Archive for the ‘best-of list’ Category

Best of 2013: New Music

Friday, December 27th, 2013

So far this week, I’ve taken looks at my favorite album reissue/compilations; my favorite music-related DVDs; the best concerts of 2013; and three interview subjects who passed away this year. Today I wrap up the retrospective with a rundown of my five favorite new albums for 2013. Click on the titles for a full review (except as noted).

The Bye Bye Blackbirds – We Need the Rain
To label their music intelligent powerpop sells them short; there’s a lot more depth and nuance to the band as displayed on this album, available on vinyl (always a plus in my book).

E.Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates
Easily the most challenging music on this list, it’s also among the most compelling. Avant jazz rooted in tunefulness, and – lucky me – they’re local, so I get an occasional chance to see them live onstage when they’re in town.

Jim Ruiz Set – Mount Curve Avenue
Not to take anything away from the uniformly excellent and delightful pop offerings from Bay area label Mystery Lawn Music, but this album – though a musical departure for MLM – is a real treat. Jazz-pop that smooth, catchy, quirky and clever. And fun.

Yuck – Glow & Behold
This one escaped my notice until mere days ago. When I heard it, Glow & Behold immediately jumped ahead of several other albums to make this my list. Nominally classified as shoegaze, but I don’t hear that so much. With a sound that variously recalls Aztec Camera, Teenage Fanclub and The Chills, it’s a winner. Not a weak track on the disc, but “How Does it Feel” is transcendent jangle-pop of the highest order. Look for a feature/interview with the band here on Musoscribe in February 2014.

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
Oddly enough, the hands-down best album of 2013 for me was something I didn’t even get around to reviewing. (Though I’ve covered and interviewed Steven Wilson many times in the past). For anyone who thinks King Crimson, Genesis and their ilk were (at their peaks) among the best music had to offer, I’m here to tell you that the music on this album is every bit as good. And modern, somehow.

Honorable Mentions:

Secret Friend – Time Machine
Somehow – I guess owing to the large volume of worthy music that passes over my desk – this delightful album only managed a “capsule review.” But it’s catchy pop of the highest order, and deserves more prominent coverage. I did what I could; do what you can, and listen to it.

Black Sabbath – 13
Yeah, it’s not the world’s most original idea to list this one. But as a fan of the first four albums (and a decided non-fan of the post-Ozzy Osbourne-era material), I have to say that producer Rick Rubin really got a great performance out of the three band members he engaged. The tracks have the sound, the doomy/haunted feel of the band’s music of the early 70s, and somehow it’s no nostalgia trip. 13 stands up to their best. And while it would have been nice had they been able to secure Bill Ward‘s participation, Brad Wilk does a yeoman job. I didn’t review this album in depth, either. What I did do was buy it on vinyl.

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Best of 2013: Concerts

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

I had the pleasure of attending more live music shows this year than I could count. A lot. Really. These were my favorites. Click on the titles for a full review/feature.

Cody ChesnuTT
Owing to my schedule, I passed the interview duties for this one on to my daughter, an able writer/journalist in her own right. Luckily when the concert date came ’round, I was able to attend. Though the crowd was small, ChesnuTT made a musical and emotional connection with every single person in the room. I am not exaggerating. It was that good.

Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires
Bradley has his own story to tell, and though there’s a documentary on him (I haven’t seen it yet), he gets his point across through his music. The man gives it all every night, and his band provides support of the ablest kind. A must-see, even if you (think you) don’t dig his old-school musical style.

Shuggie Otis
One of those characters about whom many would ask, “Is he still alive?” the mercurial Otis is not only alive, but well. And onstage, it’s as if he never left. Other reports suggest he’s an erratic performer, with on- and off-nights. No question, though: he was ON the night I saw him.

Elephant Stone
Third-billed on a night that also included sets from The Black Angels and The Allah-Las, this modern jangle-psych served up a set that made the old sound new again. Expect more from this lot.

