Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31: Beck, "Sea Change"

Artist: Beck
Album: Sea Change
Year: 2002
Label: Geffen/Interscope

Beck falls into one of the most unique musical groupings; artists who are able to put out numerous amazing albums, none of which sound anything like the others. In 2002, Beck stripped away nearly every instrument and released the somber, soul revealing Sea Change.

Unless you experience it for yourself, you cannot grasp just how gorgeous the textures and vocals are on Sea Change. Beck's voice becomes a true instrument and glides perfectly with the musical background, the lyrics moving like chords and notes, seamlessly completing the sonic picture. Even when the music and lyrics are more open and meager, the mood remains full and captivating. The album is perfect for countless situations, from stormy nights to breakups, or just listening while you relax away the day.

The mood on Sea Change is absolutely fantastic, yet it is very sparse and grim. The songs are downbeat and melancholy, yet the album remains fascinating and sublime throughout. Stripping things down to the most basic elements, Beck sets aside his signature "random sounds" and presents a dozen beautiful songs with little more than a guitar, drums, and bass. Here and there, he scatters lulling keyboards or tender string arrangements, but overall, it is the most straightforward instrumentation that Beck has ever used.

Also gone on Sea Change are Beck's usual chipper-sarcastic vocals are nowhere to be found. Instead, the singing is very slow, low, and gloomy. Many times throughout the album, Beck's vocals finally give a clear glimpse of his country music roots. Somehow, Beck has created what may be the finest "breakup" album ever recorded; and yet it is not bitter, and it can be enjoyed at anytime. With Sea Change, Beck has found a perfect formula to make the listener truly feel as if he is sitting next to you, singing to you and you alone. Sincere, clear lyrics of love, loss, and introspection, combined with the lush musical formations make Sea Change one of the most universally accessible records of the last twenty years, perhaps ever.

While Beck is perhaps best known for his quirky "spoken-word-over-odd-music" singles like "Devil's Haircut," and "Loser," one would be remiss to write him off from these songs. The rest of his recorded catalog shows that Beck seemingly has no boundaries in his musical talent or exploration. Beck is truly an uncommon talent because whatever direction he chooses to go, he does so with great musical success. With his 2002 release, Sea Change, Beck makes it clear that his songwriting skills are equal to his musical imagination. The record is a masterful working of musical formations and is one of the most unheralded, yet outstanding albums of the last decade. This record is an absolute "must have" for anyone with ears.

Standout tracks: "Guess I'm Doing Fine," "Lonesome Tears," and "Side Of The Road."

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30: Santana, "Abraxas"

Artist: Santana
Album: Abraxas
Year: 1970
Label: Columbia

Decades before Carlos Santana decided he needed to duet with less talented pop stars, he was making his mark as a true guitar god. As the band leader and namesake behind Santana, he fused latin and tribal percussion, deep melodies, and capped it off with his blistering guitar skills. Santana's sophomore release, 1970's Abraxas, clearly displays just how amazing a band Carlos had assembled.

A quintet of percussionists, a keyboard player, a pianist, bass guitar, and Carlos leading the pack with his six-string give Abraxas unbelievable depth and richness. With his guitar as the lead instrument, Santana was breaking away from the traditional sound that "latin music" had sounded like until that point. However, while Carlos' scorching riffs and solos may be the centerpieces, it is his bass and organ players who deserve the credit for creating and maintaining the deep grooves that the percussionists ride while Carlos peppers them with his guitar.

Moving from glorious, winding river-like jams to slower, blues tunes, to undeniable stadium shakers, Abraxas is so varied and experimental, it in many ways captures the freedom that musicians had during the time period. Nothing on the record seems forced or incomplete, and yet it sounds nothing like Santana's peers (Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, etc). It is mind boggling to thing that such amazing, yet dissimilar sounds could have all emerged from the same place at the same time.

The entire record flows seamlessly from one song into the next, and you truly lose the knowledge of where each individual song begins and ends. Moving from the lush opening soundscape into a latin-jazz cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" and then sliding into an all out rock jam session, Abraxas, truly promises the listener fascinating musical journey. For the record, the 3rd song, "Oye Como Va" is another was originally recorded by salsa legend Tito Puente...Santana's version is MUCH better!

The San Francisco music scene of the late 60's and early 70's was truly a breeding and testing ground for countless new musical formats. While the city is perhaps best known for spawning the hippie culture and "jam music," Santana should be right alongside in the history books. Bringing together a myriad of sounds and influences and simply "going with the music," the band was able to create a brilliant musical mixture and the incredible results have been saved forever on their album, Abraxas.

Standout tracks: "Incident At Neshabur," "Se A Cabo," and "Mother's Daughter."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29: Notorious BIG, "Ready To Die"

Artist: Notorious BIG
Album: Ready To Die
Year: 1994
Label: Bad Boy

The "point" of rap music, in the opinion of many, is to tell a true story, without coloring the details. If this is the case, then Christopher Wallace (AKA Notorious BIG) is easily one of the finest storytellers in history. His 1994 debut, Ready To Die, is a stark, unforgiving, and dark look at the life he'd been living. It is also an absolute classic of the hip hop/rap genre.

The East Coast rap scene had been lagging behind the West Coast since the explosion of Dr. Dre, Snoop, and other Death Row Records artists. The East Coast needed a leader, a spokesperson, a King to bring respect and pride back to the origin of rap music. Notorious BIG and Ready To Die filled all of these roles so well that it can be seen as one of the primary catalysts behind the "coast feud" that would eventually claim the lives of both Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur.

Biggie's delivery is clear, concise, unembellished, and unequivocally unmistakable. A majority of the tracks on Ready To Die chronicle his days of dealing drugs on the streets of Brooklyn, New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Throughout the record, Wallace makes countless references to the cult film, King Of New York, and paints himself as "the black Frank White." Wallace spins tales of the dark underworld of New York's street life and the riches and ills of the realm from which he came.

For an album that sold as many copies as it did and is held as such a keystone of the rap genre, it is nothing short of amazing that the record only spawned one single, the timeless anthem "Big Poppa." The reality is, the reason there were no other singles (save the remixes of "One More Chance") is most likely because the other tracks simply could not be "cleaned up" enough for commercial airplay. Throughout the 17 songs, Biggie never relents, smashing the listener with track after track of brilliant lyrical stylings. The only true anomoly is the albums' final track; the heartbreaking, and perhaps eriely foretelling track, "Suicidal Thoughts."

Few will argue that Notorious BIG remains one of the most important emcees to ever pick up a microphone. His unforgivingly honest lyrics and no-frills delivery make his recordings stand the test of time. He and his debut record, Ready To Die, can be seen as the spark that re-ignighted the East Coast rap scene. There will never be another rapper with gravity and scope of Notorious BIG, and there are very few rap albums as important as Ready To Die.

