does - Ray lifts the note even higher and it's the perfect end to the best rendition of this song I've ever heard.

Never have I heard this much gravity, this much sheer weight in this song. Such meaning, such brilliance, such genius. It's the best track on the album and it also totes the best arrangement. The beginning of the song with just vocals and piano makes the track - everything else is just extra. The instrumentation afterwards keeps the swells and the embellishments but keeps out of the way of the best vocals on the album. Best track, hands down.

All in all, it's my favorite album so far from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die'. The piano fills throughout the album add plenty of thoughts, but not in an overwhelming way. It's more thinking in terms of lines and curves than notes. It's nothing like I expected and it's everything I could hope an album could be. You gotta have big, giant, brass balls to call your album "The Genius of Me". However, if you can do what Ray can do - you'd probably do it too.

Tomorrow's album: Fiona Apple's Tidal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#38: Regina Spektor - Far (2009)

This is the album that started it all. I’m known to set highly unrealistic goals – I do it all the time while my friends and family watch me crash and burn. Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed this album, anticipating doing a weekly album review. I got as far as week one. I thought about rewriting the review, but instead I’ve settled on just reposting it. Here it is, in its entirety:

So recently I went on vacation. We had a house right on the beach and it was an entire week of nothingness. Most people brought crosswords, books, and games to pass the time. All I brought was my headphones and my nifty new iPod.

I was pretty excited, a whole week on the beach and my entire music catalog to choose from. However, I spent my entire vacation listening to Regina Spektor. Nothing but staring at the waves and listening to her voice. Far, is probably my favorite of her albums and it's definitely the 'poppiest'.

As a musician I listen to music like a thief looks for something valuable. I believe that all musicians are, to a certain degree, plagiarists and thieves... But that's another topic.

Regina Spektor has taught me the value of being different, the value of doing what you love despite the backlash. I've read some reviews of her music that are less than favorable, however, it's the "imperfections and inconsistencies" that make the music so beautiful to me.

While her music is amazing, her voice is phenomenal. She makes me want to finish my album, 'Keep Fishin'' and get back into the studio. I want to experiment.

Stand out tracks:
Blue Lips:
Such beautiful strings... throughout the album the use of strings is extremely tasteful. The chorus is such a huge contrast to the rest of the song and what absolutely brings this song together. Such a simple concept...

Folding Chair:
My favorite track on this album. "Come and open up your folding chair next to me. My feet are buried in the sand, and there's a breeze..." This song takes me back to the beach, such a great, upbeat feel to it. I think it's Regina at her best. It's commercially "acceptable" for parts of it - then back to her wheelhouse - showing off what defines her.

The bridge of a song (to me) is supposed to be completely different from the rest of the album - but still has to fit into the rest. This is the bridge of the album for me. I'm always drawn to these songs on albums. This song is completely different from the rest of the album, yet is not so different that it can't fit right between 'Folding Chair' and 'Laughing With'. After returning from my vacation - this song inspired me to write the bridge to my album.

Two Birds:
I love the imagery. She picks a theme to represent a relationship and she sticks with it. Throughout the song you learn more about this relationship than you thought you would considering it's upbeat demeanor. Quite possibly, my favorite aspect of Regina's music has to be that when she repeats herself it's actually more entertaining than the first time.

Dance Anthem of the 80s:
The simplicity. Words can not express how much I am dialed into this song. It's the little things that change in her voice that keep you listening and in the present moment. Usually, listening to music I'm listening to all the parts, with this song - it's hard to listen to anything but Regina. Again, beautiful contrast, great use of repetition, and extremely catchy.

Had I not been on the beach this would be my favorite song on the album. Let me just start off by saying that no artist that I listen to would write a song about finding a wallet and returning it to Blockbuster. It's a breath of fresh air to listen to something so specific (See: "local bar" lyric from The Script's 'For the First Time'). It's a beautiful story with captivating lyrics, vocals, and piano. When she says, "blue rubber band" I get goosebumps. Is that lame? I don't care. It's such a simple thing and yet the way she sets it up is remarkable.

Overall, the album is worth a listen. I'm a huge, huge fan. It grabbed me on the first listen and I'm having issues putting it down. I understand, however, that not everyone will be drawn to her as I am. Due to the nature of Regina's music it's tough to find a radio-ready single. However, for any fan of music, this is well worth the listen.

