Friday, March 30, 2012

Dez's 5 Star Records: the J's

Marching right along through the J's. This one was tough for some reason, I had several records I really struggled with that were right on the cusp, but in the end I cut them off as strong 4 stars but not quite 5 stars. I really went back and forth with MJ's Bad, which is loaded with killer hits, but the filler is so filler that I couldn't do it in the end.

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (1979): World, meet the grown-up Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982): It is hard to even judge the most successful album in history on normal terms, but “Billie Jean” might be the greatest pop song of all time. Maybe.

Mick Jagger – Wandering Spirit (1993): Mick felt somewhat constrained within The Rolling Stones’ latterday rock and roll formula, this solo record makes the argument that Jagger was the more daring and eclectic of the Glimmer Twins.

James – Laid (1993): Commercial peak for this great alternative pop band from across the pond, their collaborating with Brian Eno proves a perfect match.

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (1967): The most overrated band of the late 60’s era, BUT this one record is outstanding and captures its time and place better than most anything else from the period.

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic (live) (1981): No hits here, but this live document is full of excellent deep album cuts from his early days.

Dr. John - Gris-Gris (1968): The Dr. debuts as 'The Night Tripper' with this mysterious, groovy gumbo of New Orleans roots music and psychedelic trippiness, nothing else (including from him) sounds quite like it.

Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection (1970): The best of a series of outstanding Elton records from the early and mid-70’s, TC has an earthier feel than most of his other records.

Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues (1936-37): The almost mythical Johnson only participated in two recording sessions, and this collects most of the masters which quite simply lay the foundation for an entire generation of blues-rockers to come decades later. NOTE: Like with the Mississippi John Hurt selection below, these tracks were recorded before the LP era, but this can be considered an album as opposed to a compilation because they would have been released together as a record had the format been available at the time.

Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company – Cheap Thrills (1968): Joplin’s force of nature, volcanic vocals were best complemented by the scrappy and rough-around-the-edges Big Brother & the Holding Company; the raw energy of these tracks will blow your hair back. NOTE: Technically, this should have been listed in the B’s, as Joplin was merely a member of the band at the time. But most people view this as a Joplin record in reality, not to diminish the substantial contributions of this band.

Stanley Jordan – Magic Touch (1985): Jordan’s unique approach to the jazz guitar has the danger of being a bit gimmicky (taking tapping to the extreme), but his astounding technique genuinely amazes and, for the most part, his playing is tasteful.

Journey – Frontiers (1983): Most listeners would probably give the edge to predecessor Escape, but for me, “Send Her My Love” and “Faithfully” are the definitive 80’s power ballads, and the tougher material here, for the most part, is also masterfully produced and delivered.

Judas Priest – British Steel (1980): Priest led the British New Wave of Metal, and BS was the album that really broke them through, as it deftly stays true to its metal roots yet makes it very accessible for the mainstream (“Breaking the law! Breaking the law!”)

ABOVE: Seems obvious in hindsight, what with the leather and chains motifs, but Judas Priest singer Rob Halford surprised many when he came out of the closet. It was a bit risky in the macho world of heavy metal, but Halford's vocals have always been so bad-ass, he is still rightly considered a metal deity.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Game

Although I do not really follow college sports that closely, I have been enjoying the madness within March Madness over the Kentucky/Louisville Final Four match-up this Saturday. My father is from Louisville, and grew up a diehard U. of Kentucky fan with a childlike enthusiasm that has never left him. I've mentioned this before, but his fandom is legendary in our family. Before the days of iPhones, when he and my mother went out to eat with friends on nights when Kentucky was playing (even the relatively meaningless regular season games), he would often slip off to the restroom to check the score on his portable radio. If we were at home and a Kentucky game was on, forget about anything else as far as he was concerned.

Anyway, I have a link below to a fascinating article about the crazy history and psychological analysis of why the state of Kentucky is so basketball nuts. It is a fine analysis of the Kentucky / Louisville rivalry as well. Please read even if you have only a passing interest in college hoops. It is excellent, and has some hilarious anecdotes as to the lengths people in the bluegrass state will go to show their fandom.

