Album Reviews

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

De La Soul "3 Feet High and Rising" (1989)

De La’s debut really was a breath of fresh air upon release with the Daisy Age crew flipping the hip hop script big time with their fun odd ball approach to the genre. In the wrong hands it could have been a disaster – all style over substance – but these three young MC’s had something about them even then and an ace up their sleeve in the shape of producer Prince Paul. This record also introduced us to the overuse of the Skit on hip hop LP’s and after a while it is perhaps my main complaint against an otherwise fantastic debut. Sure the skits are funny and on occasion work well with the flow of the record they can grate after a while. However there are some absolute classic tunes presented too, with at least three to four essential cuts. —Jon

Dinosaur Jr. “You’re Living All Over Me” (1987)

My favorite record from my favorite band. I don’t even really know what to say. This record speaks to me in a way no other piece of recorded music ever has. It’s heavy and gentle, totally hardcore and psychedelic, wasted, yet totally on point, defeated yet triumphant. It’s all these little contradictions that make it so profoundly cool to me. They “nailed it” like no other band. In the artwork, the guitar sound, the rhythm section and even the track order. –Richard

Roy Ayers “He’s Coming” (1972)

It takes about 20 seconds for you to realise that this is one heavy record. The opening keys and vocals on the reverential opener “He’s a Superstar” just kill it and the music doesn’t let up too much on the rest of the LP. So many great moments from Roy and Harry Whitaker here. I mean “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” is as good as it gets and “Sweet Tears” is one of those Roy Ayers jams designed to get you moving. In the 70’s this pairing had a formula down and worked it to the maximum without ever sounding tired or, amazingly for that matter, repetetive. One of the great songwriting partnerships in music. There are so many great Ubiquity LP’s from this period and you cannot go wrong with any of the classics as they all contain a killer track or two. I would say that this and the less heralded Virgo Red are the pick though. –Jon

The Rascals “Peaceful World” (1971)

The Rascals “Peaceful World” is a surprising first listen owing more to Sly Stone, War and Tower of Power than the blue-eyed Young Rascals who gave us the sixties hit “Groovin.’” The album is a soulful blend of rock, jazz and world music featuring jazz legends Joe Farrell, Hubert Laws, Alice Coltrane and Ron Carter. The funky “Love Me,” the cosmic “Sky Trane” and the mellow, twenty-minute title track, are just three of my favorites here. Fortunately this is LP is still pretty easy to find and usually under $15 making it a peaceful world we can all visit. –David