Thursday, October 29, 2015

...and you will know us by the trail of dead-Source Tags & Codes (2002)

Artist: ...and you will know us by the trail of dead
Album: Source Tags & Codes
Label: Interscope
Year: 2002

Well well well. Source Tags & Codes, along with Heartbreaker is another album I have listened to hundreds of times, and am really, earnestly revisiting for the first time in years. A while back, I purged many of the indie albums I had bought in high school. At this point, I can proudly say that I really only own the albums that I was really into, and albums I bought on a whim, due to hype or some other factor, are mostly out of my collection. Thirteen years later, what do I make of ST&C?
Coming out the same year as Mclusky Do Dallas, Turn On The Bright Lights, Kill The Moonlight, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Source Tags still holds up incredibly well, for the most part. The album operates in a weird sonic niche, far more aggressive than most of the decade's indie rock, certainly detached from most of the emo roots of the group (except, perhaps, lyrically), and nowhere near as hard as a group like Tool or System of a Down, but far more aggressive than the popular indie rock of the day. In an era where groups like The Kings of Leon or The Killers could get popular, there doens't seem to be much reason that the major label debut of Trail of Dead shouldn't have made the group huge. Though their disputes with their label are well-known and well-documented at this point, Source Tags is, dare I say, probably still a masterpiece.
The album's first two songs are instantly memorable and endlessly replayable, especially for those of us who grew up with the record. "It Was There That I Saw You," opens the album with the band in full force. The sonics of the dueling guitars playing in harmony is fantastic, the way the bass drops in before the verse is perfect, and the song ends with a beautiful crescendo. The big single from the album was "Another Morning Stoner," and with a different kind of dueling guitar interplay, and the song is another winner. In its time, the album was compared favorably to Sonic Youth. The comparison sticks out even from a song structure perspective, with strong verses and choruses in the songs, which give way to guitar interplay (in lieu of a solo), and then back to the verse/chorus, one more time. But the routine really doesn't get redundant, and the songs all work.
As we get to the heart of the album, though the first two and last two songs are the obvious stand-outs, all the middle ground is superb. "Bauldelaire" has a driving rhythm, and refuses to let you lose interest in the album three songs in. "Homage" is harsh and aggressive, but it gives way to three of the more peaceful songs on this admittedly aggressive album. "How Near How Far" comes out of its middle-part instrumental lull better than any other song. "Heart in the Hand of Matter" probably has the most interesting rhythmic arrangement on the album, and though "Monsoon" has some embarrassing lyrics, the song works. We come out of this sequence in the album with the sublime "Days of Being Wild", and close out with "Relative Ways" (other single), a short instrumental piece, and the brilliant title track. Though the group hasn't produced another album nearly this good (though its amibitions remain high!), the group should be proud. Thirteen years later, Source Tags & Codes has 11 perfect songs. It's a wonderful album, and coming from the last days of major label rock (an issue I should try to address in a separate essay), it's unlikely we'll see something like this again.
Given all that I've written, you may think I could go back and listen to this album again and again. Unfortunately, it has a fatal flaw: some of the worst production I've ever heard. In the last few years, and certainly since I was in high school, I've learned more about the loudness wars. Also, just being in a band, I've learned the difference between good and bad production. That doesn't mean everything should be clean. Bee Thousand isn't particularly "well" produced, but the instruments are well-defined, dynamics are there, and the album has personality! Source Tags & Codes on the other hand sounds...not good. Maybe not as terrible as a Taylor Swift song, maybe not as bad as Death Magnetic, but my lord, the drums and bass are nearly unlistenable. For the bulk of the album, the drummer is playing a ride cymbal whose terrible sound quality just obscures everything interesting going on. The guitars, when not playing single notes, are washed away in noise. The bass is present, but only in feel, not definition. In other words, I can hear it's there, but what it's playing is far less clear.
Source Tags & Codes is a masterpiece whose production is terrible, terrible, terrible. It's a shame. Will make fine listening in a car, but on the stereo I now have, it sounds like shit.

