Sunday, May 24, 2015

Spring Music Sampler

Three or four times a year, I make compilation CDs for my friends and colleagues, covering either the latest releases or in the case of the annual Christmas CD, the latest in obscure holiday tunes.  After a couple of weeks of playing around with the songs and the song order (always a critical component of every mix tape), I'm pleased to unveil this year's Spring Collection.

1. Whatever Happened, Brian Wilson.  This one I owe to Larry Aydlette, who advised in a Facebook post to ignore the reviews and pick up what is in fact a very good album.  For me, the best songs are the ones where Brian sings with Al Jardine - and if this song doesn't remind you of classic Beach Boys, then nothing will.

2. Believe (Nobody Knows), My Morning Jacket.  I've only had this album for a week and am still absorbing it, but I knew as soon as I heard the lead track that it was going to find a place on the sampler.  Maybe I'm crazy, but this track sounds like it was influenced a bit by Vampire Weekend.

3. Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins), Father John Misty.  "I want to take you in the kitchen/Lift up the wedding dress someone was probably murdered in."  Hey, I think I know what he might be singing about here!  Father Misty is a member of Fleet Foxes, and this outing is similar but feels a little more ornate in approach.  Still absorbing this album as well, but it's clearly a winner.

4. You Got to Me, James McMurtry.  Bought this one on the strength of the Christgau review, and man is it a good one.  I was tempted to put "Cutter" on the sampler, but this one just felt more representative of the album as a whole.

5. Second Guessing, Sunny Sweeney.  Another "courtesy of Christgau" find, and another reason for my sons to make fun of me for buying so much country music in the last couple of years.

6. Most in the Summertime, Rhett Miller with Black Prairie.  Miller is on quite a roll - last year's Old 97's album "Most Messed Up" was outstanding, and even though this "solo" effort is a little less hard-edged, it's another great outing.

7. Hell to Pay, Boz Scaggs with Bonnie Raitt.  Mr. Scaggs is enjoying quite a renaissance as he approaches the autumn of his life.  Like his last LP "Memphis," the new one was recorded over the course of just a few days with Ray Parker, Jr. (Remember Raydio?  Remember "Ghostbusters?"), Willie Weeks and Steve Jordan.  The worst you can say about it is that it's a little formulaic, but in the end who cares?  It sounds damn good.

8. Gimme All Your Love, Alabama Shakes.  I wasn't a huge fan of the first Alabama Shakes album - aside from the instant classic "Hold On," it sounded like the band was trying just a little too hard.  But no sophomore slump on "Sound and Color" - it's an album of great depth and diverse approaches, and it's clearly one of the best of the year.

9. Back to the Future (Part I), D'Angelo and the Vanguard.  Greil Marcus called it the follow up to Sly and the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Goin' On," and that feels about right.

10. How Much a Dollar Cost, Kendrick Lamar.  I wrote about this song at length here.

11. Hey Darling, Sleater-Kinney.  I wrote about the new album here.  All of a sudden, they're almost famous!  And deservedly so.

12. An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York), Courtney Barnett.  Yet another one I picked up after a recommendation by Christgau.  Not quite as hard-edged as Sleater-Kinney, but she sounds like she'll be around for a while.

13.  Eyes to the Wind, The War on Drugs.  This band is a bit of an enigma - sometimes it reminds me of Springsteen, sometimes it sounds like Dire Straits, every now and then it makes me think of Bruce Hornsby.  It all sounds great, even if a few of the songs might benefit from some judicious trimming.

14. The Promise, Sturgill Simpson.  Now if this song doesn't make you think of Waylon Jennings, you're probably not listening close enough.

15. Dry County Blues, Angaleena Presley.  As is Miranda Lambert, Presley is 1/3 of the Pistol Annies, and even though she hasn't reached the level of fame that her bandmate has, there's no reason why she can't get there.   This is just as good as Lambert's "Platinum."

16. The Eye, Brandi Carlile.  Carlile is all over the place on this album, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  She can sound like a folkie, she can sound country, but she also has a bit of a rocker in her.  This is her in the first mode.

17. Where Are You?, Bob Dylan. You have to give Dylan a lot of credit for what he has done on "Shadows in the Night."  It's not every artist that can take on a legend, and live to tell the tale. Dylan clearly is not Sinatra, but it is fair to say that he gives each of these songs a respectful and at times, even inspiring workout. "Where Are You" was the first Frank Sinatra album I bought, and it is the best of his "dark night of the soul" albums recorded with the great producer, Gordon Jenkins.  There are four tunes from that album on "Shadows, and this one is the best.  Unfortunately, there's no video of the song, at least not that I could find.

18. Blue Bucket of Gold, Sufjan Stevens.  Sufjan Stevens "Carrie and Lowell" is a remarkable album.  At turns gorgeous and heartbreaking, Stevens creates a sound that demands the listener's closest attention, and it is almost a disservice to simply excerpt one song.  This is the last song on the album, and one of the best.  I'll probably write more about this one down the line, and it could very well end up as my top album of 2015.  But there's a long way to go...

And there you have it.  I really tried hard to find a place for Madonna's "Ghosttown," but decided to go with some lesser known tunes.  But in her honor, we'll close with that tune as a bonus track.

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