Tomorrow's album: Ray Charles' The Genius of Ray Charles.

Monday, August 27, 2012

#37: Ella Fitzgerald - Sings the Gershwin Song Book (1958)

It’s fair to say that Ella Fitzgerald is the female Frank Sinatra. What I mean is, while there may be others out there that sing similar songs, both of them have a few things that make them among best in their genre. First, they both have warm, dynamic, and depth in their voices. Second, the bands are second to none – the music behind these wonderful voices provides such complexities and yet it never gets in the way of the star. Thirdly, the arrangers need to take ample credit – these songs have been done a thousand times and yet they keep it fresh and new while utilizing a varying cast of instruments.

Love is Here to Stay
It makes sense why Ella Fitzgerald is an icon. She’s got range, she’s got dynamics, she’s got tone, and she’s got a beautiful vibrato. Love is Here to Stay has always been one of my favorite standards. The band keeps it a little more laid back; the strings add layers of warmth, while the horns add the necessary punch and stabs to keep you on your feet. The solo really impressed me; it’s such a sweet muted horn which really is accented by the rest of the band keeping its full, soft sound.

Sam and Delilah
While the song may have some mid-Eastern sounds to it, it still is clearly a piece of American music. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the music on this track is phenomenal. However, the real reason Fitzgerald is still talked about today is because of her uncanny ability to put the appropriate tone on the right note. There’s meaning behind her singing, she’s not singing words with notes attached to them. There’s a tone in her voice where you can read into what she’s saying and it adds yet another layer to the song.

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
Well, it’s official. The entire record is the same thing over and over. Well written music, incredibly solid instrumentation, and a giant cherry on top with one of the best vocalists of her generation. There’s really not much else to say – it’s top notch stuff.

All in all, it all makes sense. After listening to Billie Holiday’s album and having such high hopes crushed – this album redeems the female big band sound for me. While this album is 3 hours long, I’ll be honest – I listened to an hour’s worth of music and called it good. There’s not one artist on this planet I want to listen to for three hours straight. The album is still semi-dated, but if you love Gershwin – then here’s your holy grail. Otherwise, you’ll enjoy this album, but maybe not for three hours straight.

Tomorrow's album: Regina Spektor's Far.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

#36: Kimbra - Vows (2011)

Kimbra is best known in the US as the female vocalist in Gotye’s track “Somebody That I Used To Know”. However, I hope more people give her a chance, because she’s incredibly talented. She’s got a hell of a voice, she knows what she’s doing musically, she’s young, she’s attractive, and honestly I don’t know if she has a ceiling. Her biggest Achilles heel for success in the states is just how good her music is. Pop music anymore is semi-enjoyable, watered down garbage. Some of Kimbra’s music is just too complex for pop radio, but then again – that’s a good thing.

Settle Down
My favorite Kimbra track thus far. While some of the album can tend to be on the over-produced side, this song does wonders with the production. Harmonies and counter melodies are introduced and reintroduced at completely different times in order to add a different component to the music, yet it still has a sense of familiarity. The main riff has a very odd rhythm to it, which adds almost a foreign element while still keeping it’s pop sensibilities. The video is pretty nifty too.

Cameo Lover
It’s very danceable track, however, that doesn’t mean that it’s not full of rich qualities. The harmonies throughout the track are what really do it for me – that and the pre-chorus.  The chorus features horns, strings, big thwaps on the snare, piano, and an ever increasingly catchy, pop hook. What I really like about Kimbra is that even on her most poppy tracks, she still has plenty of ideas in each song. For instance, this song could probably be cut up into six or seven parts, yet they all flow together seamlessly.

Good Intent
I lied. This is my favorite track of hers. It’s got this ‘Mad Men’ type of 50’s feel to it. I still really have no idea what’s she’s saying on this track – I just get caught up in the music and the chorus is just so good. The chorus features a fairly repetitive melody, but due to other vocals joining in, interesting lyrics such as “the pennies are cascading down your wishing well”, and cleverly placed harmonies – it stays memorizing all the way through. The simple, yet effective bass line just feeds the song into your ears. The whole song just has so much character.

