Category: Grade: A

The Louvin Brothers – Satan Is Real

ARTIST: The Louvin Brothers        220px-satan_is_real (1)

TITLE: Satan Is Real

YEAR RELEASED: 1959

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: River of Jordan

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Christian Life, The Kneeling Drunkard’s Play

LINEUP: Ira Louvin, Charlie Louvin, George McCormick, Jimmy Capps, Paul Yandell, Ray Edention, Marvin Hughes, Lighnin’ Chance, Buddy Harman

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The gold standard of country-gospel close harmony.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Hey, many of us listen to music where the artist professes things that are against our personal beliefs. (Yeah, I listen to some OLDER Ted Nugent, for instance, when he was just an idiot who hunted and screwed groupies – and that’s different than the R. Kelly stuff in so many ways.) So don’t dismiss this record or the Louvin Brothers because this is all Fire and Brimstone.

Also, a lot of people have rated this highly – it was the hip thing to do for a while. Mainly due to Ira’s wreck of a life and the cover did it get attention.

Love it for what it is. A perfectly arranged and sung album and a concept album. Follow God, don’t drink, stay true, or you will meet Satan. Of course, Ira Louvin wasn’t quite all about that, but I think he really really believed in the material. You can tell there is a passion and conviction in the performances and the songs.

Just listen to the soaring voices in the chorus of “I’m Ready to Go Home”, which is a deep cut. That’s enough for me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was recoreded in 1958 as part of sessions to record two Louvin Brothers. They took seven days to do 20 tracks.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A+: I know it’s the thing to do, rate this an A+. But it deserves it.

The Thermals – Fuckin A

ARTIST: The Thermals                  220px-the_thermals_-_fuckin_a

TITLE: Fuckin A

YEAR RELEASED: 2004

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: How We Know

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Um..doubtful

LINEUP: Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, Jordan Hudson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Thermals move into being a real band, and their fury lit up the Pacific Northwest.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s hard to believe that Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster were folkies before the Thermals, but they were. Now that Harris, Foster, and Jordan Hudson became the Thermals after Harris recoded and album under that name, there’s no ‘folk’ here, unless it’s the punk rock for the people as the new ‘folk’.

Harris’ guitar screams and howls, much like his vocals on many tracks. Foster’s bass is in the Laura Balance mode, distortion and volume and working in lockstep with drums. There’s definitely passion and fire here.

It’s under 30 minutes long, but it doesn’t seem like a rip-off. Harris’ vocals and lyrics point to the anger the youth felt about the world in the mid-2000’s. A leap forward and worthy of your catalog.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was recorded in four days, in a studio (unlike their debut)

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: The Thermals were a hidden gem of the 2000’s, and this record truly started them toward toward their glory days.

Michael Chapman – Rainmaker

ARTIST: Michael Chapman            mi0003306936

TITLE: Rainmaker

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: It Didn’t Work Out

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, sadly, no.

LINEUP: Michael Chapman, Clem Clempson, Richie Dharma, Alex Dmochowski, Aynsley Dunbar, Rick Kemp, Norman Hayes, Barry Morgan, Danny Thompson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An album that found a home in the UK folk revival and with the progressive movement, but straddling those two idioms left it and him a cult artist.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Many tracks on this debut from Michael Chapman are acoustic guitar solos, but don’t let that fool you into thinking those are mellow or this is a record for acoustic guitar junkies. Chapman lets out a fury on his acoustic 6-and-12 strings where they’re not just mellow asides; they’re full on statements.

He’s also at home creating electric songs as well. The opener “It Didn’t Work Out” definitely could have been an FM radio hit had it been released here in the US, and his straddling of both electric and acoustic worlds helped him book shows in both the folk and progressive scenes. His voice, a moody baritone, fits his material, and his lyrics show inventiveness as well.

Chapman, and this album, are one reason I started this project. I had no idea this gentleman existed, and now, this is on one of my lists as an almost essential album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He was an art photography teacher before his recording career.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some single mixes and alternates.

 GRADE A+: One of the gems I’ve found doing this project.

Tom Rush – The Circle Game

ARTIST: Tom Rush                        220px-tom_rush_circle

TITLE: The Circle Game

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #68

SINGLES: No Regrets, Something in the Way She Moves

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: He covers three Joni Mitchell songs you may know.

LINEUP: Tom Rush and session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Rush, no slouch as a songwriter, uses songs from others (for the most part) to construct a concept album about a relationship.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Tom Rush had a great ear for his fellow singer-songwriters, and plucked tunes from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, among others (mind you, those songwriters were still unknown to the general public) and constructed a song-cycle about a relationship from beginning to end.

Moving from the highs of the beginning of a romance, to the end of the road, then following with a somber instrumental, then with his tour-de-force self-penned “No Regrets”, Rush used the songs from his compatriots to build the concept.

