Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Album of the Year: #1. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange

Frank Ocean's Channel Orange is the cream of the crop, the best of the best of 2012.  Maybe it's an obvious choice--Ocean has been all over the place this past year, from coming out of the closet via internet, to releasing his new album shortly afterward, to being seen on Saturday Night Live, among other places.  The album doesn't always hit on all cylinders, there are stronger songs than others, but the album flows so well.  The lesser songs tie into the stronger songs so they need to be a part of Channel Orange, making it all work.  I definitely feel the influence of Prince on songs like "Forrest Gump" and "Bad Religion", I feel the influence of D'Angelo on tracks like "Sweet Life" , and I even sense some of the electronic experimentation of Radiohead and Flying Lotus on songs like "Pyramids".  Frank Ocean is the real deal.  I'm very interested to observe the growth of his career in the future for this young artist, as he released a gem of an album in Channel Orange, my pick for album of the year in 2012. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #2. Tame Impala: Lonerism

Tame Impala's Lonerism is my favorite rock album of 2012.  Tame Impala is basically Australian's psych-singer-songwriter Kevin Parker's project, and his second full-length release.  His debut, 2010's Innerspeaker was equally as goodI dig the drums, the psych-era John Lennon-esque vocals, the fuzzed out guitars, and the more prominent synths, which Parker has emphasized more on this album than the debut.  I highly recommend Lonerism, one of the main reasons to rock out in 2012. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #3. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

Kendrick Lamar's major label debut is the best hip hop album of the year, and has been appearing on many critics lists as best album of the year.  Kendrick Lamar was previously in the hip hop supergroup, Black Hippy, along with Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, and now has branched out on his own and released Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City just a few months ago.  It's lyrically a concept album ("a short film", as Lamar calls it)--an autobiographical account of growing up in Compton.  Ironically enough (as I just featured Nas on my last post), I recently read an article on "Hip Hop Dx" comparing Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City to Nas's Illmatic album, calling it "the West Coast Illmatic".   I agree with that comparison as Lamar is a great storyteller and rapper, just as Nas can be when he's on his game.  I can't necessarily put it up on Illmatic's level yet--it has to stand the test of time, but Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is definitely a solid, entertaining release and one of my favorite albums of the year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #4. Nas: Life Is Good

 "Nas is back", I've heard (and read) many times over the years after each new release has dropped.  This time it's for real.  After years of spotty releases, Nas has released Life is Good, undoubtedly his best album since his famed debut Illmatic dropped in '94.  What is so cool in regards to Nas is that as he is approaching 40 years old, he is tackling topics that pertain to his age and where he's at in his life (a rare occurrence in the rap game--hip hop generally tackles subjects that pertain to dudes in their teens and twenties).  He's not trying to sound like some young rapper dude.  Instead, he is tackling subjects like on "Daughters" about raising his teenage daughter and the mistakes he's made as a single parent.  Life is Good also features my favorite single of 2012, "The Don". 

Plenty of head nodders on this album. Life is Good is #4 of my favorite albums of 2012.  It's great to see Nas release such a solid album from beginning to end (with the exception of "Summer on Smash"-yikes). One of my favorite MC's of all-time, I definitely recommend you pick up this album. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #5. The Weeknd: Trilogy

Trilogy is compiled of three different mixtape albums that Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a The Weeknd) released throughout 2011.  While these albums were recorded in mixtape format in 2011, Trilogy wasn't released in the stores until November 2012--which is why I'm counting it as a new release of 2012, and #5 in my top seven releases of 2012.  Equal parts R&B, Trip Hop, and Dubstep, all three albums that make up the Trilogy are compelling.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the first one, House of Balloons.  It's a little edgier, and has my favorite track, "Wicked Games" on it.  Trilogy is definitely worth picking up, and while you can download the albums in mixtape format, it's worth picking up the 3 album/cd release of the Trilogy because it is remastered, giving it a crisper sound quality. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #6. Quantic & Alice Russell: Look Around The Corner

Only in these past few months have I been turned onto DJ Quantic, though I've been aware that he's released some solid soulful/funky music over the past ten years.  I've really enjoyed this release, also featuring UK Soul singer Alice Russell and the musical stylings of the Combo Barbaro.  Equal parts soul, funk, jazz, boogaloo, and salsa, Look Around The Corner is a solid album from beginning to end and fits nicely in my top seven of my favorite releases in 2012.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #7. Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio

