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CounterPunch Playlist

What We’re Listening to This Week

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR, DAVID VEST, JESSE WALKER, PHYLLIS POLLACK

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

1. Clarence Gatemouth Brown–San Antonio Ballbuster: the Original Peacock Recordings (Rounder)

The musical polymath of the Bayou country, Clarence Gatemouth Brown died this fall a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his canal-side home near Lake Ponchartrain in Slidell, Louisiana. Weakened by cancer, close friends say that he was devastated by the loss of his home and the city he loved and soon lost the will to live. He was 81 when he died near the house where he was born in Orange, Texas. Brown had been recording music for more than 60 years and had played a dynamic set at Jazzfest in March. Gatemouth could and did play nearly any kind of music at a very high level, from electric blues to Cajun stomps, jazz to swing, country to a blazing style of rock-and-roll guitar that rivaled Chuck Berry. He also loved to tell musical tall tales, a blend of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Mississippi John Hurt. Over the years, I saw Gatemouth 5 or 6 times and though his guitar playing was original and first rate, it was his fiddling that I most enjoyed. And, as he danced across the stage with those long, bowed legs, it often seemed he felt the same way. Brown’s father, a railroad worker, was a fiddler, who taught him to play music. Brown often said he wanted to make his guitar mimic the sound of his father’s fiddle. Gatemouth made hundreds of records in a career that dates to the late 1940s, but these Peacock recordings from the 1950s standout. Here Gatemouth does a precise imitation of his idol, T-Bone Walker, right down to the snazzy suit, which would be sacrificed in later years to his signature cowboy hat, rodeo shirt, jeans and pipe, ala Albert King. In his final interview, Brown was asked to classify his own music and responded tartly: "I’m so unorthodox, a lot of people can’t handle it. There are too many sound-a-likes in this world today. So when people ask me what kind of music do you play I tell them quickly American music, Texas style."

2. Chris Whitley–Living With the Law (Sony)

Chris Whitley died last week at the tender age of 45, his lungs destroyed by a thirty-year long addiction to cigarettes. I met Chris in the early 1990s when he breezed through the PNW on tour to promote his stunning debut album, Living With the Law, which contains two of my favorite songs "I Forget You Every Day" and "Big Sky Country." Chris had a day or two off between gigs and said he wanted to see some big trees. We headed up to Opal Creek, one of the last unravaged valleys of ancient forest in the Oregon, and sat under 800-year-old Douglas-firs. We called down a spotted owl that day and Chris boiled with rage at the miles of clearcuts we drove past on the way back from that misty valley. As much as Chris loved our rainforest, his heart and his music were planted in the more arid landscapes of the Interior West, from Texas to Montana. A master of the National Steel guitar, Chris Whitley was also a gifted blues singer and an even better songwriter. I have a special affection for his first album, but you shouldn’t overlook any of the others, from Dirt Floor to War Crimes Blues. Chris, we’ll remember you every day.

3. Cecil Taylor-Love for Sale (Blue Note)

An American original, Cecil Taylor is all but ignored in his home country. Perhaps the most literary of living musicians, Taylor broke all the rules that governed bebop, blues and stride piano. Then he flouted even his own new standards. Taylor did for the piano what Ornette Coleman did for the sax: he busted open the box. If Taylor isn’t always considered part of the "free jazz" movement, that’s because Taylor is Taylor. Sui generis. He also freed the drummer from the role of time keeper making him an equal participant in shaping the musical improvisations, though no one truly met the challenge until Taylor briefly hooked up with Tony Williams. Williams even coined a term for the new style: open drumming. If you’re looking for an entry point into Taylor’s challenging body of work this succinct demolition of Cole Porter may be the place to start. Warning: the learning curve is steep and treacherous. If you still spin vinyl, Love for Sale has one of the most provocative album covers of the Eisenhower Era, featuring Taylor lighting the cigarette of a street hooker. The miniaturized version on the CD doesn’t do the original justice.