All in all, it’s a good album that’s filled with very good songs. Its only downfall is the overproduction of some of its numbers. What’s most impressive about Kimbra is how much and how often she reinvents her songs. If you search for live performances of her on YouTube you’ll see different arrangements of many of the songs listed here. However, it’s her session at ‘SingSing Studios’ that takes the cake. I’d love to hear this album again where all of the songs are rerecorded in that vein. It’s not to say that I prefer that session over this album, it’s just a testament to how talented Kimbra is, and hopefully how good she will become.

Tomorrow's album: Ella Fitzgerald's Sings the Gershwin Songbook.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

#35: Sarah Vaughan – At Mister Kelly’s (1958)

“Ladies and gentleman you’ve probably wondered why we have so many microphones on the bandstand tonight…”

I don’t know why I enjoyed the introduction as much as I did. Maybe it’s because I know that this album wasn’t fooled with in any way – it’s an exact representation of the performance that night. Mistakes and all, Sarah Vaughan and her trio play through 20 tracks of jazz standards and while the music never falls below superb – I lived for the moments between songs when you could hear the interactions with the crowd and the little behind the scenes details.

Willow Weep For Me
I’m surprised I didn’t know this song that well, I’d like to hear more artists rendition of it. Vaughan has the whole package. She’s got a beautiful voice, an incredibly solid band behind her, and clearly the stage presence to hold the audience on each note. However, what made me choose this song was the accident during the piano solo. The piano is playing this quiet but intense solo and then all of a sudden, “BOOM, Boom, boom…” Then you can hear plenty of giggles – someone knocked over a microphone. The listener is in the dark on exactly what had happened until Vaughan confesses on the head section, “I really fouled up this song real well, according to that I’m through, but they’re not – so we’ll just keep singing Willow Weep For Me.”

Just One of Those Things
I don’t hide my admiration for Jamie Cullum well. He’s a current musician who does some of these standards in a jazz/pop setting. Because of his more modern sound – it draws younger listeners (like myself) toward the genre. However, while this track may be 53 years old – it absolutely holds up. The bass walks up and down while the piano pounds out a really impressive comp. Not enough can be said about Vaughan’s trio – they are in the zone for each and every track.

Lucky In Love
I really, really enjoyed this arrangement. The piano really has a swing to it that’s unrivaled by any other track on the album. Also, the band does a great job working together with more rhythmic variation on the header section than on other songs. After the song was complete – I replayed it just to focus on the drums – and it was even better the second time. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s one of the best songs on the album.

All in all, it’s a good album. If I had been watching a video of it, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more. For me, though, the middle tracks seemed to run together a little too much – there wasn’t enough contrast between songs to really keep me engaged for the whole 50+ minutes. My only complaint about the album is that Vaughan’s vocals are a tidge too loud – sometimes the levels peak and it’s really unpleasant. Despite this issue, it’s an incredibly well done album – it’s absolutely worth listening to.

Tomorrow's album: Kimbra's Vows.

Friday, August 24, 2012

#34: Damien Rice - O (2002)

Most would consider his type of music folk or folk rock. However, it's really unlike anything else I've ever heard before. I've tried using Pandora to show me "similar artists" but it never finds anything quite like it. I've always been a big fan of tasteful strings to go along with the primary instruments (guitar or piano), however they're used in such a way that is overwhelming to the listener. At times they don't do anything all that interesting, yet they cause just as much feeling as Rice pouring his heart into the music.

There's not enough words in this world to describe how amazing this song is. From the strings carrying the hook to the amazing wisp of Rice's voice whispering yet crying out on the chorus: "What I am to you, is not real. What I am to you, you do not need. What I am to you, is not what you mean to me." If you've never heard the song, you should really stop everything that you're doing and check it out - it's one of the greatest songs I've ever heard.

Another absolutely amazing song. A very delicate, yet strong guitar part layered with very honest, open lyrics. The melody, lyrics, chords, and emotion on the chorus is unmatched on this album and hardly any other track I've heard on any album. This song is a little more fragile than 'Volcano' with a little more soul being poured into the chorus, but both tracks are amazing in their own rights. When I purchase an acoustic guitar this is one of the first songs I want to master.

What amazing strings. Let's pretend that Damien Rice is a decent songwriter, and let's pretend that his songs are just him and a guitar singing, almost in a demo like fashion. What this album gets right is he takes these somewhat basic guitar and vocal songs and with just the most amazing strings and small harmonies, he turns these songs into incredibly emotional tracks. Now, Rice isn't a decent songwriter - he's very good. It's just amazing what he can do with such a simple idea.

