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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Various Artists - Blue Note Plays Stevie Wonder (2004)

When I saw this disc in the used rack at Half-Price Books, I picked it up immediately without checking the artists or track titles. If I had checked, I would have known that I already owned 3 of the 11 tracks on my Najee Plays Songs From The Key Of Life CD. Aw, who am I foolin'? I woulda bought this anyway. Having Blue Note artists cover songs from Stevie Freakin' Wonder? Can't miss, right? Well...

It's a great idea, poorly executed. All the covers here are fairly straight-ahead, rarely deviating from the originals. Granted, Wonder's songwriting is first-rate and the Blue Note musicianship is top shelf. The tracks here aren't terrible, it's just that a little more creativity and originality wouldn't have hurt. This album is harmless, but it should have been a lot more fun.

Tracks on this compilation were originally recorded between the years 1977 - 2002. A good addition to this album would have been Jean-Luc Ponty's 1982 cover of As (with American Idol's Randy Jackson on bass!), but, unfortunately, that was recorded for Atlantic, not Blue Note.

Tracks: The best track is Stanley Turrentine's take on Boogie On Reggae Woman which features stellar harmonica work by Wonder himself. (Note to self: you always enjoy Turrentine's contributions to Blue Note compilations, why don't you go buy some of his albums, silly?) There's a couple of other tracks here worth your attention, including Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Pieces Of A Dream (just ignore the extraneous background vocals), Pat Martino's cover of Too High, and the smooth jazz of It's A Shame by Paul Jackson, Jr.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Blue Note Plays The Beatles (2004)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Norah Jones - Feels Like Home (2004)

I love Jones' first album and her blend of pop, folk, country, and jazz. I, like millions of other people, bought this, her sophomore effort, almost as soon as it was released, looking for more of the same. It is and it isn't. First, she really misses the songwriting abilities of Jesse Harris. Second, this release leans a little too much towards country music for my taste with songs by people like Townes Van Zandt and a duet with Dolly Parton. As a result, this hasn't gotten much of a listen in the past 8 years. I'll admit it: I was wrong. I didn't give this one a fair shake. While I'll continue to skip the more country tunes, there are some tracks that could have easily fit on the debut disc. I'll listen to those.

My apologies to Ms. Jones for not giving this multiple listens before passing judgment and my thanks to her for keeping it simple and, above all, not using the dreaded Auto-Tune. While I like Jones' tasteful, minimalist approach to piano playing, her main asset is her voice. My only problem with her subtle voice is that she makes sounding good so effortless that amateurs think they can handle Jones' styling and phrasing. They can't. I've heard many a karaoke/open-mike/cover band ruin this music. They should be apologizing to Norah more than me.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #1 (6 weeks, Feb 28 - Apr 3, 2004)

Tracks: Ones that will get ripped to iTunes (in other words, the ones I think would fit on Jones' first album) are Sunrise, Those Sweet Words, Carnival Town, Be Here To Love Me, Toes, Humble Me, and Don't Miss You At All (which may be the best tune on the disc - Jones adds her own lyrics to Duke Ellington's Melancholia). I'll pass on the rest, but 7 of 13 isn't bad, particularly if you've previously dismissed all of them.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Come Away With Me (2002)

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Best of Nick Heyward & Haircut 100 (1989)

German import

Here we're treated to wonderful, bubblegum pop songs, most of which are available on Haircut 100's Pelican West, and from Nick Heyward's first two solo albums, North Of A Miracle and Postcards From Home. I have all these tracks on other CDs now, but at the time of purchase I didn't have any of this music on CD, just Pelican West and North Of A Miracle on vinyl. So while this CD doesn't get played at all anymore, it was one of my favorites when I bought it. The songs were released in the years 1982-85. There are no liner notes, not even a booklet or credits, simply a track listing.

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

Tracks: I was unaware of the Postcards From Home release, so the 2 songs from that album were new to me, as were Nick's single-only releases Laura and Warning Sign. Also new to me was Nobody's Fool from Haircut 100 that wasn't included on the Pelican West LP but was later included in the CD release as a bonus track.

Today's trivia: Track 13 on this CD, Over The Weekend, was included on the soundtrack for the terrible 1986 Jackie Gleason/Tom Hanks comedic drama, Nothing in Common.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Purchased at a Best Buy in San Antonio in 1993 or '94 - I was so excited to find it. If I had only know if the vast selection of CDs of the Internet would be available in a few short years...