Standout tracks: "Gimme The Loot," "Juicy," and "Unbelievable."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28: The Damned, "Damned, Damned, Damned"

Artist: The Damned
Album: Damned, Damned, Damned
Year: 1977
Label: Frontier

While the Sex Pistols may have be more well known, the reality is that The Damned had both a single AND an album out first...and BOTH were far superior! The Damned's debut record, Damned, Damned, Damned is an absolutely classic of both punk and rock music. Twelve songs, just over a half hour of music, and one Stooges cover make this album an outright essential.

Damned, Damned, Damned opens with a simple, catchy, driving bassline from the new legendary Captain Sensible. What follows are a dozen quick, cutting, and mighty tunes. While many punk bands went for some sort of "message" in their music, whether it be political or otherwise, The Damned left that all at the door and simply made deliciously fun songs.

Throughout Damned, Damned, Damned, it becomes evident that each of the band members are extremely accomplished at their instrument, setting them high atop the pile of "punk" bands. Drummer Rat Scabies is absolutely awe-inspiring throughout the record, with precise start/stop rhythms and brilliant fills. The duo of Brian James and Captain Sensible on guitar and bass respectively create moods from outright rock to dark and spooky. Dave Vanian's vocals age pointed, forceful, and yet not so aggressive or loud that they turn away casual listeners.

Sticking to the punk ethos of simple chords and lyrics, The Damned set themselves apart by their intensity alone. The band understood that you don't need to yell to be loud or intense musically and therefore, their albums are far more accessible than the records of a majority of their peers. Furthermore, with the lack of political elements, the lyrics are such which anyone can easily relate.

Since the mid 1970's, there has always been an argument of "who" started punk music. Some say The Ramones, some say The Stooges, some even say the Sex Pistols. Obviously, after hearing Damned, Damned, Damned, it is clear that the last of these choices could not be possible as The Damned did it first, and did it better than the Pistol's could have ever dreamed.

Standout tracks: "Fan Club," "See Her Tonight," and "So Messed Up."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 27: The Beach Boys, "Pet Sounds"

Artist: Beach Boys
Album: Pet Sounds
Year: 1966
Label: Capitol

Easily one of the finest albums of the 1960's, common rumor is that the catalyst for the Pet Sounds was Brian Wilson hearing The Beatles Rubber Soul. Apparently, Wilson was so blown away by how "together" the record was, that he made it a personal mission to attempt to "one up" Rubber Soul. In the opinion of many, with Pet Sounds, he succeeded with flying colors.

Pet Sounds incorporates countless instruments as well as some "odd" sounds like a bike horn, soda cans, and some sounds that are indistinguishable. Wilson weaves in classical string and wind instruments alongside these more modern musical instruments. The vocals and textures throughout the record are the pure Beach Boys sound that generations of listeners have come to expect and love.

The songs on Pet Sounds flow perfectly together and, as a group, create one of the most amazing musical landscapes ever recorded. The sound is rich and full, and yet not overwhelming. The single vocals intermingle with the group harmonies brilliantly. The record even dabbles slightly, as the combination of various instruments and vocals create sounds and moods never before heard, in what can only be called an early version of psychedelic music.

Many of the songs on Pet Sounds, have become "classics." In fact, out of the thirteen songs on the Pet Sounds, five of them became top 5 singles in both the US and UK. While the record did not sell very well upon its initial release, over the decades, it has become one of the highest selling records of all time. In the years since its release, it has topped countless lists of "greatest album ever" and is widely regarded as one of the finest moments in music history.

The Beach Boys have created a signature sound since the 1960's and the sound continues to please fans old and new to this day. Containing some of their best known songs, Pet Sounds, is, by far, the finest moment for this legendary group. If, in fact, the inspiration behind Pet Sounds was to top Rubber Soul, after nearly 50 years, there is little doubt that not only did Brian Wilson top the Beatles this time around, but, with Pet Sounds, buried his competitors.

Standout tracks: "Sloop John B," "Here Today," and "Pet Sounds."

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26: Oysterhead, "The Grand Pecking Order"

Artist: Oysterhead
Album: The Grand Pecking Order
Year: 2001
Label: Elektra/Asylum

Most of the time, when a band is labeled as a "supergroup," it becomes nothing more than an egofest with each musician attempting to "one up" the others and steal the spotlight. However, every once in awhile, a supergroup actually works. The later is the case when Les Claypool (Primus), Trey Anastasio (Phish), and Stewart Copeland (The Police) came together to form Oysterhead. Orginally formed as a "one off" grouping for the famed New Orleans Jazzfest, the trio found the combination too good to not hit the studio together. Their only release (to date), The Grand Pecking Order, is a masterpiece of musical fusion.

In reality, one would be hard pressed to fine three more dissimilar musicans. Copeland is an amazingly technical drummer who was behind some of the most memorable pop singles of the 80's. Anastasio is the voice and guitar behind the Kings of the "jam scene" and has been known to play the same note for minutes on well as single songs for nearly an hour. Claypool is, well, he's Les Claypool.

On The Grand Pecking Order, all three of group members seem quite comfortable passing around vocal duties as well as giving one another time enough to shine, while at the same time not obscuring the other two. Such a feat is rarely accomplished as well as Oysterhead has done. From outright rock songs, to deliciously funky grooves, and even some acoustic tracks, The Grand Pecking Order truly has it all. Furthermore, the band keeps thing catchy and quick, with only two songs exceeding five minutes (so you "non-jam" type folks need not be scared).

All three musicians give themselves to completely to the record that none of the songs on The Grand Pecking Order would really fit in with their respective "primary bands." MAYBE one could envision Primus playing "Shadow Of A Man," but that would be a stretch. It is truly a remarkable accomplishment that this fact stands true with three musicians who are in the upper echelons of their respective instruments and genres. It also speaks to how well the trio can adapt and adjust to the techniques and textures that each one of them brings to the band.

Supergroups tend to implode due to egos and the simple fact that most of the members simply cannot move away from their "own" sound to create a new sound with the other band members. Oysterhead defied this tradition and produced the masterful The Grand Pecking Order. These three musical giants melded their unique sounds and talents and together created a true musical tour de force.

Standout tracks: "Mr. Oysterhead," "Polka Dot Rose," and "Psudeo Suicide."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25: Alice In Chains, "Dirt"

Artist: Alice In Chains
Album: Dirt
Year: 1992
Label: Columbia

Though he is often overlooked due to his appearance and the overall sound of the band, one cannot deny Layne Staley’s place as one of the finest vocalists in history. Try as they might, NOBODY can even come close to the raw honesty, combined with sheer power that Layne was able to achieve. There are countless times across the AIC catalog where it truly seems that Layne is singing from the “other side.” However, with 1992's Dirt, the band was able to achieve musical perfection and the album has become a cornerstone of grunge and hardcore music.