All in all, it's a really solid album. While the subject matter isn't always uplifting, the music tends to be. The tempos are generally much slower and there's a little more focus on the vocals, however the music underneath is still really well crafted and is used more for emotional effect than as a hook to listen to. This album fell out of my rotation, but after listening to it again for the first time in a few years, it needs to get back into it... pronto.

Tomorrow's album: Sarah Vaughan's At Mister Kelly's.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

#33: Ramblin' Jack Elliott - Takes the Floor (1958)

Have you ever heard of Ramblin' Jack Elliot? Me neither. He's actually a key component with the transition to what we consider popular music today. His stories are good, the guitar picking is very good, and he influenced many of the musicians that really helped shape pop music (Dylan, Cash, McCartney, Jagger, Clapton, Richards). His music reminds you of someone just relaxing, playing a guitar, singing the blues while hitchhiking on a train. His performances seem very intimate, while his guitar picking is superb. They call him Ramblin' Jack because of his intros where he tells you a little bit about the song before he begins singing.

San Francisco Bay Bluesues
As soon as I heard this, all I could think about was Clapton Unplugged. Clapton does a cover of this and it was always one of my favorite parts about the concert. Really, Clapton didn't screw with the song too much - which is a good thing. It's the best song on the album. It has a really solid blues feel, good melody, good lyrics and it moves right along like a guitar on a freight train.

Bed Bug Blueses
It's actually, kind of funny. I never thought I'd hear a song like this, especially from 1959. "Bedbugs is mean and evil and they sure done me no good." Despite it's humorous look at bedbugs the music actually quite good, and really the picking on the guitar is phenomenal. Each note carries so much weight while the dynamics tend to move in and out depending on the transition to the next phrase.

All in all, it's another historical album. It's interesting to listen to it once, considering he was a huge influence on Bob Dylan and was good friends with Johnny Cash. Unfortunately for every 'San Francisco Bay Blueses' there's another 7 'Grey Gooseose's... It's really well done, it's just not my style. It's not something I'd see myself listening to again - it's not quite old country, but it feels that way - without the country. It's definitely folk that relies on lyrics, excellent picking, and simple melodies. There's definitely still a market out there for his music, it's a shame I don't hear his name enough.

Tomorrow's album: Damien Rice's O.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#32: Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Even though I haven't heard this album in a long time it feels very familiar. Maybe it's because of the over abundance of musicians being influenced by Coldplay's sound, paired with Coldplay never leaving the radio. However, the album holds up. It's even interesting to see how much influence this album has had over the last ten years.

God Put A Smile On Your Face
I'm usually one to shy away from any religious references in music, however, there are songs out there that pull me in. I really enjoy the acoustic guitar on this track, and that's only amplified once the bass and drums kick in to give it a completely different feel without changing the original part. I spotlight this song not because it's one of the three "best" songs on the album, but because if this is a track that is forgotten about - then the rest of it must be pretty amazing.

The Scientist
This is without a doubt, Coldplay's best song as well as their best video. It's extremely powerful in every sense of the word and I've always had a soft spot for it. In fact, I covered it back in March of 2011. The strings are tasteful, the acoustic guitar adds a little more rhythm, and when the drums kick in - it's full. So full that by the time you get to the end, you feel like you're exploding.

This is the song that introduced me to Coldplay, and while I may not keep up with their albums - their singles never fail to impress. If you've never listened to Coldplay before today, this is the song you should start with - it's the embodiment of their sound. There's a lot of ambiance, environment, soft harmonies, repetitive rhythms (so much so that you forget they're even there), very little accents on any instruments, and chords that blend together so much you wonder if there was even any change.

All in all, it's a very good album. Since Coldplay has become such a staple on American radio and culture, it's hard to revisit this since they've grown so much as a band. I really thought I'd enjoy this album more, especially considering the opening track 'Politik' begins with a bang. Maybe I just listened to it too much when it first came out, but it didn't really move me as much as it did in the past.

Tomorrows album: Ramblin' Jack Elliott's Takes the Floor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#31: Billie Holiday - Lady in Satin (1958)

While I do believe that Billie Holiday is an icon in American music and should be treasured, I did not enjoy this album. The instrumentation was barely necessary for 15 of the 16 tracks, the songs would have carried the same weight if it were just Holiday singing. Strings, bass, drums, and vocals - that's the arrangement for each and every track. Every once in a while you get a horn solo or a small flute part and it feels like Christmas morning, but for the most part each song runs into the next. It's a shame too, because Holiday has such a unique voice. However, the music has to stand on it's own, not simply be present and leave a huge gap in order for Holiday to swim in.