4. O.V. Wright–A Nickle and a Nail: the Soul of OV Wright (MCA)

If Overton Vertis Wright had been backed by Booker T. and the MGs he might be as well-known today as Otis Redding. He certainly had the voice, a smoky and powerful engine of southern soul resonating with the deep gospel gravitas that he had mastered in the churches of his homes in Leno, Tennessee and Memphis. Then again maybe he wouldn’t. Although he cut most of his records just down the road from the Stax studios in Memphis, Wright’s songs and his voice are darker than Redding’s, more anguished, and at times, such as on the incredible "Ace of Spades", even slightly threatening and scary. It’s that aspect of Wright’s music that may have limited his crossover appeal. It’s also the quality that makes the best of his music worth listening to four decades after it was recorded. Wright died in Memphis in 1979 at the age of 41.

5. Booker T. and the MGs — McLemore Avenue (Stax)

A few weeks after Abbey Road was released, Booker T. Jones took the MGs into the Stax Studio on McLemore Avenue in Memphis and recorded their own largely instrumental version of the Beatles’ masterpiece. The result is more than just a novelty. McLemore Avenue is a deeply grooved gem. I dig most of the songs on Abbey Road, but the lush production of the record almost overwhelms the music. Not so here, as Booker T. and the MGs strip the songs down to their core and demonstrate that a vital sound can still be generated by a Hammond B-3 organ, a rhythm guitar, a bass and a drummer. This is the original Abbey Road Naked. By the way, Al Jackson, Jr, whose 1975 murder remains unsolved, gets my vote for the best drummer of rock/soul era.

6. Billy Joe Shaver — Tramp on Your Street (Zoo/Praxis)

Billy Joe Shaver may be the best songwriter you’ve never of heard of. A legend among musicians from Austin to Nashville, Shaver remains grossly under-appreciated. His career roughly parallels that of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, but until 2002 Shaver hadn’t won a single award for his music. Admittedly, awards don’t count for much, except as a kind of barometer for critical and popular recognition. Still the laurels were late in coming. Shaver is a prolific songwriter. He reportedly went into the studio to record his most recent CD with 500 new songs. And they’re good songs, too. After all, Shaver wrote all of the songs for Waylon Jennings’s best album, Honky Tonk Heroes. This CD is from the early 1990s and it features Shaver playing with son Eddie, on a blistering electric guitar (once owned by Duanne Allman), and Al Kooper on keyboards. Waylon sits in on two songs, singing in Oklahoma Wind, a song about the genocidal treatment of American Indians, "the red man speaks his peace to gain his long lost dignity / Washington just turns the other way". It’s been a rough few years for Shaver. In 2000, Eddie died from a drug overdose, a few months after Shaver’s mother and wife both had succumbed to cancer. By the way, the tramp of the title is Billy Joe; the street is the one paved by Hank Williams.

7. Keith Jarrett Trio — Bye, Bye Blackbird (ECM)

I’ve always appreciated the music of Keith Jarrett, even as I’ve found myself nodding off during those long, abstract excursions that he has unleashed every year or so following the commercial success (more than 2 million copies sold) of his remarkable Köln Concert record in the 1970s. Frankly, I have difficulty distinguishing the Köln solos from the Paris solos and the Paris concert from the Vienna, Lausanne, Tokyo and Bremen performances. All long improvisations recorded years apart. Still they strike me as variations on the same complex theme. (Of course, Jarrett has recorded the Goldberg Variations, as well as the Well-Tempered Clavier.) Perhaps he’s performing at an order so lofty that only fellow pianists can truly appreciate the nuances of the music. But there’s a parallel Keith Jarrett. He’s too aloof to call this incarnation the workingman’s Jarrett, but at least this music, made with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, swings. Don’t forget that Jarrett was a hard bop prodigy, playing with sax man Charles McPhereson, when Miles Davis recruited him to play in his fusion band. Jarrett hated playing the electric piano, but submitted to Davis’ demands and Davis, never known for handed out false praise, later called him "the best pianist I ever had." After leaving Davis’s group, Jarrett says he never touched another electric instrument. Instead he turned his talents toward the long solo improvisations, working his way through the classical songbook and recording jazz standards with his trio. Bye Bye Blackbird is a tribute to Davis recorded only weeks after his death. And it is an excellent tribute, with Jarrett miming Miles’s phrasing and DeJohnette driving the music with his propulsive, almost violent, drumming. Some Jarrett partisans call this grouping the greatest trio in jazz history. I don’t know if I’d go that far. Then again I don’t know of any, including the Bill Evans Trio and Tony Williams’s Lifetime Trio, that have performed at a higher level.

