Easy Does it (1970) by Al Kooper

Categories: 1970 and Music.

By the time Kooper released this double album in 1970 he had put out 6 albums (including this one) in something like 2 years. Yes, two of those were partially improvised, but Kooper was the prime creative force of all of them. So it should come as no surprise that this record feels like it doesn’t have enough content for its length. Some of the covers are good (and sometimes they are quite idiosyncratic) but Kooper’s songs themselves are not great. He’s pulled back on his artsiness on this record but he doesn’t have enough good songs and just seems Read More

Hotel California (1976) by Eagles

Categories: 2016 and Music.

Who is this record for? Clearly, it’s for a lot of people, as it sound somewhere between 20 and 30 million copies. But listening to it, I don’t know who it’s for. The rock tracks feel like they appeal to one group of people, and the sappy, over-produced soft rock ballads to another group. It’s amazing that this record, of all records, has become this successful. Read More

Tupelo Honey (1971) by Van Morrison

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Before I heard Astral Weeks, I had an idea of Van Morrison and what he sounded like (without listening to him). And this album is what I was thinking of. I’d never heard it, but it’s pretty much what I expected from Astral Weeks. I guess that’s why this one is disappointing. “Pleasant” gets thrown around a lot with this record and that’s what I think of while I listen to this. It sounds like someone who is pretty happy and that’s fine, but his earlier records are so cool that this feels like someone resting on their laurels – Read More

Still Feel Gone (1991) by Uncle Tupelo

Categories: 1991 and Music.

Before Uncle Tupelo, I feel like alt country (such as it was) was so much cleaner. Despite the ostensible punk influence on the genre, the alt country records I’ve heard from the last 80s are all pretty much straight up country rock. There’s more of an edge here, even if it isn’t much of one compared to some later alt country bands. It’s a strong set of songs and one reason I prefer these guys to Son Volt is because I like the two competing songwriters, I think it made them better. 8/10 Read More

Bella Donna (1981) by Stevie Nicks

Categories: 1981 and Music.

I prefer Nicks’ songs to many of her bandmates’. But I still don’t absolutely love her songs (there are a few I really like, but not a ton). The advantage she has over a lot of her contemporaries (at least on this record) is that she and her producer have not yet realized it’s the ’80s. The result is that the sound of this album hasn’t dated like so much ’80s soft rock and pop and that makes it a lot more likable than some contemporary mainstream music. But this is still not music I’ve ever going to return to. Read More

King of America (1986) by The Costello Show featuring the Attractions and Confederates

Categories: 1986 and Music.

Costello embraces American roots music and it mostly works. Costello’s songs are strong (though the cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is entirely unnecessary) – stronger, in fact, than most of the bands embracing roots at the same time. But the album is hampered a bit by the ’80s production which occasionally intrudes (and which is in direct contrast to his performance at times). And, much like U2 (though, needless to say, this sounds nothing like U2), Costello’s embrace of American roots music feels a little bit like a suit of clothes he’s put on. That being said, it’s Read More

Crazy Hose (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Depending on how you count, this is either Crazy Horse’s debut, their second album or their third album: there’s The Rockets album from 1968 and there’s their first collaboration with Neil Young from 1969. I haven’t heard The Rockets’ album, but the Neil Young album is one of my absolute favourites. There are two things missing from this record: Neil Young the songwriter (present on only two songs) and Neil Young the guitarist (entirely absent). The band has compensated by featuring Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and others. (I had no idea that Crazy Horse wasn’t a trio when it was Read More

Dragging Wonder Lake (2003) by Janet Bean and the Concertina Wire

Categories: 2003 and Music.

The debut solo (and only?) album by the drummer/occasional songwriter of Eleventh Dream Day is better than I ever would have imagined. This is a really solid set of songs (including two good cover choices) draped in a classic Americana/country rock sound (shockingly produced by the leader of Tortoise?!?!). Though the covers maybe reveal Bean as not quite on the same level as Neil Young or Randy Newman, I am quite impressed by her writing, as I was never 100% sold on her songs in Eleventh Dream Day (as compared to Rizzo’s songs, or their collaborations). And the music works Read More

Emotional Rescue (1980) by the Rolling Stones

Categories: 1980 and Music.

I don’t know what to do with my first impressions.I’ve learned to distrust them. I give every album I review a minimum of three listens in order to defeat my initial prejudice. I adopted this approach, I think, because I wanted to be fair, but also because sometimes my initial impression did not jive with a review I read or a recommendation I received. And it’s served me well, mostly. I would have never become a prog rock fan without the method, and that means I probably wouldn’t have found my way to jazz and much of the other esoteric Read More

Tonight’s the Night (1973, 1975) by Neil Young

Categories: 1975 and Music.

Neil Young was a star for the first time in 1973. And yet even though he was star, and he was expected to pump out further “Heart of Gold” style hits, his life was a mess. Whether or not he may acknowledge it now, he had drug issues. And within a rather short span of time, the rhythm guitarist for one of his bands died, and then a roadie died, both of heroin overdoses. And he was expected to keep playing “Heart of Gold” and writing more stuff like it. Instead he made this record. I can’t remember why it Read More

Workingman’s Dead (1970) by the Grateful Dead

Categories: 1970 and Music.

