25 Albums I’m Really Glad I Listened To This Summer

I know I’m luckier than many. Even as a writer of marginal talent, I’ve been able to find forums for my writing, and as a result of this am exposed to more fresh music than other folks. Since I also spend too much time in both used and new CD stores, I uncover CDs of interest- including many I didn’t even know I need.

For example, last weekend I stopped into one of the local stores and found a reissue of Mark Lindsay’s Arizona and Silverbird albums on one disc. I barely know Mark Lindsay from Lindsay Buckingham, and haven’t listened to Paul Revere & the Raiders except on oldies radio…although “Indian Reservation” has long been a favourite. I bought the album without even thinking about it, and it was only when Track 1 started once I got home that I realized “Arizona” was that Arizona song. I’ve listened to the disc twice through, and while it isn’t essential I’ve enjoyed discovering something I hadn’t before listened to.

If I work hard enough, I’ll usually find something of interest.

Like many, I spend too much of my free (and other) time listening to music. Here is the first installment of a piece I am assembling where I reflect upon some of the music I’ve either taken off the shelf, purchased, or have been sent since June. While not necessary stunning in all cases, all of these albums are ones I’m really glad I listened to this summer.

Presented in no particular order-

Cry Cry Cry Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell (Razor & Tie, 1998) We probably all have albums that we love but seldom- if ever- pull off the shelf. This trio project isn’t one of those as I didn’t know I loved it, and in fact can’t remember listening to it prior to this summer although I must have. I rediscovered Cry Cry Cry while on Santorini and for some reason it really resonated with me as I walked the streets of Fira. The blending and interplay of the three voices is quite special as songs from some of the finest contemporary writers are interpreted. Highlights include “Cold Missouri Waters” by James Keelaghan, Buddy Mondlock’s “The Kid,” and “Down By the Water” written by Jim Armenti, whose version can be seen/heard here, live in a grocery store. Weird. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqSzNKPoRqo

Potato Hole Booker T (Anti- 2009) I wasn’t sure what to except from this one. I’ve always enjoyed the Booker T sound, but am by no means a learned listener. I’ve been hit and miss with the Drive-By Truckers- who serve as the band for this ten-track album- and Neil Young- who plays guitar. It is a rock album with lots of guitar, and I find it really groovy. Of course, the Hammond B3 comes through loud and clear. I’m glad I took a chance on it. There is also a nice set recorded July 4 posted at the Live Music Archive, if you can get past the annoying talking head.

Armageddon Prism (Capital, 1979) A western-Canadian FM-staple, every song on this disc is recognizable to guys of a certain age. Some of the effects sound dated, but dang- the songs have hooks. As a Trooper fan, I couldn’t publicly admit to liking these guys during grade 9 and 10; at least, that was the rule in my head. I’m glad I stopped over-thinking things.

UN, The Boy Bands Have Won, and English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 Chumbawamba (1998, 2004, 2008) Over the past two years, and really for no tangible reason, I’ve been collecting Chumbawamba discs whenever I run across them. Even though almost every album takes a different approach to pop and folk music, I’ve yet to be disappointed. I downloaded these ones from eMusic and iTunes after catching the Chumbawamba Acoustic quintet at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in early August. I love the blending of voices, the way the female vocals soar above the instruments. The songs are clever and, and times, insightful and thought-provoking.

Nothing Gold Can Stay The Duke & The King (Ramseur, 2009) I can’t write about this album yet because it makes me ache. I can’t stop listening to it. The most beautiful sounding album I listened to all summer. Sparse, mellow, dreamy. Love The Outsiders reference, which I noticed as soon as I saw the album…realizing it comes from a poem. Frost? Buy this one.

As Time Goes By The Bluegrass Brothers (Self-released, 2009) As time goes by, the Bluegrass Brothers just get better. Since I first heard the Virginia band five or so years ago, they have made huge strides- from an enthusiastic if non-descript area family band, to a crew of pros that can hold their own with the finest of the professional bands. They are not fancy but they are lively, pouring out straight-ahead hardcore bluegrass without a hint of progressive intent. I don’t want all my bluegrass to sound this rustic, but I’m glad The Bluegrass Brothers remain true to their vision. Check out “Stanley Tradition.”

A Quiet Evil Lee Harvey Osmond (Latent Recordings, 2009) Turn Tom Wilson loose, and odd things are bound to occur. Featuring Michael and Margo Timmins, Josh Finlayson and Andy Maize, and Brent Titcomb, the album mines deep, virgin musical ground. It isn’t what I would immediately label as roots music, but is has all the elements- original music, ties to country, rock, and folk, and textured vocals that shy away from pop gloss. The album seems dark, yet is soothing and enlightening. The presence of Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel brings in shades of country, but the overall sound has as much in common with X and Los Straitjackets as it does Fred Eaglesmith.

Western Bell Kelly Joe Phelps (Black Hen Records, 2009) An excellent album to accompany coffee…I drank a lot of coffee during summer mornings last month listening to this one while preparing to write about it. Phelps sings not a word. Instead, in producing a nocturnal collection of eleven solo guitar instrumentals, the west coast native allows his 6- and 12- strings to reclaim their rightful place. Haunting and adventurous, the tunes never get bogged down. So balanced and spacious are the songs, it is difficult to accept that much of the album was improvised in the studio.

The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets (YepRoc, 2009) Pure fun. Modern surf music created far from the ocean. Nearly every song seems to have been inspired by a previously recorded, familiar song. In “Minority Report” I hear repeated echoes of “This Diamond Ring” and Mashmakhan’s “As Years Go By.” In another, I swear I hear “Theme from A Summer Place.” Thoroughly engaging, if too brief, clocking in as it does at just a cough over thirty minutes. Inspired packaging, too.

Blue Lights on the Runway Bell X1 (Yep Roc, 2009) Sometimes albums surprise me. Duh! I didn’t know anything about this group despite seeing their name in the British mags (Uncut, MOJO) that I read. The rockiest and simultaneously poppiest album on this list, Ireland’s Bell X1’s fourth album was their first for me and brought to mind the wonder years of the 80s British Invasion- Modern English, Lloyd Cole, Nik Kershaw, The Icicle Works, et al. Perhaps most in common with the simple sophistication of East Side Story Squeeze, this one continues to impress. Musically, it is much deeper than most of the modern, non-roots music I encounter.

I’ll post more reflections in a few days. As always, thanks for dropping in at Fervor Coulee. Donald

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