8. Dolly Parton — 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (Buddha)

Nashville purists dumped on Dolly Parton for this record and several other albums that followed which were produced in LA. It was a bum rap, first because there was scarcely anything "pure" about the music coming out of Nashville in those lean years and second because the songs Dolly made in LA were as good as anything she had ever done-which means they are very good indeed. Although this record contains the hit "9 to 5", it’s not a soundtrack to the movie in which Dolly co-starred with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. (That Dolly was willing to co-star and befriend Fonda in the 70s tells you a lot about her character and her willingness to take crap from jarheads and crackers.) Instead, these are songs about the conditions of working class America in the grip of a recession, and they are as keenly observed as anything by Hazel Dickens. Naturally, the album is now deleted.

9. Peter Tosh — Talking Revolution (Pressure Sounds)

If Che Guevara had played music, it wouldn’t have had any more revolutionary zeal (and wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun) than the rebel reggae Peter Tosh produced for 30 years, until he was machine-gunned September 11, 1987 in his Kingston, Jamaica home by a mysterious con named Dennis ‘Leppo’ Lobban. Some still suspect that Leppo Lobban may have been hired by the cops to assassinate Tosh. There are probably a dozen or so Tosh collections, but I like this newly released 2-cd package which includes his One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica and an assemblage of rare acoustic performances on the radio recorded while Tosh toured the US. While Bob Marley and Tosh played together in the Wailers, its impossible to imagine Marley singing Tosh’s Stepping Razor ("If you wanna live / You better treat me good") and meaning it. James Brown or 50 Cent could sing it with feeling, though.

10. Natalie McMaster — Fit as a Fiddle (Rounder)

The Paganini (or, at least, Tommy Jackson) of Cape Breton Island.

By the time Jeffrey St. Clair was 18, he’d been 86′d from more bands than Dickey Betts. Complaints can be registered to: sitka@comcast.net.

DAVID VEST

1. Wallace Stevens (Voice of the Poet) — Random House Audio.

Hearing Stevens read "The Idea of Order At Key West" aloud was a crucial moment in this writer’s life. "Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know …"

2. Eudora Welty Reads "Why I Live At The P.O." and others — Caedmon.

To hear Welty read this story (not to mention the others) would convince the most hardened skeptic that fiction is truly written to be heard aloud, at least in one’s head. The ultimate antidote to "speedreading."

3. William Faulkner Reads – HarperCollins.

Though Amazon (or the publisher) couldn’t even be bothered to get the title right, Faulkner reading from "Old Man" is proof that "O Brother, Where Art Thou" should never have been made, or at least not by bozos too ignorant to know that putting Odysseus in the Delta had already been done, for all time. Besides, Odysseus wasn’t a "rude clown" and Faulkner wasn’t fooling.

4. Bill Monroe, The Music of Bill Monroe, from 1936-1994 — MCA.

One box set they really did right. You even get to hear "Jenny Lynn," a much talked-about but seldom played fiddle tune. Worth the price for "My Last Days On Earth" alone, even if the tune is now available elsewhere.

5. Darby and Tarlton, On the Banks of a Lonely River — County.

"Down in Florida On A Hog" and "Maple On The Hill" on the same CD, featuring one of the kings of country slide/lapstyle guitar.

