Friday, December 30, 2011

"The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" by Bob Dylan (May, 1963)

Dad's Take:

I've been looking forward to this one probably about as much as Brad hasn't been, but I'm hoping Brad might see the light.

Bob Dylan's first album didn't get much attention, but this second disc introduced him as the major new force in folk music. Innovative lyrics, social relevancy, solid playing, revolution, and that voice that some people have trouble getting used to but that delivers the songs so perfectly--all of this helped define the music of the sixties. Dylan is to folk music what the Beatles are to rock and roll: a redefining iconoclast that changed everything that came after.

Of course, there was no way to know that when this album first surfaced. There was no way to predict how much Dylan would affect all genres of popular music. There was just a collection of great songs. "Blowin' in the Wind," "Masters of War," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." There's anger, frustration, acidic wit, and beauty in these songs and in most of this album.

Sure, Dylan is not always easy to listen to, but that's true of so many great artists. He challenges you to listen and to think, to look below the surface and see the world. Not since Woody Guthrie had the folk music scene been forced to really see like this. Not since Woody Guthrie had folk music sounded this fresh and bitter at the same time.

We'll hear more Dylan in our list, but few of those albums will have exciting vibe of Dylan's breakout effort. I can't listen to this record enough.

Brad's Take:

My dad was right. I was not looking forward to this album. I've never been a real fan of Bob Dylan. Off the top of my head, the only Bob Dylan song I could name is "Blowin' In The Wind" but I have listened to a punk rock cover of it hundreds of times more than I have listened to the original. I won't ever disagree that he's a classic musician, but I just personally haven't been able to get into his music at all before so I went into this very pessimistically. Since that isn't very fair though, I will try to give this an unbiased review...

Bob Dylan's known mainly for his voice and his lyrics. Robert's voice is hard to get used to at first, but I got used to it on this album. Whether you get used to his unique voice or not, there's no denying that his lyrics are great. His lyrics are very politically charged, like every folk album that came out in the 60s.

As a guitar player myself, I was slightly annoyed that Ol' Bobby's guitar was noticeably out of tune on "Down The Highway" and a couple of others. Also, some of the really high harmonica notes he plays almost killed me, like the final drawn out note in "Girl From North Country." I've never been a real fan of the harmonica...

To me, this album sounds like a guy sitting on his front porch, imperfectly playing his slightly out of tune guitar but singing songs from his heart. But Freewheelin' launched Bob Dylan's career instantly, and it was well earned.

Although I was not excited to listen to an entire Bob Dylan album, I found myself to accept it about halfway through. There weren't any songs I loved, or any that I like-liked, but there weren't any songs I hated either. It's not my typical cup of tea, but for what it is, it's great. It's a perfect snapshot of the 60s folk music scene.

"Please Please Me" by the Beatles (March, 1963)

Dad's Take:
"1, 2, 3, 4!" And with that countdown that opened this record, history changed.

How do you review an album whose iconic status is due as much or more in hindsight to what it led to than to its own content? There was no Beatlemania yet. None of the insanity that followed the Beatles everywhere. The Beatles had not yet become a phenomenon in the United States and the rest of the world. There was no British Invasion yet. There were none of the cultural changes with the Beatles at the forefront.

All there was was this British band that had combined skiffle with rock and roll and R&B from the fifties. They dressed a little funny, and their hair was long. Girls and teens liked them. A lot. Their playing and singing was exciting. Electrifying. Nobody could tell at the time just how much better they'd get and how quickly they'd do it.

The only thing you can can compare this album to, really, is Elvis Presley's debut album. Good, but holy cow what it would lead to.

There are great songs here, to be sure. The opener, "I Saw Her Standing There." "Boys." The title track. "P.S. I Love You." "Do You Want To Know A Secret." "Twist and Shout" (so much more exciting than the version on Booker T & The MGs "Green Onions" record). The Beatles had already grown far beyond "Love Me Do" (also included on this album), but what they would do with each succeeding album, produced quickly while they were also spending much of their time on the road, almost defies explanation. In retrospect, much of what was improved upon in later albums is here. But there was no benefit of retrospect when this was released. Just an exciting new sound that those of us who are too young to have experienced it might not ever fully understand.

So, yeah (yeah, yeah), this is a great classic album. But it's only the beginning for the force that would change rock and roll and create the sounds that defined a decade and influenced nearly everything that came after. And that influence went far beyond the music.

