Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my 1300+ CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

You might have noticed things slowing down around here. I'm running low on CDs, so I'll probably be posting only occasionally from this point on. Feel free to browse the archives or go over to 1976-1985: My Favorite Decade, another music blog written by the same guy on the same computer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Brenda Russell - Get Here (1988)

Note: this release was originally purchased as a CD which was either sold, stolen, traded or lost, then replaced by another CD.

Singer/songwriter Russell's most successful album and the only one I've ever heard because I'm either hard-headed, lazy, or (most likely) both. Some of the production has harshly dated a few of the tracks (e.g., Just A Believer, Make My Day) which makes them sound like generic late '80s R&B if you like that sort of thing. But make no mistake: the highlights of this album are the ballads. So much so that you don't even mind the 36 minute running time.

Billboard, February 13, 1988, p. 68

Bonus points for not including the album title on the cover - way to stick it to the man, Brenda. 

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #49
Peak on the US Billboard R&B Albums chart: #20

Tracks: Top tracks are Gravity, Piano In The Dark, Le Restaurant (featuring David Sanborn), and the gorgeously simple title track, strategically placed as the album closer.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: This is a Lost Summer of Mark album, which means it must have been one of the first 25 CDs I ever purchased. But my main memory comes from discovering Brenda through her video for Piano In The Dark, a song I'd short-list for one the best R&B songs of the '80s.

 U.S. charts:
 Hot 1006
 Adult Contemporary3

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Various Artists - Soul Christmas (2014)

UK Import

Hey! Look what I found for a buck in the clearance bin! Rhino has raided the Atlantic archives and given us this (mostly) Sixities-tastic holiday compilation. I bought this thing during the summer and it's been sitting on my shelf, taunting me for months, but I have a strict "no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving" rule which I started breaking a week ago and I'm surprised I lasted that long.

Not to be confused with this 1991 U.S. Rhino release with the same title, although they do share a few tracks:

Great compilation with almost no overlap with Stax's Christmas in Soulsville (I prefer this to that FWIW). My only complaint is that the booklet doesn't contain any of the detailed liner notes I've come to expect from Rhino. What gives? There's a poor, partial substitute currently available on the Rhino website.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: 19 tracks, 56 minutes. In order of my preference:
  1. Donny Hathaway - This Christmas
  2. Booker T. & The MG's - Winter Wonderland
  3. Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby
  4. Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa
  5. The Drifters - White Christmas
  6. King Curtis - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
  7. Booker T. & The MG's - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  8. The Drifters - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
  9. Brook Benton - Soul Santa
  10. Solomon Burke - Presents For Christmas
  11. Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz, It's Christmas
  12. The Cadillacs - Rudolph Red Nosed Reindeer
  13. Margie Joseph - Christmas Gift
  14. Luther Vandross - May Christmas Bring You Happiness
  15. Percy Sledge - Christmas Wish
  16. Otis Redding & Carla Thomas - New Year's Resolution
  17. William Bell - Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday
  18. Carla Thomas - All I Want For Christmas Is You
  19. The Impressions - Silent Night
My top seven are stone cold classics while the final few won't be ripped to files, but that's a heckuva deal for $1. This CD has been designated my truck's 2016 Christmas CD of Choice and will begin its four week residency there today.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Monkey House - Left (2016)

NEW MUSIC WEEK 2016 (NOVEMBER 14-20, 2016)

I've bookended this theme week with my top two contenders for Album of the Year for 2016: Norah Jones' Day Breaks and this release from Monkey House. I've told this story before, but it's worth repeating: back in 2008, I "liked" a Steely Dan group on Facebook and, because social media loves to sell my personal data, I soon saw an ad that said something along the lines of "if you like Steely Dan, you'll like this Monkey House album." Based on that Facebook ad, I bought the thing unheard and immediately fell in love with the music. I've since purchased the group's whole back catalog, checked out any new releases, all the time waiting in vain for these Canadians to tour rural East Texas. While I'm waiting, they've released this gem.