6. The Black Eyed Peas–Monkey Business — Interscope.

Let the Super Bowl have Paul McCartney and Janet Jackson. The halftime entertainment at last week’s Grey Cup overtime CFL classic was provided by The Black Eyed Peas. About as hip as it’s gonna get for a stadium. James Brown puts it where it’s at on "They Don’t Want Music." And you’ll never hear Dick Dale the same again after "Pump It."

7. Henry Dumas and Sun Ra in Conversation, The Ark and the Ankh (Ikef).

Listening (on iTunes) to snatches of this 1966 conversation between a poet and a piano player, with space music in the background, makes me long for the days of cross-pollenization in the arts, when musicians who could name three living poets weren’t quite so rare.

8. Sun Ra, Piano Recital: Teatro la Fenice – Leo.

To call Sun Ra a "piano player" — a piano player from Alabama, at that — isn’t to insult him. Far from it, as this CD proves. Stripped of all the trippy accoutrements, his music sounds spaciest of all when it’s just him playing it.

9. Lil Hardin Armstrong–Chicago: The Living Legends (Riverside).

Recorded in 1961, when the composer of "Struttin’ with Some Barbecue" was listening to Thelonious Monk, not Satchmo. Check out her great entry on Wikipedia.

10. Jerry Lee Lewis–Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun).

On the flipside on "Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On" was a song by Jack Clement, called "It’ll Be Me," played at an absurdly fast tempo. Lewis had another crack at the tune on his first album, this time at a saner pace. Or maybe it’s just an out-take. At any rate, it rocks. Even cooler is the fact that Lewis stuck it right to Elvis right off the bat, opening the album with a blistering take on "Don’t Be Cruel." And how fine is that slap-back echo on the drums on "Fools Like Me"?

David Vest’s newest CD is Serves Me Right to Shuffle.

JESSE WALKER

1. Jean Knight: Mr. Big Stuff (Stax)

An addictive assortment of funky Stax soul. About a third of the tracks are just rewrites of the title single — but with a song that good, who cares?

2. Bud Powell: Jazz Giant (Polygram)

A brilliant pianist whose life was destroyed by the cops who beat him senseless and the psychiatrists who gave him 40 rounds of electroshock "treatment." This may be the only album I own whose author had to convince the authorities at a mental hospital to let him record it.

3. Duke Ellington: Far East Suite (RCA)

This pianist, by contrast, ended up getting along so well with the powers that be that the State Department sponsored his world tour in 1963. Ordinarily I’m opposed to the co-mingling of art and state, but since the tour in question inspired him to compose this masterpiece, I’m not going to complain.

4. Hasidic New Wave: Kabalogy (Knitting Factory)

Avant klezmer. Like someone mashed up Frank Zappa with Naftule Brandwein.

5. Willie Nelson: How Great Thou Art (Finer Arts)

Mostly this is a straightforward gospel album, but on two tracks — "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Kneel at the Feet of Jesus" — it turns into something else. Nelson’s habit of singing off the beat always owed a lot to jazz, as does his Django-drenched guitar style; backed here by a stand-up bass and a piano, he suddenly finds himself fronting a fine jazz trio. He makes the most of it.

6. Hawaiian Masters Collection, Volume 1 (Rounder)

I’ve always had some sympathy for the view that Hawaii isn’t really part of the United States, but I can’t listen to this music without thinking it has a distinctly American feel to it. It might be the fact that our country-western stations would sound completely different if the Hawaiians hadn’t introduced us to the steel guitar.

7. Robbie Fulks: Georgia Hard (Yep Roc)

The year isn’t over yet, but this is my leading candidate for Best Album of 2005. Fulks’ songwriting is alternately dark, wistful, angry, and flat-out hilarious, while his music runs the gamut of country styles — with a special focus here on the much-maligned "countrypolitan" pop of the ’70s, which Fulks rehabilitates with no embarrassment.

