I’m always listening to music. I need it as much as the air that I breathe and the water that I drink. It’s my life. At work, at home, and even when I travel I always have some tunes playing. I’m an album sort of guy, so I prefer listening to entire CDs or albums all the way through. Here are the musical friends that kept me company during my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur:
Steely Dan – Countdown To Ecstasy
Another from a very long line of Becker and Fagen masterpieces in the 1970s. Pick any song off this album. They are all gems! Pure songwriting genius, not to mention masterful musicians.
Maceo and All the King’s Men – Doing Their Own Thing
This, of course, is James Brown sidekick Maceo Parker blowing his horn and having a blast with a different bunch of musicians, Funky as expected, but also flourishes of jazz and some sweet soul. A real treat.
Gene Clark – Two Sides to Every Story
The ex-Byrds member released MANY fine solo albums during his short but brilliant career, and this relatively unsung effort from 1977 is among his very finest. Let the power of these songs move your soul.
Various Artists – Quiet About It: A Tribute to Jesse Winchester
Yet another singer-songwriter who should have been MUCH better known, Jesse Winchester mostly plied his craft from the 1970s through the early 2000s (after a Vietnam War-era hiatus in Canada), releasing several fine albums, the songs from which were covered by many other artists over the years. This “tribute” album, compiled when he was very ill, features a stellar cast of musicians including James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Allen Toussaint, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, and more. Great songs and great performances.
Puss N Boots – No Fools, No Fun
This is Nora Jones, shedding her jazzy ways, joining two other talented female musicians and rocking away full throttle, with some lovely pop and folk garnishes. Covers of songs by the Band, Wilco, Neil Young, and more cool tunes, combined with fine originals written by band member Catherine Popper. What a pleasant surprise!
Bruce Hornsby – Here Comes the Noisemakers
This 2-CD set comprises performances from tours between 1998 and 2000. If you thought Hornsby was some sort of one-hit wonder (“The Way It Is”) think again; this set showcased his piano chops, songwriting skills, deft cover choices, and a crack band. Musical brilliance.
Various Artists – Largo
A very unlikely combination of artists makes for a thoroughly wonderful album, sort of “tribute” to composer Antonin Dvorak without the bombastic classical bits. Start off with the blues legend Taj Mahal, add Levon Helm from the Band, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Osborne (who sings the stunning “”An Uncommon Love”), rock vet Willie Nile, members of the Irish legends the Chieftains, some guys from 80s hitmakers The Hooters, and a dash of Carole King. Simply an outstanding album that defies categorization. I wish more people had heard this album.
David Crosby – Sky Trails
Another ex-Byrds member, and more famously a founder of Crosby, Still & Nash, has been a real roll with a string of very strong solo albums this decade. On this one it sounds like he’s been listening to Joni Mitchell and Steely Day. And that’s a good thing!
Pink Floyd – Animals
What more can you say? Another rock classic from the 1970s. Pigs on the Wing!
Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow
One of those old chestnuts that still sounds great after all these years. Her debut album from 1974 had the hit “Poetry Man” but also plenty of other cool songs with a pop, jazz and soul flavor.
Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
I hesitate to call this is a super-group, mainly because you’ve probably never heard of the other bands these guys are from but rest assured this is a wonderful lineup of very gifted singers and musicians. It features Danny Wilson from Danny and the Champions of the World (who have recorded a number of fine albums), Tony Poole from Starry Eyed and Laughing, as well as Robin Bennett who has played with Saint Etienne and the Dreaming Spires. The result is sheer pop brilliance with a laid back ‘70s vibe. A review in Mojo Magazine raved that their music “is rooted in late-60s country psyche, their heart in the LA canyons, and their talent somewhere in Americana nirvana.” And yet they hail from the UK. You can hear the influence of bands like the Byrds and CSN. Addictive stuff!
Poco – Head Over Heels
This influential country-rock group put out a lot of fine albums over the years. Even after losing one of their original members they carried and on and recorded this wonderful album in 1975. Chock full of one great song after another. It’s my favorite Poco album of all time.
Jackie Leven – Elegy for Johnny Cash
Ah, the voice of an angel! The ex-Doll By Doll singer put out a ton of fine solo albums over the past 20 years and never got the proper acclaim he deserved. This was another keeper, full of intelligent, soulful pleasantl subtle rock tunes. Hey, even Ian Rankin was a big fan!
Tasmin Archer – Great Expectations
One of the great unheralded voices from the 1990s. Great soulful pop songs propelled by that powerful voice. Should have been a monster hit.
Various Artists – Me, Myself & Irene (music from the motion picture)
Take a silly Jim Carrey movie but pump up the volume with some ultra-cool music — mostly covers of classic Steely Dan songs — and you end up with one winner of a soundtrack. The covers of Steely Dan songs by the likes of Wilco, Ivy, Ben Folds Five, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra are nothing less than joyous, plus original material by Pete Yorn, Hootie the Blowfish, and even the Foo Fighters are also top notch.
Bo Deans – Joe Dirt Car
A very energetic and fun double live album by one of the more underrated “alternative” bands from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Listen to the audience feedback and it’s obvious that their fans adored them.
Lyle Lovett – Step Inside This House
This 2-CD set is Lovett’s tribute to the songs from other great Texas singer-songwriters of the past 40 years He covers songs by familiar names such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Michael Martin Murphey, plus more obscure guys like Steve Fromholz, Willis Allen Ramsey, and Robert Earl Keen. Lovely, lovely stuff.
Blue Rodeo – The Things We Left Behind
Yet another double album, this one by the veteran but underrated Canadian band. They do “Americana” in the vein of the Jayhawks; catchy songs with stirring harmonies. Always a good thing.
Deacon Blue – Ooh Las Vegas
Once again, a 2-CD set, this one comprised of covers, B-sides, soundtrack songs, and other rarities that the excellent Scottish band recorded during the 1980s and 1990s. If you liked Raintown or any of their other fine albums, don’t miss this goldmine of rare tunes too. Soulful pop and songs that stick in your head.
Josh Rouse – Under Cold Blue Stars
Maybe not his very best album (I still have a soft spot for Dressed Up Like Nebraska) but still a very solid and enjoyable set of songs. Rouse is one of the better but lesser known American singer-songwriters to appear in the past 20 years and you can’t go wrong with any of early albums including this fine set of pop majesty from 2002.