Pink Anderson-Carolina Blues Man, Volume 1 (1961)

Artist: Pink Anderson
Album: Carolina Blues Man Volume 1
Label: Prestige
Year: 1961

Pink Anderson's guitar playing and soulful vocals are beautifully collected in this collection. Though it seems he was an active performer for several decades, this represents one of his few official recording sessions. The songs here are intimate and heavily textured. Acoustic guitar is an instrument that is so simple, but can be produced and played so many different ways. On this batch of songs, Anderson sings like he's right in the room with you (without microphone), and strums a mean, full-sounding guitar. A great collection of songs.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mahmoud Ahmed-Almaz: Ethiopiques Volume 6

Artist: Mahmoud Ahmed
Album: Almaz: Ethiopiques Volume 6
Label: Buda Musique
Year: 2004

The sixth volume of the superb CD series, Ethiopiques which is an ongoing compilation of popular Ethiopian music, features the performances of 70s-era musician Mahmoud Ahmed. The first three songs on this compilation form a sort of suite, featuring a similar bass riff and basically the same chord progression. Part of the reason I want to try to go back and listen to everything I own is because, until relatively recently, I didn't pay much mind to sound quality on releases, and doing so has been fun. This release, however, does not really offer me the chance to analyze sound quality. The whole release is built on the strength of the feel and texture of the performances in these songs which are remarkable. Over an hour of delightful R&B music, slow and fast, hard and tender. Feels like the energy of a James Brown show at the Apollo. Great release!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Agitation Free-Second (1973)

Artist: Agitation Free
Label: Vertigo
Year: 1973

Second picks up right where Malesch leaves off, and we are left with only the best parts of the first album. Thumping bass, beautiful guitar interplay, and a lot more structure than the first side of the first album. The free-form jams and the eastern sound of Malesch have given way to a much more structured record.
I guess I don't have as much to say as I wish I did. The album's centerpiece and best song "Laila, Part 2." A soaring guitar masterpiece that does everything great Krautrock as a genre does. Repetition, throbbing bass, rolling drums, dynamic guitar interplay. This is probably my favorite guitar-based Krautrock album (as opposed to electronic stuff like Ashra).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Agitation Free-Malesch (1972)

Artist: Agitation Free
Album: Malesch
Label: Vertigo
Year: 1972

Agitation Free are one of those groups underrated/under-appreciated by people who like underrated music. Krautrock was a musical movement that was part of the German 1970s artistic renaissance, arguably the first major art movement in Germany after World War II. Groups as diverse as Can, Kraftwerk, Faust, Harmonia, and Ash Ra Tempel/AshRa fall under the genre's umbrella. Malesch is the group's first album, and it is a good primer on what the group could do, as well as what the genre as a whole could do.
The first side of the record, opening with "You Play With Us Today", is freewheeling but certainly not without form. The group uses Middle Eastern-inspired percussion, swirling organ, and pulsing bass to hold down the rhythm while distorted guitars improvise on top of it all. While the first three tracks are separate pieces, they are clearly part of one whole, and flows together.
Things pick up on side two. A little less "experimental" and "spacy" feeling, but the group comes together more to jam and it's a bit more cohesive. If one thing unites the wide variety of music that came from Krautrock's music, it's the repetition in the form, and the second half of the album is slow-building, really well-played, and feels great.
If there's one shortcoming when I hear this album, I know how much I prefer their next album, 2nd which I can't wait to hear next.

Cannonball Adderley-Mercy, Mercy, Mercy: Live At The Club (1966)

Artist: Cannonball Adderley
Album: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy: Live at The Club
Label: Capitol
Year: 1966

The liveliness and excitement and presence of this set is fantastic. Rather than the feel of something more avante-garde, blues-based, or even like a standard blowin' session, there is an "on-point" feel to every track here, with everyone firing on all cylinders playing their hearts out. A great live CD, that I wasn't expecting to enjoy as much as I did. Great set. I definitely need to check out more of his albums.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cannonball Adderley-Somethin' Else (1958)