Mondo Zombie Boogaloo
This three-band extravaganza included sets from The Fleshtones, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Los Straitjackets. Even if I hadn’t had the twin pleasures of (a) giving Fleshtones singer/organist Peter Zaremba a pre-show ride to the nearby ABC store and (b) being invited onstage to play his Farfisa on one song, this would have still been a musical highlight of the year for me.

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Those We Lost in 2013

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Every year, we lose treasured members of music’s history. This year, three of those who passed away were important figures I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing. Click on a name for the full feature.

Alvin Lee
Though he came to fame with his band Ten Years After via a bravura performance at Woodstock, he remained musically active right up until the very end. I spoke with him about what would become his final album, Still On the Road to Freedom.

Richie Havens
Quite possibly the nicest public figure I have ever met, Havens too remained very active recording and performing right up until his death this year at age 72. An autographed copy of his Mixed Bag LP is among my most treasured mementos. I spoke with him ahead of an Asheville concert date, and then met him in person at the show.

Ray Manzarek
I took the opportunity to interview the former Doors keyboardist in connection with his involvement in the (somewhat dubious) Sly Stone “comeback” album. But after reminding me that he was in a well-known band back in the day, Ray was generous with his time, telling me a few stories from the old days.

Merry Christmas!

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Best of 2013: DVDs

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Yesterday I did a quick round-up of notable album reissues from 2013. Today it’s DVDs. Click on the titles for a full review (except as noted).

Brian Wilson, Songwriter 1969-1982
Those British folks at Sexy Intellectual have only improved since they began their worth series of in-depth critical looks at the bodies of work of important musical artists. This volume – second in a series – covers the Beach Boys founder’s work through a difficult period, shining a light on what’s important, and not shying away from calling out the not-great stuff.

Paul Williams Still Alive
A charming film that recounts one man’s quest to track down the figure who was once an ubiquitous fixture on TV and radio. Using a “familiar whatever-happened-to” approach, but telling the story from a most personal angle make this story even more appealing than it would otherwise be. Yes, the title gives away a bit of the surprise, but other surprises remain in store for viewers.

Going Underground
Paul McCartney has always been hipper than his detractors have suggested; he simply hasn’t felt the need to make a lot of bones about it. This documentary does, and does so in a convincing way. Sir Macca’s not in the video, but those who are make it well worth viewing; it gets into the more outré and forward-looking musical artists of the era.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
I saw this film in the theatre, and recently got the DVD (which includes bonus materials). That review is still to come, but here’s a preview: it’s fabulous. The long-overlooked Memphis band finally get their due. In the meantime, here’s a review of the soundtrack album (also fantastic).

Good Ol’ Freda
Speaking of getting one’s belated due, the head of the Beatles official fan club, Freda Kelly, finally tells her story. And she does so on her terms. I have tentative plans to interview Freda ahead of her appearance at the 2014 Fest for Beatles Fans, so stay tuned.

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Best of 2013: Reissues/Archival Releases

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

It’s that time, again: the time of year when I coast to the New Year’s finish line and post a string of best-of lists. It’s not simply a place-holding exercise; I really do recommend these albums etc. and sincerely believe they deserve a look (or a second look). So forthwith…

2013 has seen a number of noteworthy reissue/compilation releases, but for me these are the Top Five. Click on the titles for a full review.

Pete Ham – Keyhole Street: Demos 1966-1967
The prodigiously talented Badfinger leader was also, as it turns out, prolific. One pauses to wonder what more great music he might have given the world had he successfully battled his demons. It’s some consolation that Badfinger chronicler Dan Matovina worked tirelessly to bring this two-disc set of early home demos to light. Get it while you can (if you even still can).

Various – The South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976
Just when you thought all the old R&B labels (Stax, Hi, etc.) had been fully mined for their reissue value, along comes this set. Yes, many of the artists are lesser-known than their major-label counterparts, but the quality of the music belies its relative obscurity. The people at Omnivore clearly love music, and their efforts in bringing out sets like these prove it again and again.