His rich baritone and knack for arrangements and instrumentation and production from Arthur Gorson made this one of the go-to singer-songwriter albums for the folk fans and the more mellow counter-culture.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Linda Eastman (soon to be McCartney) took the iconic cover photograph.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few alternate takes.

 GRADE A: It may seem a bit dated now, but it’s still an elegant song-cycle and “No Regrets” is an all-timer.

The Cars – The Cars

ARTIST: The Cars                      220px-the_cars_-_the_cars

TITLE: The Cars

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION: #18 US, #29 UK

SINGLES: Just What I Needed (#27 US, #17 UK), My Best Friends Girl (#35 US, #3 UK), Good Times Roll (#41 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bye Bye Love. Moving In Stereo

LINEUP: Ric Ocasek, Ben Orr, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, David Robinson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perfect pop-new wave with an experimental touch, brilliant harmonies, and Elliot Easton’s fantastic guitar solos.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Today, there’s not a cut on this record that doesn’t bring a smile to my face. Even the ‘weird’ ones like “Moving in Stereo” do that. Is it nostalgia for high school, or a damn good album.

Maybe a little column A, and a little column B, but man, objectively, it’s one of the best examples of new wave that aimed for the pop chart, rock radio, and still kept its edge.

Featuring two lead singers, the conventional Ben Orr, and the oddly angular Ric Ocasek, the Cars planted themselves in several camps at once. For synth fans, they experimented with textures and fills. For guitar heroes, the fills and solos were top notch. But most of all, the songs (written by Ocasek) were top notch. Without the songs, this would be a curio.

If you question this rating, listen to Side 2 with an open ear. The deep cuts cement this record’s brilliance.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This quintet were in myriad bands before: David Robinson was in the Modern Lovers, many were in a band called Cap’n Swing and some toiled in Richard and the Rabbits.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some demos and outtakes, and the demos show the songs fully formed, albiet without the sheen and polish of Roy Thomas Baker’s production.

 GRADE A+: I can’t say anymore about this without devolving into a fanboy.

Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

ARTIST: Beastie Boys                   220px-BeastieBoysPaul'sBoutique

TITLE: Paul’s Boutique

YEAR RELEASED: 1989

CHART ACTION: #14 US, #24 R&B, #44 UK

SINGLES: Hey Ladies (#36 US, #18 Alternative, #76 UK), Shadrach

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Shake Your Rump, Egg Man

LINEUP: Mike D, Ad-Rock, MCA, Mario Caldato, the Dust Brothers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An incredible tour-de-force of rhymes, beats, and samples. Loads and loads of samples. Perfect.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s still juvenile snotty humor, extolling drugs, ladies, and partying. But, but, this is not the party album that Licensed to Ill was. It’s it’s own thing.

And it’s a good thing.

The production by the Dust Brothers incorporates a great deal of deep, deep samples – mostly from the results of crate digging for funk and soul records of the 60’s and 70’s. The rhymes move somewhat away from the party and are full of obscure references (Harthrone Wingo, FTW!), and the beats by Mario Caldato are spot on. The transitions between tracks are spot on, too, and it’s a looped album (the ending notes and the beginning notes are the same).

Then there’s “B-Boy Boulliabase” – nine snippets of tracks of different styles all sewn together expertly, and it’s 15 minutes well spent.

It’s not a stretch to say that this album is one of the top 5 hip-hop albums of all time and its influence resonates today.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mike D. bought the music and rights from the Dust Brothers and they were put on the project to create this. Also, check out https://paulsboutique.info/.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two in Japan.

 GRADE A+: Ask for Janice.

Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde

ARTIST: Bob Dylan                          220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde

TITLE: Blonde on Blonde

YEAR RELEASED: 1966

CHART ACTION: #9 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) (#119 US, #33 UK), Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (#2 US, #7 UK), I Want You (#20 US, #16 UK), Just Like a Woman (#33 US), Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat (#81)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, Visions of Johanna

LINEUP: Bob Dylan, Kenny Buttry, Jerry Kennedy, Al Kooper, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Pig Robbins, Robbie Robertson, Henry Strzelecki, Joe South, Wayne Butler, Rick Danko, Bobby Gregg, Paul Griffin, Bill Lee.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the first double albums  – it defines what a double album should be.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If the album had “Visions of Johanna”, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, and a side of backwards Chipmunks songs, it’d be an “A” just for those two songs.

If the album had “Just Like a Woman”, “Stuck Inside of Mobile…”, “One of Us Must Know”, and “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, and the other side was Slim Whitman yodeling the Beatles, it’d be an “A’ for the first side.