Artist: Cannonball Adderley
Album: Somethin' Else
Label: Blue Note
Year: 1958

Cannonball Adderley's 1958 record Somethin' Else features Miles Davis on trumpet and Art Blakey on drums. The quintet is rounded out by Hank Jones on piano and Sam Jones (relation?) on bass. It's a bit perplexing to me how to approach jazz reviews. There are many jazz albums I can tell a story about and have strong feelings of. A moment or song or performance which often sticks out to me. However, there are likely just as many albums that I've listened to two or three times, and can tell you nothing about. Why is Somethin' Else a Blue Note classic? I really can't say. The best I can do is talk a little about why I like it. Sorry, but a lot of the jazz reviews will be like this.
One of the online acquaintances I used to talk to while getting into jazz (about a decade ago) one time made a disparaging remark to me about Blue Note albums in general, calling them just a "blowing session." Sure enough, there is far less of a personal identity among Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Clark's Blue Note output. As fantastic as it is, I'd be lying if I said one record blew others out of the way. I'd be lying further still if I said those records seemed as well-thought out and carefully orhcestrated as Mingus Ah Um or Kind Of Blue. That's not why I like them, though. The sound of a trio, quartet, quintet or what have you, just going to town on a tune, listening to the thunder of the drums or the way the keys dance around the tune is great. As I get dangerously close to becoming somewhat concerned about audiophile-quality recordings, the sound of a tenor sax or crash of a drum that feels like it's in the room resonates with me.
Somethin' Else is a respected classic, and certainly Adderley's earliest classic. What it really reminded me of, tonight, was the Miles Davis album from a year earlier, Round About Midnight. Davis features strongly in the opening tune, "Autumn Leaves," and his playing is quiet and informs the rest of the record. I'm not sure if the term "blowin' session" applies to all "generic" Blue Note dates, but it's always made me think of something like Horace Silver records, which swing and move quickly. This album, on the other hand, is slow and peaceful. "Autumn Leaves", and especially "Love For Sale" and "Sometin' Else" start slow, and before you know it, build into a larger, more forceful sound. Davis' influence is certainly on this record, and his composition fingerprints are littered throughout.
Bonus track "Alison's Uncle" is a much more standard hard bop tune. The album proper, however, is lush, peaceful, and moving. Art Blakey may be the true standout as well. For someone so renowned for his powerful drumming, he lends an extremely light touch to most of the album, never overplaying. A beautiful record, and that's all I have to say.

Ryan Adams-Country Punk (2001?)

Artist: Ryan Adams
Album: Country Punk
Label: Bootleg
Year: 2001

This bootleg is from a live, solo show Adams did in roughly 2001*ish. The only songs with names come from Heartbreaker and the others are listed as new. It is a relatively unremarkable set. While the songs are mostly great, they are all played in a somber tone. More than anything, the bootleg illustrates just how important the arrangements and orchestration are to making Heartbreaker such a fantastic record. The set goes on a bit too long, and Adams' banter with the crowd is cringe-worthy and drunk.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ryan Adams-Heartbreaker (2000)

Artist: Ryan Adams
Album: Heartbreaker
Label: Bloodshot
Year: 2000

This album has been with me for a long time, nearly 14 years. Ryan Adams was one of the first artists of my age and my generation I got into as a high schooler. This was in the aftermath of The Strokes debut album, and the beginning of the retro-rock revival of the early aughts. As "New York, New York" played constantly on VH1 after 9/11, Adams was an easy artist to get into and be drawn to, especially after some ill-advised years as a nu-metal fan. VH1 actually used to have music writing on the website, and I remember a columnist used to fawn over Adams, comparing him to Springsteen. I continued to follow Adams for a few years, through either Love Is Hell, Part 1 or Rock and Roll, whichever came first. By that time, I had been sold that Adams had made his best album since Heartbreaker so many times (and lied to), I was over him.
Because the truth is that Adams peaked with this album, his solo debut. Recorded after (or perhaps during) the breakup of his band Whiskeytown, it is incredibly diverse, honest, and well-recorded. What we have are 14 fantastic songs. I can only speculate as to the manner in which they were authored, but this is certainly not the most cohesive album. The songs are very diverse and a bit disorganized. There is no grand finale to the record, and it is not perfectly sequenced. Rather, it sounds like 14 songs by someone who is about to strike out on his own, and is just writing his heart out. The music press always liked to reproduce the idea that Adams had hundreds of un-recorded songs written, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was truth to it. But the songs he released after this album just aren't as good.
Let's talk about those songs. "AMY" is intimate and haunting. The loud, low-end drum that accompanies the break between verses is the best example I can give of how well-constructed these songs are. Every moment is pitch perfect. Every note played belongs. Many of the songs are predominantly Ryan on acoustic guitar, with accompaniment from either a sparse drum track, strings, or a haunting female vocalist (including Emmylou Harris on "Oh My Sweet Carolina). Songs like "To Be The One" and "In My Time Need Of Need" aren't particularly anthemic, but Adams is comfortable and makes a big splash, no matter how quiet he gets. And songs like "Come Pick Me Up" and "Why Do they Leave" are among the best songs ever recorded for the "alt-country" genre.
The quietness of the album deserves its own section. The production is pitch perfect. The rock songs have so much space, and a great sound. And songs where it's just Adams and his guitar are given space as well. This isn't something I would've noticed, spending most of my time listening to this album on a discman or in the car, but it's certainly a beautiful thing to hear now as I revisit the album.
Adams sounds hungry on this album. Like he's got something to prove. Perhaps the worst thing to happen to him was the recognition and accolades he received after this album, and especially his next, Gold. The albums that I've heard afterwards sound like generic, slightly above-average singer songwriter music, that reflect none of the earnestness and care on Heartbreaker. But I'll try to be an optimist. It isn't a shame that this is the best Adams gave us. It remains, 15(!) years later, a wonderful document of his talent. Every song is great and this album is one I am glad I never parted with.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Two More By Roy Acuff