Click HERE for the article.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dez's 5 Star Records: The H's and I's

There are some real revolutionaries in this edition. Michael Hedges and Jimi Hendrix both changed the way acoustic and electric guitars, respectively, could be played. Herbie Hancock is a jazz giant who has been on the innovative forefront of the music since the 60’s, and blues masters Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins were two early practitioners of acoustic blues who influenced generations. George Harrison was kinda important too.

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973): One of jazz fusion’s biggest records, Hancock and his band ride the everpresent groove throughout, which rests as much on funk and R&B as it does jazz.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (1970): George Harrison had the misfortune as a songwriter to come into his own within a band that also featured John Lennon and Paul McCartney; so it is not surprising that his first solo record is overflowing with great stockpiled tunes that had been unfairly dismissed by his former bandmates.

Colin Hay – Peaks and Valleys (1992): Men At Work’s former leader has forged a respectable if low key post-Men career, but his powers as a vocalist and guitarist are best exhibited in the solo acoustic setting.

Michael Hedges – Aerial Boundaries (1984): It is rare to find a guitarist who can truly revolutionize technique, especially this late in the game, but Michael Hedges did just that with the acoustic guitar.

Michael Hedges – Live on the Double Planet (1987) (live): This is the most accessible and entertaining introduction to Hedges and his revolutionary guitar playing, it is a fun mix of eclectic covers (from Dylan via Hendrix, where he makes one of the most tired and covered songs fresh again, to Sheila E.) and his stunning originals.

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced? (1967): My candidate for the greatest debut record in rock history; any way you slice it, the American version, the British version or the current CD hybrid version, there is enough on this debut to outdo most full careers.

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland (1968): Most double records are excessive and need trimming, but Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland is an exhilarating journey through styles and bold experimentation that defies mere mortals.

The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America (2006): This is probably the best record I’ve heard put out in the last decade or so, it is brimming with great hooks and fantastic lyrics.

Lightnin’ Hopkins – Lightnin’ (1960): Texan Hopkins’s brew of simple yet engaging acoustic blues is on full display on this near perfect blues album.

Mississippi John Hurt – The Complete Okeh Recordings (1928/1996): I simply cannot believe that these tunes were recorded in the 1920’s, they are full of interesting turns, stellar and complex acoustic guitar fingerpicking and witty lyrics that would still engage to this day. NOTE: 1928 was before “albums” were available, these recordings were all done in the same session or sessions and released as singles. So even though I generally do not include compilations on this list, this is an exception because in the album era (starting in the 50’s), these tracks would have been all collected and released as a full album.

INXS – Listen Like Thieves (1985): Follow-up Kick was the mega-seller, but I’ve always preferred this one, as it best demonstrates the charisma of Michael Hutchence as well as the band’s wonderful way with a dance groove and hooks.

Chris Isaak – Heart Shaped World (1989): Chris Isaak’s retro-50’s noir sound has changed little over the decades, and his commercial breakthrough from ’89 best exemplifies that sound and, to be honest, it bests many of his influences he is trying to emulate.

ABOVE: I’ve got some friends who swear that Hendrix’s sophomore effort is his best, Axis: Bold As Love. They are on crack. Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland are both far better. But we are talking Hendrix here, so it is kind of like arguing over which panel in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is the prettiest.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Suicidal Thoughts

One of my wife's oldest friends killed herself this last week. Well, probably. It was an overdose of pills and she had been troubled and had discussed it over the years. I can't comprehend the depths of despair one reaches to make that decision. I like to think that I have been through some emotionally trying times where I also felt great despair, but suicide never entered my mind as an option. Even at my lowest point, which I remember well, I instinctively knew that it would eventually pass and things would get better. She isn't the only person I know who went down that path. I can think of two others that I knew fairly to very well, one of which was my aunt, who also chose to end things. One characteristic all three of these individuals had in common is that they were a bit crazy. I don't say that because of what they did at the end, I say that knowing all three for many years. So perhaps that explains it. Perhaps you have to be inherently irrational in some way to do that. Perhaps that prevents that instinct that always kicked in with me that realized that whatever was going on was only temporary and I'd get over it eventually and move on.

