Favorite CDs I Bought In 2009
Beatles Mono Box aside (I own it but haven’t played it yet), deluxe reissue of The Rolling Stones’ “Get Your Ya-Yas Out” notwithstanding (sound is not really different from the Japanese 24-Bit Remaster, but there’s some video from the ’69 MSG show and a re-print of a review of the lp by the late great Lester Bangs), and with apologies to the new Hank Williams “Revealed” box set (it’s fantastic) and the Bear Family 8-CD Freddie King box set (haven’t bought it yet but I’m sure it’s devastating), here are the cds I bought in 2009 that I like best (regardless of release date).
In no particular order, except for No. 1….
10. Los Lobos Goes Disney – Los Lobos (2009)
On this brand-spanking new cd, one of my favorite bands in the world does serious justice to the House oof Mouse. Spanish version of “Heigh-Ho”; “Not in Nottingham” and “Oo-de-lally” (both written by Roger Miller for Disney’s “Robin Hood” cartoon); a swinging take on “Cruella DeVil”; a surf guitar-style medley of “When you wish upon a Star” & “It’s a Small World,” and a bunch of other cool stuff. Family-friendly & slightly psychotic, just in time for the holidays.
9. Essential Western Swing; The Standard Transcription Recordings -Spade Cooley (2003)
Spade, the self-declared “King of Western Swing,” played a smoother, more highly orchestrated style of that music than Bob Wills. Other than his signature tune “Shame on You,” I was pretty unfamiliar with his music. This year, though, I decided to check it out, so I bought a few SC collections, and this is the best one. Most of these tunes were recorded and released commerically between 1944-55, but these are versions recorded for radio. As with the Bob Wills Tiffany Transcriptions, they seem to have a slightly looser feel than the commerical recordings. All the tunes swing great. There are also some vocals by Spade’s signature vocalist Tex Williams (he of Illinois), who remains highly underrated. If you’ve never been a Spade Cooley fan, this might make you one !
8. Prosperous – Christy Moore (CD ?/ LP – c. 1972)
Check out Christy Moore, generally considered the grand poo-bah of contemporary Irish music. A founding member of Planxty (a major player in the late 60s revival of traditional Irish music), he went on to a major solo career, social and political activism (if you were wondering who Bono’s been copying…), and his current legendary status. Most importantly, he has a warm, gentle baritone voice and a peerless ability to get inside a song.
I bought this recording on cassette on my first trip to Ireland (around 1989), but an Irish guy I worked with the following summer at a restaurant in Ocean City “borrowed” it, shall we say. I finally got it on cd earlier this year. This is CM’s first solo album, named after the village of Prosperous, County Kildare, where it was recorded. Moore wasn’t writing much when he made this album (he went on to write many great songs), so the record is mostly tradiutional tunes, along with a Woody Guthrie tune (The Ludlow Massacre) and Dylan’s “Tribute to Woody.” My favorite is “Spancilhill,” in which the narrator goes back to his hometown in Ireland, visits his old friends, and sees his true love. The last stanza goes “I dreamed as though I kissed her, as in the days of yore/She said “Johnny you’re only joking, as many’s the time before”/ The cock crew in the morning, it crew both loud and shrill/And I woke in California, many miles from Spancilhill.”
7. At Carnegie Hall – Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane (2005)
Coltrane: Story of a Sound – Ben Ratliff
This recording was discovered just a few years ago at the Library of Congress – apparently, no one knew it existed. And it’s a big deal, because Coltrane’s brief stint with Monk was probably the single most important period of Coltrane’s development as a musician – it took him from being another excellent player to one with a musical destiny. On this live recording, you hear Coltrane exercising his newly-discovered, gargantuan potential. And you hear it exclusively (save for a thoughtful, humorous rendition of “Sweet and Lovely”) in the context of Monk compositions, each rife with beauty. The soloing is mesmerizing, and you can sing along with every melody – that’s about the highest compliment I can pay a jazz record.
If you want to learn more about Coltrane’s music, check out Ben Ratliff’s book, a truly inspiring piece of work.
6. The West Coast East Side Sound, Vol. 3 – Various Artists (1999)
This is my favorite volume of a four-volume set comprised of recordings produced by Eddie Davis. In teh 60s he he combined rocknroll and Latino influences in Los Angeles and helped create the “West Coast East Side Sound,” and a ton of great records. Highlights include “Farmer John” by the Premiers, “Sloop Dance” by the Atlantics, “Chinese Checkers” by the Mixtures, and pretty much the whole rest of the CD. Raucous, soulful party music – break out the Cava and guac !
Purchasing info: All four volumes are outofprint, but you can get them new and used from assorted sellers on Amazon. You also might also want to check Daedalus Music at Belvedere Square here in Baltimore – I found Volumes 2, 3, and 4 there about a month ago for $7 each.