Previously revisited for the blog:
The Apple Bed (1998)
Stars In Her Eyes (1998)
Today (1997)
The Man You Used To Be (1997)
A Hard Days Nick (1996)
The World (1995)
Tangled (1995)
From Monday To Sunday (1993)
He Doesn't Love You Like I Do (1993)
I Love You Avenue (1988)
Postcards From Home (1986)
Pelican West (1982)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hall & Oates - Big Bam Boom (1984)

Note: this release was originally given to me as a cassette tape, later replaced by the 2004 CD reissue with 4 bonus tracks.

I had a dream last night that I was wearing a t-shirt with this album cover on it and throughout the dream, I could hear track 4: Bank On Your Love. A bizarre sign, indeed.

This album was a marked departure for the group as they updated their "blue-eyed soul" sound to match the times. Lots of synths, sequencing, echo, and dance beats in a louder and noisier setting than we were used to with these guys. Now it sounds like every other dance/hip-hop album from the late '80s, so I guess these guys were actually ahead of their time in terms of sonic originality. Still, it all comes down to songwriting, and, in those terms, this album is weaker than what came before. It really was the beginning of the end for the duo. Unfortunate. The 2004 reissue has excellent liner notes including a historical essay about the duo and album from pop singer/music journalist Ken Sharp.

Both continue to perform and record. Most notably, Daryl Hall has an excellent webcast titled Live From Daryl's House that you should check out.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #5 (Jan 5, 1985)
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #25
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #7

Tracks: I usually listened to side one of my tape, so I still prefer the first 5 tracks here. Not a weak track in the bunch. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid. The remaining 4 tracks (side 2 of the album) don't really do much for me.

Bonus Tracks: As an unapologetic child of the '80s, I loves me some 12" remixes. I had never heard any of these mixes before, so their inclusion here is a nice treat plus it adds nearly 30 minutes of music to the disc. The 12" versions of Out Of Touch, Method Of Modern Love, and Dance On your Knees are good. Don't care much for Possession Obsession.

I'm not usually one for backmasking nonsense, but if you like that sort of thing, here's a portion of the 12" version of Dance On Your Knees played backward which contains Hall singing Swept Away (written by Daryl Hall, Swept Away was a top 40 hit for Diana Ross in 1984):

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I really didn't start listening to this album until the fall of 1985. I had heard all the hits on the radio, of course, but someone gave me their used cassette of this album and it, along with Thompson Twins' Here's To Future Days, was put on almost nightly after dinner in my college dorm room as I chewed the fat with buddies Larry and Jim. After that, I usually hit the practice room or visited my new girlfriend. That girlfriend has been my wife for 23 years now, so my time spent with her paid off better than my time spent in a practice room.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Various Artists - Nobody's Diary: A Tribute to Yazoo (2002)

A bad tribute CD featuring acts from 9th Wave Records as way to expose the performers to a wider audience. I never heard of any of these acts before or since. There are two major problems with these covers: 1) no one comes even close to Alison Moyet's powerful pipes, and 2) these are straight-ahead covers with no originality or creativity. The result is a collection of great synthpop songs that sound, at best, like they are being covered by the local bar band playing a Casio keyboard purchased at a flea market. At worst, it sounds like drunk karaoke night on a booze cruise.

Strangely, this US record label uses the band's original UK name, Yazoo, instead of the truncated US version, Yaz. I appreciate the attempt to be hip, but that probably wasn't the best idea in terms of marketing. Then again, the band wasn't ever very popular here in the US, except with us technogeeks.

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

Tracks: Pass.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I wouldn't have purchased this album even if it had been available in my area. I won my copy in an early Internet contest. This is the second time I've listened to it. As I put this back on the shelf, I'll pull out my copy of Upstairs At Eric's and give it a listen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Hot Spot: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1990)

The best soundtrack CD you've never heard of. You've probably never heard of the movie, either. No matter, here's all you need to know: this soundtrack is 40 minutes of bluesy collaboration between John Lee Hooker and Miles Freakin' Davis. Nasty. If those words alone don't convince you, and you still think you need to know more than that, click here.

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

Tracks: It's all good and should be listened to as a whole. Stand out tracks are Coming To Town, Harry's Philosophy, Sawmill, Bank Robbery, and Blackmail.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: This music is perfect for porch-sittin' on a hot summer night. I have used it for such an occasion many, many times. I've only seen the movie once, about ten years ago.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kim Wilde - Best of the 80's (2000)

Note: despite the title, this is NOT a best-of compilation. This CD contains two complete albums: Wilde's 1981 self-titled debut (which peaked at #86 on the US Billboard Top 200 chart) and 1982's Select. I'm unsure if the second album was even released in the US.