I don't think that I could ever do that in part because I have a healthy fear and uncertainty as to the Hereafter. I would categorize myself as an agnostic with a hope and openness to the possibility of a higher power. As a historian and teacher of history I have a natural inclination for study anyway, but part of why I have always loved reading about and discussing various faiths is because I still feel I am involved in an active search for my own beliefs. I've got good friends who are avowed athiests and I've got good friends who have strong faith in whatever their creed may be. Both groups seem somewhat irrational and a bit presumptuous to me. The only rational path is agnosticism. But at the same time agnosticism seems to be a holding pattern, a temporary stop until you can figure out a stronger position. I've been in that holding pattern for decades.

Faith (or lack thereof) is connected to the decision of suicide, I think. I don't know the faith positions of two of these people, but my aunt was brought up pretty strict catholic. My mother, her sister, left the faith awhile ago but has just rediscovered it and returned to the fold. I don't think my aunt went to church every Sunday, but I also don't think she gave up on her childhood beliefs. She was also an obsessive rule-follower. Hence her suicide was particularly perplexing. But she was the most nuts of these three people, so perhaps there is no understanding her thought processes. My aunt's was meticulously planned, while my wife's friend seemed more spur of the moment in a flood of emotion. In fact, my theory is that she half wanted to be saved, based on the text messages she sent out and the fact that she was very dramatic and craved attention.

I don't have any answers or great wisdom to share, I was just thinking about all of this stuff after this latest incident. But don't worry, back to the business of music soon, where I feel I am on much surer footing. RIP MKD, you were a firecracker of a woman with oceans of emotion, both up and down. I hope you found your peace.

Dez's 5 Star Records: The G's

You could subtitle this entry “The Peter Gabriel Edition.” Gabriel is involved in seven of the following 12 picks. It is no secret that I am a huge PG fan, notwithstanding the last 20 years of crap he has put out. This is where personal taste really does enter into the equation, his work just strikes a chord with me. That being said, I think that I can justify each of these picks. Gabriel is a respected artist and praise has been heaped on all of these records below. Also, the Genesis records where he is involved are not solely his work. Genesis, in the early days, really was a collective with each member contributing crucial elements. So the Genesis records are just as much about Steve Hackett and Tony Banks as they are about Gabriel. The much maligned but commercially successful Phil Collins-era of Genesis deserves (although, Collins was in the band during the Gabriel-era too) some critical reconsideration, even though none of those records make my 5 star list (Abacab came close.)

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel (aka ‘I’, aka ‘Car’, aka ‘The First One’) (1977): An artistic declaration of independence, Gabriel’s solo debut is bursting with genre experiments and ideas as he is released from the perceived shackles of Genesis’s progressive rock collective.

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel (aka ‘III’, aka ‘Melt’, aka ‘The Third One’) (1980): With the unbeatable combination of distinctive and experimental production (especially with the percussion) and Gabriel’s most powerful set of songs, his third record is the most rewarding.

Peter Gabriel – So (1986): Gabriel finally strikes a balance between musical experimentation and commercial sensibility and releases the hit record that people knew he was capable of making; on a personal note, this is one of those handful of records that really altered my musical perspectives and opened a lot of doors.

Peter Gabriel – Passion (1989): Passion serves as the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s controversial film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ and is an intoxicating, mostly instrumental, blend of African and Middle Eastern music with Western technology and Gabriel’s layers of production and moody synthesizers.

Genesis – Foxtrot (1972): If I had to pick one record as the ultimate progressive rock masterpiece, I think I would have to pick Foxtrot; Gabriel’s multiple characters that he inhabits within a single song (“Get ‘Em Out By Friday” and the epic “Supper’s Ready”) is worthy of the stage.

Genesis – Selling England By the Pound (1973): The most uneven of the killer Genesis trilogy from ’72-’74, but the peaks are their highest (“Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” “Firth of Fifth,” “Cinema Show” and “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” are all amongst the best Genesis has to offer.)