Artist: Roy Acuff
Album: The King Of Country Music
Label: Bear Family Records
Year: 1993

Artist: Roy Acuff
Album: Columbia Historic Edition
Label: Sony Music
Year: 2002

Two more by Roy Acuff. The former, a 2-disc set released on the superb Bear Family Records, covers two CDs worth of material recorded mostly between 1945-1960. This is the era immediately after the era covered in the previous review, from Proper Records, also called The King Of Country Music. I'm no country music scholar by any stretch, but the first thing that comes to mind to me when hearing this batch of songs is The Grand Old Opry. This isn't "mountain music" from the hills of the Appalachian Mountains anymore. The songs are more lively and upbeat, and certainly more orchestrated than on his earlier recordings.
To me, this is both good and bad, I suppose. I really, really enjoy solo-blues and country music from the pre-1950s era, though as time has gone on, I have begun to appreciate full-band recordings from this genre a bit more. The opening track, "Tied Down" sets the mood for the set. More than anything, the production values also set this set apart from his earlier recordings. By the mid-1940s, certainly recording equipment and studios had greatly improved, and it shows.
On the upside, Acuff's songwriting moves in new and different directions with this set. Songs like "The Great Speckled Bird" and "I Like Mountain Music" are classics and deservedly so. They are absolutely beautiful, fun, anthemic songs. There's also a bit of darkness in several songs. "Oh Those Tombs" and his rendition of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" have dark, haunting moments that clearly foreshadow the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and the black, underside of country music. Similarly, some of his gospel tunes a re absolutely superb, and the last ten tracks on the compilation all fall under that category.
If this set has a fault, it's that we also get the start of some really, really, generic songs. Acuff pumped out music well through the 1970s, so I do not begrudge someone for repeating himself and others while making music for 40 years. With that said, songs like "When that Great Ship Went Down" and "Don't Judge Your Neighbor" are dull, boring, and repetitive, both lyrically and musically. There is just nothing special about these songs. Again, I'm not a country music scholar at all, but there is so much music to absorb from the greats. I have to imagine these performers were constantly performing new music. But it's not all brilliant and special.
That's okay though. For the most part, the songs across this compilation are absolutely wonderful, and a testament to Acuff's greatness.

The other compilation I have is the earliest Acuff CD I own. From the sound of it, it's mostly material from his earlier years. I am also convinced that the version of "Wabash Cannonball" that appears on this compilation is different than the one on the Proper box. No matter. While the sound quality can be a little shrill, this is how I initially fell in love with Acuff, so I suppose I'll hang on to this compilation.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Roy Acuff-King Of Country Music (Box Set)