5. Walk Through This World With Me: The Complete Musicorp Records, 1965-1971, Vol 1 – George Jones (2009)
A Good Year For the Roses: The Complete Musicorp Records, 1965-1971, Vol 2 – George Jones
George Jones possesses the most amazing range and tone of any country singer, and in every era of his career he was creating masterpieces – not every day, but pretty durn near. Most of the music in these two box sets (9 cds total, about 250 songs) has never been on cd, and the material that made it to previously-issued cds was almost exclusively poor quality – taped from vinyl, or mastered at the wrong speed. This is the era where GJ developed the vocal style – not the high, Hank Williams-influenced style of his early years, but the subtler, more Lefty Frizzell-type baritone – that producer Billy Sherrill later used to mint his most enduring hits, such as “The Grand Tour” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
These box sets include the original versions of “Feelin Single, Seein Double,” “Say it’s Not You,” “Things have Gone to Pieces,” “Beneath Still Waters,” and a number of other GJ classics. You also get his very first duets with Tammy Wynette (which few people have ever heard), and a duet on “Your Angel Stepped out of Heaven” with Johnny Paycheck (when he was still a bass player in the Jones Boys) that’ll make your head spin. And yes, you have to buy both…
4. Land of 1000 Dances (Ace 1999)
Land of 1000 Dances, Vol. 2 (Ace 2002)
2 fun CDs of “dance craze” songs from the golden age of rocknroll. Compiled by Ace, a crack British reissue label. Volume 1 has mostly familiar numbers – The Twist (Chubby Checker), The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), Hanky Panky (Tommy James & The Shondells), Twist and Shout (Isley Brothers), etc. But Ace did a great job of programming the mix, and the remastering is very good, so even the tunes you’ve heard a lot are fun to hear again. Volume 2 has a lot of well-known material as well, but also some surprises – “Bacon Fat” by Andre Williams, “Pop-Eye” by Huey Smith….there’s Ted Cassidy from the Munsters singing “The Lurch.” Top-notch party music !
3. Storms of Life – Randy Travis (CD 2008/LP 1986)
I Just Came home to Count the Memories – John Anderson (CD 2005/LP 1982)
Here’s a pair of 80s country records that still hold up.
“Storms of Life’ shows that, even in the era of poofy hair, acid wash jeans and wrist bandanas, good country songs and singing still existed. This was the first country multi-platium record, with 4 top-ten hits, including one of my all-time favorites, “On the Other Hand.” My cassette copy went by the way side many years ago, so I bought the cd this year, and it sounds just as good now as it did back then. (Spread on a little hair gel and push up your jacket sleeves to set the mood…)
When I was growing up in Cambridge, MD, I knew John Anderson for his hits “Swingin” and “Black Sheep,” but other than that, I never learned much about his music. The title track of this record is a heart-rending little ballad that reminds me of GJ’s “A Good Year for the Roses.” And that, along with the other tunes you’ll find here, comprise one of the best country albums of the 80s. A satisfying listen.
2. Johnny B. Goode: His Complete 50s Chess Recordings – Chuck Berry (2009)
You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-66 – Chuck Berry (2009)
The Definitive Collection: Chuck Berry (2006)
Historians argue over the first rocknroll recording – some of the usual suspects include “Rocket ’88” by Jackie Brenston (w/ Ike Turner’s Rhythm Kings), “That’s Alright Mama” by Elvis Presley, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & the Comets, and a few others from the late 40s/early 50s. There is little argument, however, as to who set the musical ground rules for rocknroll: Chuck Berry. Not only that, but many of the contenders for “first rockroll record” were cover versions of other peoples’ tunes, whereas 50s pop/rock music quickly developed into the idea of a singer/songwriter with an guitar telling stories to teenagers – also Chuck’s territory. Time goes by, the storytellers keep getting younger, electric guitars turn to acoustic, guy duckwalking across the stage turns to pensive guy with facial hair staring at his shoes, but the general model remains the same. And Chuck was the first and – for many of us – remains the best. Certainly the all-time master of the electric three-chord haiku. Witness, for example, the second verse of “Nadine”: “I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back/And started walkin’ toward a coffee colored cadillac/I was pushin’ through the crowd to get to where she’s at/And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat/NADINE, HONEY IS THAT YOU ?”…
The 50s box set includes all the big CB hits – Johnny B. Goode, Reelin’ & Rockin’, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, and many more – on 4 cds. It also includes a lot of alternate takes. I’m not normally one for alternate takes, since you generally don’t want to hear the same tune multiple times. But in the case of Chuck’s music, it’s fascinating stuff.
The 60-66 box set is four more cds, just as good and even more fun, because along with the later Chess hits – You Never Can Tell, Come On (covered by the Stones), Almost Grown – it’s full of great stuff I’ve never heard: originals, covers, instrumentals, and 1963 live show (excellent sound quality). He played blues, pop, country, latin, every style you can think of, and it always came out as Chuck Berry.
These are limited quantity box sets (5000 each) and not cheap. So if you don’t want to spend the bread, check out the above link to the “Definitive Collection,” the best single-disc of CB available.
1. What Have You Done, My Brother ? – Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens (2009)
Electronic Press Kit – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJxf9-hmYIk
Lots of little neo-soul labels have popped up over the last 10-15 years, and number of good rhythm sections have developed in support (like Brookly, NY’s Dap-Kings, who famously back Amy Winehouse on her “Back to Black” recording). But most of the music coming out of these labels is groove-heavy: good singers are few and far between, and you rarely hear memorable songs. That said, there is at least one 2009 soul record wherein the musical planets all align, and this is it.
Lyrically, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens’ debut is a gospel record. Musically, it’s about half gospel (ala late 50s Specialty/Vee-Jay), and half southern soul (ala Stax/Muscle Shoals). There’s a small, no-nonsense band, featuring Cliff Driver’s tasteful, driving organ, and Dap Kings Tommy “TNT” Brenneck (guitar) and Bosco Mann (bass); quality songs (well-chosen covers, and good originals, several written by Mann); and one of the best singers around, Naomi Shelton. Ms. Shelton has an understated, conversational style – wonderful tone, a little grit – and is completely committed to bringing the song to her audience. This record carries on the spirit of great 60s soul music – not just in production and style, but in genuineness, humility and heart. More heart in these grooves than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
A link to her EPK (Electronic Press Kit) is above – it’s essentially a short film about Shelton, the band and the record. Check it out – It’s great !!!