The best albums most people have never heard
Janet over at The Art of Getting By asked a question this week: What are the best albums I think most people have never heard?
Now this is a question right up my alley. I have, shall we say, a broad taste in music that only a girl who plays cello, percussion, and guitar can have. It gets so bad that I can go weeks without listening to the radio, since I am not sure I want to really subject myself to a world where Justin Timberlake can make a living. (Memo to Justin: please stop all the posturing like you're a sex symbol. It just makes us feel creepy, like when Brooke Shields' mother had her pose nude when she was 11. Real men don't talk about sex all the time, boy.)
So here are some of the best albums that of which I think you may have never heard. If you notice a predominance of guitars--- well, what's your point?
1. Crowded House, Together Alone. Neil Finn. Genius. I am eternally grateful that I finally got to see Neil and his brother Tim in concert a year or so ago. I have almost every song he has ever written, either with Split Enz, Crowded House, the Finn Brothers, or in his solo work. Superb.
2. Anything by Joni Mitchell, especially the early years. Blue. Song to a Seagull. For the Roses. Court and Spark. Unfortunately, her voice is not what it once was (too many cigarettes!), but she is still the lodestone for so many great artists. She is the foundation for everything else.
3. Nick Drake, Pink Moon. Do you remember a few years ago, there was a Volkswagon commercial showing a bunch of friends driving late at night to a party while in the background, a guy sang and played guitar? The artist was Nick Drake, who everyone assumed was one of the new alternative singer-songwriters. Surprisingly, Drake recorded three albums in the years 1969 and 1972 before he tragically committed suicide in 1974. His music is completely simple, haunting, and contemporary. You'll be glad you tried it.
4. Patty Griffin, Flaming Red. A great folk-influenced singer-songwriter with a passionate voice. Except for one song about, ummmm, giving onesself satisfaction, this is a masterpiece. Every song tells a story. "Tony," in particular, reminds me to pay attention to my students' emotional lives, since it is about a kid who is isolated and in pain.
5. The Sundays, Blind. Harriet Wheeler has one of the best pure, sweet voices in music. Ever. The cover of the Stones' "Wild Horses" is not to be missed. You cannot go wrong listening to any of the albums put out during the all-too-brief career of this British band, whose last album was 1997's Static and Silence. Harriet, where are you?
6. Suzzy and Maggie Roche, Zero Church. In the wake of September 11, 2001, two of the three Roche sisters put together this meditation upon faith and prayer. I don't really like most Christian music, but this one speaks to me. I got to hear Suzzy sing "Jeremiah" at a concert she did with the Four Bitchin' Babes. Try this even if you don't usually like religious music. This is not preachy or judgmental. It's just beautiful.
7. Aimee Mann, Live at St. Ann's Warehouse. Aimee Mann is probably one of the least appreciated singer-songwriters working today. You may remember her as the spiky-haired girl with the rattail fronting Til Tuesday in their "Voices Carry" video back in the '80s. She has done so much more since then. My favorite songs of hers are "Jacob Marley's Chain," "Little Bombs," "The Moth," and "Cigarettes and Red Vines," which is not on this album but instead on her Bachelor No. 2 album. "Invisible Ink" from Lost in Space is also brilliant. She speaks of love and loss in a literate way that puts into words all that you find so hard to say yourself.
8. The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse. These Canadian ladies channel bluegrass through the blues in a way that is indiscribable. "The Littlest Birds," is a highlight. I remember sitting in the Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah listening to the Tanyas and thinking, "How did I end up in a Tibetan-Buddhist-inspired restaurant in the middle of Mormon country as all my senses were made aware of the beauty that is Sunday morning?" It was enough.
9. and 10. Christine Lavin, Attainable Love and Live at the Cactus Cafe: What Was I Thinking?" Christine Lavin is a very gifted folksinger out of New York City. She is famous as a woman who can write a song about anything, as was chronicalled in the song about her called "Christine Lavin Could Do It." She is also great live in concert, although she rarely visits us rednecks here in the Land Between the Coasts. The first album contains songs both sweet and funny, and the second one is a live album. Both are great. Her funny stuff is particularly fine. See my sidebar for more information.
11. Dar Williams, The Green World. Fabulous, fabulous singer-songwriter. Why do so many musicians from New York draw me to their music, since I basically love to visit but would hate to live there? Dar's songs, like alchemy, turn the basest materials into gold. If you like to laugh, come Thanksgiving, you'll want to listen to "The Christians and the Pagans" from her Mortal City album. It's kind of like "The Odd Couple" at Christmastime.
12. Fountains of Wayne, Out of State Plates or Welcome Interstate Managers. Speaking of Justin and his former girlfriend, the Woman With the Worst Taste in Men since Halle Berry or Christie Brinkley, you've got to catch FOW's cover of "...Baby One More Time." Everyone knows "Stacy's Mom." FOW is so much more than that. Pop meets rock in a fusion that hasn't been seen since the late 70s.
13. Gomez, How We Operate. This is one of my current favorites. The title track has some amazing combinations of instrumentation.
14. Jude Cole, Start the Car. Whatever happened to Jude? I think he's now producing instead of singing, which is a shame, because he's got amazing range and sense of melody. "Worlds Apart" is a particular gem.
15. k.d. lang, Hymns of the 49th Parallel. k.d. covers the greatest Canadian songwriters, from Leonard Cohen to Joni Mitchell to Jane Siberry to Bruce Cockburn. Simply beautiful.