Arist: Roy Acuff
Album: King Of Country Music
Label: Proper
Year: 2004

A few housekeeping notes. The first is that the image I'll be using an image of my copy of the CDs/records going forward. I just think it'll be more personal. In the same spirit, I'll try to include my history with the artist/album into the reviews, and hopefully the reviews will be more personal that way. So on to the review!
I picked up this release at J&R Music World in NYC, sometime in college. It was at the time, the most highly regarded compilation on Allmusic, and I believe, to this day, remains the most comprehensive of all his compilations. Unfortunately, I never listened to it in full until now. Why? Well, for one thing: I am terrible at making it through entire box sets. Another thing is that I learned during college that Proper Records may not be the fairest label. My understanding is that they have taken remastering work done by other labels, and since much of what they release is in the public domain, they tend to get away with it. So I held a skeptical eye on this box set, until now.
The release is a total revelation. The other Roy Acuff compilations I have, a single disc budget release from Columbia, and his Bear Family compilation of the same name, aren't as effective as this one. I'll address both of those in my next two reviews (both discs I owned before this box set), but in short, the latter covers his mid-40s to late-50s period, which isn't as good as his earliest stuff, and the former disc is a mere 12 or so songs. Acuff is called the "King Of Country Music" and it's not hard to hear why. With a career that truly began, in earnest, almost right after the passing of Jimmie Rodgers, Acuff covers a lot of the same ground, but his longevity and breadth of his work is far greater than Rodgers, who died far too early and young. From song structure, to song topics (many, many songs about trains, which Rodgers, "The Singing Brakeman", was also known for), Acuff picks up where Rodgers left off, and runs with it for the next 40+ years.
His voice is very toned-down early on. Even the end of the box set (which moves chronologically), eventually shows a performer more comfortable with belting out tunes. But early on, his voice is very restrained and calm. And early on, there's an incredible diversity to his songs and song structure, especially considering the age of the recordings. "You're The Only Star In My Blue Heaven" moves at a slow pace, and it's intro seems unusually long. In "Mule Skinner Blues", he evokes Rodgers' signature yodeling sound, more evidence of tribute he's playing to the genre's originator. In "Stuck Up Blues", he evokes a white, southern populism, rallying against the rich and those in power who seek to control the little guy.
On songs like "I'll Forgive But I Can't Forget" and "Be Honest With Me", his "new voice" starts to appear. Based on the other compilation I have from Acuff, his voice sounded noticeably different starting in the mid-1940s. While I think it'll grow on me, I prefer the toned-down sound of his earlier recordings.
Towards the end of the compilation, on the final disc, a lot of the spirit and uniqueness of the early recordings starts to disappear. There are a few instrumental tracks which are of no real significance. After that, however, there are three songs which are among the most explicitly religious of all in the set, and it honestly sounds like addressing that subject matter more directly may have given him a bit more excitement, and reinvigorated him. The songs are superb and a great way to end the set.
At over 100 songs, combined with the other two sets I have, this is likely all the Acuff I need. Can't believe it took me so long to really check it out.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Action-Rolled Gold (2002)

Before breaking up, The Action recorded demos for an album that was to be called Brain. The album never saw the light of day, and members of the band (three of them, though not singer Reg King) would go on to form the band Mighty Baby. As far as the great, unfinished masterpieces of rock and roll go, Rolled Gold should rank very high on any list. While it's an imperfect album (certainly thanks to most of these songs residing in "demo" status), even what we're given ranks along the best of any group's work in the 1960s. Rolled Gold's fourteen songs are likely not sequenced the way an official album would have been released (though "Come Around" makes a splendid opener), and the sound is raw and sourced from acetate. But the performances, as ever, are incredibly lively. Reg King's vocals, for example, on "Look At The View" are incredibly powerful and raw. His repeating of the song's title gives credence to the idea that these guys were working their butts off, and took the demo sessions very seriously (not to imply anybody denies this). Throughout the release, King's vocals are truly better than ever, and his blue-eyed soul singing style perfectly merges with a raw R&B influence that was surprisingly absent on their early tracks. If anything, though this album feels poppier than their early songs, the vocals and performances are rougher. There is no doubt The Action were a better pop group than mod-R&B combo. Along with "Come Around", the title track of the would-be album "Brain" is a deserved classic, with perfect wah-wah guitar that is incredibly understated. The wah-wah is used as a rhythm guitar, and never dominates the song with overdone effects. The drums drive the track, which continuously repeats the same chord progression, but with intensity every time. Other songs, like "Icarus", "Something to Say" and "Strange Roads" showcase The Action's lead guitar work effectively. The guitar work never shows off and fits the songs perfectly. One of my favorite songs on the collection, "Things You Cannot See," is approached totally differently, with a lead acoustic guitar and bongo drums. It's an understated, almost folky track, that shows how deep their songwriting talent was. And on "Really Doesn't Matter", the group shows that they can still belt out a beautiful blue-eyed soul style These songs originally saw an official release in 1995, and the 2002 CD Rolled Gold presumably sounds pretty similar to other variations of this release. It's also, again, worth repeating that these songs were demos, and as such, don't even sound mastered. Whereas something like Smiley Smile was finished by a producer, the songs have an incredibly raw sound, with every song having a different aesthetic mix-wise (some songs have drums louder than guitars, other the opposite way, bass levels vary within songs) which is something a mastering job would smooth over. This is not a complaint however, as the raw-ness of the demos is one of the best parts, and there are many examples I could think of where demos sound more raw and energetic than finished albums (something like the band Tomorrow comes to mind!).

