Album Reviews

Rod Stewart “Every Picture Tells a Story” (1971)

Rod Stewart was Rod Stewart before he became Rod Stewart. When he was Rod Stewart, he recorded a handful of extraordinary albums, both as a solo artist and as a member of the mighty Faces. This one’s arguably the best LP of the lot. Here are just a few reasons: The title track; “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” which might be the best cover tune in history; the drumming throughout the record, but especially on the aforementioned title track; the wonderful, organic sound, with acoustic guitars that are heavy, warm, and propulsive, and the electric guitar of Ron Wood, who might’ve been the best of his generation, or at least the coolest; the emotional range of the record, which is full of humour and pathos and the kind of spontaneous rawkousness that you just don’t hear anymore. Did I mention the title track? –Will

Vince Guaraldi “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)

This is a near perfect Christmas album, and is rightly considered as one of Vince Guaraldi’s greatest works. In my house at least, no Christmas can be complete without this seasonal slice of musical beauty. From the first few notes it sets a mood so completely and utterly that the spell isn’t broken until the album finishes and the room goes silent once more at its conclusion. It’s a beautiful album which is as wistful and melancholy as it is joyful. Not that the music itself is sad, but there’s something about this album which never fails to get me choked up. Perhaps it’s the fact that this music is all tied up with my childhood memories of the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which has to be one of the bleakest, most depressing television programs ever foisted upon the impressionable youth of North America. However, all this heaviness is wonderfully offset by the gorgeous “Skating”, which has always been my favourite song on this album. What more can I say? For me this is a deeply moving and emotional album despite the lurid cartoon characters which populate its cover. Beautiful, essential, golden. –Deadlybreakfast

Weezer “Weezer” (1994)

The great tunes here deal with sex (as great songs usually do), such as “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Only in Dreams.” The epic “Say it Ain’t So” is one of the best songs of the decade, period. The band doesn’t waste time noodling around and every track sounds punchy and vital. Another positive are the smart lyrics. Not smart because they try to be clever – quite the opposite, actually. Every word rings true, which is quite a feat considering they aren’t masked by slick wordplay or attempts at poetic garbage. Cuomo writes pop songs as perfect as Oasis thinks theirs are. Somehow, the band filters them through the type of sun-drenched garage sensibility that is usually reserved for SoCal bands only. Finally, Weezer never overreaches or missteps, making this a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish. –Lucus

Armageddon “Armageddon” (1975)

Shaggy proto-metal stretched and contorted into long winded, progressive forms, second tier supergroup Armageddon recall the similarly assembled Captain Beyond in both form and execution, both bands in fact sharing a member in drummer Bobby Caldwell. Ex-Yardbirds and Renaissance vocalist Keith Relf fronts the group, while Steamhammer’s Martin Pugh lays down piercing, wah-washed guitar on the circling “Buzzard,” slashes and burns through the frantic “Paths and Planes and Future Gains,” and works a heavy funk riff ala Zeppelin and Budgie on “Last Stand Before.” Elsewhere there’s the glassy tones of the ethereal “Silver Tightrope,” and the album concludes with a rambiling, multi-part suite in “Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun.” An impressive, semi-obscure heavy gem that any fan of bludgeoning bell-bottom rock should enjoy surrendering to. –Ben

Little Feat “Sailing Shoes” (1972)

This wonderfully bizarre album cover hides the secret love child of ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” and The Stone’s “Exile on Main Street.” “Sailing Shoes” is an eclectic mix of rock, country, blues and gospel that avoids the Southern and country-rock cliches and is experimental enough to reward repeated listening. In the past, when I’ve thrown on The Allman Brothers or Dr. John, I’ve been disappointed because THIS was the album I wanted to hear all along! It’s a rare album that transcends genres and consistently surpasses expectations but Little Feat has done it here. If you love seventies rock slip on “Sailing Shoes,” walk over to Jive Time and thank me! (And then pick up the equally impressive “Dixie Chicken.”) –David

XTC “Black Sea” (1980)

By 1980’s “Black Sea” XTC were fully into their stride, the previous years exceptional “Drums And Wires” remains an early high water mark yet “Black Sea” sees them expanding their sound further, moving away from the angular, sparky new wave of that album and towards a tougher, rockier sound, as such it’s arguably their most accessible of all their early albums. A 60’s feel is beginning to rear it’s head in a lot of their work, take for instance “Respectable Street” and “Towers Of London,” the former has strong echoes of mid 60’s Kinks whilst the latter is pure “Rubber Soul” era Beatles, both given a punkish twist, “No Language In Our Lungs” also has a strong Beatles influence but still manages to sound typically XTC. Where “Drums And Wires” was rough around the edges “Black Sea” is a lot more focused and less artsy sounding, still this is XTC so fans of their artsy leanings can always revel in “Travels In Nihilon’s” apocalyptic soundscape or “Living Through Another Cuba’s” dub infused paranoia but overall Black Sea is a lot more polished and poppy than anything the band had recorded since their spiky, charming debut. “Generals And Majors,” “Love At First Sight,” “Rocket From A Bottle,” “Paper And Iron” and “Burning With Optimism’s Flames” would all have made great singles, strange then that they chose to release arguably the album’s weakest track, the XTC by numbers of “Sgt Rock,” still it’s one misstep on an otherwise blemish free album, I prefer the jittery, nervous “Drums And Wires” ever so slightly but that does not diminish “Black Sea’s” tough majesty. Yet another classic from England’s most underrated band. –Derek

