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 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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Various Artists - Smooth Grooves: Smooth Jazz, Vol. 1 (2000)

"...the music on the package creates a tapestry of hip, smooth, groove-oriented music, offering the very best in the sophisticated smooth jazz experience."

The first of three discs in this smooth jazz series from the Rhino label. With one outlier from 1991, the tunes selected are from the years 1976-85, which is my sweet spot as that's when I was discovering the genre, often through the very albums represented here. Selections mainly from the Blue Note, CBS, and Warner Bros. families of labels. This three volume series may be the best smooth jazz primer ever put to compact disc. Shame it's out of print. As with all Rhino releases, but 'em when ya see 'em.

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

Tracks: 12 tracks, 62 minutes. Included with the title and artist below is the album and it's peak on the Billboard Jazz LP chart. And if you have an interest in those jazz charts, you might enjoy this Whitburnesque aggregate I put together a few years back: Billboard Best Selling Jazz LPs 1976-85.
  1. Friends and Strangers by Ronnie Laws from the 1977 album Friends and Strangers (#2).
  2. The Lady in My Life by Stanley Jordan from the 1985 album Magic Touch (#1).
  3. Bali Run by Fourplay from the 1991 album Fourplay (#1).
  4. Angela (Theme from "Taxi") by Bob James from the 1978 album Touchdown (#1).
  5. It's Almost Gone by Yellowjackets from the 1981 album Yellowjackets (#18).
  6. Song For You by Rodney Franklin from the 1985 album Skydance (#31).
  7. Wanderlust by Mike Mainieri from the 1981 album Wanderlust (#32).
  8. Straight To The Heart by David Sanborn from the 1982 album As We Speak (#1).
  9. Funk In A Mason Jar by Harvey Mason from the 1977 album Funk In A Mason Jar (#9).
  10. May I Have This Dance? (Concede-Me Esta Dança?) by Azymuth from the 1981 album Telecommunication (#9).
  11. Priscilla by Yellowjackets from the 1981 album Yellowjackets.
  12. Twinkle by Earl Klugh from the 1981 album Crazy For You (#2).
Today, my top picks are tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, & 12 (yes, I know that's 2/3 of the tracks) but they're all enjoyable. The "new to me" surprise was the solo vibraphone piece by Mike Mainieri - I'll now look for a copy of that Wanderlust album (update - found and ordered. Look for it soon on a CD blog near you.)

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Volume 2
Volume 3

Artists making multiple appearances in the series:
David Sanborn (3)
Yellowjackets (3)
Bob James (2)
John Klemmer (2)
Steps Ahead (2)
Dexter Wansel (2)

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Steve Miller Band - Fly Like An Eagle (1976)

Man, does this album ever take me back to the summer of 1976 in a big hurry. I didn't have the album then (to be fair, I didn't own any albums in 1976), but I heard plenty of the 8-tracks blaring out of Camaro and Firebird t-tops when I was walking to and from Burnet Elementary School.

Billboard, May 15, 1976, p. 68

I feel like I've known the hits all my life: Take The Money And Run (peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100), Rock'n Me (#1), and Fly Like An Eagle (#2). I recently heard that the lyrics to Take The Money And Run were originally written for the music of Rock'n Me and vice versa. I wish I could remember where I heard that so I could cite my source.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #3
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #4

Tracks: If this album just consisted of the three hit singles it would be good enough for me, but it also includes great tunes like the sublime Wild Mountain Honey and the relaxed blues of Sweet Maree.  Even filler like Serenade and Mercury Blues have good grooving riffs for a hot summer afternoon (which is where I want to be as the temperature here at blog headquarters is currently 34°).  To be honest, I don't care much for the closing cut, The Window, so I normally move on after 11 tracks.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Too Cool 4 School - 1976 Edition. The single "Fly Like An Eagle" always reminds me of a visit to see some cousins. My cousin didn't have a Firebird, but his silver Z28 did the trick.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Born 2 B Blue (1988)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Lee Ritenour - This Is Love (1998)

I don't know what's more unbelievable: that I found this CD for $2 on a clearance shelf or that I didn't already have this smooth jazz gem. It's a solid album and ten times more interesting than anything Rit was doing with Fourplay at the time.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Peak on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart: #4 (ironically kept from moving higher by a Fourplay album, among others)