8. Jerry Reed: The Essential Jerry Reed (RCA)

Let me say this firmly, with no room for quibbles or dissent: Jerry Reed is the coolest motherfucker who ever walked the planet. You think he’s just a goofball who recorded some novelty records and drove a truck in Smokey and the Bandit? Then listen to the way he performs each song: He’s always an actor as well as a singer, not to mention a dynamo guitarist. Listen to the way he jumps easily from country to blues to swampy funk-rock, from funny tall tales to love songs to political numbers so witty you almost forget he’s making a point. Listen to that LAUGH, son. Jerry Reed kicks ass.

9. Big & Rich: Horse of a Different Color (Warner Bros.)

This funny, catchy, proudly sophomoric hick-hop album was a monster hit last year, and deservedly so. Someday I’m gonna write a long article arguing that the recent boom in country-rap fusion isn’t unusual at all: It’s just the two strands of southern soul music finally getting reacquainted after three decades’ confinement in the R&B and C&W ghettoes. Plus a little rock’n'roll, just in case they need a lubricant.

Jesse Walker is the managing editor of Reason and runs the Perpetual Three Dot website.

PHYLLIS POLLACK

1. John Lennon–Imagine (Capitol Records)

Imagine Nothing to kill or die for.

2. Tony Iommi–Iommi (Divine Records/Priority Records)

Satan be praised, it is finally going to happen. The controversy has finally ended regarding the fact that Black Sabbath had not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Only days prior to it being announced by Cleveland that we would actually live to see this happen in our lifetime, the controversy had just been fueled again, when both Sabbath’s lead singer, Ozzy Osbourne, and the band’s cross-wearing guitarist, Tony Iommi, issued statements expressing their dismay about not being inducted here in the U.S., while the Brits were giving Sabbath their awards in the UK. After waiting all these years for the music industry congregating at the Waldorf Astoria to honor "evil witches like black masses," I honestly can’t wait to hear the speeches in March. Although in addition to his work with Sabbath, Ozzy has also enjoyed a long and wickedly successful solo career, and despite Iommi’s long and illustrious history as the dark and mysterious guitarist of Black Sabbath, Iommi did not release this, his first solo album, until the year 2000. On Iommi, the British axe slinger delivers ten quite alluring duets, featuring vocalists that include the Cult’s Ian Astbury, Billy Idol and Henry Rollins. Bob Marlette tastefully produced the set of doomy, plodding songs on this anonymously titled album. The best track on the album is arguably the hard and heavy "Goodbye Lament," featuring Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters). While Grohl is often mistakenly labeled as one of those who helped kill "hair metal," don’t be deceived by this false notion. In his own way, when he gets around to it, Grohl shows his love for metal, and his duo with Iommi is testimony to his unique stamp that he lends to the genre here. Pantera vocalist Philip Anselmo offers a riveting delight in "Time Is Mine," and blacklit riffs on "Patterns," with vocals laid down by System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian, offer further transfixing musical moments. In "Who’s Foolin’ Who," guitar chords smash through church bells intersecting with Ozzy’s pipes. The princes of doom rock should be recognized as the highly influential bad influences they are. And as we know, there is really nothing that rock and roll loves more than its bad boys.


3. Maestro Alex Gregory–12 Jokes For Heavy Metal Mandolin
(Nidas Music Production)

Despite the album’s title, this daring Brit guitarist and mandolin player is no joke. Nor is the Maestro title in his name, which was bestowed on him by Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Government in 1983. Gregory’s Maestro title speaks volumes (and in this case, it utterly shrieks volumes, cranked all the way up to eleven). The illustrious Brit rocker’s Maestro title given to him by HRM Elizabeth II was not just some heavy metal photo op, or some tawdry downtown affair, like Ozzy Osbourne requesting to get knighted. When it comes to Gregory, here’s a guitarist who very masterfully yanks it like he cranks it. This is not a prank or hoax by any measure. This album is as wickedly serious as the Princes of Darkness, themselves, Black Sabbath, being inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this coming March. Executing songs on 12 Jokes For Mandolin like "She’s Got Her Knickers Down," Alex Gregory is a true master of rock and roll guitar; he will effortlessly put a spell on you with other molten tracks on this disc, like the incendiary "Strat The Cat." If you want to sell your soul for rock and roll, Gregory will take you down to the Crossroads faster, longer and harder than Eric Clapton. A virtuoso guitarist and luthier, Alex was instrumental (no pun intended) in devising the Penta System based on the 5 string electric guitars and mandolins, which has influenced bands and rock stars that became fascinated by the results from tricked out tuning and orchestration. Gregory flaunts extreme melody and technical prowess throughout this renegade, impassioned album, on which he used only Fender seven stringed guitars and electric mandolin solos. If you can beg, borrow or conjure up a copy of this disc anywhere, it is well worth hearing what rises out of the cauldron when Gregory plays his little tricks like "Juke Box Gigue."