Duane Allman – Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective
The guitarist’s recording career was tragically short, but man, was he busy. Allman’s work at the helm of The Allman Brothers Band showed but one side of his talents. This lavish set displays all sides, and does so in a staggeringly impressive physical package. (There’s a cheaper/slimmed-down version available as well).

Various – Los Nuggetz: ’60s Garage & Psych from Latin America
Rock Beat has picked up the baton that Rhino initiated with its multi-disc Nuggets sets, heading south of the border and unearthing all manner of goodies. Even hardcore garage fanatics are likely to find surprises here: the music’s quite impressive, running the gamut from garage to popsike to way-out, mostly done with a guileless, on-the-cheap aesthetic that keeps it real.

Woody Guthrie – American Radical Patriot
The music of one of America’s most important musical and cultural figures deserves a set like this, perhaps the classiest, most comprehensive collection of its kind ever assembled. True, most people who purchase it won’t have a way to play the 78rpm record, but the accessible content is wonderful enough for that not to matter much.

Honorable mentions:
Concord’s jazz reissues, Real Gone Music’s soul-jazz reissues on its Dusty Groove imprint, Jazzhaus‘ ongoing trip through German TV and radio archives, and Purple Pyramid’s reissue of classic space-rock albums from Nektar.

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Peering Into the Archives

Friday, October 11th, 2013

I launched the Musoscribe blog in summer 2009, more than four years ago. There are currently more than 1150 interviews, essays and reviews here. But I had been writing about music long before the blog started.

In the middle years of the century’s new decade, I had been Editor in Chief for an internationally-available print magazine. In the wake of the magazine going belly-up (a fascinating story I’d love to tell, and perhaps one day will chronicle here), a few friends strongly encouraged me to start the blog. But before I did that, I had amassed a couple hundred pieces – again: interviews, essays reviews – and published (or re-published) them online.

Today I’d like to blow a bit of the virtual dust off of some notable pieces, and point you in their direction, if I may.

There were some really good albums that – in retrospect – didn’t seem to get, in general, the love (and/or notice) I thought they deserved. I still return to them. A few of these include Russian CirclesEnter, James Morrison‘s Undiscovered, Automatic Music Explosion‘s This Is…, and Hayseed Dixie‘s A Hot Piece of Grass.

And then of course there were the albums that were both appreciated by me and generally applauded. These included hERE aND nOW by Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, and reissues of Air‘s Moon Safari, and Porcupine Tree‘s Lightbulb Sun.

In those days, I sometimes reviewed music that I didn’t care all that much about to begin with; I no longer do that. So as a result, you’ll find some scathing reviews, full of ridicule and derision. If that might amuse you, check out my review of truly dreadful albums from Cradle of Filth, Mah Jongg, Memphis May Fire and Vaeda. (Yeah, me neither).

Some cool compilations came out during that era, too. You might have missed R. Stevie Moore‘s Meet The; the various artists garage comp 2131 South Michigan Avenue; and Blue Note’s treasury of oft-sampled tunes, Droppin’ Science.

If you’re interested in some long-form writing, here are career-spanning critical essays covering the work of Todd Rundgren and Pink Floyd. Both are out of date now, but they’re still among my favorites.

And finally, I did some fondly-remembered (by me, at least) interviews with some of my musical heroes. Among these: Ian Anderson, Robyn Hitchcock, Gentle Giant, Andy Partridge, CCR‘s Stu Cook, Polyphonic Spree‘s Tim DeLaughter, ? And the Mysterians (don’t miss that one!), and no-hit wonders Green Fuz.

There are a couple hundred other things in that section, and I invite you to poke around. If I haven’t said so in print recently, here’s a reminder: this gig of mine, it’s way-fun.