I had these two releases on vinyl. The first release was more pop-oriented while Select is moodier and darker. Both have a New Wave edge to them, but I much prefer the first album to the second. Still, for many years, this 'Best of the 80s' CD was the only release that contained the first album, so it had to be purchased. Complaints: the track order has been inexplicably re-sequenced and there's no liner notes to speak of. While Kim is the singer, the all the songs here were written by her younger brother Ricky and her father Marty, a minor UK pop star in the '50s.

Tracks: I think the songs from the debut are solid; perhaps that's just because I listened to it quite a bit back in '82. The only skippable song was on side 2 of that album: You'll Never Be So Wrong. Top picks for me are Chequered Love, Water On Glass, Tuning In Tuning On, and, of course, Kids In America. From the first time I heard Kids In America, I was a Kim Wilde fan, although I never understood why the lyric was written as "New York to East California." Why leave out the people in the western part of California? There's two reggae/ska-influenced tracks (Everything We Know and 2-6-5-8-0) that sound like they could be filler from a No Doubt release. A little strange, but fun nonetheless. From the Select album, I like Ego, Chaos At The Airport (which sounds like an ELO song and is strangely out of place here), and Can You Come Over (which sounds like a Josie Cotton number), but other than that nothing really appeals to me. Overall, the writing just isn't as good on the second album (e.g.,"There's trouble down in action city. It's a brave new world" <eyeroll>). The dreaded 'sophomore slump'.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: The debut LP reminds me of the fall of 1982. I had recently gotten my driver's license and thought a lot of myself as I listened to a tape I made of Wilde's debut LP in my car as I drove to early morning marching practice. I didn't give the Select LP much of a chance so I don't have many memories regarding that one.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Stance Brothers - Kind Soul (2007)

Finnish import.

On the record company website, this trio claims to "represent raw garage jazz in its purest form." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but this Finnish group play a nice combination of acid jazz, trip-hop, and downbeat and mix it together with some fresh beats in what becomes a timeless tribute to early '70s jazz/funk. Now that I look at what I just wrote, it makes about as much sense as "raw garage jazz." It also sounds like a lot of sampling and looping, but the music is all played by a band with no production tricks. It's a hard to describe sound so I'll stop trying. It's different and I like it. It's one of those albums you own and brag about because you think it makes you way hipper than people who don't own it: "What? You've never heard of the Stance Brothers?!?" You can check out some tracks on the group's myspace page and up your hipness quota.

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

Tracks: My favorites are Steve McQueen, Jay's Lament, Upside The Head, and She May Be Moody (which grooves a lot like the song California Soul, except with harpsichord and vibraphone). There's also a nice cover of George Duke's Capricorn. Don't skip any tracks.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None. Even though this was released in 2007, it took me 5 years to hear about it and purchase a copy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Various Artists - Funk Classics: The 80's (1996)

Not a lot of funk here, but it's a decent compilation for the price. This disc delivers some hits, but the inclusion of late '80s tune is questionable - it's a very mixed bag with both Kurtis Blow and E.U. No liner notes.

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

  • Super Freak - Rick James: A simple, but very, very effective dance bass line. Background vocals from The Temptations. It's a classic for sure, but lyrics haven't aged well (admittedly, they weren't great to begin with). Is it still a freaky scene because a girl has intertwining candles in her room? (single peaked at #16 in October, 1981)
  • Atomic Dog - George Clinton: Speaking of lyrics, "Bow-wow-wow-yippee-yo-yippee-yay!" may be some of my favorite '80s lyrics. Amazingly, this 1982 single never charted. Just as surprising is that no one has ever named their band Atomic Dog.
  • You Dropped A Bomb On Me - The Gap Band: I never though that much of this electrofunk song, but it doesn't make me reach for the skip button, either. Meh, I guess. (single peaked at #31 in September, 1982)
  • Freakshow On The Dancefloor - Bar-Kays: Hard to believe this is the same group that recorded Soul Finger. In any case, I don't remember this one from 1984. It should be sarcastically noted that this song appeared in the movie Breakin' and was included on that soundtrack. (single peaked at #73 in June, 1984)
  • Stomp - The Brothers Johnson: I always liked this post-disco single, but it's easy to see why. The song was co-written by Rod Temperton and produced by Qunicy Jones - the team that would later make Thriller. As a result, it sounds like something from that album or Off The Wall. (single peaked at #7 in May, 1980)
  • Call Me - Skyy: I vaguely remember this tune from the radio, but it doesn't get any playing time around here these days. (single peaked at #26 in March, 1982)
  • The Breaks - Kurtis Blow: a very early hip-hop hit and probably the first 12" single I ever heard. This song was played at every party I attended in 8th grade. Now when I hear it, I just get a big S.E.G. (single peaked at #87 in September, 1980)
  • So Fine - Howard Johnson: too smooth to really be considered funk, this might be the best song on the disc. Its more of a post-disco, R&B tune. It didn't chart when it was released in 1982, but I'm glad it was included here.
  • She's A Bad Mama Jama - Carl Carlton: with a bass line you just can't resist (I'm doing a little 'seat-dancing' as I write this). This just brought a smile to my face. (single peaked at #22 in October, 1981)
  • Push It - Salt-N-Pepa: This is an '80s song? I would have guessed early '90s. Oh well, it never did much for me and seems very out of place here. (single peaked at #19 in February, 1988)
  • Get Down On It - Kool & The Gang: I just love K&TG. This was some great radio-friendly funk. Recommended. (single peaked at #10 in May, 1982)
  • Da Butt - E.U.: A late '80s novelty tune. It's catchy the first few times you hear it, but it's still a novelty tune. (I have to admit that I find myself singing it from time to time). (single peaked at #35 in May, 1988)
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Thursday, August 16, 2012