Brad's Take:

There's no denying that The Beatles' first album Please Please Me would be classified as a classic. What the Beatles did for rock and roll goes beyond words. They upped the anty in their early years of making simple rock/pop songs, but then they changed the game entirely shortly thereafter when they caught on to Americans ears, and then when they started being more experimental in the studio in the mid 60s.

Please Please Me doesn't sound like a band's first record, but more like a greatest hits album compiled of early songs from their career. They were already ahead of the game. Although a lot of it doesn't sound that much different than earlier classic rock music we've reviewed so far, you can tell that the Beatles had something really special that no one else had at the time, not even Elvis. It's crazy to think that this new young band would become the Beatles that we all know today.

I was going to mention a couple of highlights from this album, but let's be honest, this entire album is a highlight. Every song is golden.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Green Onions" by Booker T and the MGs (October 1962)

(Note: I noticed when I was nearly finished with this one that our MP3 files are misnamed for this album, so any titles that are mentioned, especially in Brad's review, are likely incorrect. For example, when Brad writes about "Mo Onions," he really means "Green Onions." "Stranger on the SHore" is actually "Mo Onions." I hate it when that happens. --Dad.)

Brad's Take:

Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Booker T. and the MGs... Wait, what?! Green Onions??? This obviously came out of complete left field for me. I've never heard of this group before, and I immediately laughed at the ridiculous album name and cover art. I didn't know what to expect before I put it on, but I eventually stopped laughing, sat back, took a deep breath, and hit play...

This isn't what I expected an album called Green Onions would sound like. Booker T. Jones fronts the instrumental R&B band with his trusty organ. His band, his MG's, shines just as much as Booker, but that organ is definitely the loudest instrument on the album showing that it's the true star.

I didn't know what to make of this album for the first few songs. It's just wild organ-lead blues songs that make your foot bounce like crazy. It wasn't until track 4 ("Mo Onions") when I recognized a song. I remember that song being in one of my favorite childhood movies, The Sandlot. I'm just impressed that I actually knew a song from this band! I thought "Stranger On The Shore" was another one I knew, but then I realized it's basically just the same as "Mo Onions." Almost an identical bassline, and the same chord progression.

In the end, I surprisingly really liked this album a lot, for what it was. The organ sound gets a little irritating after a few songs, but fortunately when the headache begins to start, the next song is one that isn't so organ driven. So you have time to let your eardrums heal for a couple minutes. After laughing at the band and album name, and the ridiculous cover, I have learned the ways of Booker T. and the MGs.

Dad's Take:

I, of course, am very familiar with the hit, "Green Onions." I've no doubt heard it hundreds of times. And I know that Booker T and the MGs are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I've also heard them described as the ultimate studio backing band. But I still only know the one song. So I wondered what it was about that band that could possibly place them on a list next to so many other great albums.

I can see why they had so much success as a backing band. They have a tight sound, with excellent musicianship, and an interesting roots-music sound behind that ever-present organ.

It's curious that they put "Green Onions" and the very similar "Mo Onions" on the record. This reminds me of the two versions of "The Banana Boat Song" with different names on the Belafonte album we listened to earlier. I guess two onions are better than one. But I think I need a good, strong breath mint.

If I were to rank all the albums we've listened to so far, this one likely would not finish in the top half. It's not that I don't dig it. These are some excellent blues and R&B jams with some very cool guitar playing, but I guess I prefer my electric organ in smaller doses. I've always liked that early sixties organ sound, but this is an awful lot of a good thing. It's kind of like cake: the first few bites are heavenly, but the rest of the piece is, well, just cake.

"Jazz Samba" by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (September 1962)

Brad's Take:

Jazz Samba was the first major bossa-nova to come out of America. It hit number 1 on the Billboard Pop Album charts, and even won Stan Getz a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance in 1963 for the song "Desafinado."

Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd make a great team on this album. Stan's sax playing mixed with Charlie's amazing guitar playing make for a very cohesive record. Neither of them step on the others toes, and they compliment each other very well throughout. There's even moments where they let the bass player and drummer have a shot at the spotlight by backing off almost completely to let them jam out some solos.

I've heard one or two Stan Getz albums before this one. They were more bebop sounding, and less bossa-nova sounding. I prefer the classic bebop style over this, I'm afraid, but this still is a great album front to back. Although it's not my typical cup of tea, I wouldn't plug my ears if I heard this in a restaurant.

