Album Reviews

Charles Mingus “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” (1963)

Charles Mingus had always incorporated elements of modern avante-garde composition into his bop-esque and free-jazz/avant garde work while holding himself firmly within the jazz idiom. Here, he cast aside all the restrictions of both genres and meshed the two into an unbelievably complex, and yet emotionally and musically stunning magnum opus. Unlike Mingus’ previous albums, rather than being merely a showcase for different tunes which may have had little to do with eachother melodically and structurally, this cd comprises the six movements of a symphony, and the music and ideas flow into eachother seamlessly. My favorite moment comes during the third track, “Group Dancers” when, after Mingus hints at an amazing melodic figure on the piano, the full ensemble plays it in all its glory. Anyone who loves music is missing something if he or she has never heard this milestone of melodic ingenuity. –Zach

Scorpions “In Trance” (1975)

Three albums in and Scorpions are settling into an eccentric, decidedly European mix of piercing Teutonic fury and abject gothic balladry that would hallmark future Uli-era triumphs Virgin Killer and Taken by Force. In Trance features only a handful of hard rockers, but the manic, psyche-searing opener “Dark Lady” (featuring oddly appropriate lead vocals by Roth), tightly-clenched stomp of “Top of the Bill,” and weird, lost in translation “Robot Man” are all stinging entries, while “Longing for Fire” stands out as an unusual, brightly melodic moment. But it’s those troubled, moonlit strolls into balladry that really define the dark undercurrent of In Trance, with the mesmerizing title track, black veiled “Living and Dying,” and thunderous declarations “Evening Wind” and “Life’s Like a River” cementing the album under waves of isolation and melancholia. Only the lumbering blues “Sun in my Hand” hints at a loss of plot, one of Roth’s weirder Hendrix tributes that’s at least partially redeemed in his floating, Floydian instrumental “Night Lights” that closes the album. –Ben

The Gits “Frenching the Bully” (1992)

The Gits- Frenching the Bully has always been a very cold bone-chilling listen for me. One that no matter how many times I hear it I cannot think of what might have been for this band. Being veteran’s of the Seattle scene in the early 90’s these guys were some of the select few talented musicians that were poised to be huge rock stars. I really do believe that. Mia Zapata voice is like no other, she had such a passionate escape in her style of singing and a force that was undeniable. I wish Mia was still around, because I know her and the Gits would continue to give us amazing music to enjoy. At least we have this one. Frenching the Bully is a punk rock masterpiece with a furry behind it that will never die. I urge everybody to take the time to discover this band because they are truly one of a kind. –Jason

Linn County “Proud Flesh Soothseer” (1968)

I owned this album for a long while before I got around to playing it… uh, dumb move. I’d passed it over because I thought it was generic, “sweaty,” late sixties blues rock. And, though I like sweaty sixties white guy blues, I can only take so much so often! So, randomly, I finally tossed this on expecting to play it through as background once then file it away as I do (when it comes to certain styles)… uh… well, it IS blues rock, and sweaty, but its progressive blues with some heavy, very cool nods to sike. It’s sike is West Coast sixties genius, but it also plays a bit like later Graham Bond without all the occult mysticism and no African flecked jazz. That said, there is a blues jam in the middle of the record thats tortured and whatnot, BUT the interplay of horns, Hammond, and the song writing makes for some super catchy, and… it’s kinda DANCEABLE!? What progressive blues album can you say THAT about? –Nipper

Thin Lizzy “Fighting” (1975)

My favourite Thin Lizzy album. Which puts me in a minority, for sure, but I shouldn’t have to defend my assertion that this is hookier than Jailbreak (even if it doesn’t reach that one’s highest heights), more consistent than Johnny the Fox, and retains the sleazy feel that’s more or less buffed away from the overly polished Bad Reputation. This is their most underrated album by far. All the elements of the sound for which they’re best known (twin guitar attack, tense aggression, funky basslines, soulful melodicism and lyricism, etc., pick your cliché) are here in the freshest form; none of the cold metal posturing has crept in; and just about every song has an excitement that’s infectious and totally addictive, especially “Rosalie,” which is rock ‘n’ roll manna. –Will

Amon Duul II “Yeti” (1970)

For me this is one of the high points of “Kosmische Musik”. A sprawling double album of druggy, gothic flavored songs and jams that never gets boring. Judging by this album it would be fair to say that, whilst the Americans and British knocked on the doors of perception in the late sixties, the Germans kicked the back door in at the beginning of the following decade. Some of the music on this LP is seriously out there. “Eye-Shaking King” is a case in point; featuring some truly heavy acid guitar work and crazed, effect laden vocals. The opening suite to the album, “Soap Shop Rock” and “Archangel Thunderbird” are other jaw-dropping moments. The latter half of the album is comprised mostly of heavyweight cosmic jams that transcend anything anyone on the West Coast of America could muster. The musicianship is truly sublime throughout this great record and is aided by the excellent wide sound created by the production team. Anyone who is intrigued by Kosmische Musik/Krautrock should ensure that this is one of their first dips into this fascinating genre. –Simon

U2 “Achtung Baby” (1991)

