The Allman Brothers Band – Eat A Peach

There will never be another band like The Allman Brothers Band. Nor will there ever be an album quite like “Eat a Peach”.  One of the original jam bands, The Allmam Brothers seamlessly blended the Southern rock and blues akin to their Georgia roots with jazz infused improvisations that showcased the talents of the band’s members.

“Eat a Peach” was The Allman Brothers Band’s third studio album and second live album. It was a double album that contained two sides of almost all studio material and two sides of all live material recorded at the original Fillmore Theater in San Francisco.

Two sides of live material taken up by one song, aptly titled “Mountain Jam”, which clocks in at just under forty minutes.

Most typical bands would have laid out the two parts of “Mountain Jam” back to back on subsequent sides. But the Allman Brothers Band are anything but typical. After closing out side one with the tender love song “Melissa”, side two kicks off the first half of “Mountain Jam” which fades out after an unfogettable drum and tympani solo by Butch Trucks. Instead of picking up where that leaves off, side three opens with a couple other live tracks, including the classic “One Way Out”, moves into more studio recordings and closes out with the beautiful instrumental “Little Martha”.

Side four picks up where “Mountain Jam” left off on side two, starting off where the drum solo transitions into Berry Oakley’s bass solo. Dual guitar solos by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts lead into an all member jam crescendo that closes an incredible jam on an incredible double album by an incredible jam band.

One of the original jam bands.

Queen – The Game

Queen is one of the most versatile and creative rock bands ever.  Freddie Mercury has an incredible vocal range and knows how to use it. Brian May’s guitar extravagance in both tonal qualities and technical ability are unequaled. Roger Taylor has a unique drumming style that is immediately recognizable (for one, he loves to play the hi-hat just slightly behind the snare drum making it sound like one elongated beat) and John Deacon is absolutely solid on bass. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were a band that was never afraid to try anything new. Except for synthesizers.

Queen always seemed staunchly defiant to synths. Not to the point of ever talking negatively about them. But they did make a point on their first six albums to somewhere in the liner notes, point out that “no synths” were used on the albums.

Quite honestly, on those early Queen albums, synthesizers weren’t missed. It was actually quite amazing some of the sounds Brian May could wring out of a guitar, making tones and sonic fluctuations that many bands would need to use a synthesizer to even come close to. Then again the guy was a thesis away from a doctorate in astrophysics when Queen’s success took off, and did all his own guitar electronics, so it wasn’t that surprising that he could be pretty amazing. (He did finally write his thesis and receive his doctorate in 2007, and has since co-authored a book on the origins of the universe).

I don’t think any of my close friends would be surprised to know that I love reading liner notes on albums. I could say “the more the merrier” but that would be untrue. I don’t necessarily want to have the back cover or inner sleeve plastered in paragraphs of text, but it’s nice to have some interesting information about the songs or the band or the recording sessions – and lyrics are always nice. It’s all about the balance.

When I heard the opening to Queen’s seventh studio album, I knew – there was no doubt in my mind – I mean, Brian May could do some amazing things on guitar – but that was a synthesizer. And as I read the liner notes, there it was in black and white: “This album includes the first appearance of a Synthesizer (an Oberhein OBX) on a Queen album“.

There were no apologies or explanations given . Then again, none were really needed. Queen never denounced the use of synths. They just made it clear to those who paid close attention, that they didn’t use them. On “The Game”, they made it clear to that same crowd that on this album they were going to start.

The use of synthesizers didn’t ruin “The Game” – it made it a stronger album. Synthesizers allowed Queen to expand their sound beyond where they had gone before.

“The Game” went on to be one of Queen’s most successful albums, and one of my personal favorites by them. That’s in part, because they chose to use synths on it. “The Game” wouldn’t sound the same without them. Queen just had to know how to use them but not over do it. After all, it’s all about the balance.

Crack The Sky

When I’m surfing the Internet, I read a lot about bands I’ve heard of. The other day, I ran across an article titled “The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of”.  Now I have heard of a lot of obscure bands, so I was intrigued.

The band of topic was “Crack The Sky” and no, I had never heard of them.  I was further intrigued. It turns out Rolling Stone magazine declared Crack The Sky’s 1975 eponymous album “the best debut album of the year”. I was even more intrigued. I also ran across a 2015 post where “Crack The Sky” was included as one of the 50 greatest prog albums of all time by the same publication. I was beyond intrigued. I had to listen to this intriguing band from Vermont that never really gained popularity outside of Baltimore, Maryland.