Since generally most "best of" polls consist of a top 5, 10, or 20 list, I decided to buck the trend and go with my top 7 albums of 2012, although there are some honorable mentions that I could've included.  Number 7 on my favorite albums of the year is Black Radio by the Robert Glasper Experiment.  Robert Glasper is a Jazz Pianist with a healthy influence in old school hip hop and soul.  The Robert Glasper Experiment Black Radio features his jazz piano stylings, but also features tons of neo-soul types like Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Bilal, and hip hop dudes like Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco.  Though it sounds like a combination that wouldn't consistently work, surprisingly everything works on this album, and even some of the appearances by the guests are better than their solo albums (except Erykah Badu--all of her albums are great and her appearance singing "Afro Blue" is no exception).   

Friday, December 7, 2012

Best of 2012 Coming Up!

In the next few weeks I will be featuring seven of my favorite albums of 2012.  The positive about this year is even though generally I felt disconnected among the current musical trends as always, I felt slightly more in-touch than I did in 2011, which is good, I suppose.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Smiling Faces Sometimes: Who Does It Better?

I'm a sucker for that late 60's/early's Norman Whitfield written, funky Motown productions.  It seems as though there were a handful of bands that overlapped when recording Whitfield's tunes.  As has been well-written, Whitfield's songs became more political in nature while nearing the end of the sixties, which came out in both the lyrics and the increasing funkiness of the music.  Here are a few bands that successfully recorded "Smiling Faces Sometimes", one of my favorite Whitfield tunes.   

Starting with The Undisputed Truth (the first of the Motown groups to record the track)
Next, with the funky-rock group Rare Earth:
Of course, The Temptations were one of Motown favs, and recorded many of Whitfields' songs (taken off of one of my favorite albums of theirs, Sky's The Limit:
Lastly, a little more obscure version by a band formed in the army in the early 70's, East of Underground.  Highly recommended album--extremely funky and quite unlike anything I would ever except a group of military dudes to sound like:
I'd have to go with The Tempts version as my favorite, but it terms are sheer funkiness, East of Underground takes the cake.   

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Love of Your Own

Ned Doheny has been one of my favorite (and more underrated, in my opinion) L.A. singer-songwriters from the 70's era.  He was known in the L.A. singer-songwriter community, but was largely unknown by the mainstream.  He recorded a few solid albums, notably Prone but especially Hard Candy, as it features some sun-soaked groovers.  File under:  early Hall & Oates, Todd Rundgren, and Bobby Caldwell, among the blue-eyed soul greats.  "A Love of Your Own" is one of Doheny's most solid cuts, with some tasty vibes, and also featuring Steve Cropper on guitar and Tower of Power on the horns!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, you all!  Hope you get lots of good candy, and stay safe out there!

Friday, October 26, 2012

When Seasons Change...

Watching the leaves fall from the trees over the past few weeks has reminded me that Fall has arrived, and we are nearing the cold of Winter.  It also reminded me of the Curtis Mayfield's song "When Seasons Change", one of my favorite Mayfield songs off of one of my favorite Mayfield albums, There's No Place Like America Today, a highly underrated album in the canon of Mayfield albums.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Allen Toussaint: Life, Love, and Faith

I have been a big fan of New Orleans soul great Allen Toussaint for years, and I've mentioned him a handful of times in this blog in the past.  Tonight I was pulling out some of his albums, specifically his first few albums, Toussaint, and Life, Love, and Faith, which are my favorite two albums of his.  Do you ever get goosebumps from a particular song?   "Fingers & Toes" does this to me every time.  Off of Life, Love, and Faith, "Fingers & Toes" is one of the most perfectly written pop songs I've ever heard.  Lyrically, such a strong, forward introduction, "What more can I say, I'm sorry"..."So I've made mistakes, girl for goodness sakes, you know I've been more good than bad"...  "So why don't you love, before you start a new love and try to count the good times we've had"...And the chorus, "Bet you run out of fingers and toes, before you run out of the flowers I sent ya.".  Lyrically, such a great portrayal of a ending relationship, but the writer is making a last plea to remember the good times before she decides to move on.  It's a repeater--meaning, I repeat this track continually.