The opening seconds of Dirt leave no time for the listener to prepare. A trio of “Them Bones,” “Dam That River,” and “Rain When I Die” beat you into grunge-metal submission. Driving rhythm guitars, overlain by Jerry Cantrell’s signature solos provide the perfect wall for Layne to stand against. The bassline on “Rain When I Die” personifies the “scary, yet somehow friendly” vibe that AIC achieved throughout their career. The lyrics are deep, painful, and heartfelt as well as absolutely unrelentingly honest.

Obviously, the album is best known for its SECOND single, “Rooster” (“Would?” was, in fact, the first single off the album). The tale of a Vietnam solider would have fit perfectly into the score of Apocalypse Now. Since most people are quite familiar with the song, I will only say that a different (better) version can be found on the Music Bank box set. The tail end of the album closes with the tandem of “Angry Chair” and the aforementioned “Would?” Again, simple yet brilliant basslines drive the songs and Layne tears through song after song, bring the listener along through the failings of an addict.

There are no “bright points” on Dirt. It is a dark and depressing journey through the mind of a man knowing he was badly losing a battle with drugs. However, the music is a perfect fusion of heavy metal and grunge; a recipe that countless bands have since attempted to copy (see Korn, Papa Roach, or any of that sort of garbage). The production on the record brings a very clean sound, and yet the songs remain as gritty as the music demands.

Alice In Chains were, by far, one of the most important acts to come out of the 90's grunge movement. They were around before Nirvana and have been cited by that band as a major influence on their sound. Tragically, Layne Staley's demons got the better of him in early 2002, thus ending the life of the band as well. One must listen and understand how lucky we all are to have these remnants of a truly amazing musical talent.

Standout tracks: "Rain When I Die," "Angry Chair," and "Would?"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24: Junior Brown, "Semi-Crazy"

Artist: Junior Brown
Album: Semi-Crazy
Year: 1996
Label: Curb

Junior Brown was a music teacher in Oklahoma for decades, playing small shows solo and with friends. Then, he decided that he was tired of having to switch between his standard 6-string and steel pedal he decided to combine them into one instrument. Brown plays a custom created/built guitar that he calls, appropriately enough, the "guit-steel." One neck is a standard guitar, while the other is a pedal steel guitar. The configuration allows him to rapidly switch between the two and gives his music a distinctive tone and feel.

Semi-Crazy is, much like Junior Brown's overall sound, a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. Brown's voice is as country as they get, and his guitar has that "twang" that defines the genre. While some songs ("I Want To Hear It From You") are "country" in every aspect, a majority of Junior Brown's lyrics are quirky and original. Taking on roles as a husband tired of his wife out partying and drinking all night, a prisoner, or even a surfer, the record is eclectic to say the least.

Brown proves that he more than just a guitar strummer as he shows off his sensational six string skills on "I Hung It Up" and even gets Ventures-esque (to create a word), on his aptly titled, "Surf Medley." Whether he is dueting (with Red Simpson) on "Semi Crazy," or using a mop as a mic on "Joe The Singing Janitor," Semi-Crazy is a joy to experience from start to finish.

Everything about Junior Brown is refreshingly unique. His voice, guit-steel, lyrics, and simply how he fuses genres together make him a true gem of the music world. Whether you're a seasoned country-western music fan, or if you're one of the many people who run for the hills as soon as you hear the term "country," do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy of can thank me later.

Standout tracks: "Gotta Get Up Every Morning," "I Hung It Up," and "Joe The Singing Janitor."

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23: ZZ Top, "Tres Hombres"

Artist: ZZ Top
Album: Tres Hombres
Year: 1973
Label: Warner Bros.

Let's begin by getting the whole "beard" thing out of the way, shall we? Yes, they have beards. YES, they are awesome. Done? Good.

Long before ZZ Top got pigeonholed by their cliché song, "Legs," they were one of the baddest blues-rock bands around. Their down and dirty Tres Hombres is a true testament to their ability and place amongst the finest in music history.

Sleazy guitar riffs, a menacing rhythm duo, combined with the signature dual-lead vocals, define the signature sound of ZZ Top. Lyrically, they are a "mans" band as their lyrics tend to revolve around drinking, women, and raising hell (pun intended). With song titles like "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers" and "Hot, Blue and Righteous," the band is quite forward with their musical muses. "Waitin' For The Bus" and "Jesus Just Left Chicago" are absolute classics and sitll blow away nearly every wannabe blues-rock band to this day.

Each song on Tres Hombres is as rockin' blues as one can possibly conceive. While groups like Zeppelin had their own "spin" on blues-rock, ZZ Top are purists and keep things to a very "rootsy" feel. Along with the ten studio recordings, the 1987 and 2007 re-issues of Tres Hombres also feature a trio of live recordings from the supporting tour.

Easily the most notable song on Tres Hombres is the now legendary "La Grange." Outside of The Animals, one would be hard pressed to find a better tune about a house of ill repute. The guitar riff on "La Grange" is absolutely unmistakable and is certainly among the most revered "tasty licks" in a guitar players' bag 'o tricks. For the record, there are, in fact, lyrics to the song as well...quite good ones actually.

ZZ Top are truly living legends of the music scene. From their trademark tone to their distinct fashion ideas, ZZ Top been a staple of blues-rock for nearly 50 years. Tres Hombres finds them at the top of their game and the record is a definite "must hear" for everyone.

Standout tracks: "Waitin' For The Bus," "Jesus Just Left Chicago," and "La Grange."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22: Konono No1, "Congotronics"

Artist: Konono No1
Album: Congotronics
Year: 2005
Label: Crammed Discs

Chances are, you've never heard of a musical instrument called a likembe. However, chances are, you HAVE heard of a thumb piano (if not, google it). They are, in fact, the same thing. Combine them with some truly DIY amplification systems and add in group singing/chanting as well as seemingly random muscial additions from passers-by and you have the amazing album, Congotronics.

As a group, Konono No1 has been making music in the streets of the Republic of Congo since the early 1970's. As time went on, the group realized that they needed to find a way to amplifiy their instruments. Beginning with rugged speakers and batteries and then moving on to small PA's powered by car batteries, the group began to get a following.

The only instruments that are truly "mic'd" are the trio of likembe while the rest of the instruments (pots, pans, whistles, whatever was around) are picked up by a few crude microphones. This mixture creates a very "garage band" feeling whilst holding onto the traditional sounds of the music.

At times, the record almost seems to be in pure chaos as the myriad of musicians seem to all be in their own world. Somehow though, it forms a single, brilliant tune. It you let the album take you, you will no doubt find yourself standing on a street corner in Africa watching this amazing display of group music creation. The album is part rumba, part electronica, part afrobeat, part prog-rock, but absolutely all masterful musicianship.

Truly, it is nearly impossible to accurately explain the sonic mural found on Congotronics. To understand and appreciate this album, you honestly have to hear it for go get it!

NOTE: You can also find Konono No1 backing Björk on her song "Earth Intruders."