But Beautiful
Never before has a horn solo become so welcome on a record, and never before has it soared quite like it does on this track. While this record is a bit laboring to get through, tracks such as this are why Billie Holiday is a legend. The music (other than the solo) doesn't do much to really garner any attention, but Holiday's vocals do a wonderful job throughout the song convoking emotion and really selling the song.

You've Changed
Again, putting the instrumentation aside - the vocals are really, really good on this track. I really enjoyed the song even though I didn't necessarily enjoy the recording. Billie Holiday sings, "You're bored with me in every way," and unfortunately that's true. I'm not even going to bother highlighting a third song, there's really nothing else that jumped (even slightly) out at me.

All in all, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. There's no doubt Billie Holiday has a wonderful voice and she knows how to use it, but how does everyone turn a blind eye to incredibly boring instrumentation? Plus, the album was an hour long and only the highlighted songs felt different from the other 14. Also, at the end of the record is alternate takes of songs we've already heard. I really wanted to like this album, in fact, I knew I was going to like this record. Unfortunately, this will go down in the next batch of reviews as the biggest disappointment. I do want to hear another Holiday album, though. There's a reason she's an icon, I just need to find the album that made her one. However, do yourself a favor and listen to 'But Beautiful' - it really is an amazing track.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 15/1001

Tomorrow's Album: Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head.

Monday, August 20, 2012

#30: Young the Giant - Young the Giant (2010)

I hadn't heard this album in about a year and half when I decided to queue it up. I remembered it fondly, but upon reviewing the album - it seemed to fall flat. There's no doubt of the band's potential, and I really enjoy all of the live clips of them on YouTube. However, I really didn't enjoy the production of the album - it's too polished and it lost some of the character that they have live.

My Body
It has everything a big, catchy hit single is supposed to have, focus on the lyrics and melody, a singer with a distinctive voice, and a booming, huge chorus. "My body tells me no but I won't quit - 'cause I want more." It's almost Shania Twain-ish in it's feel, but much cooler in context. The guitars do a great job of fills and keeping the edge throughout. It's the right choice off the album for a lead single, but the next song...

I Got
This is the reason I bought the album, because of this song. I saw them performing it live and was just amazed that his voice came out of his body. He's got such a unique and cool voice and he does a wonderful job moving the song along. He could be a crooner, he could be a pop singer, and the musicians playing with him are clearly inspired by different genres as well. The drums keep a very pop feel, while the guitars change from rock to even rockabilly type parts, however the chorus is where it's at - the harmonies are magnificent. If you get a chance, check out the live version above, I prefer it to the album cut.

I really like the change in the sound on this one, while it still carries the YTG sound, the bass changes the dynamic of the song. The album can at times be like a sea, there's different waves and it's constantly changing, but it never really feels like it changes all that much. This is not to say what is on the album is sub-par, it's just a reflection of why such a change, even in a bass line, is so welcome.

I like this album and the band not for what they are, but for the potential of what they can become. It's an enjoyable album, but it doesn't stick with you as long as you'd like it to. However, these guys can be huge - I really do think that, they just need to keep working on new music. If they continue to record and tour, that's good news for everyone.

Tomorrows album: Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

#29: Tito Puente - Dance Mania (1958)

Tito Puente is the gentleman that brought us 'Oye Como Va', which was made popular by Carlos Santana. Before listening to this album, I thought this was my only encounter with Puente, however, he also drummed for Machito - a band I just recently wrote a review of. He is known as, "The King of Latin Music" and has written hundreds of songs - so I'm sure I've heard others, I just didn't know it was him.

Hong Kong Mambo
Marimbas are pretty swell. In fact, one of these decades - I'll have my own. What I loved so much about this track was while the rhythm section lays down a very latin vibe, the marimba is soloing over it. It's nothing too crazy, it's easily enough to listen to and enjoy each tone on each strike. However, there are times during the solo when the horns just bust in and play this just amazing, yet small part. The song really, really works for me because of this contrast.