4. Digital Underground–Sex Packets (Tommy Boy Records)

This is some of the best work ever recorded by the Underground and their rapadelic front man, Shock G. How he likes to funk thee. Well, at least, he did, until earlier this year, when he issued a statement announcing he had just officially quit recording music in the studio, because it no longer made him "happy." Like Keith Richards, Shock G needs also love to keep him happy, but more importantly, the inventive, psychedelic, Oakland, Cali-based gangsta mack also needed to pull down some more duckets from those label execs to keep himself happy. Disillusioned by the business end of the music business, Shock said he wanted to move on to other pursuits. In many ways, Digital were among the underdogs of hiphop, in that they were like no one else, and to this day, no one has come close to duplicating their vibe. The album’s bass-laden grooves are overlaid with capricious rhymes that never get too serious; Digital, themselves, even described their music and rhymes as something that sounded "like MC Hammer on crack." Juxtaposed on Billboard charts between hiphop artists, who were largely either gangsta rappers, or who were artists that were seriously political, the irony of Shock G was that he was one of those cats who was out to prove that you could out-cool everybody else in the house by intentionally being as uncool as possible, and by trying hard as possible to be unlike anyone else who was around. He was not about to bite anyone else’s style, or one who would cling onto copying anyone else’s philosophy, no matter what. That makes for a radical backdrop—or at least it does in music industry terms. Shock sometimes wore a prosthetic nose to make his highly unorthodox stand, which deep inside, really did have a heavy point to it. An incredibly gifted artist like Shock can manage to turn weird into cool, and Michael Jackson couldn’t even do that. This album is a hiphop classic. It was the Underground’s next album that would introduce the voice of someone else in their posse, Tupac Shakur. This disc from the Underground is rockin’ and we like the way they swing. The Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies sample on the album yields an incandescent and inspired result, as well. Here, the Underground will Doowutchylike.

5. Axl Rose — Chinese Democracy

Yeah, right! I don’t think so!@# ! Not this week, either, dude!

6. DeeDee Bridgewater– J’ai Deux Amour (Sovereign Records)

An exquisite performer, Dee Dee Bridgewater has recorded with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. On the cool and jazzy J’ai Deux Amour, she lends her vocals to eleven lovely French compositions. The versatile singer has received countless awards in both America and in the UK for her multi-talented works. Bridgewater resides both in the States and in France, the latter of which inspired her to record this album. Deeply committed to various humanitarian causes, Bridgewater spreads the love on her new CD that is stacked with ballads, some of which have previously been hit recordings for other artists. Bridgewater won a Grammy for Dear Ella, her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, which featured musicians including her brother, Cecil, and Kenny Burrell. Although she has performed roles including Billie Holiday in "Lady Day" and the part of Carmen in "Carmen Jazz," Bridgewater is most known for her longstanding performance in The Wiz as Glinda the Good Witch. Here, she can get as bad as she wants to be, as in bad is good. Like Joni Mitchell, Bridgewater extends her boundaries, and becomes a free man in Paris. French torch songs on this disc, which feature "Que Reste-T-Il- De Nos Amours," the jesting "Dansez Sur Moi (Girl Talk)," and the smoky, wistful French torch number, "La Belle Vie (The Good Life)" add even more dimensions to her already accomplished and extensive musical resume.


