1. Smokey Robinson: The
Solo Anthology (Motown)
A collection of 36 immaculately
sung soul songs from the 70s and 80s, written and performed by
the man Dylan called our greatest living poet, all of them recorded
after Smokey left the Miracles, including some deliciously
weird duets, such as Ebony Eyes with Rick James. Dylan and Smokey
are about the same age. Dylan’s voice now sounds like a bush
hog gnawing into a granite outcrop, while Smokey’s, on the basis
of a hypnotic performance at JazzFest in 2004, is as smooth as
ever. When he sang “Cruisin'” (included here) women
and men swooned in the muddy quagmire of the infield.
2. Memphis Slim — All
Kinds of Blues (OBC)
The most urbane of 50s blues
singers. Slim fled American racism and thieving music execs to
France, where he was rightly embraced as a musical genius. You
think Snoop Dogg is bawdy? Check out Slim’s “Grinder Man
Blues”–just don’t tell Tipper.
3. Bo Diddley — Bo
Diddley is a Gunslinger (Chess)
Bo goes way out west (at least
as far as Chicago) for a comic rock masterpiece, ruthlessly cutting
Elvis, Chuck Berry and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans along the trail.
“Ride on Josephine” is packed with more double entendres
than any other song about masturbation I can remember, especially
for one written in 1958. All the songs here are Bo Diddley originals,
except for his brawny cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s work song,
“Sixteen Tons”, which Bo was slated to perform during
his debut performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the last minute,
Bo shifted gears and, in an early act of self-branding, performed
“Bo Diddley” instead, enraging the prickly Sullivan
who never invited him back. In many ways, this sums up the pitfalls
and brillance of Bo Diddley’s career. He was the first post-modern
rocker. And the best.
4. Alan Toussaint–The
Wild Sound of New Orleans: the Complete Tousan Recordings
Early New Orleans rock and
roll from the epitome of cool.
5. Clifford Jordan and John
in From Chicago (Blue Note)
Exhibit A in my brief that
Chicago contributed as much to the evolution of jazz as it did
for the blues.
6. Clarence Carter–Snatching
It Back (Atlantic)
The soundtrack to the film
the Wonder Boys reintroduced Clarence Carter to America. In the
early days of the blues, Carter would have been called a songster,
because, like Ray Charles, the blind singer could excel in any
musical genre, from soul to rock, gospel to country, as he proves
on his biting cover of the weepy country standard “Patches.”
Carter’s best songs, though, are deeply grooved Southern soul
with a dangerous sexual undercurrent, such as “Slip Away”,
“Making Love on the Dark End of the Street” and the
immortal “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Carter’s “Backdoor
Santa” is one of those Christmas songs that you’ll have
to search for on satellite radio or right here on this collection.
7. James Carr–The
Complete Goldwax Singles (Kent)
With the right producer and
a little bit better material to work from, Southern soul singer
James Carr could have risen to the heights of Otis Redding or
Al Green. He certainly had the chops, just listen to “Pouring
Water on a Drowning Man” or “You’ve Got My Mind Messed
8. Cannonball Adderley Sextet–Them
Dirty Blues (Capitol)
Soul jazz begins here and never
really eclisped it. George Clinton, Stevie Wonder and James Brown
all soaked in the groves laid down on the Bobby Timmons-penned
9. Kelly Willis–Easy
Nothing profound here. Just
a sweet voice singing catchy, neo-country songs with a Texas
seasoning. You’re holding out for something more? It may sound
easy, but that don’t mean it is.
10. Chris Connor–A
Jazz Date with Chris Connor / Chris Craft (Atlantic)
I’ve never been that taken
with jazz singers as a group. If I’m ever locked up in Gitmo,
my torturers would only have to pipe into my cell Diane Krall
or Al Jarreau and I would rat out anyone they wanted. Chris Connor
is different though. For me, she’s up there with Ella, Sarah,
Nina and Billie–and not just because she is a fellow Midwesterner
(Missouri) who looked like Jean Harlow. Connor never received
the acclaim that went to June Christy or Anita O’Day, perhaps
because she bolted the Stan Kenton stable after less than a year
as its lead singer and struck out on her own course. But there’s
a haunting quality to Connor’s voice, especially on songs such
as “Lonely Street”, that few white singers have come
close to matching. If I was ever to make a film noir, her songs
would dominate the soundtrack.
By the time Jeffrey St.
