Category: Grade: A

Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years

ARTIST: Corin Tucker Band 220px-Album_cover_for_the_album_1,000_Years_by_Corin_Tucker_Band

TITLE: 1,000 Years

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  #9 Heatseekers, #49 Indie

SINGLES: Doubt

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Seth Lorinczi, Sara Lund. Juliana Bright, Kate O’Brien-Clark, and Douglas Jenkins added support.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Back at it after the Sleater/Kinney hiatus, Tucker wrote and recorded an album that is quieter but just as powerful.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not diving into the vocal yelps except on rare occasions (“Doubt”), toning down the sound, and generally making things a bit more even keeled, Corin Tucker’s first solo album after the hiatus of Sleater/Kinney adds a unique chapter to her musical biography.

There’s still hints of her band’s work, but only hints. “Half a World Away” could definitely be an SK song, but here the arrangement is more controlled and her vocals more restrained, and it works better. Some of the better moments are on the quieter songs, where she’s reflective of her place in the world as a mother and a musician.

This album shows Tucker as more than the punk rocker she was for years. She’s got depth and breadth, and it’s a refreshing look at her as she moves to middle age.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She said that Seth Lorinzi (bass player and producer) really shaped the sounds on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A-: As solid as any Sleater/Kinney record with a maturing outlook.

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

ARTIST: Sia  220px-Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: 1000 Forms of Fear

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Chandelier (#8 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Cry (#103 US, #77 UK), Elastic Heart (#17 US, #10 UK), Fire Meets Gasoline (#193 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Burn the Pages, Cellophane.

LINEUP: Sia and Greg Kurstin. Jessie Shatkin and Nick Valensi helped on a track each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After taking a break (or retiring) from performing because of mental health issues, a surprise hit led her back to the studio after a while and she released her most focused album yet.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After writing “Titanium” with hopes of it landing with Alicia Keys, and finding it released by David Guetta with her demo vocals on it, Sia became more famous than she had been, especially in the US. So having stepped back from recording to write songs, she found herself in the studio again with Greg Kurstin and delivered this set of passionate, bombastic pop songs.

While over the top at times, the production fits Sia’s intent on the tracks, especially on the smash “Chandelier”. Yet the album touches on a lot of subjects and touches on them well. Sia’s songs are personal, and at times heart-rendering, as she was fighting demons upon demons in her life, which led to her original retirement.

The deep cuts, like “Hostage” and “Straight to the Knife”, are where the meat of the album lives. She poured everything into all of the songs, telling a story and not just gunning for hits or radio play. But with her natural ability for hooks and melody, she got them. This is a much better record than her earlier efforts, and improves with multiple listens.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was at this time where Sia decided to cover her face, and let her art speak for herself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, acoustic piano cuts and other mixes.

 GRADE A-: This is a modern pop album that grows on you.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

ARTIST: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings  220px-Dapdip

TITLE: Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

YEAR RELEASED: 2002

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Got a Thing on My Mind, What Have You Done for Me Lately, Make It Good to Me, Got to Be the Way It Is

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It’s a shame you don’t.

LINEUP: Sharon Jones, Bosco Mann, Leon Michels, Jack Zapata, Binky Griptite, Fernando Velez, Earl Maxton, Homer Steinweiss, Anda Szilyagi

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album featuring a powerhouse retro-soul singers and the house bands for the defunct Desco Records burns fire on turntables, CD players, and MP3s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This record is an old-fashioned soul revue, from the introduction from hype-man and guitarist Binky Griptite, to new dances “The Dap Dip”, to scorching covers (Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” done 60’s style), to an absolute burner in “Got a Thing on My Mind”, this debut is absolutely dynamite.

Jones and her band are lock step, tight, and funky. The group, made up of members of the Soul Providers and Mighty Imperials, know their funk and soul inside-and-out, while Jones’ voice is the dream of every soul and R&B fan. She’s a powerful dynamo that demands attention.

Daptone Records (formed by Desco’s Bosco Mann to release this material) started a neo-soul and funk empire with these tasty sides. While it’s a debut, it sounds so well formed and tight that you’d think they’d have been at this for 20 years.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Jones was a prison guard. No, really, she was.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A: It’s smoking hot. My headphones are on fire now.

Big Star – Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)

ARTIST: Big Star Big_Star-3rd

TITLE: Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Jesus Christ, Kizza Me

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: There are a few covers. For You may have been the best known otherwise.