Standout tracks: "Lufuala Ndonga," "Kule Kule," and "Paradiso."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21: Janis Joplin, "Joplin In Concert"

Artist: Janis Joplin
Album: Joplin In Concert
Year: 1972
Label: Columbia

When it comes to instantly recognizable voices, Janis Joplin may very well lead the pack. Her uncanny ability to blend blues, soul, and good 'ol rock and roll make her the one of the finest vocalists ever. The posthumous release, Joplin In Concert gives a clear picture of what an amazing talent and presences she had on stage.

The album is split almost half and half between tracks recorded with Big Brother & The Holding Company and then half recorded with Janis' Full Tilt Boogie Band. Both bands have their individual sound, but Janis gives the record perfect cohesion. The entire record shows Janis working the crowd perfectly both in and out of the songs. Interlaced with the music are a handful of vintage stories and commentaries by the lady known as Pearl.

At times, her stage banter and stories are so moving and brilliant that you just want her to keep talking and skip the song. In these moments, the listener gains a rare, intimate glance into Joplin's insecurities and innermost feelings. Such raw and unguarded moments are nearly nonexistent in the music world. From these moments, you can truly find where her blues came from and perhaps somewhat understand what led her to her well documented destructive behavior.

Joplin In Concert truly gives a full showing of Joplin's musical tastes and range. The songs rage from traditional rock songs, to deep, slow ballads. Joplin In Concert brings moments of controlled rage as well as heartbreaking soul from Janis. From strict blues songs like "Road Block" and "Ego Rock" to outright rockers like "Flower In The Sun" and "Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)," Janis delivers awe inspiring performances across the board.

Janis Joplin was and is an icon in every sense of the word. From her sense of style to her attitude, there will never be another quite like her. Seriously, there was a freakin' Muppet modeled after her! Janis sang with a sound and soul that hasn't been heard since her tragic passing in 1970. While most people are content with the Greatest Hits record, do your ears a favor and grab Joplin In Concert instead. Once you hear it, you'll never again listen to Janis the same.

Standout tracks: "Flower In The Sun," "Ego Rock," "Get It While You Can."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20: R.E.M. "New Adventures In Hi-Fi"

Artist: R.E.M.
Album: New Adventures In Hi-Fi
Year: 1996
Label: Warner Bros.

When a band releases a monster album (pun intended), it is often the case that their next album falls far below the radar. Sadly, this is the case with R.E.M.'s brilliant 1996 release, New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

Reordered in brief studio sessions throughout the world as well as during soundchecks during their tour supporting their album Monster (get the pun now?), Hi-Fi is absolutely one of their finest records to date. This record was also the final appearance of original drummer Bill Berry (who left the band after suffering a seizure during the Monster tour.)

Hi-Fi brings a wide range of musical styling and moods as the band presents a far less polished feel than they had in nearly a decade. Many of the lyrics are, understandably, about traveling or movement (both in the physical as well as metaphyiscal sense). Music legend Marianne Faithful lends her signature vocals to the dark and eerie "E-Bow The Letter" which certainly quailifies as one of the greatest songs R.E.M. has ever released.

New Adventures also contains songs remeneicient of some of R.E.M.'s most well known songs. "Departure" sounds like it could have been a studio outtake from the bands' legendary album, "Document" while the lyrical pattern and feel of "The Wake-Up Bomb" beings memories of the never mistaken, "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

With so many different recording places, it is amazing that the album still manages to have a very cohesive feeling. The songs flow seamlessly together and each song has a complete, yet open sound.

Since Bill Berry left the band, it is now clear that New Adventures In Hi-Fi truly marks the end of R.E.M.'s signature sound, and their releases since have been unable to measure up to the standards the band set over nearly two decades. Each and every music lover should know and love this wonderful record as it truly presents one of the finest acts in music history having fun, and making an amazing record in the process.

Standout tracks: "The Wake-Up Bomb," "E-Bow The Letter," and "Electrolite"

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19: Bad Brains, "Black Dots"

Artist: Bad Brains
Album: Black Dots
Year: 1996
Label: Caroline

First off, some label love. Caroline Records kicks so much ass! As if they weren’t awesome enough for unleashing Primus’ Frizzle Fry onto the world, they’ve got this to their credit as well. You’d be hard pressed to find “bad” releases from Caroline in the 90’s.

That being said, popular rumor says that we can all thank Ian MacKaye for the release of Black Dots. The rumor is, whilst digging through piles of recorded musical history, he stumbled across this tape, labeled as “Brains Demos.” After contacting HR, he was given the “blessing” to release them, and we are all thankful for that.

In reality, Black Dots is an archival release of studio outtakes from 1979. Recorded with legendary producer Don Zientara, this album blows away the Bad Brains' face-smashing, self titled release. Black Dots presents a more raw and aggressive take on nearly all of the Bad Brains tracks including "Don’t Need It," "Supertouch/Shitfit," and the unmistakable "Pay To Cum."

The urgency of the recording is somewhat startling and this record truely captures the essence to the early hardcore music scene. HR's vocals are more up front and smarmy than on the "real" releases of most of these songs, and the band is more loose and aggressive. The only time the band shifts out of eleventh gear is for the reggae jam, "The Man Won't Annoy You."

Black Dots is a crushing musical assault by a group of the finest hardcore rockers you'll ever hear. Easily on par with the infamous ROIR sessions, this record captures the Bad Brains at the height of their musical mastery. Anyone looking for raw, live perfection MUST check out Black Dots.

Standout tracks: "Attitude," "Banned In D.C.," "Send You No Flowers."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18: Dr. Dre, "The Chronic"

Artist: Dr. Dre
Album: The Chronic
Year: 1992
Label: Death Row

When it comes to records that completely changed the musical landscape, one would be remiss to not include Dr. Dre's monster 1992 release, The Chronic. Not only did this album bring the "G Funk" sound to the world, but it also introduced us all to one Snoop Doggy Dogg. It goes without saying that this album also spawned the now classic track, "Nothing But A "G" Thang."

Upon it's release, it was clear that a new era of rap music had begun as there had never been an album as hard and heavy before. Dr. Dre used The Chronic to show just how amazing a producer and beat maker he had become since his days with N.W.A. Pounding bass, whining keyboard melodies, all behind smooth, yet gritty rhymes from Dre and Snoop.

Lyrically, the album is second to none. Dre, Snoop, and the rest of the rappers on the record are all in top form and there is not a "whack" ryhme anywhere. The Chronic is also significant because it was one of the few Death Row releases that contained no "feuding" with East coast rappers (read as "Bad Boy Records"). Dre uses a few tracks on the album to attack former rap partner Eazy-E. While Eazy did make a pair of "retort" songs, Dre hit first, hit hard, and was the one left standing.

Much like Ice Cube's The Predator gave a peek into street life, The Chronic goes deeper inside and the tales are darker and more pointed to the drug and thug life of South Central Los Angeles. The album title itself is perhaps the clearest sign of just what was contained inside.