Dad's Take:

This one is new to me, the first totally unfamiliar album I've listened to for these reviews for a while. Jazz with a samba flavor turns out to be a pretty decent combination. Like Brad, I really like the bass solos on some of these pieces.

"Desifinado," I guess, is the classic track here, but I really like the track, "Samba Dese Days," a fun, upbeat number on which both Getz and Byrd really show their chops. Byrd's guitar solo is just plain amazing. "O Pato" is just as good, although considerably different.

That's the way this album works. Solid track after track, all easy to listen to, and always with that samba backdrop. This might not be my favorite jazz record we've listened to, but it's easy to hear why it's included on this list of classic albums. It's different than anything else I've ever heard, with its (as far as I know) innovative combination of jazz and samba. Although I'm really not a big samba fan, I found this record enjoyable throughout. It would be good background music when I write certain kinds of stories or scenes. It's easy to listen to and enjoyable. I feel like it expanded my musical horizons a bit, helping me realize I like samba more than I thought I did, and I want to listen to this one some more to get to know it better.

What better praise can you give a new record than that?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" by Ray Charles (April 1962)

Dad's Take:

Country music has never had this much soul. As much as I like Ray Charles, I've never given this album its due because Ray is at his best when singing gospel-tinged soul. Well, the laugh was on me. These might be country songs, but Ray still delivers his trademark sound.

You know the title of the album is a little misleading as soon as you hear the opening notes of Ray's take on the Everly's classic "Bye, Bye Love." The highlight for me is the final track, where Ray takes that old standard, "That Lucky Old Sun," and lifts it up among the best of Negro spirituals. Good luck finding a more moving version of that song.

Nobody sings like Ray Charles, and these soulful, brassy, bluesy renditions of country songs are about as soulful as music gets. This is a great album, despite a kind of lame title and less-than-exciting cover.

How can you not share the pain of "I Love You So Much It Hurts"? And who doesn't get a thrill when listening to the classic "I Can't Stop Loving You" and the almost-identical "You Win Again"? This record moves country music out of the honky tonks and into the smoky bars of the "colored" neighborhoods, improving the songs in the process. Even Hank Williams's "Hey, Good Lookin'" becomes a soul classic. As the civil rights movement heated up, I'm sure the rednecks were thrilled to see their music taken over by the guys at the back of the bus. This is a ballsy record, and it works amazingly well. Maybe Ray couldn't eat at the same restaurants, attend the same schools, or drink from the same water fountains, but he could take the most white music of all and give it gospel-tinged soul. And guess what? The whites ate it up. This record was number one for 14 weeks and remained on the chart for almost two years, falling only three weeks short of that mark.

I'm pretty sure this is the only Ray Charles album on our list, and it deserves to be there. This record contains everything good and soulful about Mr. Charles's music, no matter what the title might lead you to believe.

Brad's Take:

When I saw that this was next on our list, I got really excited. I've never listened to a full Ray Charles album before, but I've always wanted to. I didn't know where to begin so I guess this is a good place to start, with a "classic."

The first song, "Bye, Bye Love", kicks the album off with a bang. It's a fast rockin' 2 minute song, made popular by the Everly Brothers. That song leads right into the slower "You Don't Know Me" and this song really shows what this album's all about. It's a mid-tempo song with more soul than a pair of shoes.

Reading about the recording process, it's interesting how Ray picked the songs to do. Apparently, he was given about 250 songs from popular country artists from the time, and then Ray listened to each one to decide which ones he wanted to remake, giving it that Ray Charles flavor.

I never realized how great Ray Charles actually was. I've always known him as a classic artist, but I've never given him a real chance myself. I love his voice on this album. He sounds young and full of raw emotion and soul. Some songs are better than others, but overall this is a solid 3 and a half stars from me.

"West Side Story Original Soundtrack" (October, 1961)

Dad's Take:

From the initial finger-snapping, there's no doubt that this is Bob Fosse (Or "Don Fosse," as I call him when talking to my Fosse-fanatic wife). West Side Story was not just a hit. It was a phenomenon. Bringing modern (at the time) jazz and rock and roll to Broadway with a streetwise, hipster, racially charged twist on Romeo and Juliette, this musical revolutionized Broadway in 1957 and set the charts on fire when the movie was released in 1961. 54 weeks atop the U.S. album chart, and 175 weeks on the chart in Britain, where it also hit number one.

