Favorite Recordings I Bought in 2013
Hope everybody had a good 2013. Here’s my yearly list. 2014’s a-comin’ – smoke ’em if you got ’em…
9. High Time – MC5 (Originally Released 1971) (CD – Rhino 1992)
Strong third (and final major label) release of the Detroit punk godfathers. I went back to their first album this year, the live classic “Kick Out the Jams,” which sets an impossibly high standard for any band to meet a second time. I started digging around for more, found some good official and unofficial releases of other live shows and studio stuff. But if you only have KOTJ (and if not, you really should) you can go to this record next and you won’t be disappointed.
8. Long Player Late Bloomer – Ron Sexsmith (2011)
I’ve long admired Ron Sexsmith’s singing and songwriting, but his albums feel pretty heavy and sad to me. This, however, is a brilliantly assembled collection of RS tunes produced Bob Rock (Metallica, Motley Crue, The Cult). Rock gets Sexsmith’s voice clear and up front in the mix, and adds a lot of production elements that bring out the best in the songs. Jane and I listened to this one a lot this year.
7. Songs of Forbidden Love – Wandering Eyes (1998)
I’ve been meaning to put this on my year-end list for a few years – I think it’s one of the best artist-produced honky tonk cds you can buy. An album of cheating songs produced by Dave Sanger of Asleep at the Wheel, who also plays spot-on drums on it. Vocalists include Dale Watson, Kelly Willis, Ted Roddy, Chris O’Connell, and Rosie Flores, backed by an all-start Texas band. My favorite track is probably Ted Roddy’s version of “Hell Yes I Cheated,’ but the whole thing is just killer. Here’s a link with more info, and to buy on Amazon: http://www.lazysob.com/wandering.html
6. Another Self-Portrait – Bob Dylan (2013)/Live at the Isle of Wight 1969 – Bob Dylan & the Band (2013)
This is a 4 cd set, but I’m only including 3 of the 4 cds (2 cds of unreleased studio material and outtakes, and the single Live Isle of Wight CD) on my list. (I’m reserving judgment on the remastered version of Dylan’s “Self-Portrait.” – in 20 years, I may think it’s the greatest record ever made, but I doubt it – it still just sounds uneven to me, with a lot of strings and other stuff that get in the way of the songs).
The 2 cds of unreleased tracks are cohesive, and include some superb stuff – the version of “If Not For You” with violin is stunning. The live Isle of Wight cd (some of which was included on the original “Self-Portrait” album”) is the only Dylan show I’ve heard where he sings with his polished, “Nashville Skyline” voice. The Band backs him up in a more restrained, laid-back style than on prior or subsequent tours. I don’t own any Dylan shows that sound like this, and it’s a different, very cool approach to the material.
5. The Allman Bros Band – Self-titled (1969)
Because At Fillmore East is such a seminal record, the first few Allman Brothers studio releases tend to get short shrift. This is their first album, and after spending some time with it this year, this has become one of my desert island records. Easily on of the best studio recordings of a band I’ve ever heard. Only about 33 minutes long, and just 7 tunes (Don’t Want you No More, It’s Not My Cross to Bear, Black Hearted Woman, Trouble No More, Every Hungry Woman, Dreams and Whipping Post).
Though it sounds fine on cd, try listening to it on vinyl, preferably a first pressing (you can get one on ebay for $30 or so). On vinyl, you can hear how intensely powerful and scary this band was in this era. RIP Duane.
4. Tooth and Nail – Billy Bragg (2013)
Instead of playing gigs during SXSW in Austin this year, I went down with Josie and Jane to watch music for a few days. One of the best shows we saw was Billy Bragg solo at Waterloo Records. Been a long-time fan but have never seen him live. He’s got a great sense of humor and stage presence. He played a few things off Tooth and Nail, which was coming out that week, and we bought a copy. It’s a laid-back record that reminds me of Mermaid Avenue (a must-have). “Handyman Blues” and “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” are standouts. There’s also a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home.”
3. Gonna Take a Miracle – Laura Nyro and Labelle (1971)
Prior to this year, I didn’t own any Laura Nyro albums – I only knew other artists’ versions of her tunes (Stoned Soul Picnic, And When I Die, Eli’s Coming, etc). So I bought a few of her early records (Eli’s Coming & the 13th Confession, Live at the Fillmore East, New York Tendaberry) and they’re all top notch. This record has no original tunes – it’s all covers of 60s soul tunes (mostly Motown and Brill Building material) with Labelle, and it is just killer. Great pacing and choice of tunes. Inspires a lot of kitchen dancing…
2. Live in Europe – Rory Gallagher (1972)/Truth (1968), Beck-Ola (1969) – Jeff Beck/Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Berkeley 1970 (released officially in 2012)
Here’s a selection of great guitar music.