Nearly every track on The Chronic is a hip hop classic and the music behind it is to the level t which all records since have been compared. Dr. Dre has brought the world three of the largest rap stars of the past 20 years, and on The Chronic, he unleashed the biggest Dogg of them all. To be a true music scholar (or music snob if you prefer), you MUST own and know Dr. Dre's The Chronic.

Standout tracks: "Fuck Wit Dre Day," "Nuthin' But A G Thang," "The Roach."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17: The Little Willies, "The Little Willies"

Artist: The Little Willies
Album: The Little Willies
Year: 2006
Label: Milking Bull

When Norah Jones is in a group, and NOT the superstar, you can guarantee it’s a record worth buying! In the case of the self titled release from the relatively unknown NYC supergroup, The Little Willies, the guarantee is delivered in full.

Formed after Norah released her second album, the band name is a nod to music legend Willie Nelson. The record brings Jones’ country/bluegrass roots (which undertone her solo records) to the forefront in brilliant fashion. The record is mostly covers (4 originals) and stays true to the mellow, mostly acoustic, feel throughout. Jones and Richard Julian (who one can make the case is, in fact, “leading” the band) have vocals that blend so beautifully, it’s almost disgusting.

Whether they are taking the whimsical “Roly Poly” or the soulful, “Easy As The Rain,” this band of superstar musicians doesn’t miss a beat. Even when the album slows down for the more soulful tracks, it quickly recovers its amazingly catchy, bouncy vibe. Each song stands tall on its own, yet melds perfectly with the other songs to create an anomaly: a record that is perfect for long drives, a night in with friends, “putting the moves on,” or even getting over a break-up.

Chances are, not only do you not own this record, but you've never even heard of it. You should do your best to change both of those mistakes as quickly as possible. Even after hundreds of listenings, The Little Willies remains fresh and a pleasure to experience each and every time.

Standout tracks: "Roly Poly," "Best of All Possible Worlds," and "Lou Reed."

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16: Smashing Pumpkins, "Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness"

Artist: Smashing Pumpkins
Album: Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness
Year: 1995
Label: Virgin

While Siamese Dream catapulted the Smashing Pumpkins to stardom, it was their follow-up album, the 2-disc (6 sides of vinyl) set, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness that truly made the band shine. Making a single album of great music is a daunting enough task; yet the Pumpkins were able to offer nearly 30 songs spread over 2 hours of superb musical mastery.

The album, split into halves called "Dawn To Dusk" and "Twilight to Starlight" (though the vinyl version has a different order as well as 2 additional songs), follow a steady, yet meandering storyline. From the abrasive “Zero” to the industrial “Love” to the rolling melodies of “To Forgive,” the first half of the album truly spotlight both the musical and lyrical prowess of Billy Corgan.

The second half of MCIS is far darker and more unassuming in nature. The vast majority of people are not as familiar with this half of the album as the band only released one of its songs as a single (“1979”). As far as I am concerned, it is the second half of MCIS where the Pumpkins take the album from “great” to “genius.”

Highlighted by the borderline pop of “Thirty-Three,” the heartbreaking “Stumbline” and the Syd Barrett-esque sound of “We Only Come Out At Night,” one realizes that this half alone could have been a monumental release.

The absolute gem of Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness is the final song, “Farewell & Goodnight.” Written by the band as a whole, each band member takes a crack at this gothically textured lullaby, Simple instrumentation and unaltered, quiet vocals of some of Corgan’s most wonderful lyrics make this song nearly overshadow the entire other 120 minutes previous.

Smashing Pumpkins were truly one of the most amazing bands during the 1990's. Recently, they've had "reunion" tours that were basically "Billy Corgan & Friends." When they were able to operate as a single musical unit, the results were nothing short of astounding. Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness is a true testament to the seemingly endless ability of the band and should ABSOLUTELY have a spot on your collection.

Standout tracks(it gets 4 for being a double disc): "Love," "Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans," "Farewell & Goodnight," and "Stumbeline."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 15: Tom Waits, "Nighthawks At The Diner"

Artist: Tom Waits
Album: Nighthawks At The Diner
Year: 1975
Label: Asylum

Tom Waits is a god. This should not be breaking news to anyone. Some people (me) might argue that he has always been a FAR better song writer than Bob Dylan. Waits is always pushing the boundaries of music with consistently phenomenal results.

Recorded live on July 30/31 of 1975, Nighthawks At The Diner captures Waits in his ultimate element: a small crowd and no curfew. He wastes no time jumping into his tongue-in-cheek comedy, “I’m so horny, the crack of dawn better be careful around me…” What follows is over an hour of perfection. Waits, holding the crowd in his palm as he follows the music where it is want to go. The recording builds a wonderful ambience and you, as the lucky listener, are transported into the studio, sitting with the handful of lucky guests.

Waits is backed by a simple three piece of bass, drums, and sax and they compliment his one of a kind piano perfectly. The band is able to follow Tom through his meandering, yet whimsical improvisations which appear especially difficult on songs like "Spare Parts" and "Nighthawk Postcards." Throughout the entire album, they are truly moving as a single unit in, out, and around Waits' tales.

Waits paints picture after picture, from his own dingy apartment to the passenger seat of an 18-wheeler to the counter of a greasy diner, all brilliantly described to the point that you can smell the diesel. Thankfully, the crowd was sober enough to keep their mouths shut so, there is very little “chatter,” though the audience rarely misses a punchline from Tom’s endless battery of jokes.

Tom Waits has proven over the past 40 years that he IS the cutting edge of music. Constantly trying new ideas and new formats, Waits always has a fresh ideas both musically and lyrically. Whille Nighthawks At The Diner is seemingly a mellow, relaxed live recording, it is also a peek into the madness and genius at makes Tom Waits a true anomaly in the history of music.

Standout tracks: "Putnam County," "Big Joe & Phantom 309," and "Spare Parts."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January 14: Herbie Hancock, "Head Hunters"

Artist: Herbie Hancock
Album: Head Hunters
Year: 1973
Label: Columbia/Legacy

When it comes to fusing together funky grooves, soulful melodies, and what can only be called early hip hop rhythms with a jazz base, there is no finer example than Herbie Hancocks' legendary Head Hunters. Hancock, who honed his chops as a member of Miles Davis' legendary quartets, had already released nearly a dozen solo efforts in the decade previous. However, when the world was given Head Hunters, the landscape of jazz was forever changed.

Musicians from Frank Zappa to Nas to Massive Attack have all sampled or quoted (musically) different parts of this album. Head Hunters also brought mass appeal to listeners who may not have been "jazz listeners" previously, which enabled Head Hunters to topple Davis' Kind Of Blue as the best selling jazz record in history (a record held until Kind Of Blue took the title back in the late 90's).

Combining elements of a myriad of musical forms and birthing a new genre is no simple task and that makes Head Hunters truly a one of a kind album. The funk grooves are equal to those of Sly Stone and the jazz improvisation is on par with anyone you can imagine. The musicians know just where to leave the "open space" and each musical thought gets completely and flawlessly explored.