"Soul Sister" is another favorite of mine off of this album.  Great, simple piano chords to start the track, a rattling of the drums, and a "Hey you..." to kick off the vocals.  Also, love the call and response vocals between Toussaint and the backing female vocalist in the middle. 

Life, Love, and Faith is Toussaint's strongest album ever recorded.  Does it completely hit on all cylinders?  It's close.  The only reason I wouldn't say that it completely does it mainly because three tracks "Fingers and Toes", "Soul Sister", and "I've Got to Convince Myself" are definitely the strongest of the lot, and while the rest of the songs are strong, I tend to gravitate towards these three tracks.  I would probably put Life, Love, and Faith in my top top 50 favorite soul albums of all-time, it's a treasured album of mine and my favorite by the New Orleans great. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

45 Focus: Doo-Woppin' with The Flamingos

I'm not necessarily a big fan of doo-wop, though I certainly have a lot of respect for it, as it is a precursor to soul music.  In fact, many of soul's greatest artists originated some the roots of doo-wop, including the likes of Marvin Gaye, who got his start in a doo-wop group as a teenager in Baltimore.  One of my favorite 45's that I own is by The Flamingos,  "I Only Have Eyes For You"/"Goodnight Sweetheart".  "I Only Have Eyes For You" is an obvious classic, and one of doo-wop's most popular songs, generally featured on most doo-wop greatest hits compilations.  However, "Goodnight Sweetheart" is my favorite track by The Flamingos, and probably my favorite doo-wop track of all-time.  I've always loved The Flamingos haunting melodies, drenched with reverb backing vocals and accompanied by a gently strummed guitar.  "Goodnight Sweetheart" is a sentimental favorite, as it is a track that I occasionally play while slow dancing with my 2 year old before he goes to bed.     

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Love The Feeling

I can never get enough of Leroy Hutson's albums, especially Hutson and II.  He is truly an underrated soul singer, as he went from replacing Curtis Mayfield in the later day version of The Impressions, to forging a nice solo career of soulful, almost proto-disco, and quiet storm (slow grooves) type of style.  What I especially like about both of these Hutson albums mentioned above, is the opening track.  In my opinion, both the opening tracks to Hutson ("All Because of You") and II ("Love The Feeling") are the strongest tracks on each of the albums.  I already featured "All Because of You" on a previous post, so this post I wanted to dedicate solely to my all-time favorite Hutson track, "Love The Feeling".

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Looking Forward To THIS...

Tame Impala Innerspeaker was one of the best rock releases over the past five to ten years (see also:  Dungen Ta Det Lugnt.)  Their new album, Lonerism, comes out in the U.S. on October 9th, and I couldn't be more excited, as I've been searching the youtube clips off some of the tracks off the upcoming album, and it sounds hot, and may even turn out better than Innerspeaker (at least based on the tracks I've heard thus far).  Good stuff, will definitely cop it when October 9th rolls around. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Darondo--Listen To His Songs!

East Bay area native Darondo released some great soul music in the 1970's, compiled on the magnificent release on Ubiquity Records, Let My People Go, as well as last year's release Listen To My Songs:  The Music City Sessions, which compiled some new unreleased tracks that Darondo recorded in the 70's.  The most obvious "hit" would be the track "Didn't I", which is featured on both albums (and the track was also featured in an episode of "Breaking Bad")
The most obvious comparison of Darondo's style would be Al Green.  He definitely has a similar style, although a bit more raw and street-wise, of that makes sense. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jr. and His Soulettes--Kid's Groove

I love this underground funk album by a family band from Oklahoma.  Released in 1971, the oldest sibling was Harold Moore Jr., and he wrote a majority of these songs at the ripe old age of 10.  What ever happened to Jr. and His Soulettes?  I was lucky enough to stumble upon this album  (and of course, immediately buy it upon finding it), and it's full of little funk, mainly instrumental jams (with a few vocal songs sprinkled in).  It's a fun listen for the whole family!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