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My Road Trip Soundtrack

Monday, July 29th, 2013

As I prepared for my current 12-hours-each-way trip to visit my parents in Florida (making sure to leave my hoodie at home and not anger the self-appointed watcher of their neighborhood pool; he tried to kick me out last time), I was tasked by my traveling companion to put together a small stack of my favorite CDs. (The car in which we traveled does not have an in-dash turntable, so LPs were out of the question). Rather than go with my current faves or a stack of albums in the queue for upcoming review, I selected a dozen or so of my “blue chip” albums, ones to which I turn again and again for enjoyment. I left out the really obvious ones (Beatles, Pink Floyd) and below is what I came up with. The ones with hyperlinks are reviewed or otherwise mentioned in some way elsewhere on my blog.

Big Star #1 Record/Radio City – The best 70s albums nobody bought the first time ’round are now among the most influential of the era.

Dennis CoffeyDennis Coffey – the master of guitar funk’s fairly recent album is both current and backward-looking in the best possible way.

Crowded HouseTemple of Low Men – The “difficult second album” is much darker than their debut, but showed the depth of Neil Finn‘s songwriting ability. I’ll admit that this one often makes me cry, and I’m not generally a “lyrics guy.”

Dungen4 – Rarely has an album that includes vocals done so much to successfully convey thoughts and emotions without requiring the listener to understand what’s being sung (like all Dungen albums, it’s in Swedish).

The Flaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin – For me, one of the best albums of the 1990s, right up there with Olivia Tremor Control‘s Dusk at Cubist Castle and Radiohead‘s OK Computer (see below).

The Go! TeamThunder, Lightning, Strike – Quite different from most else of what I listen to, this delightful album features loads of samples, loops and vocals that sound uncannily like inner city schoolgirls chanting doggerel while jumping rope. And it rocks.

JellyfishSpilt Milk – The group’s second and final album took the best qualities of the 70s and updated it, in the process creating muscular, joyous, transcendent progressive powerpop. Or something.

King CrimsonRed – The heaviest of the heavy, and the best of the best of prog. Red can be credited with (unintentionally) inventing progressive metal.

LoveForever Changes – Along with Moby Grape‘s debut, it was for many years the most under-appreciated great album of the 1960s. That wrong has since pretty well been corrected.

Porcupine TreeDeadwing – The most commercially appealing entry in the band’s deep catalog, it contains my favorite track of theirs, the long-form “Arriving Somewhere (But Not Here).”

RadioheadOK Computer – A fairly obvious choice, but fifteen-plus years later this record continues to reveal new wonders to me on each successive listen.

The Rat PackThe Very Best of the Rat Pack – a relatively recent compilation of Vegas-era hits from Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and of course Frank Sinatra. Designed to be played very loudly. And when we were riding around town running errands with my parents, this was one we could all enjoy.

The WhoWho’s Next – The best and most consistent album of The Who’s career; with all the modern-day commercial use, it’s easy to overlook just what a powerful (and yet gentle) record this truly is.


Happy Independence Day, and More

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Since today is (a) an American holiday and (b) a mere few days after the halfway point of 2013, I thought that instead of a review, essay or feature, I’d instead run a brief look back at some of the highlights of the year so far. To that end, I’d like to recommend a few of my personal favorites from among my roughly 130 blog posts for this year-to-date.



On the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Musoscribe blog’s launch, I’d also like to thank you for reading, and encourage you to keep coming back for more. As Todd Rundgren sings, “And there’s more…”

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Musoscribe’s Best 12 of 2012, Part Two

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Yesterday I covered six of the best and most notable (but under-the-radar) releases of 2012. Here are six more.

World Party – Arkeology
Karl Wallinger was one of those artists we feared “lost in action.” He suffered an aneurysm a few years back, and that meant (among other more serious things) that there was no World Party music for quite some time. But this lavish box set brings together old and new(ish) music that shows Karl is still at or near the top of his game.

Various Artists – Red Bird Girls
Phil Spector wasn’t the only auteur creating great female vocal pop in the early 60s. And while the approach might’ve been merely to create disposable, short shelf life pop, the music on this set (of the sort that hasn’t been played to death, I should add) is timeless fun.