Clair was 18, he’d been 86’d from more bands than Dickey
Betts. Complaints can be registered to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are in honor of my grandmother,
Maud Story Vest, one of this world’s good gardeners, who solved
the problem her Christian neighbors had with people writing “Merry
X-Mas” by suggesting that they write “Merry Christ-X”
1. Mark Rubin and Friends,
Hill Country Hannuka,
The stalwart anchor of the
Bad Livers and his celebrated Rubinchik’s Yiddish Ensemble, who
used to have the best band tee-shirt I have ever seen. I love
“Vu Bist Du Geveyzen Fur Prohibish?” and the swinging
2. Radical Son, Radical
Son EP, ABC
I heard a cut from this new
Australian CD on Drew Dundon’s great Sunday
brunch show on KMTT, while driving to Canada.
3. Leontyne Price, Christmas
The only Christmas album I’ve
ever needed. I’m writing about it tonight because it’s packed
away in storage in a distant city, and I can’t get at it now.
4. Johnny Cash, The
Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983, Sony.
I’m listing this one because
it’s got Cash’s take of John D. Loudermilk’s
“Bad News” on it. Rumor used to have it that Cash recorded
the song lying flat on his back at Columbia Studios in Nashville.
“They tried to hang me inOakland, and they did in Francisco.
But I wouldn’t choke and I broke the rope, and they had to let
me go.” Wish I could find Loudermilk’s version.
5. Paul Craft, “Lean
On Jesus (Before He Leans On You),” 45 RPM single on
I heard this on a Chattanooga
station late one night in 1977. The station faded out before
I heard the artist’s name or the title. I thought it might be
Lester Flatt. A bunch of winos lie around on the sidewalk outside
the mission. If they go inside, they’ll be fed, but they’ll also
be preached at. One of them pulls out a bottle and starts singing,
“Lean, lean on him. Better lean on him, before he leans
on you.” In 1999 I found a copy, and you can’t have it.
6 -10. the Beatles Fan Club
Records, 1963-1969, bootleg.
The original podcasters doing
Beatle radio theater, with hysterical sendups and impersonations.
1965 features a bit of George doing Don Ho doing Paul doing “Yesterday.”
I’m not sure where you can find these recordings anymore. You
might start here: http://www.scifihifi.com/beatles/.
David Vest’s newest CD is Serves
Me Right to Shuffle.
1. Phil Spector: A
Christmas Gift For You–Abkco Records
With this album, Christmas
is surrounded by a wall of sound, featuring the Ronettes, Darlene
Love, The Crystals, Bobby Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Born on Christmas
Day in 1940, producer Phil Spector’s first hit was “To Know
Him Is To Love Him,” inspired by the eulogy on the tombstone
of his late father, who had committed suicide. The set of Christmas
carols ends with a personal holiday message from Spector.
2. Steve Roach and Roger
To Dust–Projekt Records
Steve Roach is among a breed
of innovative, iconoclast and unrestrained experimental musicians
who create untrodden depths within exquisitely constructed musical
horizons. Among Roach’s collaborations, he has recorded with
Tibetan monk Thupten Pema Lama, intertwining solo chants and
ambient music. The disc he produced for the African group Takadja
received a Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent of the States’ Grammys.
His music has been used in the soundtracks of numerous feature
films. This CD’s standout track, “Gone West,” is what
the Roach and King describe as “the soundtrack to lingering
ghosts, to the lost and no-so-forgotten dreams of restless souls
who were driven to “Go West, by God.” On Dust To
Dust, the white lines on this musical highway are punctuated
by Roach’s harmonicas, electronic instruments and processing,
bass, and alcohol bottles. King, riding shotgun, paves the road
with guitar, bass, washboard, percussion and an occasional vocal.
“Gone West” is the beckoning road trip you went on
that ended too soon, the souvenir you picked up that always makes
you long to return. Dust To Dust is incandescent and alluring,
as trance becomes transfixing, with its multi-layered cactus
and granite-filled layers of sound. The track, “A Bigger
Sky,” is a tricked out, brooding work that becomes a sonic
seduction. With haunting and beautiful tracks like “Ghost
Train,” it is no wonder that the dearly departed would venture
to come back for just one more listen. These two musicians from
Tuscon, Arizona have recorded a transcendent musical masterpiece,
an alluring, provocative soundtrack to the story of how the West
3. Wes Montgomery-So
Much Guitar (Riverside Records)
Recorded in New York City in
1961, the late jazz guitar legend is joined by bassist Ron Carter
and Hank Jones on piano. After Montgomery’s death at the age
of 43 of a heart attack, his legacy defined him as of one of
the most substantial guitarists of all time, and his playing
set a standard in jazz proficiency. In the album’s bewitching
track, “I Wish I Knew,” Montgomery says more on guitar
than most songwriters manage to in four verses and three choruses.