John Mayer - Room For Squares (2001)

Instantly accessible and likable. A good debut which was released before Mayer started taking himself so seriously. This is Mayer the pop artist, not the bluesy guitarist, not the jam-band concert artist, not the worldly activist, and not the stand-up comedian. I prefer him in the pop artist role; when he focuses on pop songwriting, the boy can really write a hook. Back in 2001, he was often described as Dave Matthews without all the jam; he's since outgrown the Matthews comparisons (which were probably unwarranted even at that time). Mayer is probably more of a "greatest hits" artist, but since he hasn't released that CD yet, and this was available on the cheap at a used CD store, this CD got the nod. For me, I considered it to be good, new, pop music aimed squarely at the adult contemporary market (a market I entered when I was about 17 years old). I haven't bought any of his new music in quite a while, though. Have I outgrown the adult contemporary market? Say it ain't so!

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #8 (March 15, 2003)

Tracks: Like most John Mayer albums, there are a few singles here that make you hate yourself for liking them. No Such Thing remains Mayer's best song. Also good are Why Georgia, Neon, and 83. I was never wild about the Grammy-winning Your Body Is A Wonderland, but I may have the wrong chromosomes for that. The first half of the the CD is definitely better than the second half, which tends to be more folksy, rainy-day music.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: When I was attending UH around 2005, my friend and classmate Blake walked with me over to the student center to grab some lunch. There was an attractive undergraduate student sitting alone in the cafeteria wearing a John Mayer t-shirt. Blake dared me to walk over to her and simply say, "Your body is a wonderland" and wait for a reaction. Unfortunately, I didn't have the courage to do that because if I had, I'd have a better story to share here.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Where The Light Is: Live In Los Angeles (2008)
Continuum (2006)
Heavier Things (2003)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Various Artists - Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s, Vol. 13 (1995)

This is the 13th volume of a fantastic 15 volume set released in the mid-'90s by the always wonderful Rhino Records. Songs on this volume are from the years 1983-1984. New Wave was waning by that time, so some of these songs don't come close to being New Wave (I'm sure Dwight Twilley was surprised when he found out he was included here). Still, this turns out to be one the stronger volumes of the series.

This CD was selected today because, out of the blue, I received this text message from my friend Jim this morning: "Do you remember a group call The Busboys?" I do remember them; this CD is the only one in my collection to have a song by the group, so here ya go.