From the opening seconds of “Zoo Station,” Achtung Baby announces itself with a roaring crunch, signaling the end of the earnest U2 of the ‘80s. Between the Edge’s snarling, textured guitars and Adam Clayton’s blood-pumping basslines, Bono’s mood careens from sarcastic and playful to heartbroken and hung-over. Fans were immediately deeply divided, deciding that the band was either brilliant or out of their collective gourd. Nearly two decades later, the album is considered a masterpiece, packed with classics like “Mysterious Ways,” “Until the End of the World,” and fan-favorite “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” (And let’s not forget “One,” the beautifully ambiguous piece considered by many to be the best song of the ‘90s.) If you’re among the masses who believe U2 to be nothing more than the Irish fathers of Coldplay, take a listen. I guarantee you’ve never heard this side of Bono and the boys. – Reilly

Be Bop Deluxe “Axe Victim” (1974)

As mentioned in all other assessments of this album, the influence of Ziggy Stardust permeates Axe Victim from Bill’s Bowiesque mullet down to the freeze-dried production, self-mythologizing content and plasticized space-age musical character of the songs. However, beneath it’s glam-bandwagoning lies an imaginative album that’s easy to enjoy if you’re able to lower the blinders to it’s Ziggy impersonations, while guitar hero worshipers will find in Nelson’s hyperactive cascades of fuzz an idol worthy of praise. Highlighted in the “Rock & Roll Suicide” inspired urban wasteland of “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape,” the axe-victimizing epic “Jets at Dawn,” anthemic “Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus,” and shadowy orchestrated closer “Darkness,” Nelson and his Be Boppers turn in a set of over-literate but oddly engaging tracks whose charms are probably easier to appreciate given three decades of glam dormancy. Inevitably, Nelson would call an audible and leave Axe Victim a curious footnote to his prolific career, but it’s a forgotten son worth getting reacquainted with. –Ben

Terry Reid “Terry Reid” (1969)

The big deal about Terry Reid is, as legend has it, he was offered, and declined, Robert Plant’s vocalist spot in the New Yardbirds, a group thereafter known as the Led Zeppelin.  If you can get past a missed Zeppelin connection and dig his action you’ll understand why he did not need to consider jumping into some upstart and unproven group of New Yardbirds!  His voice, flat out, is a powerhouse, and on this, his second album, Terry Reid, is full of heat…he out sings Lorraine Ellison on her classic “Stay With Me Baby”…his voice is simply great, as in great BIG.  Even as he’s obviously affected by Steve Marriott (Small Faces) and the Reid vs Plant case COULD be made, Reid’s phrasing is much less Plant’s wholesale Marriott mimic.  He has a pleading voice…brimming with feeling that just soars…this is an excellent album by an underrated, and relatively unknown heavy. –Nipper

N.W.A “Straight Outta Compton” (1988)

I’ll have to put my vote in as this record being my favorite hip-hop/rap album of all-time. Just like the Sex Pistols and Black Flag before them, this was right in your face and hard to ignore. Comes off a show-stopper, the go for broke style is so real and scary that it makes you feel you’ve been pistol whipped into oblivion, and yet you come back for more. From the superb opener “Straight Outta Compton” to the anger fueled “Fuck Tha Police,” this was hardcore music. Many of the tracks contain some very graphic lyrics, but there is a certain level of playfulness to the album as a whole. Make no mistake, this is not a kids record. It’s gritty subject matter and harsh lyrics bring it to life in a fearsome yet passionate way. Filled with tormented material, “Express Yourself” can be fun at times and “Gangsta Gangsta” is a hell of a song. Ice Cube, of course is the real standout here (even surpassing Dr. Dre). His lyrics and anger are the most dazzling throughout the record (note – he wrote most of the lyrics on the album). I was too young to remember the impact this had on society back in 1988, but today it remains the greatest hip-hop album to exist. –Jason

The Band “Stage Fright” (1970)

It’s from the opening track that this is a faster, looser Band. “Strawberry Wine” is a quick, clumsy, lighthearted song—hardly “Tears of Rage,” that’s for sure. And there are plenty of such moments here, where the Band is honky tonkin’ their way through casual structures and tossed-off lyrics. The production, too, is a long way from the artfully rustic atmospheres of their previous two releases, but what the songs lose in aesthetic distinction they gain in punchy immediacy courtesy of engineering and mixing more typical of the time (by Todd Rundgren and Glyn Johns, respectively). Still, this is the Band, so don’t expect anything big and shiny. But I’ve made it sound like this is nothing special. It really is a terrific record, with at least half of the songs worthy of their prior efforts (“Sleeping,” “Time to Kill,” “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” “The Rumor,” and the title track)—and fans of their two masterpieces will surely find things to love about this one; while those put off by the less-than-rawkous qualities of those albums might find this one’s breezier and (relatively) raunchier style more appealing—certainly more accessible. –Will

Cal Tjader “Amazonas” (1976)

A great Brazilian set from Cal Tjader quite different than most of his other work of the time. Although Cal spent most of his time at Fantasy Records working in a mixture of jazz and Afro-Cuban styles, he steps off here in a very Brazilian 70’s mode one that has some great links with jazz trends going on in Brazil at the time. Production is by Airto and arrangements are by George Duke and there’s a wonderful crossing of Rio and California in the set – one that uses keyboards from Egberto Gismonti, flute from Hermeto Pascoal, guitars by David Amaro, and trombone from Raul De Souza. Dawilli Gonga aka george duke plays some especially nice keyboards on the set and titles include a great version of Joao Donato’s “Amazonas.” – orgyinrhythm