Friday, October 29, 2010

#98 Donny Hathaway-Everything Is Everything


Artist: Donny Hathaway
Album: Everything Is Everything
Label: WEA
Year: 1970

Donny Hathaway's first solo album remains a true soul masterpiece today, 40 (!) years after its release, as it's a great example of briding the gap between 60s soul and 70s funk. At the time of it's release, he was already known by many and had contributed to the works of The Impressions and Roberta Flack among others.
The A-side of this record is R&B-pop hit after hit. The title track, "Je Vous Aime (I Love You)", and "Misty" are all excellent songs. More than half of the tracks on the album are at least co-authored by Hathaway, and many of the songs also feature composition credits by the musicians backing him. Every crescendo, every instrumental fill that works so well on the A-side probably owes something to the closeness felt between the lead singer and his backing band. Yet it's the B-Side that really makes this album a masterpiece.
"Thank You Master" and "The Ghetto" are brilliant early-70s funk songs. The former takes up a political standpoint, with lyrics referencing slavery, and lush orchestration that would pave the way for bands like The O'Jays. The latter, however, is a repetitive stone-groove, more in line with the stylings of Ohio Players, where playing and feel, with a clear homage to jazz routes, are the centerpiece. The album ends with a cover of "Young, Gifted, And Black" a Nina Simone song that Aretha Franklin would adopt for an album two years later. This pointed towards Hathaway's future which revolved around covers and heavy orchestration.
Hathaway's career took several directions after this album and before his abandonment of show business in the mid-1970s, before his early death in 1979. But his first album remains a great example of an ordinary man making extraordinary art.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

#99 Silver Apples-Silver Apples


Artist: Silver Apples
Album: Silver Apples
Label: MCA
Year: 1968

I seem to go long periods of time without listening to this album, and by the time I get to it, I figure I'll probably have grown tired of it. But that never seems to be the case. Silver Apples first album remains one of the best, most unique poppy psychedelic albums of the late 1960s. The duo consisted of a drummer and singer who played a series of oscillators. Yet the nine songs on this debut are warm and vibrant with a sound that can fill a room.
The album's strength lies in its subtly. Being that half of the band is just a rhythm section, it makes sense that it would be hard to really make complex melodies with only one player on a melodic instrument. But sure enough, it's the buried-deep chord progression of the chorus of "Program" and the stop-start of "Whirly-Bird"...the subtleties, are what make each melody truly unique.
Of course, along with the unique melodies are the absolutely groundbreaking tone of the record. Even The United States of America, who also experimented with oscillators, don't come close to creating such a unique sound. And the album's influence was far reaching, and clearly Suicide and Spacemen 3, among others, owe something to it. Extremely simple melodies done in an absolutely unique manner...really a great record.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

#100 Blues Project-Projections


Artist: The Blues Project
Album: Projections
Label: Verve Forecast
Year: 1966

I fucking love Al Kooper. Later on in this list you'll see him mentioned in several other albums, certainly, but I couldn't resist putting The Blues Project on this list.
It's not for the fact that they are an essential band of all-time. And it's not just because I always have a soft spot for exceptional garage rock. But their second album, released in November 1966, still is fresh and exciting. For a band whose origins were blues-folky in nature, with roots in the New York Bowery, being able to release this tour de force is magnificent.
Kooper's strength as bandleader here, as usual, is his ability to make ordinary pop songs exceptional. With the exceptional playing of the rest of his band, simple songs like "Cheryl's Goin' Home" and "Steve's Song" are transformed with great leads, perfect drumming, and great hooks.
Of course, for a blues-based band, the covers are essential. The long, drawn-out "Two Trains Running" and "Caress Me Baby" is the best of the band's material of that ilk. Kooper's "Wake Me, Shake Me," aside from the minor-hit "No Time Like the Right Time" is still the band's best song, and the Chuck Berry cover is performed exceptionally.
The album concludes beautifully, as well, and "Fly Away" points to the pop music Kooper would eventually create with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Again, beautiful arrangements and wonderful yet simple playing are the song's strength.
This album isn't earth-shattering and I don't know of any greater impact it's had on the history of music. But simple things done well deserve credit, and with all of the above, in addition to smart production by Tom Wilson (see Bob Dylan) that retains a gritty feel and gives it no sheen, the album still is awesome with more could've been hits than most of its garage rock peers.

Monday, October 25, 2010


So I haven't updated this thing in 5 months, and from time to time I get that feeling that I need to share my feelings about an album. This urge, combined with my time spent in classes jotting down an updated list of my 100 favorite albums of all-time has given me the reason to re-start writing here.

So the next 100 posts will be in order from 100-1 of my favorite albums. If I've already reviewed the album, I'll post the old post and any new feelings I have on the thing. The list I've come up with does combine personal preference with historical importance occasionally, which I often take into account when I'm thinking of what albums I love.

If I don't write about an album on the list, also, perhaps I'll write about a near-miss!

So thanks for reading. Tomorrow I will write about album #100: The Blues Project-Projections