Mambo Gozon
You know, it doesn't even matter what they're saying. They could be saying awful, hateful things in Spanish and I'd still think it was really, really cool. What gets me throughout this album, and specifically on this track is the horns. They're just so good. The hits, the stabs, the trills - it's just so incredibly well done. They're tastefully placed, used extremely well rhythmically and they always break up repetition with something out of left field.

Varsity Drag
This could have been the theme to 'I Love Lucy' with it's over the top latin vibe. Ricky Ricardo would have been proud. However, the part I really liked on this track was the piano solo. It's amazing how many instruments work well in soloing over their rhythm section and the pianist on this track is top notch. The solo is memorable, rich, and tasteful to the style.

All in all, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the album. The biggest thing it has going for it is contrast. I'm not used to listening to a lot of latin music, so my palette is limited. However, through different tempos, bass lines, types of solos, and instrumentation the album continues to break it up and keep things fresh. While this album is amazing to listen to when it's in the background, it also passes the test for listening as a focal point.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 14/1001

Tomorrow's Album: Young the Giant's self titled debut album.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

#28: Fastball - Keep Your Wig On (2004)

You know Fastball, right? They're the guys that brought you, 'The Way', 'Fire Escape', and 'Outta My Head' back in 1998. They were a pretty big deal back then, and then all of a sudden, they were gone - which is a shame. I remember buying this record on a whim after remembering just how awesome their debut album, 'All the Pain Money Can Buy' was. And while that album may have spawned a few big hits, I think I prefer this record.

I Get High
This song more than all the others has a very Beatle-esque feeling to it. Maybe that's why I enjoy this song (and Fastball) so much. Usually songs that have drug references completely turn me off, however, this song has a charm that most other songs lack. Such an amazing piano part, it's kind of a slow swashbuckling sort of blues with some guitar lead over the top. That is, of course, until you get to the pre-chorus which ramps it all up just to bring it right back down. And the falsetto's on the chorus? That's where the butter is.

Till I Get it Right
Probably the coolest track on the album, it even has it's own name check. But what this track really does well in terms of songwriting is on the chorus. The song's lyrics continue to change the song's dynamic, and with that changes the chorus as it continues to get more and more out of control. This provides a great break for the bridge which is (again) Beatle-esque. It's one of their best written songs. It never loses the trademarked Fastball harmonies that make this album so good and it's just really fun to sing along to.

Falling Upstairs
The harmonies on this is really, and truly where the butter is. Back when I was talking about the falsettos on the chorus of 'I Get High' that's low fat butter. This is the good stuff. On the chorus there's a harmony where the two vocals are very close but slightly different causing a lot of dissonance, it makes a sound much like an alarm clock. It's a really cool effect to just the best track on the album, and you know what - I lied again - it's the coolest track on the album too.

All in all, it's a really good album. It doesn't do anything overly amazing, but they do everything very well. The harmonies are spot on, the production is good, and the songs are just plain fun to listen to. What I'm most surprised at, is how much I enjoy the two Fastball albums I own and yet I haven't purchased more. Prior to this review I hadn't listened to this album in probably four months, but I think it's going to go back in the rotation. Music doesn't always have to have a hidden political or social agenda, sometimes it can just be there to give you something to crank when you have the windows down - and because of that, it's a really good album.

Tomorrow's Album: Tito Puente's Dance Mania.

Friday, August 17, 2012

#27: Little Richard - Here's Little Richard (1957)

 Little Richard is a hell of a performer, it's a shame he didn't write his own songs. However, the songs he did perform were written wonderfully. Some may say, "If you've heard one early rock and roll song you've heard them all." And while there may be some validity to that statement and even a few dead spots on the album, there's enough difference from track to track to keep you interested.

Can't Believe You Wanna Leave
This song breaks away from the formula of the rest of the album, albeit slightly. It slows down just a tidge while letting Richard's soulful vocals ring out. The man has got a voice, now I understand why he was such an icon back in the late 50's.

Long Tall Sally
I've heard the Beatles do this song do this song so many times, I forgot Little Richard did it as well. Throughout the album you can hear sprinkles of early Paul McCartney and the Beatles, Little Richard left quite an impression on them. Great sax solo, great bounce out of the bass, and the song speeds quickly on all the way to the end. Never a dull moment.

Tutti Frutti
A whop bop-a-lu a whop bam boo. There's a reason why it's a classic. It's every element of a good rock and roll song all combined into one. Big hits in the rhythm section to accentuate the vocals, a repetitive and catchy chorus, and a blistering sax solo.

