1001 Albums 0022-0023

Published September 13, 2012

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

0022 Marty Robbins: Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs (1959)

As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I don’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable about country music history, but a couple of things I have noticed are a) that some of the really famous male country singers such as Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves had really strong, sonorous voices, and b) that recordings made in Nashville in the late Fifties and early Sixties often sound way better than most other popular music recordings from this time. Marty Robbins certainly fits into the great voices category, and I’m assuming that this album was recorded in Nashville, because both the musicianship and the sound quality are top-notch.

As you may have gathered, I really like this album of songs that romanticise the myths of the Wild West. The tunes are catchy and I never lost interest in the album, which is a very rare thing indeed. Up until this point, Marty Robbins was little more than a name to me, so this collection of songs – apparently recorded in one single day – was a very pleasant surprise indeed.

Verdict: I’m going to buy this album.

0023 The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out (1959)

More jazz, but this time of the slightly more accessible type, at least in the case of the fantastic ‘Blue Rondo À La Turk’ and ‘Take Five’, the only tracks here that I'd heard before. According to the 1001 Albums book, this is one of the most popular jazz albums of all time. I understand that its accessibility and the sheer mainstream success of it, has meant that The Dave Brubeck Quartet aren’t very highly regarded among jazz critics. Perhaps there’s a resentment that this music opened the door to less talented followers, ending up in the often muzak-y “smooth jazz” we have to suffer in certain public places today. Be that as it may, I find this music highly appealing, and the playing of alto-saxophonist Paul Desmond (who also wrote ‘Take Five’) is to die for.

Verdict: Lovely music.



1001 Albums 0020-0021

Published September 05, 2012

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

0020 Ray Charles: The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959)

As with so many other artists in this blog so far, I've only ever owned compilation albums of Ray Charles. I must admit that before hearing this album I had no idea that he'd recorded so many standards during his time on the Atlantic label. The Genius Of Ray Charles features quite a few such numbers, including some really odd choices, such as 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'. I have to say that there's very little on this album that moves me in the way that classic soul numbers such as 'Lonely Avenue' or '(Night Time Is) The Right Time' do. So while this may be one of Ray Charles' best albums for some, again my 1994 compilation album The Best Of Ray Charles works better for me.

Verdict: An amazing performer, but not his most interesting recordings.

0021 Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue (1959)

The second Miles Davis album in the book is one of those LPs that is often referred to as unmissable, a true classic, and so on. I had never heard it until now, and it certainly is a great album within its field, although, again, I never felt, "wow, I've really got to buy this album!".

Verdict: Didn't disappoint, but nor did it excite me very much.


1001 Albums 0018-0019

Published July 01, 2012

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

0018 Sarah Vaughan: Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly’s (1958)

In 2005 I saw a performance by Blossom Dearie in New York City that ranks as one of the most satisfying live shows I’ve ever experienced. I was sitting at a table, a glass of wine at hand, and only a few metres away from the artist. It was intimate, I was allowed to sit down throughout the entire show, and I could concentrate on the actual music and not have to worry about anything else.

I usually don’t have much time for live albums, but this Sarah Vaughan album reminded me of the Blossom Dearie show. It works for me precisely because of the intimate setting: instead of the sound of an anonymous stadium crowd, you can actually hear the reactions of individual people in the audience. The fact that the album starts with an introduction informing the audience that they will be part of a live recording, coupled with Ms Vaughan’s banter and occasional mistakes, makes you feel like you’re right there.

Oh, and the singing and playing on it is amazing as well.

Verdict: A really great live album.

0019 Ella Fitzgerald: Sings The George And Ira Gershwin Song Book (1959)

I love Ella Fitzgerald. Her very own combination of warmth and exactitude is simply matchless. My only gripe is that occasionally she sounds like she’s thinking of the shopping list rather than the actual song she’s performing. Too much exactitude and too little warmth. Not so, for the most part, on this five-LP box set of songs from the George and Ira Gershwin song book (which today would fit snugly on a double-CD).

As the reader may be aware, she did several of those Great American Song Book albums around this time, covering Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Harold Arlen, and perhaps others. I own the Porter and Rodgers & Hart albums, but according to the 1001 albums book, this one is the best, and I believe they may be right. As I’ve already revealed I’m a fan of the arranger Nelson Riddle, who is responsible for the arrangements here, and he does not disappoint. If nothing else, it’s interesting to hear how he’s approached some of the songs for which he wrote arrangements for Sinatra as well. I am definitely going to invest.

