1001 Albums 0033-0034

Published March 01, 2013

My continued journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0033: Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba (1962)
An album I’ve already heard

I love the bossa nova - I just can't get enough of it. If I had my say the entire world would have the bossa nova as its soundtrack. I want to hear it in clubs, bars, airports, department stores, food stores - everywhere that music is played in public. So needless to say I really love this album.

Although the 1959 film Orfeu Negro is credited with making the bossa nova known outside Brazil, it seems that when a famous American jazz musician such as tenor saxophonist Stan Getz adopted the genre - he would have plenty of success with bossa nova albums over the next couple of years - it gained an even wider audience.

On this album, perhaps some passages get a bit to free-formy-jazzy for my tastes, but that's a very minor complaint. Music seldom gets more beautiful, light, rhythmical and engaging than this.

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0034: Ray Price: Night Life (1962)

However hard I try, I can't recall ever hearing any recordings by Ray Price before this album. Consulting my Top Country Singles chart book, I see that he's regarded as one of the greats, ranking as the 9th most successful artist on that American chart. After listening to Night Life, I can really see why, for he is a wonderful singer and this is a truly excellent collection of songs.

The album, described in the 1001 Albums book, as a c&w version of Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours In The Morning, features songs of heartbreak and loneliness. But the thing is, Price is not overtly wallowing in his misery. The vocal performances and musical arrangements exude confidence and pride, while all the sadness is in the lyrics - that combination gives the album an air  of ”I’ve been hurt but you’re not gonna catch me crying”, which somehow makes it all the more emotionally engaging for me.

Any less successful moments? Well, Price sounds a little uncomfortable on the over-long spoken introduction: they could have skipped that without losing anything. Apart from that, this album was a really nice surprise and one that I definitely want to own.

Verdict: Five out of five

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1001 Albums 0030-0032

Published February 21, 2013

My continued journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0030: Bill Evans: Sunday At The Village Vanguard (1961)

I have exactly one Bill Evans album in my collection: his collaboration with Monica Zetterlund, released on their 1964 album Waltz For Debby. Many, including Monica herself, feel that this was her greatest album, and I agree. Evans' delicate, sensitive and responsive piano playing was the perfect match for Monica's singing. This present album, however, is just him and his trio, recorded live. And while I can still appreciate that Evan's was an incredibly sensitive pianist and that he and his fellow musicians are highly accomplished, I feel my attention wandering. I guess I prefer him "duetting" with a vocalist like Monica Z.

Verdict: This certainly isn't bad, but the music doesn't mean very much to me.

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0031: Ray Charles: Modern Sounds In Country And Western (1962)

Now, here's something that was a novel approach when it was first released, more than 40 years ago: an entire album of an African-American soul singer tackling a music genre that, thus far, had been strongly associated with white Americans. But the results are great and perhaps indicates that there isn't necessarily that much difference between the two genres, or at least there wasn't back then.

The big hit here was "I Can't Stop Loving You", which topped the charts in both the United States and Great Britain, but there's plenty more to enjoy on this excellent album. With such an amazing singer as Ray Charles at the microphone, how could there not be?

Verdict: A truly great album from start to finish.

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0032: Booker T. And The M.G.s: Green Onions (1962)

A few albums ago in this blog, I listened to an LP by Jimmy Smith, who helped make the Hammond organ a cool instrument in the Fifties. But as I'm listening to this album, I'm wondering if Booker T. Jones didn't do more to bring the organ into the mainstream.

The only track I can remember hearing before is the title track, a Top Three hits in the U.S. back in 1962. And more than 50 years later it's still a really groovy and exciting recording. The rest of the album: well, I guess it's a staple of every self-respecting mod's record collection. To me it sounds very much like "generic Sixties pop music", the kind you will hear when there's a band playing or there's a scene at a discotheque in a Sixties movie. I also believe I'm hearing the sort of swing and feel that would be imitated by many British bands just a couple of years later.

It's a nice enough album, certainly, but however much I like Sixties instrumentals with the electric organ in the forefront, as a whole this collection of tunes don't excite me enough to actively seek it out.

Verdict: Groovy, but perhaps outstays its welcome after a few tracks.

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1001 Albums 0028-0029

Published February 17, 2013

My continued journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0028: Jimmy Smith: Back At The Chicken Shack (1960)

Considering its ubiquity on recorded music throughout the Sixties, it's hard to understand that there was a time when the electric organ was regarded as anything but hip. But then along came Jimmy Smith, who is largely credited with making it a very cool instrument indeed.

This album is supposedly one of his very best, although I have to say that to my ears it sounds as if the Hammond organ takes a back seat to Stanley Turrentine's saxophone and guitarist Kenny Burrell.

I found this album a bit boring, to tell you the truth. I wouldn't mind it plyaing as background music in a bar or at a dinner party, but it's nothing I would listen to as "an album".

Verdict: Not enough Hammond organ.

