Let the birthday record bonanza continue!
Cowboy Junkies — The Trinity Session (1988)
I guess if you're only going to own one Cowboy Junkies album, this is the one to get. From the very start, 'Misguided Angel' comes in and it melds together so many easily audible influences so seamlessly that it's difficult to say just how unique this must have sounded in the late 80's. Just have a look at this Tonight Show performance. Does that seem like 1989 to you? Me either. And yet, there they were. That's obviously their cover of the Velvet Underground's 'Sweet Jane' but elsewhere, we get an Elvis song and then a serious revision of Patsy Cline shows up at the very end. And, at that point, you know, it's like, where did these people come from? There were others onto the same sort of dark undertone in the world of twangy music, but the synthesis achieved here was unmatched at that point. It's always fun when a band comes out and you can pinpoint all of their influences within seconds, but no other contemporary band sounds anything like them. Wish I would've been aware at the time, because I would've been a huge fan.
Dusty Springfield — Dusty in Memphis (1969)
One of my favorite singers of all time. Just the sound of her voice makes me smile. I've had this album in other forms previously, but this deluxe edition from 1999 (in which the bonus material eclipses the proper album) is the definitive version. Backed by the classic vocal group the Sweet Inspirations and featuring the best of the Memphis session players, the original album is simply one of the best pop soul albums of its era. One of the greatest side one/track ones ever kicks things off and that's pretty much a perfect indicator of the rest of the album. A stone cold classic and then one of the weirdest songs to ever be a hit gets a rendition and the proper album is closed out with another classic and that's just the beginning. The bonus material is fleshed out by single b-sides, outtakes and even more sessions Dusty cut in American soul hotspots a couple years after the fact. 'Goodbye' is an early Gamble and Huff/Sigma Sound gem, to be completely sure, while her rendition of 'You've Got a Friend' is a strong rendition recorded in early 1971. Overall, it's just a testament to how much Brits worshiped American music in the 60's that this album even got made. One of the great documents of the meeting of the minds that was happening in the late 60's.
Thin Lizzy — self-titled (1971)
Thin Lizzy's first album is an odd mixture of post-electric blues, folky Irish textures and that undeniable Lizzy slant of thoughtfully rocking out. The opener 'The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle' is a weird, half spoken venture through a post-Dylan stream of consciousness and the resonating tunefulness that was to come. Wah-wahed out psychedelic guitar tones and a surprising restraint in the arrangement and, before you know it, 'Honesty is no Excuse' comes in like a total winner. And, before you know it AGAIN, 'Diddy Levine' makes a mockery of any contemporary attempts at an actual buildup in a pop song. 'Look What the Wind Blew In' points towards the band's rockin' future and the proper album closes out with the thoughtful extended piece 'Remembering (Part One).' I picked up the expanded edition of the album from 2010, so it features the New Day EP also from 1971 and a batch of revised tracks from 1977 (inexplicably featuring the one and only Midge Ure). Among these extras, 'Dublin' (from the New Day EP) stands as one of the band's best ballads. 'Remembering (Part Two): New Day' is a really uplifting rocker, while 'Old Moon Madness' seems to anticipate no-wave in its frenetic pace and chaotic riffs that don't make sense until halfway through the song. The 1977 re-recordings are generally more rocked up. 'Honesty is no Excuse' just seems to be a great song, no matter the rendering and it's probably my favorite of the revisions here (the power-ballady stance that 'Dublin' takes on, for instance, just doesn't hit as hard). Overall, this must've sounded like a complete anomaly when it first came out. I'm along the thinking that it's actually among the band's best albums, especially in this expanded edition.
Aztec Two-Step — self-titled (1972)
One of the best albums of all time. Don't care what anybody says. It's a folk-influenced soft rock masterpiece from the peak of the entire scene. Let me back track briefly: I was getting pretty disillusioned with rock music in general a few years ago when I heard about an album that was supposedly the perfect synthesis of the best of 70's pop, while retaining a perfectly modern slant. I was just into anything that was mostly acoustic based, so I bought it from the Sub Pop store. While I waited, I did some digging on allmusic and just sampled a bunch of things. I somehow came up with these dorky looking guys as a point of interest and headed off to the wrecka sto to hit the bins. I picked up this album expecting to not really get much out of it, all the while anticipating that other thing in the mail. Well, gotta be honest here: Aztec Two-Step stole the spotlight. The Fleet Foxes album is definitely in a similar vein and an album I go back to very often (even to this day), but this Aztec Two-Step album just has the whole package. The two albums will forever be linked in my mind. Aztec Two-Step is just this cult behemoth that I never would have guessed would be anywhere near as good as it is. 'Baking' is a corny album starter, but immediately, it goes into 'Killing Me' which should be clue enough that this is no ordinary 70's pop album. It has a stark, almost gothic, quality to it in places. It's not a downer of an album, but more contemplative. Just a really resonating aspect at play here. Very genuine. The Jack Kerouac tribute 'The Persecution and Restoration of Dead Moriarty' is not nearly as stuffy as the concept might propose. 'Prisoner' is just resonating purity. The introspective tone, the rewarding change-up; god, I love it. 'Cockroach Cacophony' is the sort of solitary-minded, introspective meditation that is just rare in the sense that it's both tuneful and resonating. The last song on the album is 'Highway Song' and it's just appropriate by that point. How could a first album by any band be this mature and world-wise? This is one of the greats, that's for sure. An absolute American-made classic. I initially bought it on an old used-up vinyl copy (that left something to be desired as far as fidelity was concerned), but was gifted this 2008 CD reissue on the Collectibles label (always a dependable name) from one of the best people I will ever know. Thank you to all involved. This is why I keep scouring used record bins. Sidebar: this is worthwhile, too.