I'll let the album's press release do some of the heavy lifting for me:
singer/songwriter/arranger/producer Don Breithaupt's songs are both lyrically and musically sophisticated, and the meticulous care taken with them helps account for the length of time always taken between Monkey House albums (this is only the fifth one since 1992).
Click on the image below for full press release:

Fantastic writing, arranging, and slick production - tight background vocals, thick, syncopated horn parts, beautiful harmonies and mu chords (what are mu chords? read the book). It's a master class in smoothness. Simply put, Monkey House plays the notes I want to hear.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: There's nothing to skip here, but if I had to pick favorites, today I'd go with
  • My Top 10 List, which contains the best lyric on the album: "single malt, double shot, triple fun"
  • the half-time feel of When The Kid Comes Home
  • Good To Live which was co-written by West Coast/AOR legend Jay Graydon and features Graydon on guitar (immediately recognizable lick at the 3:00 mark)
  • the moody shuffle of It's Already Dark In New York with its muted trumpet from Steely Dan stalwart Michael Leonhart
  • Tango By Yourself is a throwback tune to the group's earlier sound and that's fine with me. And what's this? A tasty accordion solo? There's something you don't hear everyday.
  • Anyone - which is a really a ballad with a busy drum part underneath that makes it not really ballad - imagine Steve Gadd crashed a late '70s David Pack/Ambrosia recording session.
  • The stuttering lyrics and syncopated bass line of It Works For Me work for me (too easy?). But good lawd, I can't get the chorus out of my head - how many hooks are on this line?
  • Maybe None Of This Would Have Happened starts off like a Joe Jackson joint, but quickly becomes a yacht rock-ish duet and then I check the credits and Marc Jordan co-wrote the thing and it all makes sense to me now.
  • What Is Exactly Is It That You Do All Day? is middle-age white boy funk-lite at its finest and contains the second best lyric on the album "What exactly is it that you do all day if you're not missing me?" which sounds like something I'd say if I had thought of it. To be honest, all the lyrics on this one are hilarious. Oh, and did I mention this one has another earworm for a chorus?
  • The satiric lyrics over a funky groove continues with Death By Improvement. Lots of solos on this one; including an Aja-ish drum solo from Mark Kelso.
  • The last track, a fully orchestrated ballad, is the ironically titled The Art of Starting Over yet its a perfect closer. And just when I'm thinking, a trumpet solo would be perfect here, there it is.
Did I just list every song on the album as my favorites? Huh. How about that?

Thanks, Don. FYI, I'm available for any future sessions you might have. ☺

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Big Money: Singles, Remasters, Rarities, 1992-2005 (2005)

Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook, Vol. II (2014)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sting - 57th & 9th (2016)

NEW MUSIC WEEK 2016 (NOVEMBER 14-20, 2016)

First, the good news: this album is miles better than 2003's Sacred Love. The bad news is that Sacred Love was so bad the bar was set mighty low. Still, even though I'd begun to question his abilities of late, Sting hasn't lost his ability to write a good hook when he wants to. And, as Rolling Stone writes in a ★★★½ review, "57th & 9th is a no-lute zone" so we're all grateful for that. I'm glad Sting is trying to be a rocker again, even it's only for a few tunes. Now, you guys put your egos aside and give me my Police reunion album.

I'm giving the CD booklet a thumbs up: in addition to lyrics and credits, it includes a track by track breakdown by Sting.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: to be determined

Tracks: With the three bonus tracks, this thing doesn't even last for 50 minutes. I'm going to divide the tracks into 4 separate categories below.

  • Pre-1983 era Police: I Can't Stop Thinking About You, Petrol Head
  • 1983-1993 era Sting: 50,000, Down Down Down,
  • 1994-1999 era Sting: One Fine Day, Pretty Young Soldier
  • Current balladeer/troubadour era Sting: South On the Great North Road, If You Can't Love Me, Inshallah, The Empty Chair

As for me, I'll be playing only the first half (tracks 1-6) of this one. If you've landed at this blog, you've probably figured out that I'm a CD guy, but if you've paid twice as much for the vinyl, just listen to side A and the first cut on side B (yes, Petrol Head is worth the trouble of flipping over the record).