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia – Live at Hammersmith Odeon ’75
This set has long circulated among collectors as a bootleg, but it’s nice to see (and hear) it get an official release. This is early-ish Utopia in the period during which they were changing their approach from a Mahavishnu Orchestra-style prog group to a powerpop one. This recording captures the best of both those worlds, live and onstage.

Bill Evans – Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate
There are many Bill Evans Trio recordings out there, but this previously-unrleased archival recording captures the jazz trio sharing the room with a noisy (and sometimes disinterested) audience at a Greenwich Village restaurant. It’s the “second trio” here, and the performances are simply sublime.

Various Artists – Surf Age Nuggets
Picking up where Rhino seems to have given up, Rock Beat has put together and amazing box set (a book set, if we’re being literal) of great instro-surf you’ve never heard. Interestingly, it beats the hell out of a pair of new Dick Dale reissue/comps from the same label. Sometimes – like here – the unheralded stuff beats the better-known material.

The dB’s – Falling Off the Sky
One of those bands whose influence has outpaced their commercial impact, The dB’s roared back after a lengthy quiet period. The result is what I believe to be their finest album ever. I know it’s a pejorative term for some, but the songs on Falling Off the Sky are mature. Tied, in fact, with The Explorers Club‘s Grand Hotel for my choice of the best album of 2012.

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Musoscribe’s Best 12 of 2012, Part One

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Yeah, everybody does their “Best of the Year” lists. Why should I be any different? Well, partly because I can’t help it. My own tastes are decidedly outside the mainstream. But I’d argue that my favorites belong in the mainstream, because they’re that good. In fact most of my top twelve releases of 2012 are tuneful, accessible pop (in its classic sense) music. And the ones that aren’t (a bit of prog, some jazz, some instro-surf) are equally compelling in their own ways.

Now, my list doesn’t include the oft-discussed new release from Mumford & Sons and so on. Not to take anything at all away from that record any many others, but if you want to read about them, there are plenty of (other) places you could go. Plus, do you really need convincing about that music one way or another? I thought not.

So instead I present my top twelve releases for 2012, skewed toward music that (a) you probably haven’t heard, (b) might not even know about if I didn’t bring it to your attention and (c) is worth your time. And to support (c), I’m providing handy-dandy links to my original, detailed reviews of each record.

Steve Barton – Projector
As a member of San Francisco-based Translator, Barton was responsible for some of the better unjustly-ignored music of the 80s, though “Everywhere That I’m Not” got some chart action. His solo album is an altogether more personal affair, with shades of David Bowie at his very, very best.

The Corner Laughers – Poppy Seeds
I write quite a bit about the amazing pop factory that is Mystery Lawn Music. So far, they seem to able to do no wrong (the album by MLM labelmates Hollyhocks nearly made this list, too). But The Corner Laughers combine the best of sunshine pop (think: Spanky and Our Gang) with a modern-yet-classic pop sensibility. And they’re an impossibly cute bunch of people, which never hurts.

Stevie Jackson – (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson
Here’s another breakout solo album from a member of a highly-regarded group. Stevie Jackson is part of the collective known as Belle & Sebastian, and while he’s not the primary songwriter in that group, everything that you would love about the group is present in his songwriting and playing and singing. This record is a delight start to finish (but then, so are all on this list, says I).

The Poster Boy – Melody
You might not expect one of the finest pop/powerpop albums of the year to come from Budapest, Hungary. But here it is nonetheless. I can’t say enough good things about this record. But I do try.

The Higher State – The Higher State
This decidedly retro release hits all the right notes — the arrangement, the production style, the lyrics – so that one might almost miscategorize this as an archival release, or one of the best unheard albums from 1968 or so.

The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel
While on their first record, this Charleston SC -based outfit sought to create new music in the style of the best Beach Boys era – roughly the Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) to Wild Honey era – on their second release, they deftly sidestep the dreaded sophomore slump curse and instead turn out an album that conjures the best of late 60s/early 70s AM radio pop. I’ve seen them live, and what they pull off onstage is nothing short of amazing. For me, the best new album of 2012, tied with one other I’ll cover in the next installment.

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