Still catching up. Partial thanks to Grassroots. . .
Bob Dylan — Slow Train Coming (1979)
Certainly not Bob's best piece of work here. I quite liked his previous album Street Legal because Bob's sense of simple, but hauntingly melodic tunes was still around. This is infamously his first "born again" album and it just seems more about the words than the tunes. The musical backing is very much in a late 70's slick studio production mode. I thought, considering Mark Knopfler plays on it, that this album would be musically awesome. Instead, it's just really MOR. A lot of the songs end up sounding pretty similar because of this. Mark Knopfler's playing is immediately recognizable and Bob's phrasing in his singing seems to be a little influenced by Mark. The lyrics are predictable ('When he Returns') and sometimes embarrassing ('Man Gave Names to All the Animals'), but the album highlight 'Precious Angel' is the one time when Bob actually sounds like he means what he's saying. All of Bob's 70's albums post-Blood on the Tracks all seem a little lost, but none more than this one.
The Beatles — Past Masters (1960's)
The Beatles have been impressed upon me —pretty much all of my life— as the original "album" band. I knew there were lots of non-album singles and I thought I had the best ones on either this album or this one for years, so I just dismissed this set. When I finally went for it, I thought I was confirmed in my procrastination for all those years when the first track is an inferior single mix of 'Love Me Do.' Glad I stuck around though, because the rest of disc one plays like a damn good 60's pop album. Granted, I could also have done without the German versions of 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'She Loves You' but literally the rest of the fifteen tracks on disc one were new to me, in some form (obviously I knew 'She Loves You' and 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' — just didn't have them in my collection). The twelve string lead of 'I Call Your Name', the odd structure of 'I Feel Fine' and the absolutely great ballad 'Yes It Is' are highlights for me. If nothing else, disc one knocked my socks just based on the fact at how hard the material rocks, considering when it was recorded. Disc two is, more or less stuff I knew already. But still, some of my favorites are there: the early folk rock of 'We Can Work it Out', the implied psychedelia of 'Rain', the more rockin' single version of 'Revolution' and the brilliant soul-influenced 'Don't Let Me Down.' There's less stuff I didn't already know on disc two, but some good ones regardless: George's trippy 'The Inner Light', single versions of 'Get Back', 'Across the Universe' and 'Let it Be' along with 'You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)' which is just about the most esoteric thing the band did post-White Album. Highlight of the whole thing for me. Sorry it took me this long to finally wise up.
César Frank — Piano Music (composed 1880's/recorded 1996 by pianist Stephen Hough)
It's been a long search for César Frank music. I picked up Leonard Berstein conducting Franck's Symphony No. 1 years ago on the cheap and have been fascinated by it ever since. He does seem a bit reserved and conservative in retrospect, but there's always a definitely pronounced mood to whatever he writes. The very first piece played here is 'Prélude, Choral et Fugue' and it's so good, layered with so many emotions and moments of stark beauty that I'm having a bit of a hard time expressing it beyond that. Nothing else here really tops it in terms of sheer vision, but it's all in a very similar thoughtful mode. The shorter pieces ('Danse Lente' and 'Les Plaintes d'une poupée') are just as good as the longer form ones and I couldn't be happier overall. Really gorgeous and thought provoking music. Glad to finally have a little bit more Franck around.
Prince — The Rainbow Children (2001)
Prince converts to the old JW and goes super sexy acid jazzer. This is technically a reacquisition, but it's been so long since I ditched it, I had forgotten most of it. At that point, it was definitely Prince's most naturally funky and soulful album in at least a decade. And the songs were good, religious message or no. 'The Work Pt. 1' is just pure, let it loose, funked out madness. I just can't get over how a James Brown styled groove is trying to sell me a religious conversion. That is awesome, on so many levels. Very next track 'Everywhere' packs so much into its three minutes and that final coda breakdown is classic Prince. Wow, it's good. '1+1+1 is 3' is another classic Prince groove, sounding like a 1999-era b-side. And I'm left asking, "Wait, this is supposed to be church music?" The last twenty four minutes of the album is taken up by three long conceptual songs. The message is the most blatant here, but the grooves are so strong, it's easy to put them aside and just vibe on the music. Certainly one of the stranger and inexplicably likeable albums in Prince's post-80's output. It's good and has been reissued, buy it if you're a fan.
Illinois Jacquet — Desert Winds (1964)
Good old soul jazz from when that whole thing was really starting to jump off. If you even remotely like the early west coast "cool" sound, it would be of serious interest. Mildly funky backbeats and straight out likeable riffs and tunes. Nothing brilliant occurs, but it doesn't need to. This is co-credited to Kenny Burrell and his soulful licks definitely have a way of subtle domination. Overall, it has an implied element of early funk to it and a sense of melodicism that's to be expected from something from the Argo label at the time. Reminds me a lot of the Ike Quebec Blue Note stuff in that respect. Check out the title track for an idea of what I'm getting at here. It's just really easy music to like for me.