The three bonus tracks include two alternate (read: unnecessary) versions of album tunes, but the last track is a great live take of Next To You, a track from the 1978 debut album by The Police. And even though they've smoothed off the rough edges with a conjunto vibe, thumbs up for that cut anyway. Metacritic has this rated at 67 which, if you consider the live track in the average, is the perfect number. In the whole of Sting's pop/rock Ĺ“uvre, this one ranks somewhere in the middle, alongside Mercury Falling and The Soul Cages.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Sacred Love (2003)
Brand New Day (1999)
Roxanne 97 (Puff Daddy Remix) (1997)
Mercury Falling (1996)
The Best of Sting 1984-1994 (1994)
Ten Summoner's Tales (1993)
The Soul Cages (1991)
...Nothing Like The Sun (1987)
Bring On The Night (1986)
The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Dr. Lonnie Smith - Evolution (2016)

NEW MUSIC WEEK 2016 (NOVEMBER 14-20, 2016)

Frequent readers of these bloggish ramblings know that I'm a sucker for the Hammond B3 organ so this album is right in my wheelhouse. Dr. Lonnie Smith spends this whole disc dialing up a '60s & '70s jazz funk groove and it's perfect. "Evolution" is an odd title choice for a throwback album, but I can't argue with the results so I'll shut up about it.

There's no bass listed in the credits, but my ear is hearing it so maybe the guitar player is doing something. Or is that Smith's left hand pumping out the bottom? Great arrangements and production throughout. Don Was not only expertly produced this, he's also head of Blue Note Records, so that all worked out nicely.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Peak on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart: #8

  1. Play It Back - a 14 minute funk tune with all kinds of solos, the best coming from pianist Robert Glasper. Originally from Smith's Live At Club Mozambique (recorded 1970), this sets the tone for the rest of the tracks. 
  2. Afrodesia - the funk continues, although a bit slower. This track features saxophonist Joe Lovano, who originally recorded this tune with Smith back in 1975. Lovano steals the track with his "G" Mezzo Soprano Saxophone (new instrument to me) solo, but trumpeter Maurice Brown also takes a tasty turn.
  3. For Heaven's Sake - things slow down in this original Smith ballad, again featuring Lovano, this time on tenor saxophone. The melody is doubled by tenor sax and bass clarinet - not a combination you hear everyday but the arrangement ideally suits the melody. Smith and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg both offer up tasteful, restrained solos.
  4. Straight No Chaser - a manic, often frantic, take on the Thelonius Monk standard. Sounds like the trio is having a blast. Kreisberg (what a great tone!) makes this one his own while drummer Jonathan Blake is throwing as many polyrhythms into his playing as he can think of. I prefer the funkier tunes, but jazz purists would love this cut.
  5. Talk About This - a Smith original that brings to mind Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock funk. Producer Was should have stepped in and gotten rid of the vocals, but that's a small nit to pick. This track contains my favorite organ solo on the whole album.
  6. My Favorite Things - Smith adds some synth work to this Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from The Sound Of Music. It's not quite working for me and doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album. Smith is brave to tackle a tune which Coltrane laid claim to (and still owns) in 1961. Still an intriguing listen, though.
  7. African Suite - The album finishes with a 10 minute suite written by Smith. If you're hoping the album would finish as funky as it started, you're outta luck because this sounds just like you'd expect from the title (although it hardly could be considered a suite). The track features nice flute work over a jazz waltz feel with lots of drumming - Hey! I just noticed there's two drummers on the track, although one is clearly playing percussion and not the traditional traps. Fun tune, but it wouldn't surprise me if the only first 5 tracks of this album get the plays from now on.

Down Beat, March 2016, p. 52

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, but evidently you can just start calling yourself "Dr." and people go along with it. If I'd known that 15 years ago, I coulda saved myself some time and money. (side note: I just paid off my student loans from that last degree so I'm very happy with that).

This CD is the only one featured this week that came in a good old-fashioned hard plastic jewel case, the way CDs were meant to be stored. All the other new releases from this theme week came in digipaks or cardboard sleeves. I'd classify myself as treehugger environmentalist, but I just can't help lovin' the plastic here. Sorry to see it being phased out; call me a sentimental fool. Or simply a fool.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Simple Minds - Acoustic (2016)

NEW MUSIC WEEK 2016 (NOVEMBER 14-20, 2016)

German Import

So what happens when an eighties post-punk turned New Wave turned arena rock band scales back their sound? Let's find out. First off, these tracks aren't acoustic so I call shenanigans on the album title (Mojo magazine labeled this "the least unplugged Unplugged album ever"). However, there's more acoustic than electric guitar and the synths are mixed way down so there's that. But let's be honest, what would Simple Minds be without synth pads and production effects? You can tell that time has taken a toll on Jim Kerr's voice, but to his credit, he's still singing the songs in the same keys. Not surprisingly, the band picks songs from their heyday; don't expect cuts from 2014's Big Music (which is a great album, FWIW). KT Tunstall duets on Promised You A Miracle and guess what chicken butt? It ends up sounding exactly like a KT Tunstall song. Other than that, it's exactly what you'd expect from such a venture.