LINEUP: Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens. Lesa Aldridge (Alex’ girlfriend) sings on this, and many Memphis session players are on it somewhere. Maybe. 220px-BigStarThird

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dark, haunting, shambling third album by the seminal band seems to be the sound of breaking apart – mentally, physically, and as a band. 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Probably the most famous ‘lost album besides the Beach Boys’ Smile, Big Star’s Third (also known as Sister Lovers, though that could have been the name of the band, maybe) is a haunting stroll from power pop oddness to absolute bleakness. From the off kilter but fun “Kizza Me” to the haunting and devastating “Holocaust” is just one half of the album, yet it feels so complete.

Listening to this closely (the only way to really hear it), you find production effects and sounds all over. Cellos creeping from the back. Piano played low and soft. Guitars in and out. Mysterious crackles. Time signatures steady or wavering. Vocals either ebullient or tragic. By the end of the first half, the hope seems gone, and Chilton and Jody Stephens are left wandering around in the devastation. “Kanga Roo” begins side two with a totally obtuse lyric, and slowly they pull themselves out of it, somehow, with Stephens’ “For You” being absolutely romantic and lovely.

All through Third, you get the feeling that this was a record that needed to be made, but not necessarily released, though test pressings were done in 1975. A release in 1978 came out, but by then Chilton and Stephens moved on. In 1992, producer Jim Dickson released a version he claimed was the true running order plus bonus tracks. We don’t know, but that 1992 release was clear, clean, and you were able to hear the madness, the gentleness, and the heart and mind of the band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There are so many notes here that I need to direct you to the various articles about the album, and books on Big Star and Alex Chilton. Basically, he purposely self-destructed some tracks to get back at…someone. complete third

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The 1992 Rykodisc release had five bonus cuts (all covers but the bonkers “Downs”) and there’s a box set with pert near every demo and finished take. 

GRADE A+: Not for everyone, but dang it’s compelling.

The Beautiful South – Choke

ARTIST: The Beautiful South         Choke_(The_Beautiful_South_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Choke

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION:  #2 UK

SINGLES: A Little Time (#1 UK), My Book (#43 UK), Let Love Speak Up Itself (#51 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not in the US.

LINEUP: Paul Heaton, Dave Hemingway, Briana Corrigan, Dave Rotheray, Sean Welch, Dave Stead. Gary Barnacle, Kevin Brown, Pete Wingfield, Tony Robinson, and Damon Butcher added horns and keyboards all over the record.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album by the elegant and cynical pop group may have been to clever for regular punters in the UK, but it’s still a fine album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to the first few tracks of their second album, you get the sense that the Beautiful South is coming into their own – not that their first album wasn’t fully formed. But Briana Corrigan is now a full member, and Dave Hemingway’s vocal contributions are more noticeable.

The second track. “My Book”, while not a successful single, was clever and brilliant, sounding like an older pop track with modern embellishment and with clever lyrics that seem to skewer the narrator and society at the same time. Then, for some reason, the ballad “Let Love Speak Up Itself” didn’t hit, either, probably since the lyrics were twisted, which on the heels of “A Little Time”, a ballad Hemingway and Corrigan shine, was a disappointment.

Through the album, though, the production and arrangements are adult sounding and sophisticated, yet playful and inventive. The band wasn’t trying to make singles, it seems, and that was just fine, as the album plays well as a whole.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The video for “A Little Time’ won the 1991 Brit Award.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but the final track (a cover of “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, was left off the first pressings by accident.

GRADE A-: A clever, almost too clever, pop album.

The Dismemberment Plan – The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified

ARTIST: The Dismemberment Plan  220px-TheDismembermentPlanisTerrified

TITLE: The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION:  No

SINGLES: The Ice of Boston

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really

LINEUP: Eric Axelson, Jason Caddell, Joe Easley, Travis Morrison

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from post-punk post-hardcore band adds different color and motifs to their angular, guitar driven sound.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You still have Travis Morrison speak-singing (and doing actual spoken word during “The Ice of Boston). You still have angular guitars like the Gang of Four and Pylon. But this time, the Dismemberment Plan adds some funk, swing, some layered production, and actual singing (and maybe harmonies even) to their mix. The result is a fascinating album that created a big underground buzz.

“The Ice of Boston”, later released by major label Interscope, turned heads in the alternative scene with its wry and bitter observations about a DC transplant living in Boston during New Year’s Eve. Many of their audience could relate – those that moved away from home or college to chase something, and not ending up with it.