Add to that “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and the other singles, and side three’s hidden gems, you got an A+. Any questions?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One of the best songs during these sessions (in either NYC or Nashville) was “She’s Your Lover Now”, but it broke down after 21 takes and was never finished.

As important of an artist that Dylan was, the sessions sheets and release dates have been in doubt for years, even among those who research Dylan every day. It’s like he showed up and played and people who were supposed to write stuff down weren’t doing that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: A contender for a Top 5 album of all time.

Billy Bragg – Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

ARTIST: Billy Bragg                    220px-Life's_a_riot

TITLE: Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #30 UK

SINGLES: It’s kind of an EP in length, though it made the LP charts in the UK.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Milkman of Human Kindness, A New England

LINEUP: Billy Bragg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First seven song collection from Billy Bragg, alone with his guitar and voice.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Billy Bragg had a failed career as a punk rocker in Riff Raff, and dropped out of the British Army, before busking around London and playing small concerts with just him and his electric guitar. He alternated love songs and political rants and grew a fan base. After some intrigue behind the scenes, this became a hit in the UK.

These seven songs don’t lack for a lack of instrumentation. Bragg’s guitar and voice make up for that in passion and heart. The songs are fully formed – at times sentimental – at times angry. He’s a pure heart in the music business and it shows here, and his lyrical game was on point from the beginning.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was mastered at 45 RPM, and John Peel first played a track at the wrong speed. Oops.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, outtakes and demos that double the length.

 GRADE A-: Two of the tracks are all timers, and the rest aren’t that bad, once you get used to the solo guitar and voice.

Roxy Music – Country Life

ARTIST: Roxy Music                             220px-Roxy_Music-Country_Life

TITLE: Country Life

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #37 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: The Thrill of It All, All I Want Is You (#12 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Out of the Blue, Prairie Rose, Bitter-Sweet, Casanova

LINEUP: Bryan Ferry, John Gustafson, Eddie Jobson, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The record that Roxy Music was building up to since they formed.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This record has everything: energy, elegance, sophistication, dirty-sounding guitar, sex, Germans, alienation, and Bryan Ferry’s quintessential detached observational vocals and lyrics.

The players are all on top of their game, with Phil Manzanera’s guitar shining, Eddie Jobson’s violin and keyboards adding distinct color and flavor, and Paul Thompson’s solid and intricate drumming. Ferry even adds harmonica (!).

Not only was this their first Top 40 hit in the US, it set up for Roxy Music to have some imprint on the singles chart the next year. The drive of “All I Want Is You” and “Casanova”, the chaos of “The Thrill of It All”, the German oom-pahs of “Bitter Sweet”, and my personal favorite Roxy song of all time “Out of the Blue”, featuring Andy Mackay on oboe, Thompson and John Gustafson’s rhythm section work, Manzanera’s dirty guitar during the chorus, and great production by Chris Thomas with the flange.

This is hot and cool at the same time. The album cuts and the singles all co-exist into one outstanding package.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Several countries censored the album cover. Sigh.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: The pinnacle of art-rock.

Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters

ARTIST:Foo Fighters                    220px-FooFighters-FooFighters

TITLE: Foo Fighters

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: #23 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: This Is A Call (#2 Alternative, #6 Mainstream, #5 UK), I’ll Stick Around (#8 Alternative, #12 Mainstream, #18 UK), For All the Cows (#28 UK), Big Me (#3 Alternatie, #18 Mainstream, #19 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Alone + Easy Target.

LINEUP: Dave Grohl. Period. Except for a guitar solo by Greg Dulli.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A grief stricken Dave Grohl mourns Kurt Cobain by making his own record. It became a surprise hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Punk fans knew Dave Grohl as the drummer for Scream. Fans everywhere knew Grohl as the drummer and sometimes backing vocalist for Nirvana. But no one expected Grohl to become a successful solo artist. But here we are.

Some of these songs had been simmering in Grohl’s notebooks for years, and a cassette called Pocketwatch came out with some of his demos, but no one except insiders knew what Grohl was capable of or up to until this demo was shopped around under the name Foo Fighters and he signed.

Yes, this is a demo with Grohl playing and singing all of the material except for Greg Dulli’s solo on “X-Static”. After Grohl was signed, the demos were re-mixed (but not re-recorded), released, and it became a huge hit. The Foo Fighters were born.

The songs and performances are all strong, as Grohl was channeling his grief over Cobain’s death into a cathartic session. It’s not as punkish as Nirvana, definitely not like Scream. The weakest part are Grohl’s vocals, mostly because he was unsure of himself. But almost all of the tracks, including deep cuts like “Floaty” are strong and boded well for Grohl and the Foo Fighters career.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The songs were recorded in the order that appeared on the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A: This, this is a lot better than I remember. Highly recommended.