D'Angelo: Voodoo

Maybe I should've titled this "Revisiting a classic" like I did with an earlier post regarding Marvin Gaye and his Here, My Dear album.  Released in 2000, D'Angelo's Voodoo is, indeed, a classic and an album I foresee withstanding the test of time.  In terms of great albums released in the 21st century, Voodoo is up there among the best.  Equal parts J. Dilla/Slum Village, with its hip hop production and loud kick-snare beats, and vocally reminiscent of Prince and Marvin Gaye, with D'Angelo's multiple falsettos flying throughout the tracks, it's a damn shame that D'Angelo hasn't been able to follow up this masterpiece.  Kind've reminds me of Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine, and how he was never able to follow up his masterpiece Loveless (one of my desert island albums, but that's a whole different conversation), and you know, maybe it's best that both D'Angelo and Kevin Shields didn't follow up their masterpieces (maybe partially due to drugs?), because it would've been a daunting task.  I do realize that D'Angelo has played a few shows sporadically over the past ten years, so there's always a possibility that he may release something in the future.  For now, we are left with one very solid album in Brown Sugar and one masterpiece in Voodoo, and how many musicians can say that regarding their catalog?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blues With An Edge

Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters

I have to go right out and say that I'm not a big blues fan.  I went through a phase in my post-college years where I listened to a lot of blues-folk stuff like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, among others.  It was a short six month phase for me, afterwards turning towards a 60's psych-folk phase.  Recently, I've been intrigued with the atypical blues albums by traditional bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.  Each recorded an album on Cadet Concept in the late 60's that was more electric, psychedelic, and generally noisier than anything they've recorded before (done so in hopes to appeal to the young hippie crowd at that time). 

Each also disliked their new style at the time. The Muddy Waters album Electric Mud, has some crazy psychedelic guitar solos and drumming by the members of Rotary Connection.  It's overall a solid listen, as is Howlin' Wolf This is Howlin' Wolf album, recorded with the same backing musicians from the Rotary Connection as Muddy Waters used.  Even though both bluesmen did not like the recordings (in Howlin' Wolf's case, plainly stated on the cover of his album), their subsequent albums are an interesting footnote and brief detour on their musical careers, and in blues music in general.  Check out the funkiness on Howlin' Wolf's track "Evil". 
And in Muddy Waters case, funky as well on a remake of his classic "I Just Want To Make Love To You"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Featured Music in "The Cosby Show"

My wife and I have been watching a lot of "The Cosby Show" over the summer on dvd.  This was one of my favorite shows as a kid, and it still holds up well to this day.  Of course, Bill Cosby is hilarious--not only is he one of the greatest comedians of all-time, but he has great comedic timing in this show.  Overall, the cast was excellent as well.  The one thing I particularly noticed watching "The Cosby Show" years later, is how big of a part music was to this show (shouldn't be surprising since Cosby is a noted Jazz and Soul fan).  I watched an episode recently where the daughter Vanessa and her boyfriend Robert are grooving to Funkadelic's "Cosmic Slop" on the radio in the kitchen when Cosby comes in to see them not studying as were their intentions.  Also, I recently watched the classic episode that featured Stevie Wonder.  Stevie is riding in a limo that skids on the icy New York street and hits Denise's car.  He feels bad about the occurrence, and ends up inviting the Huxtable family to one of his recording sessions.  It's a classic episode.
There are also some classic episodes in which the family lip-syncs to soul songs.  Here is a clip of two classic Huxtable lip-syncs, Ray Charles "Night Time is the Right Time", and James Brown's "I Got The Feelin'".


Friday, August 3, 2012

Holding You, Loving You

I'm not generally a big fan of P-Funk.  I mean, I like the early Osmium era of Parliament, and their album Mothership Connection is pretty good as well, but I have to be in a particular mood to really feel it.  The first three Funkadelic albums are amazing, but is that really P-Funk?  It's more psychedelic, Hendrix-inspired soul-rock music and Funkadelic didn't really get down and funky until later on.  Jazz-Funk pianist Don Blackman's self-titled 1982 solo album has some good groovers on it, most notably "Holding You, Loving You".  The album Don Blackman doesn't always hit on all cylinders as a whole, but I can always get with that third track, "Holding You, Loving You" (later sampled by J Dilla on Slum Village's classic album Fantastic Vol. 2).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Michael Franks

I've slept on this cat for such a long, long time.  Michael Franks is smoothness personified, with a singing style part Chet Baker and part Donovan.  He's jazzier than Donovan and more rock-influenced than Chet Baker.  It's all good though, with those electric keys and smooth vocals over some solid lyrics.  Over the past few months, I've picked up both his The Art of Tea (largely considered to be his best), and Sleeping Gypsy albums, and really enjoy them both.  Why didn't I listen to this cat sooner?  I wish I knew...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We're Going 'Streaking!'