The Action-Action Packed (Compilation)

In my sophomore and junior years of college, I was on a tear listening to UK, mid-60s era Nuggets groups. I always have had an affinity for garage rock. The aggression, speed, and raw sound of white teenagers probably hits close enough to home for it to be the one genre I really "get" on a personal level. I have been these guys. Before you grow up. Before you care about sound quality. Before anything matters more than playing with as much grit and speed as possible, this is how you sound. The Small Faces, The Creation, The Smoke and others were constantly in rotation for me that year. While I also fell for The Action, it was their unreleased album Brain that hooked me (later released, and soon to be reviewed, in the Rolled Gold release). I didn't pick up Action Packed until several years later, and I can remember being disappointed. Not every group of this era could be The Who or The Pretty Things and graduate from superb garage-rock to lush, 60s psychedelic masterpieces. But Action Packed did not hit me. It showed none of the glory present on the famous, unreleased album. Sure, on the surface it had all the things I loved about Maximum R&B, but the performances just weren't there for me. Like Satta Massagana this is definitely an album I only have listened to once. But unlike that album, a fresh set of ears made me enjoy it much more the second time around. I can see why I was probably turned off by it upon first listen. Opening track, a cover of Chris Kenner's "Land of 1000 Dances" is just not that good. It reminds me a lot of the Shadows Of Knight's version of "Gloria." Slower and tamer than the original, and especially a song like Dances, with several superb versions, why would I ever reach for this one? Even through what is supposedly supposed to be their best early song, "I'll Keep Holding On", nothing on this compilation really stuck out to me. But once I reached "Hey Sah-Lo-Ney", what makes this band great clearly started being audible. The refrain of "Come On Children" made me think of The Small Faces song of the same name, but really, this group stands out from the pack from their peers. What makes The Action unique is probably two things: a two-guitar lineup that allows for more interesting leads than most of their peers, and a better sense of soul. I especially want to focus on this latter point. In all garage rock, the lead singer is more or less trying to emulate black soul musicians. Whether you are Robert Plant or Steve Marriott, that's just what is being done. Some do it well, some not. Some songs, like "For All That I Am" and "Bony Marony" by The Creation come off great, some, like so many Motown covers (I'm looking at you Mick Jaggar), including the one included here ("Since I Lost My Baby") don't come off well. However, most of the time, these singers seem to be going for the raw emotion of an Otis Redding-type when singing covers, or even their own songs! However, The Action's Reg King is just better than most at singing soulfully. He has a beautiful voice, and it's not masked by any forced roughness. The Action are influences and what they are going for aren't that different than so many of their peers, but they often do it better, and like Dusty Springfield or The Young Rascals, do a great job of mimicking the soul they are emulating. "Wasn't It You" has a great acoustic guitar clearly point the way to their next group of recording sessions, that would lead to the aborted Brain album. "Never Ever" is another great example of superb blue-eyed soul. What strikes me the most from this compilation is also how great of a drummer they have. In listening to Rolled Gold for all of these years, I always thought the drumming was weak and fell off in certain points. Now, hearing it again, on a good CD player, the drumming is on point and unique, and definitely gives the group character. The final song, "Shadows and Reflections" though with a cute harpsichord, is really not good. It sounds generic for the time, and Beatles-lite (unsurprising, considering the group's affiliation with George Martin). The band is at their best with a rough, garage rock-take on soul music. Many of the tracks here point the way to what should have been a masterpiece.