I found a copy of “Crack the Sky” for sale on Discogs and immediately bought it. And so here I  sit listening to a band I’ve never heard of.

…And I am more than beyond intrigued. I am impressed…and amazed….

I am amazed that Crack the Sky never made it beyond their local popularity. They had it all: vocal arrangements falling in line with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the musicianship of Yes,  the pop appeal of Styx, the complexity of Focus, and the contrasting dark lyrics yet bright music of Steely Dan.

From what I am hearing on their debut album, Crack The Sky  is a band that is…what’s the word? …

…Intriguing.

I am intrigued to hear more by them.

Stanley Clarke

Jazz fusion is a style I need to add more of into my record collection.

When one thinks of Stanley Clarke, they think of two things: bass and jazz fusion music. Stanley Clarke is probably the person most singularly responsible for bringing recognition to bass as a lead instrument instead of just part of the rhythm section. Jazz fusion, with its freeform breakaway jamming style was absolutely the best fit for Clarke’s playing style. He is absolutely amazing to listen to.

Stanley Clarke recorded this self titled album – his second solo effort – while he was still in the band “Return to Forever” with Chick Corea. “Return to Forever” was a great fusion band, that for the most part, focused on traditional instrumentation. Usually, guitar or keys were the lead instruments. On Clarke’s solo efforts, it was all about the instrument he played. It was all about the bass.

Side one consists of more traditional jazz fusion. That is, if one can really call any jazz fusion “traditional”. It’s really a style That’s all about playing what you feel and feeling what you play. Listening to Stanley Clarke, it’s evident that he feels it.

“Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass” kicks off side two with a combination of neo-classical and Latin music. That’s followed by the four-part jazz fusion masterpiece “Life Suite”, which can be best described with one word: “epic”.

I think the reason I don’t have more jazz fusion in my collection Is because to me, jazz has always been a style of music that should be heard, and seen, performed live. But that doesn’t mean it can’t make for a great studio recording. Stanley Clarke proves that here.

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Normally, when I buy a new album I like to listen to it a couple of times before I write down my thoughts on it. But I wanted to try something new this time, so here goes…

I’d heard of Lana Del Rey from many people I know. I also saw her name pop up in the music news from time to time.  Really, if you are into music today, it’s impossible to at least not know her name. I had the opportunity to sample a couple of tracks off her second album but never heard any of the songs on it in their entirety.  I was almost flying blind buying this album.  I knew this was the kind of album I would need to listen to for the first time when I was in the mood for something new. I only hoped that I would like it.

I want to state here that I won’t write anything here about an album I don’t like. I hate reading negative reviews, because, by their nature, reviews are always subjective to the critic’s opinion. If a reviewer doesn’t like an album they should write about something else. Be positive. I have listened many albums that others have hated, and loved them; and vice versa. If I don’t like an album, I simply wont write it here.

That said, you’re reading this, so I obviously like what I am hearing, otherwise I wouldn’t still be writing and this album would be shelved for a future listening. (I never give an album only one chance).

The title track, which opens “Born to Die”, grabbed me right away. Absolutely beautiful lyrics; and the music is hypnotizing and invigorating at the same time.  I’m finding the rest of the album that way as well. There’s an influence of hip hop which in overdose, I don’t care for. But here, Lana Del Rey finds the perfect balance between it and jazz and pop, with a feel of…what is it … … …baroque? It’s that touch of contrast that makes her music so unique.

Ornate on top but subdued underneath. Extravagant but simply stated. Only a true artist could do this music. Someone who’s not afraid to break new ground.

Okay. Side two…

There’s influence of Kate Bush here, as well as Amy Winehouse. Maybe that’s why I’m digging this album so much.

I’m not a big fan of the f-bombs on “Radio” though.  Not that I’m against swearing on an album if it feels appropriate. In this song, it feels kind of forced though – like she wanted to get that “parental advisory” sticker to enhance sales. It’s a great song and although the f-bombs don’t ruin it, they do detract from it bit. Their verbal force would have been more appropriate in the following song, “Carmen”.  Still, the songs on the flip side so far do not disappoint. Even if the closing song, “This is What Makes Us Girls”, disappoints me, I will have no regrets about buying this album. The last time I enjoyed a new album this much was when I heard “Lungs” by Florence And the Machine.