Tracks like “One Too Many Blows to the Head”, with is swinging beat, trumpets, and catchy chorus, breaks the group out of their usual motif. Not that the usual wasn’t fine, but the band really has its moments as players here, and thus this is a leap forward. The tracks are also varied, and sequenced so the listener doesn’t get stuck in a rut. All in all, an improvement.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Joe Easley stepped into the drum chair, and the band’s lineup would be solid for the rest of their career.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Japanese tracks, of course.

GRADE A: A true post-punk post-hardcore album (one that emulates the 80’s post-punk and is evolved from DC hardcore), and one of the best DC records of the late 90’s.

Supertramp – Breakfast in America

ARTIST: Supertramp 220px-Supertramp_-_Breakfast_in_America

TITLE: Breakfast in America

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: The Logical Song (#6 US, #7 UK), Breakfast in America (#62 US, #9 UK), Goodbye Stranger (#15 US, #57 UK), Take the Long Way Home (#10 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Gone Hollywood

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After two sub-par albums following their breakthrough (to be covered in the compilation I will cover), Supertramp hit it out of the proverbial park.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Since their breakout in 1974, Supertramp had released two albums that didn’t light the world on fire, critically or commercially. While it wasn’t desperation as it was for Crime of the Century, it was possible that they were going to fade away if they didn’t release another successful record.

Well, consider this a success.

With four singles that are still played on rock stations, and well known by most everyone over 40 (maybe 30?), and deep cuts that are memorable without being ponderous or pretentious (for the most part), Breakfast in America is the album they needed, and probably their all-time legacy in music history.

Three of the four hits were anchored by Roger Hodgson’s falsetto voice, but the instrument that comes to fore is the electric piano of Rick Davies. The two also collaborate on vocals more (even though every song is credited to one or the other solely), making it seem like a true band effort. The rest of the group also add color and chops to the proceeding.

They didn’t throw away their prog tendencies (which does make some cuts linger a bit too long), and after their last two albums this was a welcome comeback to form where hooks and chops co-mingled.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, the record was conceived as a discussion between Hodgson and Davies, but that was scrapped very early on.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live set.

GRADE A: It’s really an enduring album with just a few tracks that seem to linger a bit long, but it wouldn’t be proggy if it didn’t have those, would it?

Rick Springfield – The Best of Rick Springfield

ARTIST: Rick Springfield  71tV4Lm-B1L._SX425_

TITLE: The Best of Rick Springfield

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Jessie’s Girl (#1 US, #10 Mainstream, #43 UK), I’ve Done Everything for You (#8 US), Love Is Alright Tonight (#20 US, #40 Mainstream), Don’t Talk to Strangers (#2 US, #11 Mainstream), Affair of the Heart (#9 US, #23 Mainstream), Human Touch (#18 US, #23 UK, #34 Mainstream), Love Somebody (#5 US, #95 UK, #13 Mainstream), Bop ‘Til You Drop (#20 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: What Kind of Fool Am I

LINEUP: Rick Springfield. Mike Baird drummed on almost all of this, but he used a lot of session musicians galore on these records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Teen idol turned soap actor turned power popper turned pop rock schlock meister turned fond memory. This focuses on the power popper that turned to schlock. It was a fun ride.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first three singles on this collection (“Jessie’s Girl, “Love Is All Right Tonight”, “I’ve Done Everything for You”) were all over the radio and MTV in the early 80’s. For good reason, too, as they fit on new wave, power pop, rock, and Top 40 formats. From there, he was a force in the early 80’s – releasing hits like clockwork. Aside from “I’ve Done Everything for You” (a Sammy Hagar joint believe it or not), Springfield wrote or co-wrote everything here, which showed he had an ear for hooks and melody.

What happened to him was typical of the 80’s. As time went on, he moved towards updating his sound from power pop / new wave towards electronics and new romantic sounds which sometimes clashed with his melodies and pop sense. His songs became busy and sounded forced and extended themselves past their sell date (you don’t need seven minutes of “Human Touch”).

This collection covers his glory years up until 1988, and is probably the best bet of avoiding filler and remembering glorious days on the roller rink. Though the electronic noise on tracks like “Bop ‘Til You Drop” may make you wonder why the mid-80’s existed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had a teen idol career in Australia (barely in the US), that resulted in “Speak to the Sky” here (#14 US). His song “Bruce” (#26) was originally released in 1980, re-released outside of his control in 1984 (and is not on here thank God) and coincided with his decline. There may be a correlation.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. But there are several other compilations depending on how deep or shallow you want to go on Mr. Springfield. I thought this was the best one to grab his high points though it missed radio hit “Calling All Girls” (#4 Mainstream).