Montgomery’s unschooled style alternates lines of melodic single
notes, built from a myriad of musical scales, interspersed with
jazz chords. During his short life, he performed with jazz greats
including Lionel Hampton, the Montgomery Brothers, and John Coltrane.
Literally, as a rule of thumb, Montgomery never used a guitar
pick, as he preferred a softer, smoother tone that had a less
staccato sound and feel.
4. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony–E.
1999 Eternal (Ruthless Records)
Discovered by N.W.A.’s late
Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, the thuggish, ruggish, Cleveland,
Ohio based rap group’s unique vocal style influenced rappers
both near and far. In addition to the Bone albums, the group’s
members have also released a slew of successful solo albums.
Bone Thugs is comprised of Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone, Wish Bone,
Bizzy Bone and Flesh-N-Bone. Unfortunately, Flesh (Stantley Howse)
has been behind bars since 2000, given an eleven year prison
stint for weapons possession and assault. Despite the many and
seemingly endless interpersonal conflicts between the group’s
members, not to mention the continuous, real life soap operas
dramas that have ensued as a result, it is still their music
that will always make them remembered in hiphop, rather than
the dramatics. Their expressive, highly melodic, machine gun,
lyric lines, often delivered faster than the speed of sound,
set them apart. The highlight of this album is “Tha Crossroads,”
DJ U-Neek’s Mo Thug Remix, an emotional look at loss and death,
which won them a Grammy Award in 1997. Because of Bone, we can
be assured that Thug World Order is creepin’ on a come up.
5. 2Pac: Greatest
Hits (Death Row Records)
The late rap icon, who asked,
“How Long Will They Mourn Me,” still receives an unlimited
amount of “California Love.” This new year, 2006, will
mark a decade since his death.
6. Godsmack: Awake
Arguably, the disc’s Grammy-nominated
instrumental track, “Vampires,” may not even be the
best work on Awake. This, their second album, was followed
by two more releases, respectively, “Faceless” and
“The Other Side.” Blessed with a slot on an Ozzfest
tour early in the late nineties, the band was introduced to millions
of fans that wanted it eternally hard and heavy.
7. Warren Zevon: Genius:
The Best Of (Rhino Records)
The brilliant late singer/songwriter,
who lost his battle with cancer in 2003, left behind a myriad
of songs written with indelible ink, which were often deep portraits
that had a sense of humor, and focused on the darker sides of
life. No one else has ever written about what it’s like to live
and die in El Lay like Warren Zevon.
8. Bunny Wailer: Dance
Massive (Shanachie Records)
What the Beatles were to rock,
the Wailers would become to reggae. With Wailers members Bob
Marley and Peter Tosh having met their fates, Bunny Wailer, born
Neville Livingston, is left as the sole survivor.
9. Corrosion Of Conformity:
Volume Dealer (Sanctuary Records)
After starting out as a thrash
metal group during the early Eighties, changes in their line-up
and musical focus points resulted in a more eclectic mix. On
this album, from the Southern rockish “Stare Too Long”
to the jarring rocker “Diablo Blvd,” either way they
come, they’re “amplified on fire, strapped to take you higher.”
10. Keith Richards: “Run
Rudolph Run” B/W “The Harder They Come” (Rolling
I don’t know if this is even
available on CD yet. The Rolling Stones guitarist’s cover of
the Chuck Berry Christmas carol classic gets played at my house
every year, even though the recording here is on a 45 RPM disc.
Berry, who will be eighty years old next year, forever changed
the face of rock and roll with his distinct brand of guitar licks,
and lyrically complex story telling, which exponentially influenced
more rockers than have managed to tell the tale. After signing
to Chess Records in 1955, Berry released a string of hits that
have been covered by artists ranging from the Rolling Stones
to John Lennon. That’s it for this week. Johnny B. Goode, y’all,
because Santa’s coming.
Phyllis Pollack lives in Los Angeles where she is
a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through
“I hate these hippies.
They’re the most conservative people I know. They wear their
hair the same way they did 25 years ago; they wear the same clothes;
and they listen to the same damn music.” –Mike Roselle
Guilty as charged. Though the
hair is gone these days; gimme blue jeans, T-shirts and that
old time rock and roll; cuz I like it.