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974): Gabriel’s incomprehensible double concept album swansong with Genesis still contains many moments of musical excitement and beauty, and credit really goes to the rest of the band.

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970): A counterpart to the almost as great Workingman’s Dead the same year, this record has even deeper roots in folk American musical forms; rarely has an album title been so apt.

The Grateful Dead – The Grateful Dead (aka ‘Skull and Roses,’ aka ‘Skullf*ck’) (live) (1971): For Dead standards, this double record is a relatively concise but accurate sampling of the live Dead experience, with the spacey extended jam confined to one (very long) track, while the rest is filled out with the usual mix of excellent covers and new (soon to be standard) Dead originals like “Bertha,” “Playing in the Band” and “Wharf Rat.”

David Gray – White Ladder (1998): I’ll tread carefully since I know some of my readers are big Gray fans, but this is the only fully satisfying record that he has put out; a DIY bid for success that worked because of strong material and bold yet tasteful use of programming and synths mixing it up with his acoustic guitar.

Guns ‘n Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987): Is this the last classic rock record?

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): The only other holiday record on this list (after Nat Cole’s record), Guaraldi’s lovely, lilting jazz soundtrack to the perennial Peanuts television standard stands outside the cartoon as its own classic piece of holiday warmth and cheer.

ABOVE: Peter Gabriel’s first four records were all simply titled Peter Gabriel. He wanted his records to be identifiable by their distinct covers (the first four being Car, Scratch, Melt and Security), similar to different issues of the same magazine. The record company eventually nixed the idea after Security and forced him to start naming his albums.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dez's 5 Star Records: The E's and F's

I can combine the E's and F's into one entry. I like this one, there is some real variety here. Jazz, bluegrass, funk, folk, atmospheric, pop and of course, some gritty rock and roll.

Duke Ellington – Ellington Indigos (1958): A minor entry in the Duke’s discography, I admit, but I have always loved the mellow and nostalgic mood (well, it feels nostalgic now, I guess it felt contemporary then) that he maintains throughout.

Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets (1974): The more obvious choice may be his classic Another Green World, but I prefer Eno’s more structured and rock-oriented yet just as adventurous debut, where he already shows a mastery of production and sonic texture.

Explosions in the Sky (plus Daniel Lanois, David Torn, Bad Company) – ‘Friday Night Lights’ motion picture soundtrack (2004): Limiting themselves to relatively concise pieces for soundtrack purposes makes the wide open and impressionistic instrumental music of West Texas’s Explosions in the Sky that much more potent (and the pretty acoustic Bad Company tune “Seagull” is a really nice touch).

Faces – A Nod Is As Good As a Wink…To A Blind Horse (1971): Sweaty, bluesy rock and roll from Rod Stewart, the Ronnies (Wood and Lane) and Co. that equals the Stones at their gritty best, with Lane’s gorgeous “Debris” standing out as the emotional highlight.

Fairport Convention – Liege and Leif (1969): This groundbreaking record is true folk (in this case English and Celtic)-rock, instead of merely being rock music with folk influences; both genres are strongly present for a true fusion of styles punctuated by the stellar guitar work from cult hero Richard Thompson and the glorious vocals of Sandy Denny.

Fine Young Cannibals – The Raw and Cooked (1988): This piece of bright 80’s pop is so intriguing to me, not only for Roland Gift’s impressive vocals but also for its fusion of 50’s (and early 60’s) and 80’s styles, as if the late 60’s and 70’s never happened, running 50’s simple pop and rock structure through 80’s synths, electronic drums and silky smooth production.

Ella Fitzgerald – The Cole Porter Songbook (1956): The definition of class.

Bela Fleck – Drive (1988): Fleck and his maestro friends perfect the modern instrumental bluegrass form, with the extended freak-out in “Sanctuary” being the highlight.

Bela Fleck & the Flecktones – Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (1991): The record that really broke Fleck and his Flecktones through to the relative mainstream; a dizzy and joyous amalgam of jazz, bluegrass and rock from a band with unparalleled chops and technique.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977): Out of soap opera comes one of pop-rock’s great masterpieces.

