Album Reviews

Hal Blaine & The Young Cougars “Deuces, T’s, Roadsters, & Drums” (1963)

For those who don’t know, Mr. Blaine was a session drummer, and, though you might not recognize his name, many drummers of the early ’60s, considered him their “Chet Atkins!” Well, with his solo LP he gets down on some heavy instrumental, Hot Rod heat. For me, this is one of the better, more inventive, Hot Rod records as DTR&D is royally executed by the top LA session fellas. The list of “Young Cougars” is as long as my right arm, and DTR&D is produced in bright, booming ’60’s “Soundtrack” clarity by Lee Hazelwood. Oh, there’s even a handy “hot rod” lexicon featured in the liner notes, now I know what “E.T.” really stands for! –Nipper

Blue Öyster Cult “Blue Öyster Cult” (1972)

Long before the mega-hits “Godzilla” and “(Dont Fear) The Reaper” roamed FM radio waves there lived a different kind of creature: “Blue Öyster Cult” the album. Everything about BÖC is unique: from their mysterious name, the umlaut over the Ö and the famous hook and cross logo to the cryptic lyrics and their instantly recognizable sound. Nowhere is their uniqueness more apparent than on this classic self-titled debut. The music lies somewhere between psychedelia and heavy metal and the cover features black and white op-art that perfectly captures the sci-fi and horror themes inside. My favorite tracks are the classic “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” the tripped out “Screams,” the even trippier “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” and the country-rock of “Redeemed” with it’s beautiful harmonies. All I can say is: “More Cowbell!” –David

Archie Shepp “Attica Blues” (1972)

Thunderous, joyous, angry, sad beautiful and swinging. All of this in forty minutes of music from Shepp. This is a remarkable record that has so many flavors. The free jazz of his earlier work is replaced by gospel, blues and R&B. The opener is an all out assault that literally screams from the speakers. The fact that his can be followed by a ballad of such tenderness as Steam shows the genius of Shepp. Human rights form a common theme throughout and may explain some of the energy within. Shepp himself sounds so much more fulfilling in a bluesy role. –Jon

Seriously funky! The title track makes Sly Stone look like Kenny Rogers. The rest reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron occasionally straying into freaky Melvin Van Peebles territory. Expecting jazz, this album really blew my mind the first time I heard it. –David

Guided by Voices “Bee Thousand” (1994)

Their best album, without question: an inspired amalgam of a particularly British rock history (Bob even puts on the accent, though with a charming lack of consistency that recalls Sir Alex Chilton rather than other lesser American poseurs): channelling Who mod aggression, late-60s Kinks nostalgia, Revolver’s kitchen-sink aesthetic, and post-punk collage sensibilities, this was the album that got GBV out of a Dayton, OH basement, and I bet it’s the one that’ll be played 20 years from now. I know, I know, Alien Lanes is arguably more varied and better paced. But Pollard never wrote a better set of lyrics than here (his random strings of sentiment pile up into something more significant here than they tend to do), and the hooks are seemingly effortless. The ultra lo-fi recording reveals layered detail, and the opening three tracks here qualify among the best sequences in pop history: “Hardcore UFOs” is one of the only rock anthems of the last 30 years that packs any emotional punch, while “Tractor Rape Chain” sounds like Neil Young & Crazy Horse in some parallel universe where they hailed from Leeds. And littered throughout this 20-song tunefest are many of their other best songs: “Gold Star for Robot Boy” is a mod anti-authority song for the slacker generation; the deranged but dead-on “Her Psychology Today” resurrects classic-rock misogyny for the era of the institutionalized sensitive male and the powerbook feminist; and “Kicker of Elves,” well, what the hell is “Kicker of Elves?” Pop bliss in a minute. God Bless Guided By Voices and the Lager-Soaked Four-Track They Sailed In On. –Will

Willie Nelson “Shotgun Willie” (1973)

Classic outlaw country music, this record is polar opposite of the Nashville “songwriting machine” still so popular at the time. Honest (maybe too honest, the first words of this record are “Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear”), loose and written and performed with a “don’t give a f…” attitude that millions fell in love with and thousands tried to emulate. “Sad Songs and Waltzes” and “She’s Not For You” are bruised ballads that stick with you after one listen, and age gracefully in your mind. –Cameron