Hancock, unlike most jazz combo leaders, is able to step back and be part of the band as opposed to forcing himself in front of the music and letting the band fall by the wayside. Due to this, the brilliance of each musician gets its own time in the spotlight and the overall album benefits from this act of humility. Whether it is the acidy sax leads on "Watermelon Man," the dawdling basswork on "Vein Matter," or Hancock's own consummate keyboard work on "Sly," Head Hunters radiates paramount musicianship from beginning to end.

Most musicians would have been content to be known as a cornerstone of Miles Davis' greatest combos. Herbie Hancock had greater dreams and has released dozens of amazing albums throughout the past 5 decades. With Head Hunters, he defined a new style of jazz and became an influence for generations of musicians. Flawless from end to end, the album is an unquestionable essential for every music collection.

Oh, and if all of that is not enough, the album cover is wicked awesome!!!

Standout tracks: With only four tracks on the record, they are all standouts!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 13: Björk, "Post"

Artist: Björk
Album: Post
Year: 1995
Label: Elektra

First and foremost, Björk is an acquired taste. That being said, if you haven’t yet, you REALLY need to acquire said taste. Björk is truly one of the most unique talents to ever enter a vocal booth.

Now, I will freely admit, over the years, there is no CD I’ve had to purchase more times than this one. I have easily played my way through a dozen copies since it’s 1995 release (thanks to my iPod, I’ve not had to purchase one this decade).

While Björk’s first solo record, Debut, was pretty darn good, she truly perfects her craft throughout the 45 minute runtime. A mixture of ambient textures, programmed drums (which I normally despise), all flowing under the sheer brilliance of Björk’s distinctive vocal stylings make Post absolutely magical.

The album opens in a rather aggressive manner with "Army Of Me," but quickly pulls back and finds its groove through the remainder of the record. While “It’s Oh So Quiet” earned notoriety for the video work of Spike Jonez, it may very well be the weakest cut on the record. The album shifts tempo back and forth, and yet retains a beautiful, spacey texture. Songs like "Possibly Maybe" and "You've Been Flirting Again" scale back the music to let the true brilliance of Bjork's vocals shine.

Throughout the record, one truly finds just how invested Björk truly is in each of her vocal tracks. There are squeaks and yelps that most musicians would have cut out. However, these “imperfections” give the album true depth and reveal the vocal mastery that makes Björk one of a kind.

Going strong for nearly two decades, Björk remains a truly unique talent in the timeline of music history. Though she's yet to make a "bad" record, Post remains her finest achievement to date.

Standout tracks: "Hyperballad," "The Modern Things," and "Enjoy"

Monday, January 12, 2009

January 12: Led Zeppelin, "Led Zeppelin II"

Artist: Led Zeppelin
Album: Led Zeppelin II
Year: 1969
Label: Atlantic

When it comes to blues influenced, hard rock, standing high upon the mount is the legendary foursome, Led Zeppelin. A band who pioneered countless ideas and sound, Zeppelin also set the standards for rock debauchery. Though they made many timeless records, their sophomore effort, smartly titled Led Zeppelin II, is, in the opinion of many, their crowning achievement.

How amazing was the album upon its release? It had nearly half a million pre-orders and claimed the #1 spot on the charts from a little, unknown record called Abbey Road. Half of the songs on the record have now become standards in the cannon of rock and roll. Many of the guitar riffs are the building blocks of hard rock and heavy metal. Musicians ranging from Aerosmith and Foo Fighters to Tori Amos and Phish have covered songs from Led Zeppelin II throughout the years. This album was and is, to put it simply, monumental.

Recorded in less than 2 weeks, Led Zeppelin II is filled with pummeling guitar riffs and crushing drum work. It goes without saying that the vocals that Robert Plant provides are out of this world. Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page, the record preserves the gritty and raw sound of Zeppelin's live performances, while at the same time keeping the record polished enough for a studio release.

Massive guitar riffs drive "Whole Lotta Love" and "Heartbreaker," and the band steps aside to let the one and only John "Bonzo" Bonham take center stage throughout "Moby Dick." Robert's vocals are in prime form and he shows just how a singer can use his voice to it's fullest potential. The lyrics move from the classic "guy wants girl" to "guy enjoys girl" to "guy lements girl" and even to interpretations of Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

Led Zeppelin stand Centurion amidst the countless bands throughout history. Epic songs, brilliant music, and perhaps too much talent for a single band, Zeppelin achieved feats in their short existence which bands with twice the livespan never even flirt. Led Zeppelin II is a perfect example of just how astounding this band could be when their collective talents were brought together. Throughout the 40 minute runtime, the dexterity and aptitude of each band member is highlighted and the results are pure musical enjoyment. If you have somehow lived your life without this record, RUN, do not walk, to your nearest music outlet and find yourself a copy!

Standout tracks: "Whole Lotta Love," "Heartbreaker," "Moby Dick."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 11: Ice Cube, "The Predator"

Artist: Ice Cube
Album: The Predator
Year: 1992
Label: Priority

Before Dr. Dre blew the doors open with The Chronic, fellow N.W.A. alum Ice Cube paved the way with his monster album, The Predator. The record is a dark, gritty, and unrelenting peek into the culture and life of South Central Los Angeles.

At the time of its release, Ice Cube hadn't even thought of an acting career, and his lyrics are brutal and brilliant. The production on the record is perfect and the beats are supurb as The Predator represents one of the final "West Coast" rap records before the "bass explosion" hit. The record takes aim at the LA Police, halfway crooks, and more LA cops. Cube delivers flawless lyrical stylings on every track on the record.

The Predator spawned two singles in "Check Yo Self" which is a collaboration with Dax Efx as well as the gangsta rap classic, "It Was A Good Day." The latter has become almost cliche and it is amazing that the "public" were so willing to accept such a "hardcore" rap artist at the time of the albums' release.

In modern times, Ice Cube may be most well known for his acting roles. However, from the lat 80's and early 90's, he was easily one of the most brutally honest rappers in the music world. Though he had reached notoriety whilst with N.W.A., it was 1992's The Predator that catapulted Cube to the top of the rap game. Not for the faint of heart or easily offended, this record stands today as one of the most "real" insights into the dangerous world of gangs and "rough" inner city living.

Standout Tracks: "When Will They Shoot," "It Was A Good Day," and "The Predator."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

January 10: Aerosmith, "Toys In The Attic:

Artist: Aerosmith
Album: Toys In The Attic
Year: 1975
Label: Sony

They say you never forget your first love. For me, it was Aersomith. The "Bad Boys From Boston" are one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever, and their 1975 release, Toys In The Attic, shows them at the peak of their talent. Toys takes the influences of the band (Rolling Stones, New York Dolls, Zeppelin, etc) and strips it down to its most basic elements: blues and booze.

This being the bands' third release, it is clear that they were finally able to bring all of the different elements together in harmony. At first glance, most people will only see that two of their more well known songs ("Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion") are on this album. However, the reality is, neither song was very successful until years after their release.