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (1971): The stunning 9-minute title track/guitar solo from Eddie Hazel blows the mind, it is a peak for emotional, explosive electric guitar playing.

Legend has it that for the recording of Funkadelic's “Maggot Brain,” George Clinton locked guitarist Eddie Hazel (above) in a dark studio and instructed him to play “like you just heard that your Mama died.”

Now That Is (Was) a Sports Fan

Longtime readers of GNABB know that I am a fan of great obituary writing. A great obituary is a minor artform, not merely giving the stats of one's life, but really capturing something about the dearly departed in a relatively short piece of writing. Anyway, here is the first paragraph of a recent obituary that was in the news:

"James H. "Jim" Driver, 78, of Eagle, Colo., formerly of Columbia, passed away Monday, March 19, 2012, at South Hampton Place in Columbia after a brief illness. An avid Broncos fan, he abhorred (Peyton) Manning and evidently wanted out before a deal was done."

That's awesome.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dez's Five Star Records: The D's

This entry is kind of long, but it was too short to split into two, so here are the D's. You are going out and buying all of these, right?

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959): If there is a consensus on this sort of thing, Kind of Blue is generally considered the greatest jazz record ever made; it is the Sgt. Pepper of jazz, one of those rare records that is bold and experimental while also being quite catchy and engaging, featuring the killer line-up of Miles, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.

Miles Davis & Gil Evans – Sketches of Spain (1960): Miles and frequent collaborator/arranger Evans deliver their most arresting record, which is hardly jazz at all, instead exploring Spanish textures to stunning effect.

Miles Davis – In a Silent Way (1969): No melodies, no structures…just beautiful, moody soundscapes featuring Miles’s gorgeous playing gliding ethereally on top that sets the stage for entire genres of music to come.

Derek & the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970): In protective anonymity, Eric Clapton lets loose his most sincere and fully committed record, where he inhabits and makes the blues his own vs. his usual aping the masters (with a huge assist from Duane Allman).

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978): A rare record that actually expresses its own ideology; never has geek culture sounded so cool.

Wasis Diop – Toxu (1998): Great pop/rock music doesn’t just come from the U.S. or the British Isles; Senegal’s Wasis Diop delivered a diverse pop collection with his breakout record that is highlighted by a funky, African chant cover of Talking Heads’s “Once in a Lifetime.”

Dire Straits – Dire Straits (1978): Unassuming pub rock debut that ignores all of the late 70’s trends (disco, punk, beginnings of New Wave) and instead leans on the stellar guitar picking and relaxed storytelling of Mark Knopfler.

Dire Straits – Making Movies (1980): Amongst the Dire Straits faithful, Making Movies is universally considered to be their peak; Side A especially is a tour de force of great and intricate rock and roll that moves beyond their pub rock roots with “Tunnel of Love,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Skateaway.”

Dire Straits – Alchemy (live) (1984): Some may consider expanding tight five or six minute studio songs into fifteen minute live extravaganzas a bit indulgent, but I can’t get enough of Knopfler’s deft skill with song dynamics and glorious pre-Brothers in Arms guitar work.

Thomas Dolby – The Flat Earth (1984): Relatively obscure but excellent sophomore effort from New Wave’s mad scientist, it actually features a variety of styles and sounds, but is most effective when it is ethereal and mysterious, as it is on the lengthy and beautiful title track and the wistful “Screen Kiss.”

The Doors – The Doors (1967): Even in the musically open 1960’s, nothing sounded like The Doors’s debut, which featured such a distinct and already fully developed sound, mixing rock with baroque pop, blues, classical, Jim Morrison’s amateur poetry, Oedipal nightmare and pure carnival.

The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971): Weary blues-drenched Doors swansong sounds a world away from the 1967 debut; it is astounding how far this band traveled sonically in its five year lifespan, only to return to the comforting blues womb (knowing that Morrison would be dead before the year was over makes the listening all the more intriguing, he doesn’t sound long for this world on these tracks).

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972): Even if it took a Volkswagon commercial decades after Drake’s demise to give this lovely acoustic folk record its deserved exposure, the music here is timeless in its beauty and simplicity.