  • Relax - Frankie Goes To Hollywood: From Welcome To The Pleasuredome during Trevor Horn's heyday. Still hard to believe these lyrics got radio airplay in '84. It peaked at #10 here in the US, but topped the charts in many countries.
  • Dance Hall Days - Wang Chung: This song grabbed me from the first time I heard it on the radio. I think it had something to do with the saxophone lick in the chorus being strangely laid-back and cool. Strangely, it didn't intrigue me enough to buy the LP. Reviewed previously here.
  • Hero Takes A Fall - Bangles: The first Bangles song I ever heard and still my favorite. I had the debut album All Over The Place and enjoyed the '60s retro sound the band were cultivating back then. (Love ya, Susanna, call me!)
  • Wouldn't It Be Good - Nik Kershaw: One of the great, underrated songs of the '80s. Sadly, it peaked at only #46 in the US despite being included on two of his first albums released here. Check it out.
  • Hold Me Now - Thompson Twins: Previously reviewed here. This is what I wrote then: "Great song. Reminds me of driving in my car listening to the Into The Gap cassette during the spring of my senior year in high school." When I listen now, I still try (and usually fail) to hit the high falsetto notes during the last chorus - "Oh, will you stay with me?" - just like I did almost 30 years ago.
  • Cruel Summer - Bananarama: Not my favorite Bananarama song, but I can appreciate a song about oppressive heat and loneliness during the long summer months.
  • Working With Fire And Steel - China Crisis: now here's some New Wave synthpop. It might have hit had it been released 2 years earlier. It's not bad, just not memorable.
  • Cleanin' Up The Town - The Bus Boys: I always associated this roots rock group with Eddie Murphy because of their appearance in the movie 48 Hrs. and also because they were Murphy's opening act on his Delirious comedy tour. However, this tune is from Ghostbusters. An African-American quintet performing this kind of music in the mid-'80s just didn't quite work out for them. Sadly, I think they were always considered more of a novelty act.
  • Girls - Dwight Twilley: catchy tune, reminds me of Donnie Iris. The liner notes here claim the song reached #16 on the Billboard pop single charts, but I have no recollection of hearing this song until I bought this CD.
  • The Stand - The Alarm: An admirable attempt to be a "message band" like The Clash or U2. This isn't a bad tune, but I prefer Sixty Eight Guns which appears on Volume 12 of this series.
  • Free Nelson Mandela - The Special AKA: Even though The Specials had re-formed without mastermind Terry Hall as The Special AKA, this is still classic ska and the rare upbeat protest song.
  • General Public - General Public: I should like General Public because of their connection with The English Beat, The Specials, and The Clash, but I think, at the time, I was so upset the The English Beat had split, I never gave the supergroup a chance. Maybe I should rethink that now. I'm sure I can find All The Rage on the cheap at eBay.
  • (Feels Like) Heaven - Fiction Factory: Don't remember this UK pop band? Me, either. The first skippable track on the CD.
  • Dancing With Tears In My Eyes - Ultravox: I was an Ultravox in high school, owning their albums Vienna and Quartet. I don't know why I never bought Lament, the album that contained this single, because it is a solid effort (if you like keyboards and drum machines).
  • Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly) - Icicle Works: A one-hit wonder, but what a hit. I can't believe that this song didn't take on a life of its own, à la Modern English's I Melt With You.
  • The Killing Moon - Echo & The Bunnymen: I think I've said this before - I wish I had listened to Echo back in the '80s. Not too long ago, I was in a car with a woman who I had just met. This song came on the radio and she looked up at the night sky and said, "Yes, it IS a killing moon tonight." That made me a little uncomfortable. She turned out to be a decent person, but that was a strange first impression.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: see above

Previously revisited for the blog:
Volume 1Volume 2
Volume 3Volume 4
Volume 5Volume 6
Volume 7Volume 8
Volume 9Volume 12
Volume 14New Wave Xmas
New Wave Dance Hits

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Cars - Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995)

From guitarist Elliot Easton:
The Cars would have that one record in a punk rocker's collection that was just a little right of center. And it might be that one record for mainstream fans who thought they were being really punky. We managed to span those two audiences.
That's the perfect description of the band, isn't it? I've always maintained that eighties music really began in 1978 with the release of The Cars' self-titled first album and ended sometime around 1988 (I can't in good conscience consider Paula Abdul an eighties artist.) I was surprised to discover that the group never had a #1 single or album in their career - the single Drive was a #3 single in 1984 and the albums Candy-O and Heartbeat City both reached #3. As a side note, how awesome is the album cover of Candy-O??

The Cars were always more of a singles band than an album band, so I went with this 2 CD package instead of purchasing their entire early catalog. Since this is a Rhino Records joint, the liner notes are awesome. We're treated to a 27-page booklet crammed with rare photos, band's bio, song overview and an essay from Boston music writer Brett Milano. There's 2½ hours of music here, which could be a chore, but more than half of the 40 tracks are good stuff so it's not bad at all. I might have purchased the single CD greatest hits package instead, but I had to have a recording of Hello Again.

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

Tracks: The songs from the debut album, Candy-O, Panorama, and Shake It Up are all good. I really fell in love with the band with Shake It Up, which I owned on cassette (and wore that thing out). They began to lose me with Heartbeat City and I never even bought Door To Door. I also think Drive is one of the most over-rated songs of the '80s - I've never cared much for it. My favorite Cars song is either Shake It Up or Magic, but everything here from 1984 and before is good, with the exception of the eleven "rare and unreleased tracks" which were unreleased for good reason. Besides, as I've written many times, I don't buy greatest hits compilations to discover new music.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Either Shake It Up or Since You're Gone was the first song I ever heard on a personal stereo. During my sophomore year in high school in the fall of 1981, I was in either science or health class and a friend named Mark had a Shake It Up cassette and a new Sony Walkman 2 (like the one below, which ran about $200 at the time; $500 today with inflation). I gave it a listen (during class, of course) and couldn't believe I was able to hear the music that loudly while the teacher couldn't hear a thing. My teenaged life was changed. I'll never forget those orange headphones.