West Side Story is so heavy with jazzy dance numbers that just listening is only a partial experience, even more so than with other musicals. But the music stands out, so that experience, incomplete as it is, is still pretty spectacular. And if you've seen the movie (and, really, who hasn't) your brain will fill in the pictures even if, like me, you don't have every strut and finger snap memorized.

This record was released three months after I was born, but it was still everywhere when I became old enough to notice. I mean, fifty years later it's still hard to avoid, and it's still a moving experience. As silly as the choreographed "fight scene" might seem in our more realistic time, this remains one of the most beloved soundtracks in Broadway history.

Whether it's your cuppa or not, there's no way to deny this album a spot on any list of classic albums. In the history of the long-playing record, there's been very little that can compare with the phenomenal success of this record.

Brad's Take:

I think I am one of the only humans who has seen this movie less than two times. That's right, I've only seen it once. But even after seeing it that one time, I make references to it all the time by hunching over and snapping my fingers, and then slowly moving my arm in front of me like I'm holding a switchblade.

I had forgotten how jazzy the soundtrack was. It's obviously a film score, but I like it a lot, especially with all of the finger snaps. I love how intense some of the songs get. It's the most intense jazz music I've heard. It makes me feel like a mouse getting chased by a cat.

The instrumental songs were my favorites. Like every musical, the songs with the characters singing are cheesy, but it's hard to deny the classics like "I Feel Pretty."

This isn't an album I'd just put on when I'm wanting to listen to music, but for what it is, it's really fun. I feel like saying the name "Maria" over and over and over and over and over now...

"The Soul of Ike & Tina Turner," by Ike & Tina Turner (October, 1961)

Dad's Take

This is Ike & Tina before Phil Spector's pop stylings. This album highlights the soul sound that brought them to fame. Ike had been around since before rock and roll had a name, with such early songs as "Rocket 88," but the smartest move he ever made was teaming up with Tina.

Musically, this album is a lot like Ike's early R&B music, with its roots firmly in the fifties. But it's Tina's vocal power and soul that makes this record a classic. Song after song, whether rocker or ballad, Tina sings, growls, and screams her way into the listener's soul. How can you not believe her sincerity, her feelings, and her pain, when she puts so much into her performances? Even the largely spoken (and less exciting) "Letter From Tina" had me saying, "Yeah, Tina, you're right. I'm sorry. Whatever you say."

Sonically, these aren't the clearest recordings ever. They sound like they're from an older studio. But it really doesn't matter. The somewhat muddy sound of some tracks adds to the grit of Tina's voice. It just wouldn't sound right with pristine digital clarity.

When you listen to this record (and if you haven't, you really should), there is no doubt that Tina is here to stay, that she's a force who will either self-destruct or be around for decades. As it turns out, Ike and Tina's relationship nearly destroyed them both, but Tina survived it and increased her status as a legend.

This early Ike & Tina record shows that Ike's R&B formula still worked, and that Tina is incomparable, in a tiny class with other legendary soul singers like James Brown and very few others.

Turn it up and marvel.

Brad's Take:

Now we're talking! After reviewing a couple albums that I didn't love, this is a breath of fresh air. I'm loving this album.

The opening song "I'm Jealous" is the perfect one to kick off an album like. It introduces you to Tina Turner's incredibly powerful voice right from the beginning. I couldn't help but get a huge smile on my face when she does her loud scratchy screams. It's great!

I love the overall vibe of this album. It's got soul, R&B, and early pop all mixed together to form one fun album from front to back. Ike and Tina really compliment each others styles.

Tina's vocals are my favorite thing about this album though. She has so much emotion and power in her voice that you feel intimidated by her. I'd never want to make her upset. You can tell that she doesn't need anyone else in order for her to shine.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Shadows" by The Shadows (September, 1961)

Dad's Take:

This is a milestone of sorts in our reviews: the first album on our list to be released after I was born.

The Shadows were popular in Great Britain, but they never caught on as well here in the United States. They are interesting because of the way they explored the new sounds that were possible with electric guitars. Like many guitar bands of the period, they chose the somewhat twangy sound delivered by Fender instruments.

At times their instrumental tunes remind me of the "fake" rock and roll heard in sitcoms and low-budget movies of the time. But that's not quite fair. They helped to establish the two guitars/bass/drum combo as the standard lineup. They brought together a certain light jazz and light rock feel, combined with a skiffle background, to create a sound that was fresh at the time. And on the occasional vocal song, like "Baby My Heart," they previewed the sound that took over the world with the British Invasion a couple years later. "All My Sorrows" could be the Kingston Trio gone electric. And "That's My Desire" reminds me of the great songs of Roy Orbison.