All in all, there's plenty of reason to listen to the album once. The only danger of this album is how repetitive it is. The same chord progression, the same sound, the same sax solos occur song in and song out. However, the album is still mostly enjoyable throughout it's short 30 minutes. Some of the singles are just so ridiculously good they are just begging to be picked out to listen to again, but (at times) the album as a whole loses steam.

This album was chosen from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' 13/1001

Tomorrow's Album: Fastball's Keep Your Wig On.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

#26: Gotye - Making Mirrors (2011)

Wally De Backer is the man behind Gotye, and yes, I'm sure you've heard his single, "Somebody That I Used to Know." But before you decide you don't want to hear anymore, I challenge you to listen to one more song of his. While his lead single is relentlessly on the radio the rest of his album proves he is much, much deeper than just the one single.

Somebody That I Used to Know
I remember hearing about the existence of this song through an Australian music awards recap. However, once I watched the video for this song, I watched it again, and again, and again. For about 3 hours I played this song on a loop. Then, a moment of sadness washed over me - this will never make it to American radio and that's unfortunate. Turns out, I was really, really wrong. The second chorus is so incredibly powerful, the harmonies are worth the price of the album itself.

Eyes Wide Open
What's amazing about Gotye is that each and every track is so unique and so well done. Some of them can get a little 'out there' for the average listener, but it never goes too far. However, this still hits near the pop radar. The quick sixteenth note floor drum pattern has a running type feel and it transitions to big tribal hits on the chorus allowing for huge harmonies to reign supreme. "We walked the plank with our eyes wide open..." It's pretty swell.

State of the Art
My favorite track on the album. First off, if you've never seen the video, click here or the name of the track above. It's ridiculous, it's honest, it's amazing, and perhaps that's what draws me to closely to Gotye. Usually when I listen to music I'm constantly looking for ideas to steal and build off of. However, De Backer is relentless in just following exactly what he wants to do with flagrant disregard to what anyone wants to hear. The music rarely goes where you think it's going to, and perhaps that's why it's so interesting to listen to, you're always guessing.

State of the Art (Cont...)
Anyways, about this track - it's about an organ that in it's time was 'State of the Art' and is written with a partial sample (the horn part) and the lyrics simply go through the features of this particular organ. The vocals are sung in monotone (meaning one pitch) and then the vocals are changed electronically to change his pitch, however, the pitch is changed so much it makes his voice very dark, different, and even fake - thus adding to the 'State of the Art' type of feel. The horns are amazing, the strings are phenomenal, and the backing vocals add the cherry on top.

All in all, this is one of the most influential albums I've ever heard. I realize I'm constantly gushing over this man while I write this review, but the music is completely worth it. At first listen, I liked it, but by the 10th listen I just can't get enough. The behind the scenes video Gotye posted while creating this album is also worth the watch. Without a doubt, Gotye is the best new artist of 2012.

Tomorrow's Album: Little Richard's Here's Little Richard.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summary #1: 7/22/12 - 8/15/12

Album that left the biggest impression on me:
Louis Prima's The Wildest!

Album that I couldn't wait to play again:
Frank Sinatra's Swinging is for Lovers!

Album that I was the most disappointed in:
Thelonius Monk's Brilliant Corners

94 Frank Sinatra - Songs for Swingin' Lovers
92 Louis Prima - The Wildest!
91 Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker
89 White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
89 Matchbox Twenty - More Than You Think You Are
88 Billy Joel - 52nd Street
88 Norah Jones - Not Too Late
87 KT Tunstall - Acoustic Extravaganza
85 John Mayer - Born and Raised
83 Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five
83 Mat Kearney - Young Love
82 Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams
82 Maroon 5 - It Won't Be Soon Before Long
81 Duke Ellington - Ellington at Newport
75 Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley
72 Hootie and the Blowfish - Cracked Rear View
68 Machito - Kenya
65 Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours
64 Count Basie - The Atomic Mr. Basie
62 Fats Domino - This is Fats
61 The Crickets - The 'Chirping' Crickets
61 Thelonious Monk - Brilliant Corners
60 Miles Davis - Birth of The Cool
42 Louvin Brothers - Tragic Songs of Life
21 Sabu - Palo Congo

Want to read the review for one of these albums? Simply go to the top left corner and do a search!