As I graduated high school in 1984, I had two favorite songs: The Reflex by Duran Duran and Hello Again by The Cars. I would put my cassette of Heartbeat City in the stereo of my Ford Maverick, listen to the first three songs, rewind and do it all over again.

Moving In Stereo = Phoebe Cates.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Move Like This (2011)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harry Connick, Jr. - Music from the Motion Picture When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Note: this release was originally purchased as a cassette tape, later replaced by a CD.

Harry crooning standards. Although this music perfectly fits the movie, this is the rare soundtrack album that truly succeeds as a stand-alone release. That could be because most of these recordings weren't actually heard in the movie. A true soundtrack would have been heavy on Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong; and it would be fun to piece together an actual soundtrack compilation (like I did here for Sixteen Candles). But no matter - it's still a great album. Recorded around the same time as 20, this is a great companion CD to that. It's my favorite Connick jazz album, although I still prefer the NOLA funk of She.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #42

Tracks: My favorites with vocals are Love Is Here To Stay, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off. My favorite instrumentals are Stompin' At The Savoy, Winter Wonderland, and It Had To Be You.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: My new bride and I saw this movie in Carrollton a few months after we were married. We loved it and had decided to buy the soundtrack before we left the theater.

Previously revisited for the blog:
She (1994)
When My Heart Finds Christmas (1993)
20 (1988)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nick Heyward - From Monday To Sunday (1993)

Note: CD originally purchased in 1993 has been replaced with the 2010 UK Import expanded edition with 10 bonus tracks.

Disclaimer: I'm an unapologetic Heyward fan (admittedly a rare breed in the US). I own and often listen to his entire catalog. If you're okay with that, then read on...

Heyward's foray into straight-ahead power pop and it works. To me, it sounds a lot like early '90s college rock/pop as groups traded in their synths for acoustic guitars and wrote a lot of mid-tempo stuff (think Crowded House meets Toad the Wet Sprocket with much catchier melodies). Even though we don't get the full-on 8-piece-band sound of Pelican West or North Of A Miracle, the smaller band plays great and the songwriting is as catchy as ever. A welcome change of pace from what was on Top 40 radio at the time. The re-release include excellent liner notes from Heyward himself as well as English DJ Gary Crowley. With the bonus tracks, there's 1.3 hours of music on the disc. Such a deal.

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

Tracks: I'm a sucker for Heyward's songwriting, so I like them all. In the liner notes, Heyward calls the song Kite his "crowning pop moment" but I actually prefer Into Your Life, Ordinary People, January Man, and Everytime. You can listen to Kite here. He reaches back to his '80s sound with How Do You Live Without Sunshine which has a chorus that sounds like it escaped from a John Hughes movie.

Bonus tracks: I was already familiar with the first three bonus tracks as they were included on CD singles: the Kite single (which I'll get to later) and the CD single for He Doesn't Love You Like I Do. Of these three, Woman In Love is the best. The other two are just okay. The last seven tracks are demos. The first of these, Another Stupid Tuesday, appeared years later on the CD single, The Man You Used To Be. That track is followed by a string of fantastic Beatleseque tunes which should have been released a long time ago. Better late than never?

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: When this CD was released, I was a stay-at-home dad with a 3 month old son in an ugly rental house in San Antonio. Without my income, money was tight, but I managed to save pennies and get this CD. I have memories of listening to this in the 3rd bedroom, which was kind of an office for me (what I needed an office for is beyond me). Purchasing the CD was quite a leap of faith since Heyward's previous album release, 1988's I Love You Avenue, was slightly less than memorable. Since this was one of the few CDs purchased around that time, it was played often.

