We’ve got your typical mixed bag this week – fourteen discs including a couple of soundtracks, a couple of singles, some singer-songwriter stuff, a covers album, classic rock, dance-pop, and heavy metal. Let’s get to it.
Elton John, 1973 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
The week starts off with Sir Reginald Dwight. Somehow, I’ve never heard this album through and through. Time to remedy that. Following the massive and ambitious “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” the album is front-loaded with the hits “Candle In The Wind,” “Bennie And The Jets,” and the title song. It stays strong after that with deeper album cuts, including the cinematic scoring of “I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” the honky-tonk swing of “Social Disease,” and the Nilsson-like “Sweet Painted Lady.” Elton was in full-on rock mode for this album, too, with rollicking numbers like “All The Girls Love Alice,” “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll),” and “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” The quieter, more ballad-like pieces are few and far between, pretty much limited to the aforementioned singles at the beginning of the album and “Roy Rogers” near the end. In all, not a bad song on the whole record, and a deserved classic. Very glad to have finally acquired a copy – this masterpiece deserves its place among the all-time great pop/rock albums.
Elton John, 1995 – Love Songs
Unlike, say, his first two Greatest Hits collections – indispensable to me as a teen in the 80s – this is a completely nonessential retrospective. It’s not that the songs aren’t good; c’mon, we’re talking about Elton John and Bernie Taupin on most of these tracks so of course they’re good. But there’s no energy to the album. Despite his move toward adult-oriented pop/rock in the latter half of his career, I still think of Elton as a rocker and that just isn’t in evidence on this record. So, was it worth $2 for the handful of EJ tunes I didn’t already have in my library? Sure. Will I ever listen to the entire CD in a single pass again? Probably not.
Emmylou Harris, 1990 – Duets
This is sort of an odd Duets album. It is released as an Emmylou Harris album, but on nearly all the songs she is the second vocalist on each duet (“Gulf Coast Highway” with Willie Nelson being a notable exception), almost all of them starting with just a male vocal, though a couple have Emmylou singing the opening lines in harmony with her partner on the track, as with “If I Needed You” with Don Williams. On a couple songs it almost seems like she’s been relegated to the role of featured backing vocalist. It’s not a bad collection of tracks, but despite my unfamiliarity with Ms. Harris’s work I have to imagine that there are better starting points, with this collection merely being a curiosity.
Various, 2014 & 2017 – Awesome Mix Volumes 1 & 2
Sometimes you get CDs ‘cause your kid & wife liked a movie. Go figure. I probably could have made a mix-CD with 90% of these songs just from my own collection, but sometimes it’s quicker and easier to just part with the $30 (and I didn’t have a copy of Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights.”) If you’ve seen the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies, you know what to expect – upbeat pop & soul from the 1970s (mostly). For me, there are only two songs here that I’d have preferred to do without – “Father And Son” by Cat Stevens on Volume 2 (because who needs that maudlin stuff on a feel-good party disc?) and the newly recorded “Guardians Inferno” by The Sneepers featuring David Hasselhoff. Other than that, this is two CDs worth of some of the best grocery store music you could hope for. Enjoy!
Cast Recording, 2001 – Hedwig And The Angry Inch
I love this soundtrack and the movie from which it comes. It was so different from anything I’d seen prior. But apart from the movie, the soundtrack is just terrific. A handful of songs – “Angry Inch” for one – sort of need the context of the film to achieve their full effect but most of the songs stand on their own as pop/rock gems. The beautiful and heartbreaking “The Origin Of Love” is perfect, a creation myth set to song. “Wicked Little Town,” “Sugar Daddy,” and “Wig In A Box” are exquisite pop confection. Throughout the disc, John Cameron Mitchell wears his influences on his sleeve, recalling David Bowie, Elton John, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and more across the fourteen tracks on this album, and weaves them all together seamlessly. This rates among my all-time favorite musicals and my all-time favorite soundtrack albums.
Joss Stone, 2004 – Mind Body & Soul
Mediocre sophomore effort from the flaxen-haired soul sister. A handful of tracks stand out as better than average including lead-off track “Right To Be Wrong,” hit single “You Had Me,” and the sexy summer cruiser “Don’t Cha Wanna Ride.” The rest is somewhat of a slog and while some of the songs struggle to rouse themselves from the torpor of overbearing earnestness, there’s just not a lot of fun or inspiration to be found on this record.