The Abyssinians-Satta Massagana (1976)

It's only appropriate that I begin this project with an album I've only listened to once. As I get older, the idea of buying music I may not really like becomes rarer and rarer. Gone are the days of trying out various genres of music that, while interesting, aren't things I'm going to regularly listen to. Gone are the days of listening to noise, Japanese psychedelic music, or far Eastern traditional music. It may sound great. There's lots of music in those genres I love. But I don't need to own it, and I'll rarely listen to it. I wouldn't categorize reggae quite the same way. And there are lots of groups and albums in the genre I love. But to say I have anything close to true knowledge of the genre would be a farce. There are albums I love, and that is it. Very little context to those albums, and very little knowledge of those artists, which isn't the case with much of my favorite music. This classic of the genre, released locally and bootlegged for years, according to the liner notes, is a cornerstone of reggae, and its importance puts it on par with the works of Toots and The Maytals and perhaps even Bob Marley, but I don't hear it. I don't know if Satta Massagana made me give up on exploring the genre with greater depth, but it certainly didn't help. This is not an album I'm drawn to in any way, and I can't imagine when the next time I'm going to take it out is. I remember very clearly my reactions to listening to this album for the first time: it was slow, and all the songs sort of sounded the same to me. I generally try not to level that criticism at music, because that is often the case when something is unfamiliar. Many of my favorite albums, in early listens, never hit me and all came across like one single sound (Zen Arcade comes to mind), until subsequent listens allowed me to hear what I was missing. But Satta Massagana never pulls me in, and I really feel no reason to explore it further. The first track, "Declaration Of Rights" should make me feel solidarity with at least the lyrics, but I never really care. I suppose one, especially a novice of the genre, could easily make the case that a lot of reggae music sounds the same (as does, at the end of the day, most music in a given genre). What elevates the likes of The Maytals or The Mighty Diamonds is beautiful vocal harmonies that carry the song. Vocal harmonies that carry the song isn't only a reggae thing, and it would certainly have to be the case for an album like Satta Massagana to stand out, you'd hear it in the vocals. But I don't. The songs all sound the same to me, and pretty lifeless. Not ethat every track falls betweeen 2:43 and 3:45 minutes in length. A song or two does stand out. "Forward Unto Zion" has a fantastic use of horns early on, and at the tail end of the album "I and I" and "African Race" also stick out to me. But the others simply do not. Do I hold onto this album almost solely for the reason that my wife bought it for me, as per my own request, as a birthday present? It seems likely. I often only hold onto DVDs and records I don't care for, thinking that one day it will click. I will be shocked if this one ever does.


I've decided to revive this blog and write about music again. Specifically, I'm going to try to listen to every album I own in alphabetical order and review it and write some thoughts about it. Though I've listened to music and loved music for my whole life (thanks in large part to a father that always played music in the house), I truly got into it around the year 2000, in the seventh grade. I got my own boombox that year, for my Bar Mitzvah, and was able to tape copies of Beatles and Rolling Stones albums for myself. While familiar with a lot of these songs, this marked the start of a period in my life where I'd listen to full albums and discographies. Certainly, this coincided with VH1's release of 100 Greatest Artists/Albums/Songs of all time around this era. Looking back on it, by making lists of albums I wanted to own and ranking my favorites, I was already exhibiting the signs of a record collector. It's been a long journey. I can remember a time when, in the eighth grade, I told my mom my "to-buy" list was 30 things long, and once I had that, I'd be set. I don't remember what comprised that list, but I do remember that Elvis Costello was the most obscure thing on it. Since then I've listened to and re-listened to thousands of albums. I've done this through tapes, downloads, CDs, records. Through my computer, Discman, Walkman, two hand-me-down stereos, cars, and now a stereo that I've bought myself. It feels like for years I've been buying media, listening to it once, and shelving it. I think I'd make myself nauseous if I really looked into how many albums I've impulsively bought in the last few years, feeling like I immediately needed it, and then only listened to it once. So much of my collection was acquired during adolescence, and the majority of my music is something I've only listened to on an old, blown-out stereo, in a car, or in a Discman. So this project has two goals. Go back and listen to all my music in what is the best stereo I've ever owned. And perhaps slow down on the pace of acquiring new music, and sit back and enjoy what I already have. If applicable, I'll make comments on the various formats and releases of albums I've owned. Some I have on CD and vinyl. Some multiple CDs and multiple records. Thanks for reading.