Toys In The Attic brings to the forefront the bands' trademark sound of sexy, somewhat sleazy, but undeniably catchy rock songs. Steven Tyler's vocals are perfect, and yet bear little resemblance to his sound these days. Joe Perry kicks out riff after riff, many of which have now become "staples" within the music world.

The title track opens the record and the bluesy, stripped down feel continues for the next half hour as Aerosmith presents 7 originals and a brilliant cover of Fred Weismantel's early 1900's recording, "Big Ten Inch Record." The final two sogns on the album are slow, soulful, and show the other side of the bands' capabilities. Truly, there is not a bad moment anywhere on the record.

Approaching 40 years of making music, Aerosmith have cemented themselves as legends within the rock and roll world. Though the band has made many good records, Toys In The Attic represents, far and away, their finest moment.

Standout tracks: "Toys In The Attic," "Big Ten Inch Record," and "Sweet Emotion."

Friday, January 9, 2009

January 9: Pearl Jam, "Ten"

Artist: Pearl Jam
Album: Ten
Year: 1991
Label: Epic Associated

If I were to sum up Ten, in one word, it may very well be with the word “perfection.” As far as I am concerned, and some may argue (I can think of 3 people off the top of my head), Pearl Jam has never made a better record. That is not to say their other records are not good, but Ten stands tall above the rest.

Clocking in at just under an hour, Ten has a strange sense of urgency that was overall missing from music of the time. Screaming guitars playing massively catchy melodies combined with dark, yet determined lyrics, Ten gave the world a glimpse at just what was going on in the Seattle music scene.

…and of course, one cannot overlook the now iconic vocal work of Eddie Vedder. Vedder, who unknowingly replaced Jordan Knight and Bret Michaels posters across the country, has a voice that levels every listener the first time they hear him. His voice has the ability to stop you in your tracks with his opera-esque vocal delivery.

The opening quartet of songs on Ten (Once, Even Flow, Alive, Why Go) assault the listener like a heavyweight boxer who just won’t let up. Each song drops in at full speed and force and almost stares back at you to catch up. Walking the line between singing and screaming, Vedder’s vocals are nearly gibberish at some points. Truth be told, nearly all fans of this album have had to find the lyrics to understand just WHAT Eddie was singing.

The albums’ denouement (oh! A college word!), consisting of “Garden,” “Deep," and “Release” gives us a peek at the other side of this now legendary band. Moving to far more complex musical arrangements (while keeping the same dark subject matter), the band creates sonic landscapes that are almost out of place with the sheer “rock” of the albums’ first side.

Though Nirvana's Nevermind, gained far more critical acclaim, after nearly 2 decades of debate, there is very little argument that Ten is NOT the superior album. If you've somehow missed this record, do yourself a favor and go get it!

Standout tracks: "Alive." "Porch," and "Deep."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January 8: Black Sabbath, "Black Sabbath"

Artist: Black Sabbath
Album: Black Sabbath
Year: 1970
Label: Warner Brothers

The name Black Sabbath brings with it preconceived notions of Satan influenced, heavy metal music. The reality is, this is worlds from the truth in both content and sound. While the band may be best known for songs off of their Paranoid album, their self-titled debut may very well be their true tour de force.

Throughout Black Sabbath, the influences of the psychedelic movement can clearly be heard. Extended jams and "free, if not a bit spacey" vibe can be found in each song on the record. However, the mood of the record is overall darker than anything previous. Consider for a moment that a majority of the songs clock in at well over 6 minutes, some nearing 15 minutes...these are not to be written off as "brief" areas for jamming. The record takes the ideas from the psychedelic movement, tosses in a bit of blues, and turns up the volume.

Guitar God Tony Iommi drives the record, mixing powerful riffs alongside masterful soloing. The guitar, bass, and drums provide a perfect canvas onto which Ozzy (before he was doing stupid TV shows) paints his one-of-a-kind vocals. While at the time, the style was labeled as "heavy," it is laughably tame when compared to what is considered "heavy metal" today. Black Sabbath is a rock record, plain and simple...just a bit darker.

The album is so perfectly done that the songs seem to blur together into one 40 minute work of musical genius. If you truly love music, you need to get over the false image of Black Sabbath's music and grab their debut record immediately.

Standout tracks: "Black Sabbath" and "Wasp/Behind The Wall Of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B." and "Wicked World."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January 7: The Rolling Stones, "Let It Bleed"

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Album: Let It Bleed
Year: 1969
Label: ABKCO

Let It Bleed is a record that I was introduced to at a very early age. Not only is it one of the coolest album covers, but it was (and by all popular accounts, remains) my fathers' favorite Stones record.

The album has it all: the driving guitar of "Gimme Shelter," the funky "Let It Bleed," and the now anthemic "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The Stones also pay tribute to the original bluesmen, as they present a stripped down, soulful rendition of Robert Johnson's, "Love In Vain."

The production on the record is excellent and it manages to constrain the band within the studio walls, while at the same time clearly giving them as much latitude as they needed to make a phenomenal recording. The energy from the record leaps out of the speakers and enlivens every listener. There is not a weak moment to be found anywhere on the album and the songs perfectly compliment and contrast one another simultaneously.

The Rolling Stones, a band that seems to find new life in each passing decade, have made a handful of records that will continue to stand the test of time. Standing high atop these masterpieces of musical perfection is Let It Bleed.

Standout tracks: "Midnight Rambler," "Gimme Shelter," and "Let It Bleed."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 6: John Coltrane, "Giant Steps"

Artist: John Coltrane
Album: Giant Steps
Year: 1959
Label: Atlantic

Giant Steps marked John Coltrane's debut with Atlantic records, as well as a turning point in his career. Having quite literally just finished working on Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue (the sessions were less than 3 weeks apart), Coltrane's Giant Steps is where he truly begins to redefine the jazz style.

On all seven tracks found on Giant Steps, Coltrane's structure centers around tightly weaved riffs and patterns while leaving the door open for extended exploration in live environments. His backing band play brilliantly throughout, yet it is clear they understand that they are simply there to support while Coltrane pushes into uncharted territory.

Permanently cementing what are now known as "Coltrane changes" (a term for harmonic progression within a piece of music) as well as showing his final movement from "bebop" to a more modal jazz, Giant Steps is truly a pivotal jazz record.

Nearly every song on Giant Steps has become a "jazz standard" since it's release at the end of 1959. So extraordinary is this album, that, in 2004, the record was chosen as one of the first 50 records to be added into the Library Of Congress' National Recording Registry.

John Coltrane will always stand high above the jazz world, as well as the music world overall. His innovation, courage, and undeniable soul make him a true icon among the great musicans throughout history. While most people looking to discover Coltrane find Blue Train as their introductory album. However, Giant Steps provides a more accurate representation of the man who is called Saint Coltrane.

Standout tracks: Every track! "Mr. P.C." and "Spiral" are personal favorites.