If you had been aware of the Dead in Spring 1970 but you didn’t live in San Francisco, you would have no way of knowing the band was birthed by a folk band in the mid ’60s. If you caught them live, you would have been familiar with how they were the first ever jam band (though the name may not have existed yet) or if you listened to their albums, you would think they were by far the weirdest psychedelic band to emerge from San Francisco (unless you only heard their debut). You certainly wouldn’t have guess they had Read More

All is Not Lost (2011) by Cody Allen

Categories: 2011 and Music.

On the first track, at least, Allen seems to be going for some kind of slightly more country, slightly more commercial version of Elliott Brood’s take on alt country (horribly named, by them, “death country”), with a little less energy. (Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?) And the album proceeds like that, where you can tick off various bands the tracks seem to aspire to. (Though some of the other tracks are less rootsy, and only sound rootsy because they are played by acoustic instruments.) Allen’s voice has been labelled “distinctive” by the Canadian music press, but it isn’t any more gravelly Read More

Mendocino (1999 Compilation) by Sir Douglas Quintet

Categories: 1999 and Music.

Throughout the history of recorded music, there have always been these silly little labels who try to profit off loopholes in music contract regulations, by releasing records or compilations of music that is somehow exempt from copyright protection. This is one of those releases. And I fell for it. Years ago this happened to me (well, one of my parents, but I was the true victim!): I was trying to get the Soft Machine’s classic debut, Volume 1. Instead, I received The Soft Machine Turns On, Volume 1, a collection of rarities from their earliest years, with some terrible sound Read More

The Lights from the Chemical Plant (2014) by Robert Ellis

Categories: 2014 and Music.

Ellis’ traditional country sound which is, on its own, often too revivalist is saved by his excellent song-writing. Ellis’ songs are relatively simple and he doesn’t rely on any kind of modernist, post-Dylan lyrical inventiveness, but maybe that’s part of the appeal. Ellis writes his lyrics and music in the traditional country ideal, and the results are rather spectacular. The fact that he and the band occasionally stretch out – to remind us of what decade we might be in – is only gravy; these brief interludes remind us that this is a modern band playing very traditional music. And Read More

Days into Years (2011) by Elliott Brood

Categories: 2011 and Music.

Though there are various Broodian hallmarks on this album – the banjo in particular – it sounds to my ears like a clear effort to make themselves a little more accessible, a little more mainstream “rock”. And I think that’s a rather odd thing to do for a bad that has described themselves, somewhat hilariously, as “death country.” The production is cleaner and more of the songwriting tropes belong in traditional rock, rather than alt country. I find this just a little disappointing, even though the set of songs is reasonably strong. I think the most obvious attempt is “Their Read More

Townes (2009) by Steve Earle

Categories: 2009 and Music.

I can’t say that I am much of a fan of Earle at this point, as most of his stuff I’ve heard I’ve found underwhelming. And I can’t say I am much of a fan of van Zandt either; the only album of his I’ve ever heard was horribly – perhaps even offensively – over-produced making it hard to really listen to the songs themselves.But this seems to be a match made in heaven. Van Zandt appears to be a much stronger songwriter than Earle himself – though this could be because this is a sort of Earle-curated Greatest Hits Read More

Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator (1991) by Steve Earle and the Dukes

Categories: 1991 and Music.

The opening radio / tv snippets make this sound like we’re about to listen to a concept album. Of course, we’re not; it’s a live album. The songs I know sound pretty much like their studio equivalents – save for his voice which, as others have noted, is shot – and though the band shows some impressive versatility – particularly Earle himself – when they stretch out on the odd track they don’t sound much better than the average bar band. That’s not what I want out of a live album, personally. On the other hand, because of his voice, Read More

50-Odd Dollars (1999) bty Fred Eaglesmith

Categories: 1999 and Music.

This continues the obvious alternative rock influence that was all over the previous outing. Only this time it seems Eaglesmith is consciously trying to bring back some of his country roots to mediate that alternative rock thing. The fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel are all more prominent this time out. It adds enough of a new-old element that we don’t mind so much that this isn’t his greatest set of songs. 7/10 Read More

Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline (1997) by Fred Eaglesmith

Categories: 1997 and Music.

I really hope that he means 105 mph rather than 105 kmph, because if he means the latter, the entire province of Ontario drives faster than he does. Anyway…Here Eaglesmith seems to more thoroughly embrace Alt Country and all that that entails. That’s fine in my book. The songs are still strong. And the arrangements are different this time. The only drawback is the reprises, really. 8/10 Read More

Drive-In Movie (1996) by Fred Eaglesmith

Categories: 1996 and Music.

This is country music that has been made in awareness of actual rock music, rather than “country music” that has been made in the shadow arena rock, which seemed to be what was getting all the radio play back in the mid-90s. Eaglesmith is a strong songwriter whose influences sometimes show through a little too clearly. His arrangements are also good though, so it’s easy to ignore the obvious reference points. A good album. 8/10 Read More

Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995 American) by the Jayhawks

Categories: 1995 and Music.

It sort of boggles my mind that these guys had already been around for a decade when this came out. It just goes to show you that sometimes we excessively labeling, critical types are a little slow on the uptake. When this was released it was supposed to be the heyday of alt-country but really the genre had been around for a long time. It’s interesting to compare this, the work of professionals – and it shows in its polish – to the work of the up and comers, who often were as interested in punk music as country and Read More