Behind as hell. Get goin', then. . . !
Stereolab — Mars Audiac Quintet (1994)
Buzzing, warm and melodic. Yep, Stereolab does it right. I can almost equate them to being like the Cocteau Twins of the 90's, in terms of the sheer consistency and "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"-edness of their output. This is the one right after Transient and right before Emperor, to give you an idea of where it stands in the bigger picture (the answer is that it stands right between two of the early monuments — the latter of which is generally regarded as their best). Basically, the Lab sounds like they're having a hard time running out of ideas here. This album strikes me as more of a unified work in which it sounds best when played front to back. There is a bouncy little pop gem in 'Ping Pong' (which totally apes the Association in the best possible way — thanks Mark Prindle for pointing that out!). Overall, I would describe this album as a beautiful buzz of sound. Hard to not recommend it if you're already a fan.
Stereolab — The Groop Played "Space Age Batchelor Pad Music" (1993)
Typical of these guys to release such a strangely theme-oriented EP right in the midst of their strong early run. The "easy Listening" half is basically a showcase for the lead off tune 'Avant Garde M.O.R.', which is Stereolab doing the warm, mellowed out buzzy thing that they were so good at in those days. The "New Wave" half of the disc begins with 'We're Not Adult Oriented' which is a total winner, in that driving, Neu-inspired Stereolab rocker mode (it appears again in a ferocious live performance to close out the disc). In the end, just a footnote in the grand scheme of the Stereolab catalogue, but its strength just goes to testify how strong they were in these early days.
The Sauceman Brothers — The Early Days of Bluegrass, Volume 7 (1940's/early 1950's)
Part of the Rounder label's great reissue series from the late 1970's. As this is the "early days" of bluegrass, this is still a bit more country in overall tone, just with more of a focus on banjo solos. The playing is enviable, while the harmonies are just heavenly. Check out 'A White Cross Marks the Grave' for an album highlight. It's just really comforting, warm and welcoming music for me right now. This particular album was put together with extra care, as there are no shortage of liner notes and band history written in the tiny font inside the gatefold cover (only discrepancy here is that there are no dates listed for each tune included — a minor, but slightly annoying, oversight). There's a killer version of 'Pretty Polly' here and all of the ballads just rule. I picked this up after reading about the half the liner note after finding it randomly in the rack at the store and figured it was worth the price tag, just based on the back story. When I got it home, I could find next to no information on this specific record and only overview information on the band. I've since arrived at the conclusion that it was a total goldmine find.
The Waterboys — self-titled (1983)
That EP was so good, it was only a matter of time before I rendered it obsolete in my collection. All five of the excellent, straight from the gut, heart-tugging masterpieces from that EP are here, in varying order —although the standing highlight 'Savage Earth Heart' still appears as the closer, thankfully. The altered track order ultimately plays in the album's favor and the three songs that were inexplicably left off the American edition are just as good as anything else (exhibits A and B). Its soul-wrenching honesty is only outdone by Mike Scott's completely ace guitar playing and wailing —indeed, almost cackling, at times— vocal performance. Boy, is this album good. Strikes me as a work that could only have been created by someone in the midst of an ambitious and youthful urge to change the world through song. Just. . . wow. One of the best records I've caught up to in recent times.
Hank Williams — The Very Best of Hank Williams (1950's)
Lame and stupid as a budget-priced collection like this may be, when the actual music it contains is considered, you really can't do any better. If I were rich, I'd scoff at this sort of thing, too. But, when you're record shopping on a budget, this is a godsend. It's easy to write Hank Williams off. He's been copied so often and so well, that when you actually get into his music, it may sound a little cliche. Hardly, as it were, in retrospect. Because he was literally the first guy to do what he did. He's basically singing the blues over a honky tonk backing. Sounds pretty pedestrian at this point, but musically, it's just pure gold. Stuff like 'Jambalaya' and 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' has become so transcendent and so ingrained into the pop music psyche that it's hard to go back and realize just how good, and how unique, those pieces are as songs. A sleeper favorite of mine is 'Ramblin' Man.' Some stuff is classic for a reason. Sorry it took me this long to catch up.
Tangerine Dream — Encore (1977)
Live cosmic-bound goodness from the Dream's spring 1977 American tour. Although this is a two record set and each of the four sides of vinyl are just one long piece, with "new" titles, I recognize bits and passages from their studio albums of the time (the closing solo piano bit at the end of 'Monolight', for instance, is straight off of Stratosfear). It's still just the Franke/Baumann/Froese trio, so it's from the band's artfully excellent 70's prime. And it certainly is prime material, as just a single listen to the seven minute intro buildup of opener 'Cherokee Lane' should please any fan. Hard to recommend as a first taste, but for the already converted, absolute gold.
Bobby Hutcherson — Highway One (1978)
Not amazing, but Bobby Hutcherson is so awesome that he was able to retain a classy post-bop sound, on a major label, in the late 1970's. His are truly standards to aspire to. Just oozing over with integrity and good taste, this was the first of Bobby's three late 70's albums for Columbia (the next one, Conception: The Gift of Love, is pretty good too). The opener, and closer, 'Secrets of Love' (by George Cables) is the highlight, appearing in instrumental and vocal versions. The title track is a cascading piece of Latin-tinged post-bop; the sort of which was Bobby's bread and butter in these years. The tone is thoughtful and mid-tempo, retaining that vibe (no pun intended) of pure class and elegance at time when that was a downright hard thing to do in mainstream jazz. Nothing amazing happens, but it doesn't need to. Hardcore fans (read: myself) will find enough here to confirm why they loved him in the first place.
Miles Davis/Marcus Miller — Music from Siesta (1987)
With a dedication to Gil Evans on the cover and a Spanish word in the title, it's a no-brainer that Miles was trying to recall his classic Sketches of Spain album here. If you can remove from your mind that Miles was just fooling himself into believing he could pull it off without Gil and just accept Marcus Miller's infatuation with backing Miles with programmed synthesizers and drum machines, it's a pretty decent 80's Miles album. It's certainly a forgotten one, that's for sure. 'Los Feliz' is a representative moment from the score. I've had to come to terms with 80's Miles over the past year or so, but once I let go of my hang-ups, I've found some rather decent stuff. This album plays nicely on its own and it's definitely in the line of the great film music Miles had done previously (obviously, with more updated production sounds). I dig it.
The Incredible String Band — The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968)
Really and truly a wacky record. Really just an impenetrable mess upon my first few listens. Really the only thing that jumped out at me right away was the closer 'Nightfall.' And I think that's because it's pretty much the only song on the album where the band plays a linear song. This is magnified in the thirteen minute album centerpiece 'A Very Cellular Song.' Easy to sit through the whole thing, just because it's actually several songs contained within one track index. If you consider all of the change-ups and twists in the songs, what appears to be a ten song album is actually fifteen or sixteen tracks in total. Musically, it covers just as much ground; venturing from traditional folk, to Irish textures, through America and right on through to plain old acoustic psychedelia. A hard nut to crack, but not without its rewards.