Harry Nilsson “Nilsson Sings Newman” (1970)

Delicate, gentle and earnest, it’s hard not to believe every word Harry Nilsson sings, even if a yet-to-make-it-big Randy Newman wrote them. I challenge any man with a heart to remain dry eyed during his rendition of “Living Without You.” Plus, this is one of the most technically amazing recordings ever (it won 1970’s Record of the Year award from Stereo Review Magazine), and a treat on headphones. –Cameron

Mighty Baby “Mighty Baby” (1969)

Most of the members of Mighty Baby began in The Action, a Scouse soul/R&B group, and slowly evolved, as their hair and beards grew and thier minds expanded, into Mighty Baby. Mighty, indeed!

This is a great album of solid easy groovin’ by English boys assimilating American psychedelic West Coast sounds. Full of heady, reserved guitar fills/leads, harmonies… and that Hammond! Sheesh! –Nipper

Stevie Wonder “Music of My Mind” (1972)

This fully deserves to be held in just as high esteem as the rest of Stevie’s 70’s discography. Totally stunning music and it must have been a total shock to soul lovers ears on release. The music at the time was futuristic in the extreme. Utilizing the synthesizer to full effect to create a unique sound to go along with the supremely catchy and uplifting songs. There is really no weaknesses to this record. If there is any downside it is that Stevie doesn’t seem to realise quite what he has unleashed and so there is a little too much experimentation in places. Is there a better Stevie song than “Superwoman”? If there is I have yet to hear it. Get this and everything up to Songs In The Key of Life and you have some serious soul music to fall back on. –Jon

New Order “Low-Life” (1985)

One of New Order’s great subtext is the notion that these band members don’t like each other. Low-Life is a typical New Order record, a 50/50 mix of guitar rock and mechanical dance tracks built around synths and table-top boxes, but it stands out to me for excellent songwriting that hints at genuine emotion restrained by an unwillingness to emote in front of those people. Lyrically uncommitted and passive, this is the sound of a band at a creative high with A+ material, trying to keep the sneer hidden behind a stiff upper lip. High points for me are “This Time Of Night” and “Sub-Culture” (the latter of which was a dance club hit) both of which juxtapose the deadpan with cinematic, sinister hooks. –Cameron

Ronnie Lane “Anymore For Anymore” (1974)

Out of all the albums that I’ve heard this is the one that has touched me the most. It’s such a joy to hear Ronnie Lane sing about unimportant things that, after a second listen, become the most important issues you can think of. Seemingly loose played, but at the same time heartfelt and pure. Music far removed from the standards of those days but at the same time so very timeless. Yes, this album means the world to me. If I had to describe “Anymore for Anymore” in one word it would have to be “love.” From the beautiful sax solo on “Don’t You Cry For Me” to those spine tingling strings on “The Poacher”, every track is a gem. The passion and sincerity with which it is crafted is of a standard previously unknown to me. This album will make you enjoy and appreciate life so much more. It’s simply brilliant and, in my opinion, essential listening for every roots/country/folk listener. –Ton

Gandalf “Gandalf” (1969)

This is late period, super dreamy sike from Jersey! Gandalf sounds a bit like if Nick Drake were in the Zombies, but where Nick Drake can be uplifting and the Zombies’ always turn your frown upside down, Gandalf instills a terse, creepy tense sense of melancholy. Though it doesn’t feel self conscious in it’s “moody,” they balance mood without overstating creepy and sad. Of course, I don’t know if they were trying to be dark, but it works…almost too well. That said, the band has said given the chance they mixed the album heavier, as they were heavier live, but due to label interference they weren’t invited to the mixing sessions…fine by me, this LP ought not be fixed. It ain’t broke. –Nipper

Paul McCartney “Ram” (1971)

I was just a sprout of a boy when dad brought home the shiny Pioneer hi-fi, and this was the only album I was allowed to play (as it was already scratched). It turns out this is the perfect album for a small child; sweet, sentimental, slightly silly at times, and incredibly easy to sing along to. Surprisingly devoid of radio hits, it works better as a 40 minute pastiche of tunes, rather than a collection of three-minute confections. If pop music is simply some form of arithmetic that pleases the brain, then I learned basic math from this record. The same qualities that appealed to me as a child make Ram sound just as great today. –Cameron