Recently picked up this 1974 release by French composer Jean-Claude Pelletier.  Really enjoyable music, sounding like a hybrid between a funky, soulful blaxploitation soundtrack with some French pop feel to it as well.  Quality instrumentals and overall great compositions by Mr. Pelletier.  Here are a few of my favorites thus far from Streaking!  Highly recommended!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Al Green: The Belle Album

I love Al Green, and have gone through different phases in my life where I've leaned towards a particular album of his as my favorite. In my early, Al Green listening years back in college, I definitely leaned towards Let's Stay Together, and I'm Still in Love With You.  Then later on, I listened to Call Me, then started digging the rawness of his early albums like Green is Blue, and Al Green Gets Next To You.  As of this past year, if someone would ask me my favorite Green album, I would now have to say The Belle Album (with I'm Still in Love With You, and Let's Stay Together, in close second and third).  Sad to say, but I largely ignored this album until this past year, mainly because I judged by the cover that it may be a wrong turn into disco for Al (not dissing disco, as I like me some disco--but Al Green doing disco wouldn't sound too promising to me).  How wrong was I!  Great, great album, especially the opening title track.  It's smoky and sultry, but what Al Green track from the 70's isn't?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Sylvers: II

I've been jamming this album a lot recently.  I just recently saw the "Unsung" documentary on The Sylvers, and it prompted me to pull out this gem (that episode was very good by the way--one of the best Unsung documentaries I've seen so far).  Released in 1973, some would say that they were Jackson 5 influenced, being a soulful family band.  Yet as much I love the Jackson 5, The Jacksons, and everything related to MJ, I don't know if any Jackson 5 album is quite as complete as this album from beginning to end.  The first two tracks on this album especially, "We Can Make It If We Try", and "Through the Love In My Heart", provide a great 1-2 punch, and the album flows wonderfully throughout, and closes with a beautiful a-cappella cover version of The Beatles "Yesterday".   Certainly, the Jackson 5 have a more complete discography, from Diana Ross to ABC to Dancing Machine.  Unfortunately, after The Sylvers third album (titled III), they turned into more of a disco-influenced group, and lyrically more fluffy than their first three albums. The Sylvers II is a monster of an album, criminally underrated in it's time, and up there with some of my favorite soul albums of all-time. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer '12: Get Yr Rawk On!

Black Sabbath in their heyday
There was a time many, many years ago, that I listened to tons of rock.  I am a product of the northwest, exposed to all the grunge music filtering throughout the region as teenager, so rock is in my blood.  Besides listening to old school rock like Jimi Hendrix, I loved the Seattle sounds of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney in the early 90's, among others.  Over time, most of those grunge albums have been traded in for other albums.  Just recently, I decided to put on some Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin for the first time in years--I've been in a rock mood over this past weekend, and it felt right.  Really, if someone asks you who are the greatest rock bands ever, those are the two I would say immediately.  Beatles are more melodic pop, Rolling Stones can be rock, but also had a bluesy bent.  Velvet Underground could rock but were too arty to be considered a pure rock band.  As everyone knows, Zeppelin is blues inspired (or ripped off blues artists, depending on who you talk to), but they seriously rocked.  And of course, Black Sabbath rocked like no other.  While Paranoid is probably my favorite Sabbath album, Vol. 4 is highly underrated and may be the most interesting Sabbath album because there was a lot of musical experimentation on this album.  One of my favorite rock songs of all time is the track "Supernaut", off of their 1972 release Vol. 4.  It's up there with "War Pigs" as my favorite Sabbath songs.  "Supernaut" has everything you could possibly want in a track that seriously rocks--great guitar intro, face-melting guitar solo, and a cool drum-breakdown.  I played "Supernaut" in my car the other day with my 2 year old son in my back, and he went absolutely nuts for it!  Head bobbing and swaying all over the place, makes me wonder if all this 'high-brow' soul, jazz, and Latin that I regularly play for him isn't his thing--maybe he's a rock child after all!  Anyway, it was hilarious, and just to test, I repeated "Supernaut" at least three times on the car trip, and he reacted the same each time.  It's pretty apparent that the rock is in his blood as well, just as it is in his father's.