Tracks: Today I'm digging the pseudo-reggae title track, the laid-back Can You Feel It? (with a nice solo from Bob James), a fantastic take on Sonny Rollins' Alfie's Theme (with a show-stealing B3 solo from Ronnie Foster), Ooh-Yeah, and an interesting extended re-do of Dreamwalk, which originally appeared on Rit. There's a couple of vocal tracks on here, a Ritenour original and a Randy Newman cover, and while vocal cuts on an otherwise instrumental album normally distract me, these seem to sequence perfectly. The only misstep is an attempt at turning Gabriel Fauré's Pavane into a jazz chart. It's a beautiful piece and might have worked as a solo acoustic track, but this moody mid-tempo arrangement does nothing for me, even with an Ernie Watts solo.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I got to see Mr. Ritenour play a short set at last year's Jazz’SALive festival in Travis Park. He played a track from this release (Ooh-Yeah) along with other favorites. However, he never dipped back to the early '80s to play any Westcoast/AOR tunes although I was hoping Eric Tagg would walk out for a special reunion appearance. Alas, 'twas not to be, but a great show nonetheless. Rit's son, Wes, who I'm guessing is named after Wes Montgomery and appears on the above album cover, played drums at the concert and more than held his own.

September 22, 2018

Previously revisited for the blog:
Rit's House (2002)
Larry & Lee (1995)
Stolen Moments (1990)
Festival (1988)
Harlequin (1985)
On The Line (1983)
"Rit" (1981)
Rio (1979)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Squeeze - The Knowledge (2017)

I had high hopes after the release of 2015's Cradle To The Grave, but this follow-up doesn't meet expectations. Most Squeeze albums requiring multiple listenings to reveal all their goodness, but that trick didn't seem to work here (at least to my ears). The album just plods along with midtempo songs too long for their own good - as the songwriting duo of Difford and Tilbrook have aged, their songs have gotten about a minute longer than their early output. Metacritic has it rated at a very positive 81 so I'll admit there's the possibility I'm missing something, but on the continuum of Squeeze albums, I'll place this one is closer to Domino and Ridiculous than Play or Argybargy. That's more in line with the "User Score" below.

Metacritic also has the producer of the album as John Cale, so they may be having problems over there.
(Cale disastrously produced the group's debut album over 40 years ago;
Laurie Latham and Glenn Tilbrook produced The Knowledge)

And yes, I'll buy their next release as soon as its released; I'll always be a fan.

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

Tracks: While the album is ultimately disappointing, there are a few great tunes sprinkled about: Patchouli, Departure Lounge, Please Be Upstanding, and Two Forks.  Rough Ride might have been good if the arrangement hadn't included a children's chorus and opera singer.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, but I took a road trip this past weekend on I-37 and my Cool for Cats CD provided part of the soundtrack.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Cradle To The Grave (2015)
The Complete BBC Sessions (2008)
Domino (1998)
Ridiculous (1995)
Some Fantastic Place (1993)
Play (1991)
Frank (1989)
Babylon and On (1987)
Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985)
Difford & Tilbrook (1984)
Singles: 45's and Under (1982)
Sweets From A Stranger (1982) and 2008 reissue
East Side Story (1981)
Argybargy (1980) - 1987 reissue and 2008 Deluxe Edition
Cool For Cats (1979)
U.K. Squeeze (1978) 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Maria Schneider Orchestra - The Thompson Fields (2015)

"...a masterpiece of uncategorizable modern composition."

To be honest, I was only peripherally aware of Maria Schneider (mainly through Bowie's Blackstar album) when her face appeared in my mailbox in late 2016:

This album, The Thompson Fields, had been voted Album of the Year by the readers of Downbeat (it would later win the Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album). Good enough for me: I immediately ordered the CD. The titular fields refer to a neighbor's farm where she grew up, in the flatlands of southwest MinnesotaPeriodicals tended to use the word "pastoral" when reviewing this album because there's no other term that comes close. "Pastoral big band" may seem like a oxymoron, but ya gotta listen to understand (then go buy yourself a copy). This big band includes alto clarinet and accordion and shies away from shout choruses. If I told you Schneider worked as Gil Evans' assistant, would that help?  The detailed liner notes, in a wonderful book presented by ArtistShare (below), are beautifully written by the composer herself interspersed with poetry and Audubon drawings.