But the Shadows were mainly an instrumental group, and it's there that they shine. They coaxed new sounds from their Fenders, though reverb, palm muting, bending, and just plain fine playing. Something like "My Resistance Is Low" had never been heard before, and classics like "Sleepwalk" sparkle with the new sounds.

The Shadows are not well known these days, but if you like the early sixties music, and especially instrumental groups like The Ventures, give them a listen.

Brad's Take:

I feel like I've listened to this album before. To me, it sounds like a big salad made up of a lot of the music that we've listened to so far.

Like my dad already said, "All My Sorrows" sounds like it could  be on a Kingston Trio album. It's slow, country-tinged, and full of vocal harmonies. "Shadoogie" sounds very reminiscent of Duane Eddy's surf guitar style. Songs like "Nivram" and "Theme From A Filleted Place" sound like they're in the style of Chet Atkins. Lots of twangy finger-picking. But all the "shadowing" aside, I need to try and give this album a fair review...

The Shadows do a great job at writing diverse songs. They've got a nice mix of fast songs, slow songs, and instrumental songs. They're known for their guitar playing though. They experimented with a lot of different sounds that eventually became popular.

Although the album's songs don't sound very different from earlier ones we've listened to, it still has a lot of originality and experimentation. It's good, but not great, and it's a little too all over the place for me.

"Joan Baez" by Joan Baez (October, 1960)

Dad's Take:

It's interesting to follow an established folk trio with the debut from one of the quintessential new breed of folk singer who arose in the early sixties. Joan Baez signaled the new era of the bare bones solo singer-songwriter (a little ironic since the songs are mostly folk standards, not Baez originals).

This album was recorded in a hotel room, with Baez, her guitar, and guitarist Fred Hellerman. It exhibits the folk sincerity that is sometimes parodied when people make fun of folk, but the performances are strong. Where blues and jazz records might conjure up the feel of a smoky bar room, this style of folk evokes a Greenwich Village coffee shop, full of beatniks and soon-to-be hippies, navel gazing and trying to out-deep each other in conversation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Baez has that prototype young woman singer-songwriter voice that continues to this day. It's not one of my favorite voices, but it works perfectly with the songs and simple arrangements of the material. Her best work was yet to come, but this record is a solid announcement that a new musical force had arrived. This doesn't feel like a debut. In classic folk songs like "Donna, Donna," "Wildwood Flower," and "House Of The Rising Sun," the 19-year-old Baez performs with confidence and sincerity, opening the door for the great new folkies of the sixties.

Brad's Take:

This sounds like it was recorded today. I had to double-take that it really was released in 1960. Like my old man said, her vocal style is copied in a lot of today's female fronted folk music. It, too, isn't my favorite vocal style ever, but it works for what it is. VibratoOoOoOoOoOoOo! I can see the flower people poking their heads out from behind the trees wondering what this new sound they're hearing is.

I have never been a big fan of singer-songwriter kind of folk music. I'd take the Kingston Trio over this any day. I didn't love this album. I didn't even like it, really, but I can see why it is a classic album. It's a style that was new and fresh at the time, but became a leading one near the end of the 60s.

It isn't bad. It's just not my cup of tea. All the new-school indie kids and hipsters would love it though.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Eddie Cochran Memorial Album" by Eddie Cochran (September, 1960, UK only)

Dad's Take:

This album was released to memorialize (or capitalize on) Eddie Cochran's death in a car crash in April, 1960, at the age of 21. It's a solid reminder of how good Eddie Cochran was and how much he'd done at such a young age.

Although Elvis's influence is strong, Cochran was much more than an Elvis copycat. He was an amazing talent on his own, and influenced guitar players like George Harrison, who, like Cochran, played a semi-acoustic Gretsch with an unwound third string.

Cochran's songs have been copied by many artists over the years. "Summertime Blues" is his best-remembered and most copied record, but his influence goes beyond that one song. One of the rockabilly greats, Cochran was copied by almost everybody in the sixties--especially the great British rockers like the Beatles, The Who, the Stones, and Led Zeppelin--if not in direct covers, then in style.

This album makes it clear why Cochran is in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Whether the song is well known, like "Summertime Blues" or "C'mon Everybody," or less known like "Somethin' Else," his performances are strong, energetic, and more original than some might claim. His influence on the second generation rockers is indisputable.