Friday, June 15, 2012

When It's Feeling Hot...

We've had a lousy June here in Seattle, weather-wise, but I have sunny weather on my mind.  Why you ask?  The obvious answer is summer is fast approaching and I know we'll eventually get some nice days in the Pacific Northwest, but another answer to the posed question is that I scooped up Ronnie Laws Fever the other day, as they say, I'm "feelin' it".  Especially the title track, as well as the first track on the album, "Let's Keep It Together".  I'm really digging Bobby Lyle's electric piano on this album.   The soulful group Pleasure represents on Fever, and Wayne Henderson has his mitts on the album, producing the album in it's entirety.  S-M-O-O-T-H! (ed. note:  upon third or fourth listen, the two tracks I previously mentioned are the only two I'm really feelin'.  This may eventually go into the 'trade' pile for me.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Classic Revisited---Marvin Gaye: Here, My Dear

I'm always buying music, but this album has been on constant rotation for the past few years.  I keep finding nuisances that I enjoy, whether it's Marvin's multi-tracked vocals coming from all angles, or the funkiness and airiness instrumentation, everything about this album continues to astound me.  Released in 1978, Here, My Dear is a stone-cold classic.  It's Gaye's ultimate bummer trip, and we are brought along for the ride.  I don't need to go into detail about the album, as I did more so in a previous post, but the album is a definite answer to finalizing a divorce from Anna Gordy.  While I'd probably have to give the edge to What's Going On as my favorite Marvin Gaye album (and probably my favorite album of all-time in any genre), Here, My Dear is definitely my second favorite Marvin Gaye album, and definitely up there in the top 20 of all-time favorite albums.  This is Gaye's most underrated album.  It's perfect in it's imperfections, the windiness of it can be criticized, and the self-absorption (Gaye could be painfully self-centered) lyrically can be over-the-top but it's what makes it the most interesting album he ever recorded.  Here, My Dear is completely Gaye, emotionally exposed for all to see.      

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Smile

David Axelrod
Remember when DJ Shadow's Endtroducing came out and everyone flipped over it?  Then shortly afterwards the music of composer David Axelrod developed a resurgence due to Shadow's occasional sampling of Axelrod?  Axelrod was before my time, so I admit that I was one of the many whom discovered the music of David Axelrod through DJ Shadow.  Shadow's Endtroducing, released in 1996, still holds up well to this day.  And David Axelrod's music also holds up well.  In terms of his self-releases, I consider his Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, and Seriously Deep, as my three favorite Axelrod albums, with the latter being more jazz-fusion while the Songs albums were more cinematic and psychedelic.  Most of the music Axelrod was involved with in the 60's and early 70's were great.  The two albums he produced for The Electric Prunes, Mass in F Minor, and Release of an Oath are well worth checking out, and the music he produced with jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley--Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, and Soul Zodiac, are good as well.  "The Smile", released on the 1968 album Songs of Innocence, is Axelrod to a T (if you're familiar with his productions you know what I mean)--and one of my favorite tracks he released.   

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And Then I Discovered Steely Dan