Various, 1995 – Encomium: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin
I have a weakness for cover versions, So tribute albums are a minor obsession. This one starts off with a note-for-note remake of “Misty Mountain Stomp” by 4 Non Blondes which is breathtaking in its accuracy and for Linda Perry’s vocals – it rocks so hard. Hootie & co. deliver a very competent version of “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” one of my favorite Zep tunes. Likewise, Sheryl Crow’s cover of “D’yer Maker.” Stone Temple Pilots, a band I’ve never really cared for, does “Dancing Days” and I don’t really care for it. Big Head Todd’s “Tangerine” just sounds like run-of-the-mill 90s arena rock. Duran Duran’s “Thank You” is just serviceable but Blind Melon’s take on “Out On The Tiles” is superb. Cracker gives us a cracking good time with “Good Times Bad Times” and Helmet’s cover of “Custard Pie” is reminiscent of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, so I like it instantly. Henry Rollins offers up a typically overdramatic reading of “Four Sticks,” but his band is super tight. I’d never heard of Never The Bride, but they absolutely kill “Going To California” – must find more by this band. Finally, Robert Plant joins Tori Amos for “Down By The Seaside,” And while their voices work well together, the song does drag a bit at almost eight minutes – not always a great thing in a cover song, but they make it work here. All-in-all, though, this is an excellent collection and very much recommended.
Lisa Loeb, 1997 – Let’s Forget About It
I’m not normally into the overly-emotive-girl-with-an-acoustic-guitar thing, but Lisa Loeb just has such a breezy pop approach that it sets her apart. I had never heard the songs on this single, but they’re both great. She’s not quite Aimee Mann, but after listening to this I think I should seek out more of her music.
Moxy Früvous, 1996 – b
I’d never heard anything by Moxy Früvous when I came across this disc at the Savers, but I’d read enough about them back in the ‘90s that I figured it was worth a shot. I didn’t realize when I bought it that this is a collection of b-sides, never the best spot to start with a new band. But it’s great. No idea how to classify these Canadians – barbershop harmonies and folk instrumentation with quirky, even intentionally funny lyrics. They’re great fun but I would think they’d be a “limited doses” sort of band for me. They remind me a bit here and there of Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, Rockapella, They Might Be Giants, et cetera, but with an occasional political or topical bent to some songs a la Tom Lehrer. Good stuff.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, 1991 – Kill Your Television
Last one for Tuesday – this four-song CD single from perhaps the most overlooked and underrated band of the 90s. They got about five of their allotted fifteen minutes of fame, making a brief splash on the college radio scene in the U.S. with their debut while their subsequent albums got next to no notice whatsoever. I still cannot figure out why they weren’t hugely successful. I blame it on the record industry. A couple of exclusive songs on this disc make it worth the purchase, and of course the single and its remix are phenomenal. I still miss these guys.
Orange Goblin, 2002 – Coup De Grace
I’m not normally a metal fan, but I saw this CD in another post and it intrigued me, so I picked up a copy. As with a lot of metal, I prefer the music to the vocals, but I don’t find the singer a detriment here. It’s more melodic and groovy than a lot of metal and while the urge to bang one’s head is still there, it’s not inconceivable that I might also want to move my feet a bit while listening to Orange Goblin. I find parts of it reminiscent of stuff I know by Clutch or Queens Of The Stone Age. This was a fun first go ’round and I’m looking forward to future listens.
Scissor Sisters, 2004 – Scissor Sisters
It’s tough to say much about this album that hasn’t been said before. Out-and-proud dance pop with real songwriting and indelible hooks. Jake Shears has his genius and his pathos on full display on this spectacular debut. It’s such a massive, high energy affair that mid-tempo introspective numbers like “It Can’t Come Quickly Enough” and “Mary” come just in time to allow you to catch your breath. Not to be missed.
Bruce Springsteen, 2002 – The Rising
Solid writing, solid performances, solidly Springsteen. The return of The E-Street Band is great, especially when Clarence cuts loose like he does on “Mary’s Place.” But as I’ve said about other artists, if you’re a Springsteen fan, you know what you’re getting. If you’re not a fan of what’s come before, nothing on this album is likely to change your mind. At this point in his career, new albums from The Boss are as easy to slide into as a broken-in pair of boots and there’s really nothing surprising here; the only minor eyebrow raise comes with the incorporation of eastern music at the beginning of “Worlds Apart.” It’s a great album, in large part because it’s exactly what you’d expect.
Thanks for reading. Tune in next week – Springsteen, Stone Temple Pilots, Tori Amos, Wilco, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and much more! Keep on spinning those discs!