Previously revisited for the blog:
The Apple Bed (1998)
Stars In Her Eyes (1998)
Today (1997)
The Man You Used To Be (1997)
A Hard Days Nick (1996)
The World (1995)
Tangled (1995)
He Doesn't Love You Like I Do (1993)
I Love You Avenue (1988)
Postcards From Home (1986)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Various Artists - Music From The Miramax Motion Picture Jackie Brown (1997)

This compilation comes from my favorite Tarantino film (probably because the linear narrative came from an Elmore Leonrad novel, Rum Punch. Recommended reading). Anyway, I feel about this CD much like I feel about Tarantino's soundtrack to Pulp Fiction, so I'll just plagiarize myself:
I'm not sure if he can still do it, but back in the '90s Quentin Tarantino knew how to put together a soundtrack. If you can get past the self-serving habit Tarantino had of including snippets of dialogue on soundtrack albums, the music here is first-rate. Not that the dialogue is bad (I don't think it's as good as Tarantino thinks it is, though), but that's not why I buy a CD. If I wanted to hear dialogue, I'd buy the DVD (and, yes, I have this movie on DVD). This isn't something thrown by popular artists to make money and it's not simply a souvenir from the film. It's a fantastic compilation album.
(I don't think you can plagiarize from yourself, but that's an argument for another time.) This CD is heavy on '70s soul music and that's fine with me.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #73 (Jan 24, 1998)
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #28    

Tracks: Great stuff here, including:
I skip the offering from Foxy Brown and the dialogue clips. The song from the movie that I wish was included in the soundtrack, but wasn't, is Grazin' In The Grass by Orchestra Harlow.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: This CD and movie introduced me to the beauty of The Delfonics.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Billy Joel - Storm Front (1989)

Note: this release was originally purchased as a cassette tape, later replaced by a CD.

One of Joel's most successful albums (4x platinum, 3 top 40 singles), it is also one of his most lifeless. This isn't one of my favorite Joel albums, but it is certainly not as bad as 1993's River Of Dreams. Joel's first mistake was getting rid of long-time producer Phil Ramone and bringing in Foreigner's Mick Jones. Next, he got rid of a few band members. Allmusic calls this album "the beginning of the end" but I would argue that tipping point happened with The Bridge. I would also argue that the album's success had less to do with solid songwriting and more to do with Joel's reputation and the horrid state of pop music in 1989 (Paula Abdul, Roxette, New Kids On The Block, Milli Vanilli). A few good songs here, but hardly a memorable album.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #1 (1 week, Dec 16, 1989)

Tracks: If I never heard We Didn't Start The Fire again, I'd be okay with that. The band Train recently tried their hand at writing a blatant knock-off: This'll Be My Year; I don't need to hear that ever again, either. Despite the bizarrely defensive lyrics, the best song here is the opener, That's Not Her Style. Also good are I Go To Extremes, Shameless, and And So It Goes. I almost always skip The Downeaster 'Alexa', Leningrad, and the comic filler of When In Rome.

Note: this CD, released in 1998, contained CD Extra content, but my computer won't play it because the 1998 technology is no longer compatible. Maybe I've got an old Windows 3.1 machine in the attic somewhere...

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: This album reminds me of the one year my wife and I lived in Farmers Branch and, for some reason, the dry cleaner we used there. A year later, I directed a junior high band that played an arrangement of We Didn't Start The Fire. I don't know which arrangement sounds worse - junior high band or Joel's own butchering on his live album, 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.

Previously revisited for the blog:
2000 Years: The Millennium Concert (2000)
To Make You Feel My Love (1997)
The Bridge (1986)
An Innocent Man (1983)
Songs in the Attic (1981)
Glass Houses (1980)
52nd Street (1978)
The Stranger (1977)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Spyro Gyra (1978)

Note: this release was originally purchased as an LP, later replaced by a CD.

The group's debut album. They hadn't quite found their sound yet, so this is a fairly uneven affair. Then again, the late '70s were an odd time in music history, so I'll give them a break. We're treated to not only the smooth jazz sound that would define the band's later releases, the group also gives us a healthy dose of fusion in the style of Weather Report. There are a couple of tunes that never seem to get where they're going. Still, this is a fairly good listen, not just for completists.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #99
Peak on Billboard's Jazz LPs chart: #14
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #48   
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #89

Tracks: The highlight here is the lead track which has become a signature piece for the group, Shaker Song (legend has it the song got its name from the drummer, who had used a shaker in his right hand while playing the drums at the same time). Also good are Opus D'opus, Cascade, and Mead. The more experimental pieces, Pygmy Funk, Leticia, are skippable. The most successful fusion track is Paula/Paw Prints.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I picked up this album about 1983. It certainly wasn't what most of my friends were listening to and it wasn't like most of the music I was listening to it. However, at age 16, I thought Spyro Gyra and Chuck Mangione was what ALL jazz music sounded like. Boy, was I wrong.