Becker and Fagen
Let me first start off this post by saying I wasn't a Steely Dan one year ago, or even nine months ago for that matter.  I don't know what compelled me to continue to dig deeper into their catalog, but let's just say I wasn't impressed with the surface hits of Steely Dan in the past, yet an inner voice called upon me to buy their albums and really listen to everything on their albums.  And buy them I did.  First Aja (largely considered their best, and great Michael McDonald backing vocals with one of the greatest jazz-rock songs in "Peg").  Then Gaucho (possibly my favorite of theirs but it changes by the day between this and Aja).  Then later The Royal Scam, Can't Buy A Thrill, Katy Lied, and of course Donald Fagen's brilliant early 80's solo album, The Nightfly.  Now it all makes sense.  You can't compare any band before or after the Dan, they were truly originals.  Lyrically, their themes were dark and at times demented (even the band name "Steely Dan" comes from the name of a dildo in William S. Burroughs novel The Naked Lunch), yet when you listen to an early 80's album like Gaucho, you can picture yourself listening to this album on a yacht with some middle-class yuppies drinking some Cuervo Gold.  But everything inside the music--is so much more.  A great example of this is in this clip where Becker and Fagen discuss the making of the song "Peg"
Becker and Fagen were the minds behind Steely Dan, and they built their songs around dozens of session musicians that would come in by the hour.  They had a vision, and even if multiple takes of songs that lasted upon days on end (coke had to play a part, right?), they apparently knew what they were doing.  Here's one of my favorite Steely Dan tracks, the title track off of Gaucho:
With all of the rare groove, psych-folk, boogaloo, and northern soul I have bought recently, apart from possibly Marvin Gaye's entire catalog, there isn't anything I've listened to more then Steely Dan's catalog in these past six months.  I love every bit of it.
 P.S. I need to apologize to my father, as I used to cringe and tell him to turn off the Dan whenever he would put on their Decade of Steely Dan album when I was a child.  I loved most of the music he put on as a child (Stevie Wonder, George Benson, The Beatles, Hall & Oates, Grover Washington), but I couldn't connect with Steely as a child.  I was wrong about them for over 30 years.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another Booker T. Joint

I know I featured Booker T & the MGs in a post not too long ago in regards to their Beatles Abbey Road homage album McLemore Avenue, but I've been listening to much of their catalog quite frequently recently, as I have most of their 60's and early 70's releases, with the exception of Uptight.  It also felt right to feature another post on the MGs, as longtime bassist Duck Dunn passed away just recently.  I would have to put their 1971 release Melting Pot among my favorite of their albums.  The first time I ever heard the title track, I immediately realized that I did know this song long before I ever "knew" that I knew it, as I was familiar with Big Daddy Kane sampling it on his track "Another Victory".  As much as I love their earlier releases like Green Onions and Soul Dressing, Melting Pot speaks to me the most, probably because it is more groove-oriented then their previous releases.  Here's the real deal, Booker T & the MG's "Melting Pot".
 Here's Big Daddy Kane "Another Victory" (sampling "Melting Pot").


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Light of Love

"Light of Love" is off of Bonnie Dobson's 1970 release Good Morning Rain.  This song's on fire.  When I hear Bonnie's vocals, I can't help but think of Beth Gibbons from Portishead (sans the trip-hop beats).  The fuzzed out guitar helps matters, as Portishead was known to sample some fuzzed out guitars in their day.  Dylan dug her, and so should you!     

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Magnum: Fully Loaded

Released in 1974, Magnum's Fully Loaded album was one of those many funk bands in that era that featured heavy percussive rhythms that I dig.  "Witch Doctor's Brew" is probably my favorite off of this album, as it features some tasty electric organ sounds in the intro.  I place Fully Loaded among those essential mid-70's funk albums, along with McNeal & Niles Thrust, Funk, Inc. Funk, Inc. or Chicken Lickin' album, and The Fatback Band's Let's Do It Again.  All solid, many instrumental funk jams.


Friday, May 4, 2012

R.I.P. Adam Yauch

It's a very sad day in the world of hip hop, and pop music in general.  When hearing this morning of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys (a.k.a. "MCA") death, I immediately felt like a big piece of my childhood was lost for good.  I  remember when "Fight for Your Right to Party" was all over MTV.  I remember first hearing Paul's Boutique and not necessarily being blown away initially but by the fourth or fifth listen, fully realizing it's brilliance.  I remember first digging Check Your Head and being amazed, as I didn't know they could play INSTRUMENTS!  I remember Ill Communication in the summer of 1994, going into my senior year of high school, and playing the crap out of that album while driving around my hometown of Bellingham, Washington.  I remember Hello Nasty, another summer album of mine in college, staying alone in a three bedroom campus home at the University of Portland, and playing that album and jumping around the house by myself (probably drunk).  I must admit that I haven't listened much to their recent releases, heard good things about Hot Sauce Committee but just haven't checked it out. However, the Beasties have always been a part of my life, no matter what musical phase I was going through in my life.  They were one of my introductions into the world of hip hop, and I got into the game because with them, along with Public Enemy.  I still pull out Paul's Boutique and Check Your Head at least once or twice a year.  I will always love their music, and will miss Adam Yauch.