Duran Duran – Rio (1982): If you want to capture the 80’s in all of its bright colors and decadent glories (as well as some of the morning after regrets), this is the record to head for; what may surprise some is that the level of musicianship is quite impressive, these pop idols could actually play their instruments and compose their own compelling tunes, they just also happened to have sexy hair.

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975): I know I should have more than one Dylan record here, I really do love the man’s music, but this is the only record of his that grabs me from start to finish and never lets up; it is one of the best and most intriguing looks into matters of the heart in all of rock music.

ABOVE: Interesting fact: Thomas Dolby is court ordered to never market his music without using his first name with his last (as in, he can't use just "Dolby," he has to always use "Thomas Dolby.") Dolby Laboratories sued him because they felt his techno-geek image combined with his chosen stage name would confuse consumers, who might think that he invented Dolby's recording technologies. The court sort of agreed, and allowed Thomas to keep his stage name but ordered that he could never use just the last name alone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


As much as I follow and gamble on (through my fantasy league that I post about annually) NBA basketball, I've never followed college sports. Never been that interested in watching kids play sports, be they high school or college age. Give me the professionals. But, March Madness, I must admit, due to its rather unique format, is always exciting.

This is the first year that I've ever filled out one of those infamous brackets, though. It is a rather low stakes bet amongst five friends because we will be in Vegas together for part of March Madness, so it would be fun to have something riding on the tournament. Several of these friends follow college basketball rather closely, so you would think that I would be at a disadvantage. But I'm not. In a tournament like March Madness, where anything can happen in any single game, it is virtually impossible to predict all that will happen. I recall some of the sports talk radio shows that I listen to on the way to and from work, and how the knowledgable hosts fill out their brackets and then also get their grandmother to fill one out and Granny ends up taking the prize. March Madness is a crapshoot.

So I filled mine out in about five minutes. I feel quite confident that I will be victorious. Now, I'm not a total idiot. I've got Kentucky winning the whole thing. That will make my father, who is a lifelong Kentucky basketball fanatic, extremely proud. He does not miss a game. My mother has been quite patient over the years. She tells stories of being out to eat with friends, and my Dad sneaking off to the restroom regularly to check the score of a relatively meaningless regular season game on his pocket radio (in the days before iphones). I remember a couple of years ago when he and I were driving a vehicle together from Tampa, Fl. to San Antonio, and it was during March Madness, we had to stop driving early in the evening and get to a hotel room in time for Kentucky's game to start on the TV. You have to admire that kind of dedication, especially from a guy who went to college at Baylor. Although, he was born and grew up in Kentucky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Political Quick Hit

Looks like Santorum is taking both Alabama and Mississippi tonight. Logically, that means that Newt would bow out gracefully since the South should be his stronghold, but the Right Wing of the party has clearly chosen Santorum to be the Anti-Romney. But little in this primary has been logical, so Newt might still try to hang on. That is Romney's best case scenario, because Romney would have a serious challenge if he went mano-a-mano against Santorum. I'm pulling for Romney, so I hope Newt is as stubborn as I think he is. It is almost mathematically impossible for any of the other candidates to overtake Romney in delegate count, but a Santorum surge (as in, no Newt to split votes with) could prevent Romney from getting the clinching number, leading to a Republican convention that would actually mean something and be an intense battle. That would be exciting.

It is interesting to note that in the most recent national polls, Obama has dropped again and the Republicans have closed the gap that had started to widen. Is it perhaps that there have been no debates lately? Or it may be the gas prices.

I'd still put money on an Obama victory in November, but it may not be as easy as many Democrats think it will be.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dez's 5 Star Records: The Rest of the C's

Let's wrap up the C's, shall we?

Shawn Colvin – Steady On (1989): This is a great modern folk pop record that has a wonderful sonic coherence to it.

Robert Cray Band – Strong Persuader (1986): As unlikely as it would be that a blues record would be a hit in the 1980’s, Cray’s breakthrough leaned on equal parts blues and soul and most importantly, superior songwriting; this is my favorite blues record.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River (1969): For a few years in the late 60’s, John Fogerty wrote Americana classics seemingly at will and at a prolific rate.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poorboys (1969): CCR’s most relaxed and country-influenced album is nonetheless punctuated by the greatest protest song of the era (the blazing “Fortunate Son”) and the haunting slowburn closer, “Effigy.”