1. Jackson Browne: The
Very Best of Jackson Browne
My list of top singer-songwriters
goes from Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell to Jackson. This is the
definitive collection of Browne at his best. A two CD set with
songs in chronological order. Disc one has the confessional ballads
and anthems he’s most noted for and disc two, by and large, is
from his more commercially successful works. It’s worth it alone
for Dave Marsh’s wonderful liner notes. Marsh really gives Browne
2. Warren Zevon: Genius:
The Best Of
Right up there is Browne’s
buddy Zevon. While his final CD The Wind, put out just
as he died with performances from a lot of his friends was pretty,
dare I say, lifeless; one only needs to hear this compilation
to realize he deserves the title. I always get a kick out of
Linda Rondstadt’s background oohs and ahhs on the deranged
Excitable Boy. Splendid Isolation could be the anthem
for our faltering Imperial times.
3. Led Zeppelin–Led
Though their next seven albums
reached Number One in both England and the US, I still like their
first, less fancifully produced effort best. It hit like the
exploding dirigible on the cover in early 1969 and rewrote blues
rock history leading to the Heavy Metal and Celtic Folk revolutions.
I can’t believe, however, that they thought they could get away
with plagiarizing classic blues lyrics and riffs and claiming
them their own, regardless of how they altered the originals.
They have to hold the record for legal settlements based on the
4. Bright Eyes: I’m
Wide Awake: It’s Morning
I’m not totally stuck in the
past. Conor Oberst’s band does quite well on the folk and country
stuff here. Great pedal steel guitar on a couple songs. But,
even with Emmylou Harris involved, most of the songs still seem
like requiems. This is not upbeat, sunny music. Rather dark eyed,
5. Bob Dylan: Dylan
Great live Dylan. Number 5
of the “Bootleg” series. A lot of his best songs; redone
in various styles. And, what a band: Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett,
Roger McGuinn, Ronee BlakelyI like some of these songs better
than the originals: One More Cup of Coffee and It takes
a Lot to Laugh; It Take a Train to Cry stand out.
6. John Trudell and Bad
An eventful year for JT. He
was just inducted as the 14th member of the CounterCulture Hall
of Fame (yep, such exists) in Amsterdam. And, the movie Trudell
is completed and John is traveling around for local premieres.
He’ll be here in the NW late next month. I’ve seen the movie
(bandmate Quiltman Sahme is one of my best buddies and he had
a pre-release DVD) and it’s terrific. So is this CD. Having been
introduced to JT’s work as a child by her mom, Angelina Jolie
produced this one for John and Bad Dog. It’s his best since the
two AKA Graffiti Man CDs (the great original and the commercial
version produced by John’s friend Jackson Browne.)
7. Rolling Stones: A
Hey, Roselle. Who says I don’t
listen to any new music? This effort by Mick and the Fellas is
their best in, let’s say, decades. At first I wasn’t too sure.
But, the more I listen, the more I have to say the boys still
have it. They can lay it down. Of the sixteen tracks here, I
find just three to be “filler.” The rest are damned
good. And, far and away, Mick has written the most political
songs of his long career with Dangerous Beauty about the
Abu Ghraib torture and My Sweet Neo-con, an in-your-face
slam at the junta’s Imperial follies. It should win the Grammy.
I look forward to catching the last stop of the tour in Vegas
8. Quicksilver Messenger
Not much singing or songwriting
here. Just a kick-ass jam with John Cipollina proving he is at
the top of the Summer of Love Bay Area guitar gods. Of
course, one must indulge in a couple hits (of fresh air?) to
sit through the 25 minute jam on the Bo Diddley classic Who
do You Love. Cipollina’s licks never end and the long jam
Mona on side two just keeps them coming. It’s the Energizer
Bunny of jam sessions. But, then again I like such stuff and
have to be one of the few who always enjoys the entire third
record jam on George Harrison’s All things Must Pass.
9. George Harrison and friends:
Things Must Pass
Speaking of: wow! George unleashed.
I have two copies of this CD set. The cover of If Not for
You and the incomparable (except in copyright court) My
Sweet Lord and What is Life? make this unabashed celebration
of life and the spiritual nature of it the best thing to come
out of the Beatles’ break-up. Isn’t it a Pity? Not really.
Michael Donnelly lives in Salem, Oregon and can be
reached at: email@example.com.