The David “Another Day Another Lifetime” (1967)

The David didn’t really blaze any new “freak” avenues, but they have songs falling nicely beyond the mid-60’s three chord thump-mmmm-bump. I guess they sound like a better Stateside garage band who took steps into the “psychedelic” while retaining “garage” energy, and staying smartly this side of “hippie.” It paid off for them at the time… they got some airplay, even charted locally, but too bad it wasn’t enough for the squares to remember them. This has become a hard-to-find record, but when and if you can snatch it! –Nipper

Miles Davis “In A Silent Way” (1969)

As a teen, I fancied myself a jazz drummer, and listened to plenty of complicated-for-complicated’s sake drummers, thinking that if I could figure out how to cram eleven notes into a three note space, I’d have it all figured out. And then I discovered “In A Silent Way”, and my mind was sufficiently blown. “Shhh/Peaceful” is entirely 16th notes on the hi-hat (and nothing more) and a two note mantra on the bass, while the best collection of instrumentalists available (Hancock, Corea, Shorter, McLaughlin, Zawinul) vamp over the top. Miles himself is restrained, compared to his other recordings of this period, giving the album a late night, quiet vibe. The best elements from these extensive sessions were spliced together from tape by Teo Macero to create two massive songs, in what could be argued as an early form of remixing. Simplicity. It’s an underrated thing, especially in jazz. –Cameron

The Rolling Stones “Some Girls” (1978)

When I was in school the rules were clear: Rock ruled. Disco and punk sucked. The end. As a devoted rocker I carried my KISW “Disco Sucks” club card in my wallet and expressed disgust whenever Donna Summer or the Sex Pistols were mentioned (having never actually heard either). Then something miraculous happened: The Rolling Stones released “Some Girls.” The Stones’ ability to blend rock, blues and country with the seemingly polarizing disco and punk made me realize for the first time that it was all related and that it was all rock and roll! Pre-internet, this album was also my portal to a world outside of the suburbs of Seattle. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the sleazy “Shattered,” and prowling “Miss You” on the radio, flooding me with images of a gritty, decadent New York. The sexually charged lyrics, androgynous imagery and Jagger’s swagger (along with the infamous SNL appearance promoting the album) suggested a sexual world infinitely more complex and exciting than the black and white one previously painted for me by the likes of Kiss and Aerosmith. Even the Warhol-esque, die-cut cover’s tabloid kitsch influenced the way I thought about art and design. Best of all, “Some Girls” sounds as fresh to me today as it did in ’78 and continues to hold a coveted top spot in my record collection. Some Girls. Some album! –David

Nina Simone “Emergency Ward” (1973)

I was a bit reluctant with this at first, mainly because this album is like 80% George Harrison, but GH was the true talent of the Beatles, so I guess if you’re gonna cover songs of one of the fab four, his make the most sense. God forbid she chose Ringo…. Somehow, I feel a 20 minute version of “Octopus’s Garden” wouldn’t hold the same potency as the belting gospel driven take on “My Sweet Lord”. For me though, it’s her take on “Isn’t It a Pity” that does it for me. This song is Nina Simone at the absolute height of her soul powers. Beautiful subtle vamping, super subtle bass for the melody to glide along, and her sublime warm and heartfelt, half spoken, half sung vocals. You really won’t find many tunes that melt the heart like her take on this one. –Ben

Billy Nichols “Would You Believe” (1968)

“Would You Believe” is stunning late ’60’s pop crafted with knowing nods of love to Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds, that thankfully NEVER forgets the importance of the… (cough) London Social Degree. However, if drug references are Billy’s point, they’re overwhelmed soniclly as “Would You…” is packed full of LUSH, dense arrangements awash with a “sound” that serves to unify the LP as a whole… it’s absolutely gorgeous. In fact… I own two copies (I wish!). Anyways, turns out, thirty years ago, this LP was shelved without any believable reason, the Loog, the fella responsible for the shelving, oughta be ashamed. –Nipper

Fripp & Eno “Evening Star” (1975)

The second collaboration between the two highbrow British art/prog rockers, Evening Star pairs Fripp’s “Frippertronic” guitar, layered and sustained indefinitely through use of analog tape loops, with synthesizer and various treatments from Eno, for an ambient match made in heaven. The serene first side is highlighted by the beautiful title track, which borders on melodic, while still maintaining the minimalist style of Eno’s ambient works. Conversely, the second side, titled “An Index of Metals,” quietly builds layers of ever more dissonant guitar, developing an unnerving atmosphere. This is an album that effortlessly creates a distinctly reflective mood, and is an essential item for fans of either artist. –Ben