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory (1970): CCR is firing on all cylinders here, from definitive swamp rock (“Run Through the Jungle”), back porch folk (“Lookin’ Out My Back Door”), concise blistering rock singles (“Up Around the Bend,” “Travelin’ Band”), to spot on covers (“My Baby Left Me,” “Before You Accuse Me”), winding (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”) and focused (“Ramble Tamble”) jams and timeless protest music (“Who’ll Stop the Rain.”)

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971): an apt title; The Croz delivers a beautiful, spaced out, moody gem that most people have never heard…they should, it is one of the best records from 60’s and 70’s So-Cal.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969): These guys have coasted for decades on the reputation of this sparkling debut and its almost as great follow-up with Neil Young, Déjà vu.

The Cure – Disintegration (1989): Being depressed never sounded so transcendently and epically beautiful.

ABOVE: David Crosby had difficulty remembering his name and much of anything else for several decades, yet still managed to release one great record in '71

Saturday, March 10, 2012


It has been awhile since I posted a dose of my daughter's cuteness (other than the birthday pic below). So, here are some more recent photos...

ABOVE: Who knew balloons were so amazing?

ABOVE: She already loves soccer

ABOVE: Dressed up for Christmas Eve

ABOVE: New horse

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dez's Five Star Records, vol. IV: C's, pt. 1

I've got about 16 Five Star records under "C", so I'll split it up into two posts for easier digestion. Here's the first half. By the way, I have always been a Comments whore, so I appreciate it when you comment, whether you agree or disagree. One of the primary purposes of these lists is to foster discussion.

J.J. Cale – Naturally (1972): Turning laidback into an art form, respected songwriter J.J. Cale’s debut is a breezy, groovy delight.

CAN – Future Days (1973): One of the most influential chill-out records of all time pulls off the rare feat of making ambient-like music sound interesting.

The Cars – The Cars (1978): Ric Ocasek once half-joked that The Cars’s debut should have been titled “Greatest Hits”; every song here either was or could have been one.

The Cars – Candy-O (1979): While the debut and Heartbeat City get most of the airplay, the quirky and dark sophomore effort is my personal favorite, a sleek and dangerous ride through 80’s nightlife.

Nat ‘King’ Cole – The Christmas Song (1961): The warmest and most lovely holiday record ever recorded by miles; each holiday season, as part of my ritual, I put this record on from start to finish to officially begin the season and it hardly ever stops playing until the holidays are done. It sounds like a mythical American place that probably never existed, but where family is the center of life and the holidays bring genuine cheer and goodwill. (I know, that’s two sentences).

Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008): Pop/rock’s current kings release their most realized and assured album brimming with hooks and soaring choruses.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1965): Jazz improvisation as prayer.

Counting Crows – August and Everything After… (1993): Notwithstanding Adam Duritz’s whine, this auspicious debut heralded an exciting and new band that referenced the past but also had its own things to say…too bad they subsequently failed to deliver on this promise.

ABOVE: Look, he's even got the perfect Christmas sweater.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dez Reviews Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball, 2012

You know, I've got to hand it to the aging Boss for still trying. Taking the long view of his career, his classic period really ended in the mid-80's with Born in the USA. Since then, it has been more about great moments or great songs interspersed amongst mediocre ones. That trend continues here. After being lost in the wilderness in the 90's, Bruce found his footing again in 2002 with The Rising. But even though he has been solid since, he has only been solid. Not classic. The fact that Rolling Stone magazine gave its five star stamp to this is absurd. I'm a Bruce fan, but this album getting the highest possible rating? Come on. That is diminishing his actual classics, which stand as some of the all time great rock and roll records. This does not. But it's not bad.