Monday, January 5, 2009

January 5: Wu-Tang Clan, "Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers"

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Album: Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Year: 1993
Label: Loud

Having nine
rappers on the same record and managing to have them all check their egos at the door would be pretty much impossible nowadays. The fact that such a feat was achieved, with brilliant results, is just one of the reasons why the debut album from The Wu-Tang Clan is an essential record for your collection.

Produced by the legendary RZA, the album, at different times, spotlights each and every member of the Wu-Tang Clan. For those of you scoring at home, the original lineup consisited of RZA, GZA, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, and of course, 'Ol Dirty Bastard and Method Man.

The record is filled with tales of the streets of various buroughs of New York City. None of the tracks on the record are done to inflate the ego of the MC's or to even glorifiy the life that they lead. They are dirty, graphic acedotes and can be viewed more as cautionary than anything else. While most "street tales" end up falling into the "gangsta rap" category, the jarring delivery and grittiness of the lyrics set the record aside as the first "hardcore" rap record.

36 Chambers provided a blueprint for later artists on how to properly write, deliver, and produce a "hardcore" rap record. Each MC is given their moment(s) to shine, and there is not a poorly executed rhyme anywhere on the record's 35 minute run. RZA's production are a peek into the work that would make him the most sought after hip-hop producer of the decade.

While some will say that records from RUN-DMC, Dr. Dre, or even Grandmaster Flash were the keys to the rise of hip-hop and rap music, one is kidding themselves if they don't beleive Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers does not belong alongside those other pivotal records

Standout tracks: "Da Mystery Of Chessboxin," "C.R.E.A.M." and "Protect Ya Neck."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

January 4: The Ramones, "Ramones"

Artist: The Ramones
Album: Ramones
Year: 1976
Label: Sire

28 minutes, 14 tracks, 4 friends, 3 chords, 1 legendary album. The self-titled debut record from punk pioneers, The Ramones, loudly marked the true arrival of "punk" music. Simple songs, played with loads of heart at breakneck speed became the trademark of Queens' favorite sons.

Certainly one of the most important bands ever to never achieve commercial success, The Ramones influence still be seen today in music, fashion, as well as many other elements of popular culture. The Ramones represent a true anomaly in the history of music. One truly cannot find another band that had as much impact on the musical landscape, and yet remained a "club" band in the two largest music markets (the US and the UK).

Ramones opens with one of their most well known songs, "Blitzkrieg Bop" and belts out anthem after anthem for the remainder of the record. After hearing or seeing footage of their live shows, one can clearly see just how restrained the bands' sound was on this record. However, the ethos of the Ramones is clearly displayed and would be kept true for nearly 25 years.

Grunge (which was another term form punk), pop punk (crap), and nearly any band since that has played with any sort of angst or gone for the "stripped down" sound owes their livelihood to The Ramones, and more specifically, the album, Ramones.

Standout tracks: "Judy Is A Punk," "I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement," "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

January 3: Johnny Cash, "At Folsom Prison"

Artist: Johnny Cash
Album: At Folsom Prison
Year: 1968
Label: Columbia/Legacy

Four of the most famous words ever spoken lead off At Folsom Prison..."Hello...I'm Johnny Cash." When it comes to legends of music, there is only one badass of the country/western scene, one Man In Black, the one and only, Johnny Cash.

Though they may not admit it, at some point in their career, every male singer wants to be Johnny Cash. Combining bare-bones orchestrations, a bit of witty banter, songs that everyone can relate to, along with his unmistakable baritone vocals, At Folsom Prison truly captures Cash at the top of his game and truly in his element.

After opening appropriately enough with "Folsom Prison Blues," Cash plays a flawless set of nearly an hour, playing his songs which have now become "American standards." Future wife, June Carter (Johnny proposed on stage 5 weeks after the recording) joins the band on stage for a new numbers including a scorching rendition of their Grammy winning song, "Jackson."

Every aspect of Johnny Cash is quite evident throughout the recording. From his ability to write and deliver amazing ballads to his rebellious nature (Cash drops a handful of "four letter words" throughout, which were censored from the original pressing of the record) he shows what it truly means to be an entertainer.

While many people have a stereotype of what country music "is," ANY and EVERY fan of music should know At Folsom Prison through and through as it is arguably the finest live recording ever.

Standout Tracks: "Jackson," "The Legend Of John Henry's Hammer," and "25 Minutes To Go."

Friday, January 2, 2009

January 2: Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, "Ella & Louis"

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Album: Ella & Louis
Year: 1956
Label: Verve

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are music legends in their own rights. Put them in the same studio, and you can be sure that the results will be nothing short of perfection.

Recorded in August of 1956, Ella & Louis would become the first in a series of joint releases from these two musical giants. Combining the smooth, flawless sound of Fitzgerald, with Armstrong's unmistakable, raspy voice, the pairing works brilliantly.

Ella's vocals are simply perfect as always, though she sticks to the traditional arrangements and shows little of her trademark "scat" singing. Louis is in prime form, switching between his baritone vocals and playing short trumpet interludes. The backing band on the record is extremely aware of their role and do the smart thing by hiding in the corner and letting Ella & Louis "do their thing."

All of the songs on the record are of a slower, more downbeat tempo and, while it prevents from either singer really "letting loose," it also provides a clear portrait of just how stupefyingly gifted these two musical icons were.

After listening to Ella & Louis, you'll surely find yourself realizing how "less than talented" a vast majority of singers since truly are.

Standout tracks: "Moonlight In Vermont," "Cheek To Cheek," and "April In Paris."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January 1: The Stooges, "Funhouse"

Artist: The Stooges
Album: Funhouse
Release Date: 1970
Label: Elektra

Perhaps my favorite record in the history of recorded music, The Stooges Funhouse record is an all out assault for just over 80 minutes. The record seamlessly smashes together crushing rock music with the punishing vocal delivery of punk rock's elder statesmen, Iggy Pop.

With minimal production to get in the way, the band nearly jumps through your speakers and into your ears with their fervent musical masterpieces. The rhythm section drives each song with an intensity rarely found anywhere. Ron Ashton's guitar work embodies all that punk and hardcore guitarists aspire to achieve. As for Iggy's vocals...well, there's a reason there is only one Iggy Pop. The raw, untouched feel gives the listener a peek into how enormous the bands' live sound must have been.

Going against the grain of many albums of the time, The Stooges, decided to forgo what has now become the cliche "ballad" that plague most rock records. The album opens with "Down On The Street" and does not let up at all (unless you consider the Morrison-esque "Dirt" to be "down.") With an overwhelming sense of urgency, the mood of the album shifts from angst ridden to sensual, and from aggressive to, putting it simply, fun.

Not a single note or vocal is out of place on Funhouse and, if you've yet to experience the genius/madness of this record, do yourself a favor and remedy that situation as soon as possible!

Standout tracks: ALL OF THEM!! The title track and "1970" are my personal favorites.