Check him out yourself if you don't believe me.

Brad's Take:

On songs like "Jeanie, Jeanie," you can definitely hear the Elvis influence in Eddie Cochran's music. He even sings "blue suede shoes" in the lyrics to that song which instantly reminds one of Elvis' song. But even if Eddie borrows Elvis' musical style a little bit, he's no Billy Fury. Cochran makes his songs his own, maybe except for the song "Pretty Girl."

"Hallelujah, I Love Her So" is a song I liked instantly. It's upbeat and has a loud strings section accompanying the other typical instruments. The violins really made that song stand out to me.

"Summertime Blues" is a classic that everyone knows, even if they just know the hook. This song shows that Cochran was original and not an Elvis Presley copy cat. This song is a solid golden hit that I don't even think The King could have written.

For me, this collection of songs is hit and miss throughout. I liked just about half of it, and the other half, I could have done without. Even though there are some songs that I didn't love, this is a great collection that shows off all of the sides to Eddie Cochran.

It's hard to believe that he was 21 or younger when he wrote all of these songs. The kid had true talent, and it's a bummer that he died so young. It would have been really interesting to see where he would have gone next.

"String Along" by The Kingston Trio (July, 1960)

Dad's Take:

We've covered just about every genre in popular music so far, so it's about time we move into folk music, one of my favorite genres. What better place to start than The Kingston Trio.

The Kingston Trio peaked commercially with "Tom Dooley" in 1958, but this album, their fifth studio record, captures everything I like about the trio. It has impeccable harmonies, humor, social awareness, and catchy melodies. By 1960, folk had been popular for a few years among the college crowd who where a little too old for rock and roll's dance beat, but it was only on the verge of becoming the force it would be with the ascent of Dylan, Baez, and the rest of the sixties folk icons.

The Kingston Trio were among the pioneers of modern folk music, and "String Along" makes it clear why. Great songs like "Leave My Woman Alone" are accessible to the aging first generation of rock and rollers (and, indeed, were influenced by people like the Everly Brothers), but with a maturity and social awareness that had not yet broken into rock and roll music. Those things would become part of rock and roll soon, thanks to people like The Kingston Trio and their influence on a folk scene that would soon give birth to Dylan and his cult of followers in all popular genres.

But back to the Trio. Not long after this album was recorded, Dave Guard left the Kingston Trio, putting an end to the first major era of the Trio. He was replaced by John Stewart, who I always liked as a member of the Trio and as a solo act. They weren't quite the same after that. They continued to have chart success for a couple more years, but "String Along" was their last album to top the charts. Six of their next seven albums hit the Top Ten, though, so Guard's departure definitely didn't kill the group.

I'm not sure why this is the album the authors of our list chose to represent the Kingston Trio, but I'm not complaining. I've never hear this whole album before, and I'm happy to have it now. "String Along" is a good, solid album, with strong songs and very little obvious filler. Like other Kingston Trio albums, it was criticized by some folk fanatics because of its political neutrality in a left-leaning genre, but record buyers ate it up and found it highly satisfying. It's a very good record.

Brad's Take:

Like a lot of the albums we've reviewed so far, I've heard of the band, but never actually listened to any of their music, until now. Although folk music isn't typically my cup of tea, this was a nice little surprise.

"Bad Man's Blunder" is an up-tempo silly little song that I thought was okay, but the next couple of tracks were a bit slower, and full of perfect harmonies. I liked all of the slow songs the most on this album.

They have great voices that sound great when they're harmonizing together. On songs like "When I Was Young," they harmonize the entire song together. It reminds me a lot of a band I occasionally listen to called Kings Of Convenience, who must have at least some Kingston Trio influence in their vocals.

 As a whole, this album is good. It's not my favorite, but there's some songs that I really liked a lot, and some that I sort of struggled to get through. Fortunately though, the entire album is only 30 minutes long so the songs are short and sweet, getting to the point from the get go.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Time Out" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (June, 1960)

Brad's Take:

Dave who? That's what I thought when I got to this on our list. But right when the first track began, I knew I was going to remember Dave Brubeck from then on.

On the opening track, "Blue Rondo A La Truk," I was taken by surprise. Dave Brubeck shows no mercy on that piano! He pounds on it like each of his fingers are hammers, but then, out of nowhere, he turns his hammer-hands into cooked baby carrots which make for a very delicate and soft sound, of course.