As I said, Bruce is trying here. He dabbles with several styles, most prominently mixing his recent midtempo rock sound with elements of Celtic acoustic, a la his Seeger Sessions work from a few years ago. It can be sometimes an awkward mix, sometimes interesting. There are also dashes of gospel, country, folk...even some drum loops and an ill-advised rap (performed by Michelle Moore) in the middle of an otherwise nice number, "Rocky Ground." (Don't worry, it is not as bad as it sounds like it would be, but rap on a Springsteen album? No.) He's teamed with a new producer, Ron Aniello, and I admire their kitchen sink approach.

Lyrically, though, the record is somewhat vague in places. Bruce was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement here, and he throws his usual populist/working man phrases around with vigor and apparent anger, but it is just not specific enough. I wish he could bring the lyrical detail of Nebraska or Ghost of Tom Joad to a full rock record. Now that would be something.

There is some great stuff here, though. Two real modernday Boss anthems, in fact. One is the wonderful title track (which is a tune that he's had laying around since 2007). It is a rousing, nostalgic, defiant tribute to Giants Stadium, where he played many times. Here he does have some great lines: "I was raised outta steel / Here in the swamps of Jersey / Some misty years ago / Through the mud and the beer / The blood and the cheers / I've seen champions come and go / So if you've got the guts, mister / Yeah, if you got the balls / If you think it's your time / Then step up to the line / And bring on your wrecking ball."

The second is a tune that he's had since about 2000 and which was released on a live record around that time. But here he really gives "Land of Hope and Dreams" a nuanced and interesting arrangement, mixing the rock of E Street with some banjos and fiddles pretty seemlessly. It is also appropriate that the track features the deceased Clarence Clemons's last sax solo on a Springsteen record. In fact, in the liner notes, part of Springsteen's wonderful eulogy that he gave at Clarence's funeral is reproduced as a tribute to the Big Man, and it is a better piece of writing than the lyrics in any of these songs.

*** out of *****

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dez's 5 Star Records, vol. III: The Rest of the B's

I hope that you are writing all of these five star records down and purchasing them. This music is important to keep alive as the Age of the Album comes to a close and we regress back to the 1950’s, before the concept of a full album as a whole coherent work took hold and it was all about singles. The B’s are pretty stacked, so here is part two of the 5 Star “B” records.

Big Star - #1 Record (1972): In a just universe, Alex Chilton and Chris Bell would be remembered alongside Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards as one of the all time great pop/rock songwriting duos and would have released 12 records together instead of just one.

Big Star – Radio City (1974): Chilton leads the now trio Big Star through a grittier but nonetheless just as catchy set of tunes that continues to invent Power Pop.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970): Might not have been the first metal record, but it set a standard that is rarely reached to this day.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974): Bowie’s coke-fueled failed attempt to create some sort of musical version of Orwell’s ‘1984’ is nonetheless still a great listen.

David Bowie – Low (1977): Half fiery, jagged song fragments and half icy atmospheric (mostly) instrumentals, Bowie’s first collaboration with Brian Eno is still his best.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (1959): Avant-garde-like experiments with tempo and time signature also produced a handful of catchy jazz classics on one of jazz music’s biggest selling hit records.

Jack Bruce – Songs For a Tailor (1969): Cream vocalist and bass virtuoso’s debut solo album is much more interesting than anything Clapton ever put out.

Buffalo Springfield – Again (1967): Where Stephen Stills reaches his peak with two of his greatest performances and we discover that Neil Young is a rock and roll genius (this is one of those records where the great half is so brilliant that it carries the weaker half).

Paul Butterfield Blues Band – East-West (1966): Doomed guitarist Michael Bloomfield’s shining achievement is the monumental title track, a tune that breaks through musical barriers and invents the great rock and roll jam (and the rest is simply Chess produced blues that never takes the foot off the gas).

The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965): Folk rock is born (and God was Gene Clark great).

The Byrds – Fifth Dimension (1966): Folk rock, meet psychedelia. Psychedelia, meet folk rock (contains what, to me, is the greatest single of the 1960's: "Eight Miles High").

The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968): Amidst much turmoil and band squabbling, The Byrds create their most serene and beautiful record.

ABOVE: There was a time, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, when you could take Ozzy Osbourne seriously (right, with Black Sabbath in the 70's)