I’ve bought a few things by Rory Gallagher in the past, and they’ve been hit and miss for me. I found “Live in Europe” at a sidewalk stand in Hamden: white label promo, beat up cover, mint vinyl, for $2, so I took a chance on it. This is a KILLER record ! Doesn’t matter of you know anything about him or not, like British blues or not – it just rocks from start to finish.
This year I also listened to Truth and Beck-Ola, Jeff Beck’s early albums with Rod Stewart. They have a bunch of great tunes on them, but also some no-so-great tunes, and some of the bonus cuts on the remastered cds don’t fit into the flow of the tracks at all. So I made my own 13 song mix of my favorite tunes from both cds. Here’s my track listing: (1) Beck’s Bolero (2) Shapes of Things (3) Let Me love You (4) All Shook Up (5) Rock My Plimsoul (6) Morning Dew (7) I Ain’t Superstitious (8) Spanish Boots (9) Jailhouse Rock (10) Plynth (Water Down the Drain) (11) The Hangman’s Knee (12) I’ve Been Drinking (13) Rice Pudding. This material had a lot to do with the formation of hard rock and heavy metal, and you may be surprised how hard Rod Stewart can sing. Been playing this A LOT lately.
The Hendrix Miami Pop Festival show was released on cd this month It’s a really good performance, but about a B-quality bootleg sound-wise. If you’re looking for good live Hendrix, check out this 1970 Berkeley show. This probably has the best sound quality of any live Hendrix recording – sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Jimi’s shows varied a lot as far as the song lists, and how he chose to express himself – he hated playing the same thing twice. He’s clearly relaxed and having fun on this gig, and, as always, makes the impossible sound effortless.
These last two multi-album collections are my favorites of the year, tied for No. 1:
The Atlantic Recordings – Percy Sledge (Rhino 4 CD Set, 2010)
Most folks only know Percy Sledge from his classic “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Even if you buy a lot of soul compilations like I do, you rarely see his other recordings anthologized. After watching this year’s Muscle Shoals documentary, which includes a lot of new interview footage with PS, I went to Spotify and listened to his first 4 Atlantic albums, all of which are in this set: When A Man Loves A Woman (1966), Warm And Tender Soul (1966), The Percy Sledge Way (1967), and Take Time To Know Her (1968). They are all really fine records (recorded at Muscle Shoals of course). Even his cover versions of tunes now connected with other well-known singers (Pouring Water on a Drowning Man, Try a Little Tenderness, You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me, to name a few) are exceptional.
This set includes his first 4 Atlantic albums, plus several songs released exclusively overseas, some unreleased material, and tracks from a live 1970 show in South Africa. If you don’t want to lay out the bucks for this set (which will cost you between $55 and $75), you can hunt around Amazon and just get his first 4 Atlantic albums, either on cd or MP3. Highly recommended.
The Mysterious David Allan Coe (includes The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy, Once Upon a Rhyme, Longhaired Redneck, and Rides Again) – David Allan Coe (2013)
DAC and Hank Williams, Jr. have a lot in common – they’re both world-class singers and songwriters, love to sing about themselves, and are at least half nuts (that last one is probably an understatement). As far as the singing about yourself goes, I’m not a big fan. Most of my favorite country singers didn’t make records full of songs telling the listener how great they are, how they hob-knob with legends, how long they’ve been in the business, and other such tedium. DAC has certainly written lots of great songs that aren’t self-absorbed (“Will you lay with me in a field of stone”, “Tennessee Whiskey”), but he’s also written a bunch where he just rolls around in his own smell.
A month or so ago I was at my buddy Travis Kitchens’ house and he was playing a vinyl copy of DAC’s first Columbia release, The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy. It knocked me out, and was way more understated than I expected. This 2 cd release of DAC’s first 4 Columbia albums came out in early December, so I got it right away. These are pretty important records in the history of country music. Apart from how good they are, you can hear DAC’s persona changing from the first two Columbia records – which are more reserved and where (I think) he sings better – to the next two, Longhaired Redneck (“Country DJs knows that I’m an outlaw/They’d never come to see me in this dive…”) and Rides Again (“Willie, Waylon and Me” and “If That Ain’t Country”), where he proudly declares he’s “David Allen Coe from Dallas, Texas” (though he’s really from Akron, Ohio).
I still have mixed feelings about DAC, but listening to these records start to finish gave me an appreciation for him I didn’t have before. Essential recordings for any country fan.
There you have it – my favorites for 2013. Happy holidays !