Happy Independence Day!
The Kingston Trio — self-titled (1958)
The Kingston Trio's first album was one of the key moments in the American folk revival. It's a nice album of acoustic pop-folk, if not a little bit on the "lite" side of the genre. Still, it's got loads of tunes that were traditionals that reentered the collective pop psyche with these renditions. 'Tom Dooley' and 'Sloop John B' are the tunes that have endured the longest from this one and they're darn fine. Although the presentation is definitely dumbed down for a mainstream acceptance, the group harmonies are totally ace throughout and the all acoustic, drumless backing is excellent. Total steal of a find, in the quarter bin.
Bobbi Humphrey — Bobbi Humphrey's Best (mid-1970's)
Cool synopsis of Bobbi's Mizell Brothers-hemled Blue Note albums. I've never been too crazy about the Mizells overall, but Bobbi seemed to have the best average with them. The dreamy funk of 'Fancy Dancer' is a vintage Mizell groove and one that seems to get overlooked these days. Sample favorite 'Harlem River Drive' shows up kicking off side two and it just sounds as good as ever. It ends with the classic funk revision of 'Spanish Harlem' and that's fitting. This stuff was always pretty hit and miss for me, but between this one and the Blue Breakbeats album, I've got a pretty good overview of why Bobbi Humphrey's Mizell years are worthwhile.
Daniel Hecht — Willow (1980)
Another early one on Windham Hill that's all solo guitar. Daniel Hecht was actually putting out solo acoustic albums since the early 70's. This one would be his last, though he did continue playing sporadically. Willow is actually pretty reminiscent of Will Ackerman's work from the same period, as most of the album takes on a very thoughtful, "2pm cup of tea" sort of tone. Love it. Can't get enough of it these days. The songs are excellent from a compositional standpoint. Something can be three and half minutes in length, but go through three full movements. So, you get something like the closer 'Afternoon Postlude Soliloquy' that sounds lovely on the surface, but a closer listen reveals exchanging time signatures, a unique finger picking style and a master's grip on the sense of space within music. Really excellent stuff.
The Limeliters — Sing Out! (1962)
More overproduced group harmony folk revival. The singing and the group harmonies, just overall, are fantastic. That they were performed live —probably with the group gathering around one mic— is just refreshing and brilliant. Love it. For the most part, these guys rely on whimsy and self-deprecation in the songs, and that's just fine, because the performances are good. But when they take on a more serious approach their full potential is fulfilled and it's pretty resonating stuff (see also their winning rendition of 'Poor Wayfaring Stranger' which goes for the big crescendo and actually pulls it off). A fine album, just. . . feels a bit forced at times.
John Lennon — Double Fantasy (1980)
Yeesh, John, what are you doing?? I've read for years about how John's half of this album is supposedly a classic. No, it's not. It's semi-decent songs overproduced to the point that they're borderline unlistenable. At least Yoko's half doesn't even try to be good. She sounds like a fake Lene Lovich the whole time (this is meant as a compliment, fyi). If any good things are thrown at John's half of the album, surely it's because of 'Watching the Wheels.' That's a good song, without question. But elsewhere, it's overproduced soft rock schlock. Where John seems content to coast in the middle of the pop road, Yoko pilfers through new wave sounds for her half. Makes for a very uneven album that's just kinda boring when it's all said and done.
Aztec Camera — Walk out to Winter (1983)
It's only so much I can talk about Aztec Camera before it comes to bore you, dear reader. I will try to keep it to a minimum. This spine is hard to see in the above scan, but it's there. I've been on the hunt for this one for a while and it just happened on me by chance one day. This does indeed contain my long sought after extended version of the a-side and it's just as great as I hoped it would be. B-side (the otherwise unavailable) 'Set the Killing Free' finds Roddy in an early, chunked up rockstar mode. The lyrics, here in storytelling mode, are excellent as usual. It's one of the few early Aztec Camera tunes I was not familiar with, so I of course have scrutinized it beyond any reasonable point. I really like that bit where he says, "Oh jesus and heaven, what's become of me?"
Roger Kellaway — Roger Kellway Cello Quartet (1971)
I found this record years ago and paid a dollar for it, only to get it home and be disappointed that there was a warp that rendered the first song on either side unplayable. I listened to the 75% of the album that was playable and liked it a lot. Filed it away. About a year or so passed, I pulled it out again. Finding that the first song on either side was unplayable, I went into a rage that involved a hair dryer and, when that didn't work, scissors. Needless to say, I was happy to find a really nice copy of this album again. For the most part, the music on this album is not very much in line with Kellaway's jazz past, as it takes on more of a chamber music sound. Check out the opener 'Saturnia' for a good glimpse of this album's post-Gil Evans small group sound. There's a slight Latin-tinge to some of the tunes that really ups the emotional ante of the whole thing. Really glad I've rediscovered this one.
The Rolling Stones — Between the Buttons (1967)
Never really been into the Stones, honestly. I've known their hits, of course. Just never really got into any of their albums past that. Saw this one for cheap and decided to go for it. 'Ruby Tuesday' has always been a favorite, so I thought at very least, I'd have a copy of that finally. Turns out, the whole thing is great. It's a pretty calm album, overall, with Keith's trademark guitar taking a backseat to pianos and vibes and other nice things. 'Complicated' and 'Amanda Jones' are gems, and probably the most "rockin" the album gets. 'Something Happened to Me Yesterday' is a good indicator of the whole album, with its old timey music hall horn arrangement. Definitely want to hear more.
Bill Evans — A Simple Matter of Conviction (1966)
Post-bop brilliance from the best ever. Just unbelievable how much Bill Evans I have and my library is still not complete. The title track here is one of Bill's "lost" classics. He didn't play it very often live, as his trio changed personnel after this album and much of the repertoire was discarded. Eddie Gomez, on his first studio album with Bill, comes out shining on the run through here of 'Stella By Starlight.' He takes one of his trademark upper register solos that just sounds incredibly gorgeous. Hero. The album closes with a rarely heard original by Bill called 'These Things Called Changes' that has another ace Eddie Gomez solo and you can practically hear Bill smiling with his playing as he comps along. It's hard to get much better than that.