This is a great jazz album. It's got the upbeat swing stuff all the way down to the mellow nighttime "I'll be in the back of this empty, cold, dark bar at a table sipping a drink all alone" stuff. And sometimes all those different jazz sub-genres come together in single songs. Also, to make it more fun and interesting for the listener, and probably the band itself, they wrote stuff in super weird time signatures that I can't even comprehend, and even showcased Joe Morello's awesome boomy drum solo in the middle of the song "Take Five."

Although this album got negative feedback from critics when it was originally released, there's no surprise that it eventually made its way on to lists such as "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die."

Dad's Take:

This is the kind of jazz I like. I like how Brubeck and his quartet explore everything from traditional jazz to swing and blues and even a bit of R&B and waltz music, all within a single number. It's like nothing is off limits, and they're going to go wherever the music leads them. The goal of "Take Five" was to explore unusual time signatures, and Brubeck succeeds, going all over the place but without ever becoming unlistenable. Everything fits together so well that you hardly even notice that this is experimental music. You can't get bored when the music captures your attention and creates suspense that makes you think it will go one way, and then it twists in an unexpected direction. To me, that's just plain fun.

Brubeck's piano leads the way, but he gives plenty of time to the rest of his combo. Paul Desmond on alto sax adds musical candy, with extra sweetness from Eugene Wright's restrained bass and Joe Morello's steady-but-never-monotonous skins. Brad pointed out Morello's solo on "Take Five," which is one of the most musical drum solos I've ever heard.

"Take Five" is the best known piece here, and it is sheer delight, but it's not the only cut worth listening to. The album is solid from beginning to end. It might be a step below Miles Davis's "Kind Of Blue," but it's a very small step.

"The Sound Of Fury" by Billy Fury (May, 1960)

Brad's Take:

I'd never heard of Billy Fury before this so I was curious to hear his debut album, "The Sound Of Fury." As soon as I hit play, I immediately thought, "I didn't know Elvis impersonators actually got record deals..."

After doing a little bit of research, I discovered that he kind of was Elvis, but the UK's version of Elvis. His vocal styling and energy is almost identical, and he even dressed and moved like The King.

On "Turn My Back On You," Billy Fury does his best Buddy Holly impression by doing the stuttering vocal style that Buddy was well known for.

Since our book is from the UK, it makes sense for Billy Fury to be in it. The UK needed an Elvis and a Buddy Holly so this kid probably made lots of people (especially girls) happy until the real came over from the states.

Putting the similarities to other artists aside, Buddy, I mean Billy Fury nailed it on this album. He stuck to the same blues/rock/country formula that was popular in the US and brought it to the UK, and he succeeded. His voice and energy were great, and he was a good looking guy. I'm sure the English girls swooned over him all day and night. It's not a surprise that a life size bronze statue of him (doing an Elvis impression) was eventually built in Liverpool in his honor in 2003.

Dad's Take:

This is one of a few British-only releases on our list. It's a British book, so that's to be expected. It's also interesting, because it ensures that we'll hear some albums that we've never heard, but that influenced the great British bands. Billy Fury, as an early leader in the Liverpool rock and roll scene, undoubtedly played a more important role than we Yanks are likely to recognize. Interestingly, according to one source, one group that auditioned to be Fury's band was a little band called the Silver Beetles. They were turned down when they refused to fire their bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe, thus missing out on a £20 per week job.

If you listen to very much 1950's rockabilly, you'll hear a number of Elvis imitators of varying quality. Billy Fury is actually pretty good. The songs are good, and the performances are strong. As Brad mentioned, you hear the obvious influence of people like Elvis and Buddy Holly, as well as Carl Perkins and other rockabilly greats, especially Eddie Cochran.

Fury had the chops to pull off some really good rockabilly, as well as the voice for ballads. He didn't have quite the same energy level as Elvis or Buddy. His music isn't especially original, but he was one of the early architects of British rock and roll, and as such deserves a spot on our list.

Bottom line, though, is that it's just a fun record. Songs like "Don't Say It's Over," "That's Love," and several others on this record deserve to be better known stateside. I found "Since You've Been Gone" with its bizarre tempo changes and stuttering "baby baby baby" delivery to be especially interesting. It's not the best song on the record, but it's unusual and fun in its weirdness. If you like good old rock and roll, and especially rockabilly, look for this record. It's good stuff if you like this kind of thing. And I do.