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

Tracks: It's all so gorgeous, but my favorite tracks are Walking By Flashlight, the title track, Home, and Lembrança.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: If I were to produce an autobiographical movie of my teenage years amid the rice fields on the coastal plains of Texas, I would want the soundtrack to sound like this.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ramsey Lewis - Hang On Ramsey! (1965)/Wade In The Water (1966)

UK Import

Because when you see a Ramsey Lewis BGO two-fer in the clearance bin for $3 you don't ask questions. 

9 tracks, 45 minutes

Lewis was following up his #5 hit The 'In' Crowd with this live set of mostly pop covers recorded October 14-17, 1965 at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California.

The rear exterior of The Lighthouse as seen in the 2016 film La La Land.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #15
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #4
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #14

Tracks: The lead track, a cover of The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, peaked at #29 on the pop chart and the final track, a cover of Hang On Sloopy, peaked at #11 so there was some success in repeating the same formula (they both sound very similar to The 'In' Crowd and who could blame him?). The cover of And I Love Her is very tasty as well. But there's other styles here as Ramsey mixes it up with some traditional piano trio jazz tunes (Satin Doll) and one Lewis original. The sequencing and variety means you can just slip this disc in the tray, set it and forget it. It also makes me want to travel back to Hermosa Beach ca. 1965.

10 tracks, 33 minutes

This is a slightly different animal from the album above. While the overall groove remains the same, here we're treated to big band arrangements in addition to the piano trio. The credits go to Ramsey Lewis not the Ramsey Lewis Trio. Also, a drummer named Maurice White had joined the group.

CashBox, September 3, 1966, p. 60

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #16
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #2
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #18

Tracks: The title track peaked at #19 on the pop chart in the fall of '66 while Hold It Right There (track 16 on this compilation) won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance - Vocal or Instrumental. Also good are the covers of Ain't That Peculiar, Uptight (Everything's Alright), Day Tripper, and Hurt So Bad. Oddly, the tune that doesn't quite work was written by Bacharach. Go figure.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Tequila Mockingbird (1977)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Janet Jackson - Design of a Decade: 1986-1996 (1995)

This greatest hits album features 6 of Jackson's top 40 hits from Control (1986), 7 hits from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), one cut from janet. (1993), along with two new tracks. And thanks to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, it's a damn good way to spend 76 minutes.

Billboard, October 21, 1995, p. 79

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #3

Tracks with Billboard chart peaks (that's a lot of 1's down there). My top tracks are marked with a ✔ but don't skip any.

SongAlbumYearHot 100R&BACDance
RunawayDesign of a Decade19953678
What Have You Done For Me LatelyControl198641
When I Think Of YouControl198613101
EscapadeRhythm Nation199011161
Miss You MuchRhythm Nation198911
Love Will Never Do (Without You)Rhythm Nation199013334
Alright (Goh Hotoda Mix)Rhythm Nation199042
The Pleasure PrincipleControl1987141
Black Cat (video mix)Rhythm Nation1990110
Rhythm NationRhythm Nation198921
That's the Way Love Goesjanet.19931181
Come Back To Me (I'm Beggin' You Mix)Rhythm Nation199022117
Let's Wait AwhileControl1987212
Twenty ForeplayDesign of a Decade1995

The latter part of the decade is largely ignored: If (#4, 1993), Again (#1, 1993), Because Of Love (#10, 1994), Any Time Any Place/And On And On (#2, 1994), You Want This/70's Love Groove (#8, 1994), Scream (#5, 1995).

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Songs from Control take me right back to my college years when I was a dancing fool while songs from Rhythm Nation take me right back to my first year of teaching, which also happened to be my first year on my own and my first year as a husband.

So let me try to recall where my life was at both ends of the decade that was 1986-95 (sorry, Janet, a decade is only 10 years - 1986-1996 is eleven): In 1986, I was in the middle of my university music studies, spending more time chasing tail than practicing. By 1995, I was married 6 years, had taught school for 4 years, had moved all over the state trying to find the right fit for me and my family, and was in my second year of being a stay-at-home dad. Tempus fugit.

Speaking of decades...

Previously revisited for the blog:
Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)