GRADE B: Springfield has some impressive tunes, and some tunes that are just good for nostalgia. There’s a couple of groaners here that you can avoid as well. Depends on your love of schlock there.

Gloria Estefan – The Essential Gloria Estefan

ARTIST: Gloria Estefan 220px-Gloria_Estefan_The_Essential_Gloria_Estefan

TITLE: The Essential Gloria Estefan

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: With Miami Sound Machine: Dr. Beat (#17 Dance, #6 UK), Conga (#10 US, #7 Dance, #79 UK), Bad Boy (#8 US, #10 Dance, #16 UK), Words Get in the Way (#5 US), Falling in Love (Uh-Oh) (#25 US, #89 UK), Solo Top 20: Can’t Stay Away from You (#6 US, #7 UK), Anything for You (#1 US, #10 UK), 1-2-3 (#3 US, #9 UK), Don’t Want to Lose You (#1 US, #6 UK), Get on Your Feet (#11 US, #20 Dance, #23 UK), Here We Are (#6 US, 23 UK), Oye Mi Canto (#48 US, #16 UK), Cuts Both Ways (#44 US, #17 UK), Coming Out of the Dark (#1 US, #25 UK). Go Away (#103 US, #13 UK), Turn the Beat Around (#13 US, #21 UK), Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me (#11 UK), Everlasting Love (#27 US, #19 UK), Reach (#42 US, #15 UK), You’ll Be Mine (Party Time) (#70 US, #18 UK), Heaven’s What I Feel (#27 US, #17 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe so? She has some of her Spanish language hits here.

LINEUP: Gloria Estefan, and whatever incarnation of the Miami Sound Machine was on those records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the first Latin crossover artists that made a long-lasting impact in the US and abroad has a compilation stacked with her festive hits and romantic ballads.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ever since the Miami Sound Machine made the move to English-language records (after seven Spanish language albums), Gloria Estefan, her husband Emilio, and the band have been a force in European, Latin, and American markets. And while it could be said that the music is formulaic, it is also joyous and memorable.

From 1984 to 1998, Estefan and / or the group had hits in the US or the UK, and still held sway over the Latin charts when she recorded in Spanish. Combining Cuban and Latin American rhythms and flourishes with modern synthesizers and drum machines made their sound unique in the pop markets. The arrangements may be bold and big, but they usually don’t overpower the song or her voice.

This is a large collection, and there’s some stuff that isn’t up my alley, and probably not up yours either. But she deserves a lot more credit than she gets sometimes for being a force in pop and dance music for so many years.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She survived a huge bus / semi crash in 1990 and was touring ten months later.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. There are other comps but this is the most comprehensive.

 GRADE A-: You don’t really think about how long she was on top of the game until you start listening to these tracks back to back to back.

Chuck Berry – The Chess Box

ARTIST: Chuck Berry  220px-The_Chess_Box_(Chuck_Berry_box_set)_cover_art

TITLE: The Chess Box

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Maybelline (#5 US, #1 R&B), Wee Wee Hours (#10 R&B), Thirty Days (#2 R&B), No Money Down (#8 R&B), Roll Over Beethoven (#29 US, #2 R&B), Too Much Monkey Business (#4 R&B), School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell) (#5 US, #1 R&B, #24 UK), Rock and Roll Music (#8 US, #6 R&B), Sweet Little Sixteen (#2 US, #1 R&B, #16 UK), Johnny B. Goode (#8 US, #2 R&B), Carol (#18 US, #9 R&B), Almost Grown (#32 US, #3 R&B), No Particular Place to Go (#10 US, #10 R&B, #3 UK), My Ding-A-Ling (#1 US, #42 R&B, #1 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: How many don’t you know?

LINEUP: Chuck Berry. His early band had Johnnie Johnson, Willie Dixon, and Fred Below, but there so many others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: It’s Chuck Berry. C’mon, man.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: His impact is short-changed by the charts, but running down the tracks in this collection is staggering as to what he wrote, and what he performed. Even if you don’t like a couple of tracks, there are many many others you’ll know.

He wrote about a lot of every day problems, and always tinged with his status as someone who was poor and a minority in Middle America.

There are 71 tracks here, from his great beginning, to some of his best later stuff (like “Tulane”), and yes, “My Ding-a-Ling” which should be excised from human existence. But that should not dissuade you. Just delete it from your collection and move forward.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had some legal issues, tax issues, and some…other issues. He’s not in the HOF of best-ever people.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. Chess did a good job here.

GRADE A+: It’s Chuck Berry.