7. R. Carlos Nakai– Quiet Reflection (Canyon Records)

The twice Grammy nominated recording artist has graced this earth with the natural sounds emanating from his wooden flutes, made of red cedar. Nakai hails from the seductive area that is the Route 66 town of Flagstaff, Arizona, located just miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Drawing from his Native American background, among the tracks on this album is "Song Of The Evening Star," a traditional song of the Kiowa tribe. Nakai’s transcendent music is derived from vocal chants and traditional Native American music. The album includes improvisational works, and other self-penned melodies from Nakai, which were inspired by the sky and earth. "Canyon Reverie" was written while Nakai reminisced about the landscape of the Colorado plateau. "Omaha Song" is based on a musical transcription that was penned circa 1900. The album’s title track was recorded with an Eagle bone whistle.

8. Ian Hunter–Strings Attached (Sanctuary Records)

After selling 20 million albums, the former Mott The Hoople vocalist and guitarist, Ian Hunter, decided to record a live album in Oslo, Norway. A masterful arranger, this is a stunning departure from his past work, in that it was recorded with an 18-piece philharmonic orchestra, hence the album’s title, Strings Attached. Hunter is never overpowered, despite the incandescent layer of orchestration that serves as a captivating background for his riveting, sometimes raspy voice, and his evocative vocals. Hunter’s delivery is amazingly expressive, at times, somewhat bluesy, while at others, delivered with a bit of a jagged edge; it is always a journey worth taking. "Wash Us Away," "Roll Away The Stone," and "All Of The Good Ones Are Taken" are within the many captivating standouts on this album. Among its most unexpected moments are those during the transcendent keyboard work that help bring the house down on "Once Bitten Twice Shy," one of Mott’s first hits, one that was later covered by the hapless rock and rollers, Great White. During the song’s keyboard solo, Hunter gives a shot out to Chuck Berry’s late keyboardist, Johnny Johnson. Needless to say, "Roller Ball" is also found on this album. The British rock legend came into the consciousness of rock and rollers after Mott’s release of the David Bowie composed and produced glam rock anthem, "All The Young Dudes," which Hunter also performs on this set. The version on this disc is nothing less than sheer reverie.

9. Above The Law–Black Mafia Life (Ruthless Records)

Executive produced by the late Eazy-E, this album from Above the Law was part of the family tree that later generations of hiphoppers don’t know about, but should. The group was led by Cold 187um (Gregory Hutchinson, AKA Big Hutch), whose uncle, Willie Hutch, died in September of this year. Willie was a songwriter who helped pen hits including the Jackson 5′s "I’ll Be There," and classic tracks for Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and the Fifth Dimension. 187 came into the game with one of the strongest work ethics when it came to producing and writing hiphop tracks. In addition to 187, the group also featured the intricate work of DJ Total K-Oss, KMG The Illustrator and Go Mack. Bad luck often crossed the group’s path, which interfered with their releases, including unfortunate label politics that ensued when the group’s distributor, Sony, announced their initial plans to distribute Dr. Dre’s The Chronic album, in the midst of a lot of bad blood between Ruthless and Death Row. Sony would end up passing on The Chronic, but the shift in the group’s distribution to another label would negatively effect Above The Law’s promotion. That circumstance is just one example of the several unfortunate events that would affect the group. Must-listen tracks on this album include "Never Missin’ A Beat" and "Call It What U Want." Black Mafia Life was influential, not only lyrically, but also musically. Additionally, its track "Call it What U Want" features one of Tupac Shakur’s earliest recording sessions. This song also marks the first time the term "G-funk" was ever used on a disc, officially kicking open the genre. Tragically, in 1995, Above The Law would be among those to deliver a eulogy at Eazy E’s funeral.

10. John Lennon–Walls And Bridges (EMI Records)

It’s been 25 years this week. Bless you, wherever you are.

Phyllis Pollack lives in Los Angeles where she is a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through her blog.