Verdict: Highly recommended.



1001 Albums 0015-0017

Published June 23, 2012

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

0015 Tito Puente & His Orchestra: Dance Mania, Vol. 1 (1958)

Quite enjoyable, this, in a Fifties night-clubby kind of way. Tito Puente, sometimes known as “The King of Latin Music”, knows how to perform a mambo, and as every decent person knows the mambo is one of the greatest human inventions. But while this album is nice to have on in the background, I wouldn’t rate it as essential listening.

Verdict: Fun and lively, but not so much for close listening.

0016 Billie Holiday: Lady In Satin (1958)

Oooh, this is where I have to make a confession: I’m actually not particularly fond of Billie Holiday. I’m aware that she’s regarded as one of the greats, but all I hear, at least on this album, is a heroin addict croaking her way through song after song without very much in the way of interpretation. And since I find the notion of the artist bound for self-destruction neither romantic nor intriguing, there's very little left here for me. The arrangements, by Ray Ellis, are nice, but cannot save the album. Sorry, Holiday fans.

Verdict: Not my cup of tea.

0017 Jack Elliott: Jack Takes The Floor (1958)

“This release is still engaging as it was in 1958,” it says here. Well, I wasn’t around in 1958 so I can’t really say how engaging it was back then, but I do know that it fails to engage me very much now. I understand that this kind of folky Americana (vocals and guitar only) sparks something in certain listeners, and I’m sure Mr. Elliott has been very influential. It’s just that this particular album makes this particular listener feel restless and bored.

Verdict: I have no wish to hear this album again.

Note: This album is currently unavailable.

1001 Albums 0012-0014

Published June 08, 2012

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

0012 Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool (1957)

This, strictly speaking, is a compilation album, since all the recordings were made in 1949–1950. Miles Davis is, of course, one of the jazz greats, and these were the recordings where he and his musicians invented cool jazz. According to Wikipedia, cool jazz “is characterized by its relaxed tempos and lighter tone, in contrast to the bebop style that preceded it”, and also “often employs formal arrangements and incorporates elements of classical music.”

I’ve heard about this album for decades, but never got around to listening to it until now. As with so many of the other jazz albums in this blog, my ears tell me that this is great music, yet my heart is never really in it for real. The music doesn’t annoy me, and I’m glad that I’ve finally heard this classic album, but it fails to spark a love affair.

Discographical note: The closing track, ‘Darn That Dream’ – the only song to feature vocals – was added to the album in 1971. The vocal interpretation, by one Kenny Hagood, wants too much and achieves too little, jarring against the mood of the rest of the album, so they should have left it off.

Verdict: A true jazz classic, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it any time soon.


0013 Machito: Kenya (1957)

I can just imagine myself sitting in some cool club somewhere in the United States in the late Fifties, sipping a cocktail and grooving away to this wonderful slice of Latin big band jazz. According to the 1001 Albums book, “In the 1940s, Machito and his orchestra brewed a hot cup of mambo-mania, blending Afro-Cuban beats with American jazz”. The music heard on this album was apparently the result of the band’s musical director, Mario Bauza, wanting to create “a Latin big band that fused the fire of early Cuban orchestras he heard growing up in Havana with the hipness of Duke Ellington”. If so I’m all for it.

Verdict: Great, the music triggers my imagination – might even buy the album.


0014 Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard (1957)

An album I’ve already heard.

My mother’s cousin was something of a record collector, and since I loved pop and rock music even as a small child, I inherited many of the albums and singles he decided to rid himself of. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for introducing me to many great artists, for example Little Richard – and this very album was the one he gave me, along with the follow-up album simply entitled Little Richard; those two albums taken together pretty much constitute a collection of every essential recording Mr Penniman made in the Fifties.

What can I say? For sheer rock’n’roll energy, Little Richard is pretty much unmatched, and there are no weak tracks on this album. I loved this music as a kid and I still love it today.

An additional note: I just realised that Little Richard will be 80 this December, Chuck Berry will be 86 in October, and Fats Domino is already 84. Dear me, rock’n’roll really is VERY old now.