0029: Muddy Waters: Muddy Waters At Newport (1960)

Full disclosure: I am not a blues fan. I do realise that it's the basis of much of modern popular music, but in it's purest, most rootsy form, it just doesn't speak to me most of the time. So Muddy Waters being something of a blues legend I approached this album - which inspired many of the names that went on to form some of the most famous names in Sixties and Seventies rock - with some trepidation.

I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed this a lot more than I had expected, and if nothing else it was interesting to hear some of the blues classics in the versions that inspired the many other recordings that followed. If you're a blues fan I can certainly understand that this album would appeal to you. The band is really, really tight, there's plenty of excitement and energy in the performance, and Muddy Waters is a great singer.

At the end of the day, however, this is not my cup of tea and it's not an album I will seek out again.

Verdict: A great recording, but of limited appeal to this particular listener.


1001 Albums 0026-0027

Published November 30, 2012

My continued journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0026 Miriam Makeba: Miriam Makeba (1960)

Like every right-thinking person, I love Miriam Makeba’s 1967 hit recording of ‘Pata Pata’. My parents had the album as well, which I remember as quite enjoyable, not least ‘Click Song Number 1’, which was a “fun” track for me as a child, with all those clicking sounds in Makeba’s vocals.

This album, however... I don’t know. In general I’m not so fond of so-called world music. I find it hard to shake the feeling that I’m supposed to like it because it’s more “rootsy”, “honest” and “real”, than the “clinically” performed and recorded music of Europe and North America. Unfortunately, it has the reverse effect on me. When I listen to this album I find myself longing for some cynical, crassly commercial bubblegum music instead.

Makeba’s voice has incredible warmth, but this is simply not my type of music.

Verdict: The album was pretty much what I expected it to be, but it failed to draw me in.


0027 The Everly Brothers: A Date With The Everly Brothers (1960)

The Everly Brothers were a part of the first wave  of commercially successful rock’n’roll in the late Fifties. The duo inspired everyone from The Beatles to Simon & Garfunkel, and their gorgeous harmonies were applied to a string of classic hit singles well into the Sixties.

This album contains only one of their truly famous tunes - admittedly one of the very best, 'Cathy's Clown' - but it’s nonetheless a solid album with a good choice of songs, not to mention the original version of the super-classic ‘Love Hurts’, later a hit for Roy Orbison, Nazareth and Jim Capaldi.

If you have any room in your heart for The Everly Brothers you will enjoy this album. I’ve mainly heard the hit singles from late Fifties/early Sixties era, so this album was a pleasant surprise for me.

Verdict: I think I still prefer the singles, but I won’t mind hearing this again.


1001 Albums 0024-0025

Published October 19, 2012

My continued journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0024 Joan Baez: Joan Baez (1960)

A couple of years ago I watched a documentary about American folk singer Joan Baez on TV. She struck me as a person with her heart in the right place, and her important position in popular music history can’t be denied. However, I find her singing voice a bit hard to take when she goes up into the high register, so I’ve always stayed clear from her music. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached this album.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first track, ‘Silver Dagger’, where there was none of that glass-shattering wailing, but simply a relaxed (by Baez’s standards) performance of a good song. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so painful after all? However, my hopes were shattered along with the glass on the next track, ‘Fare Thee Well’, where I found myself physically recoil and my ears going into shut-down mode as she hit those high notes. In other words: ouch!

In addition to that, a whole album of one single voice singing, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, is simply not my cup of tea. For me, this kind of album is mainly a time-piece – “we can and we will change the world!” –  and not much else. I noticed in the documentary that Baez can no longer reach those high notes – or at least she’s unable to make them as piercing as she used to – which can only be a good thing.

Verdict: Interesting to hear once, but my ears will never forgive me.


0025 Elvis Presley: Elvis Is Back! (1960)
An album I’ve already heard.

As everyone knows, Elvis made no worthwhile music after he went into the army in 1958. No, scratch that: everything he did after he signed with RCA a few years earlier is designed to sell, sell, sell and nothing else. No, actually, the day he entered a professional recording studio and started recording for Sun Records in the mid-Fifites is when he sold out. Or, to be honest, he sold out the day he was born. Come to think of it, the case was lost on the day his parents met each other: that’s when the selling-out started.

Thankfully, this kind of absurd and ungenerous thinking regarding the recording career of Elvis Presley is no longer especially prevalent. Today it is generally agreed that – along with a lot of crap, admittedly – Elvis made many fantastic recordings between 1960 and his death in 1977.

This album, his first after his period in the army, is a good case in point. The big hit singles were often kept off albums in those days, but from the opening track ‘Make Me Know It’ on this album is pure joy, with only the occasional dip. More polished and poppy than Elvis’ pre-army recordings, perhaps, but still highly engaging, if in a slightly different way than the Fifties recordings. Don’t ignore it simply because it was recorded in the wrong decade.