My CD booklet is autographed by saxophonist/band leader Jay Beckenstein:

Previously revisited for the blog:
Good To Go-Go (2007)Stories Without Words (1987)
Original Cinema (2003)Breakout (1986)
In Modern Times (2001)Access All Areas (1984)
20/20 (1997)Incognito (1982)
Love & Other Obsessions (1995)Freetime (1981)
Dreams Beyond Control (1993) Carnaval (1980)
Fast Forward (1990)Catching The Sun (1980)
Point Of View (1989)Morning Dance (1979)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Republica (1996)

One of those albums that you buy for one song and that's the only one you've really ever listened to. If only Napster had been around in '96.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #153 (Oct 26, 1996)

Track: Ready To Go

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds - Live At Luther College (1999)

Even though I rarely listen to Dave's live recordings, for some reason, I can't pass them up when I find them sitting in a used bin. This is a two-disc live acoustic album by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds recorded at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa on February 6, 1996 and released nearly three years later. I don't think Reynolds is an official member of Dave Matthews Band, but I know he's done some studio work with them and toured with them on occasion. It was the first concert by the pair to be available commercially, but there are, of course, numerous bootlegs out there. The liner notes aren't any good, but at least there's not a lot of banter between tracks. The problem with 2+ hours of two acoustic guitars playing Matthews' music is that it all starts to sound the same after a while.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #2 (Feb 6, 1999)

Tracks: I prefer disc 1 to disc 2. Of course, I lean towards the tracks with which I'm already familiar, like Tripping Billies, Jimi Thing, Crash Into Me, What Would You Say, and Ants Marching. The rest just blends together. Skip the rambling Little Thing.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Weekend on the Rocks (2005)
Stand Up (2005)
Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado (2002)
Everyday (2001)
Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
Crash (1996)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Various Artists - Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection, Volume 1 (1995)

A collection of old school slow jams released in the mid-'90s by the always wonderful Rhino Records. Songs on this volume are from the years 1975-1985. Purchased solely for the second track; it turns out to be a spectacular compilation, full of songs from my youth.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart:  Did not chart
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #52

  • Reasons (Live Version) - Earth, Wind & Fire: this live version doesn't stray far from the studio original, but they add a nice extended alto solo from Don Myrick.
  • Always And Forever - Heatwave: THE BEST SLOW JAM OF ALL TIME! Here we're treated to the full 6+ minute version instead of the truncated 4.5 minute edit. Music by Rod Temperton (who would go on to write some hit songs on a little album called Thriller) and exquisite vocals by Johnnie Wilder, Jr. Did I mention that this ballad is THE BEST SLOW JAM OF ALL TIME?
  • Forever Mine - The O'Jays: classic Gamble and Huff Philly soul. I don't remember this song from 1979, but glad I came across it here.
  • One In A Million You - Larry Graham: I loved this song back in the summer of 1980 and it's great to hear it again. Graham was the bass player for Sly And The Family Stone and has a great voice that has similarities to Barry White.
  • Shining Star - Manhattans: not as good as Kiss And Say Goodbye, but a big hit for them. This song reminds me of going to swim meets in the summer of 1980.
  • How 'Bout Us - Champaign: Wow, this is a great compilation. This a great song, too bad the band never really followed it up with anything worth mentioning. The harmony vocals by Rena Jones get me every time.
  • Love's Train - Con Funk Shun: I read that this is a fan favorite, but it sounds fairly average to me. Maybe that's because it is surrounded on this disc by much better tunes.
  • Love T.K.O. - Teddy Pendergrass: A slow jam classic that surprisingly never cracked the Top 40 when it was released in 1980. Since then, however, this song has been covered and sampled many, many times.
  • A Love Of Your Own - Average White Band: The weakest cut on the disc, this thing never goes anywhere.
  • If You Only Knew - Patti LaBelle: Here's another one I don't recall hearing before, but am glad to have discovered it here. Great Fender Rhodes part.
  • Out On A Limb (12" Single Version) - Teena Marie: What a voice. Teena Marie was always underrated in my book. She could teach Brittney and Christina a few things, fo sho. Plus, she wrote most of her own material. Teena Marie died in December, 2010. What a loss.
  • Silly - Deniece Williams: a nice waltz to close the album. When this song was released in 1981, I thought it was sung by Diana Ross. I wasn't really aware of Williams until Let's Hear It For The Boy from the Footloose soundtrack.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: When I was 13 years old and trying desperately to figure out how to woo women, I would imagine myself singing One In A Million You to a girl in attempts to gain favor. I never tried it for reals, but I think it might have worked except for the fact that, at the time, I couldn't sing as low as Larry Graham. It's funny that I chose One In A Million You over Always And Forever since the latter is THE BEST SLOW JAM OF ALL TIME.