Metacritic currently has this new release listed at 59, a rating I can endorse. Not bad, but leaves you scrambling for the originals.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: to be determined

  1. The American from Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (1981)
  2. Promised You A Miracle from New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982)
  3. Glittering Prize from New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982)
  4. See the Lights from Real Life (1991)
  5. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) from New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982)
  6. Someone Somewhere in Summertime from New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982)
  7. Waterfront from Sparkle In The Rain (1984)
  8. Sanctify Yourself from Once Upon a Time (1985)
  9. Chelsea Girl from Life In A Day (1979)
  10. Alive And Kicking from Once Upon A Time (1985)
  11. Don't You (Forget About Me) from The Breakfast Club soundtrack (1985)
  12. Long Black Train (Richard Hawley cover)
Tracks that work: 1, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12
Not quite: 2, 3, 6
Tracks to be skipped: 7 (but you could have guessed this bombastic masterpiece wouldn't translate well to this sort of setting, no?), 9

Songs I wished had been on the album: Love Song, All The Things She Said, Belfast Child, Up On The Catwalk, Speed Your Love To Me, Let There Be Love. Some of these were released on the 15 track vinyl version of the release to which I cry, "Vinyl only bonus tracks?? WTF???" as I pull out what little hair I have left. What's with the anti-CD bias I'm picking up lately??

Say it ain't so.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Glittering Prize (1992)
Real Life (1991)
Once Upon a Time (1985)
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982)
Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (1981)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Paul Simon - Stranger To Stranger (2016)

NEW MUSIC WEEK 2016 (NOVEMBER 14-20, 2016)

"It's as inviting, immaculately produced, jokey and unsettled a record as any he has ever made."
-Rolling Stone in a ★★★★ review (June 7, 2016)

For a singer/songwriter, Simon uses rhythm in ways that set him apart and above. This album is full of his characteristic arrhythmic phrasing as well as world music influences (we won't get into a discussion of cultural appropriation right now, kthnx). I don't know who Clap! Clap! is, but I really dig his contributions. Speaking of not knowing, there's instruments in the credits I don't recognize: TrombaDoo, Big Boing mbira, Chromelodeon, as well as Harry Partch instruments such as Harmonic Canon and zoomoozophone. And I've just gotta get me a set of Cloud-Chamber Bowls.

Dadgummit, wife just denied my request using the "where would we put it?" excuse.

But I digress. Back to the album. People don't know what to make of it. In two neighboring reviews on Amazon, one buyer claims that this is "same old" while the very next review states this album "was nothing like he usually sings." Metacritic currently has it rated at 85, which doesn't surprise me because I bought this thing unheard based solely on good reviews and my affection for So Beautiful or So What. If you liked that 2011 album, I'll give ya good odds that you'll like this one, too. I did and I do.

Bonus points for Chuck Close album cover and the CD booklet, which includes track by track breakdown by Simon himself.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #3

Tracks: My current faves are The Werewolf, Wristband, The Riverbank, and the hilarious Cool Papa Bell. Skippable tracks include Stranger To Stranger and the interludes The Clock and In The Garden Of Edie.

Bonus tracks: 5 of 'em, including two live cuts from A Prairie Home Companion, two pieces that sound like unfinished demos, and a duet with Dion that sounds like a Springsteen b-side. If you didn't get the "Deluxe Edition" with these five tracks, don't sweat it.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, although I'll admit I haven't given this album the proper amount of attention since its purchase.

Previously revisited for the blog:
So Beautiful or So What (2011)
Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986 (1988)
Rhythm of the Saints (1990)
Graceland (1986)
The Concert in Central Park (1982)
Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)