I know this is an album I will listen to many, many times.  Buying it was a great gamble that paid off.

Oh, by the way, the closing song did not disappoint.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Sometimes I wonder if I got it all wrong….

Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Arcade Fire  when they first came onto the music scene in 2004. Maybe my expectations were too high after hearing raves about their debut, “Funeral”. To me, it was good…but…meh.  I figured they were a one or two album band destined to mediocrity. I was wrong.

I mostly use word of mouth and the Internet to check out new bands (I’m not a big fan of the  local commercial radio stations today). Thirteen years later, I was still hearing a lot of talk about Arcade Fire. So I went online and listened to them again and found a lot of songs really hit home with me, especially from their 2010 album “The Suburbs”. So much so, that I figured I’d pick up a copy of “The Suburbs” to listen to the album as a whole. It was one of the best musical decisions I have ever made.

Listening to the songs on “The Suburbs” mixed with tracks from other albums, I could tell it was going to be a good album. But the whole is so much better than its parts. This album is a creative masterpiece. The songs are themed around living in the suburbs – the good, the bad, and the mediocre, offering up the lyrics with diverse but uniquely identifiable arrangements.

After listening to “The Suburbs”, I will definitely be giving other Arcade Fire a closer listen. I wouldn’t be surprised if another album from them ends up in my collection. Maybe I should give “Funeral” another listen. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Arcade Fire’s originality when I first heard it.

Maybe I got it all wrong.

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot

In the 1970s there were some bands that were against using synthesizers in their music, pining that they were artificial or inauthentic instruments. Then there were others who used synths extensively, feeling they opened new doors of musical possibilities. The Alan Parsons Project embraced synthesizers along with traditional rock band instruments and orchestral and choral arrangements to create incredible works of musical art.

Released in 1977, “I Robot” was the second album by the Alan Parsons Project. It was a concept album based loosely on a book of the same name, written by science fiction author Isiaac Asimov.

Conceptually, “I Robot” tells the story of man’s cretion of machines with artificial intelegence that eventually overtake him as the dominant species on earth. It closes with an instumental titled “Genesis Ch. 1, V. 32” alluding to a continuation of the biblical story of creation, only this time it is man who has created robot in his own image.

Steven Wilson – Transience

Four time Grammy nominee Steven Wilson is one of the most creatively talented recording artists around today. Yet so many people have not really heard of him. If you happen to fall into that category, the album “Transience” is a great place to start.

Consisting of three sides of music recorded between 2003 and 2015 (the fourth album side is etched with lyrics to one of the songs) “Transience” is a collection of songs taken mostly from Steven Wilson’s previous solo albums. Three of them are reworked exclusively for this album and differ noticeably from their original incarnations. There is also a new re-recording of the song “Lazarus” which was previously recorded by Wilson’s former band Porcupine Tree.

If you haven’t given any of Steven Wilson’s music a listen, you owe it to yourself to do so. He has received praise from critics, numerous other musical artists, and most importantly, those who have bought his records. He writes and records some of the most adventurous music being produced today. Sometimes intricate and complex, it quite often falls outside of the mainstream, but in no way does that mean his music is extreme or excessive.

The songs on “Transience” are selections that fall more in line with modern contemporary music. This is music that departs from the commonplace and defies being a mere musical backdrop. This is an album that is enticing and unique. It demands to be listened to; not just once but over and over. Because, as with all of Steven Wilson’s albums,  there always seems to be something new to hear.

Led Zeppelin IV

There are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection…

There is a reason Led Zeppelin’s fourth record is so iconic. It is an incredible collection of songs that few bands have been able to equal. The album practically defines rock and roll from the ’70s – the golden age of vinyl. It has become an influential and inspirational focal point for generations of rock band. It became the goal of almost every rock guitarist to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven”.

Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was the first record from the band that was well received by most critics, their previous album “Led  Zeppelin III” being the most severely panned. Record buyers obviously agreed with the positive reviews, as it has become one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Referring to the album as “Led Zeppelin IV” is actually inaccurate. But then,  how do you refer to an album that has no name?  Zeppelin decided to officially not give it one. They even deferred from putting the band’s name anywhere on the album cover.

Fans often refer to it as “Led Zeppelin IV” for a couple of reasons. First off, It’s Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and it came out following “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III”. Secondly, the inner sleeve shows four symbols that were created by each of the four band members. The album is also commonly referred to as is “Zoso” because the first of the four symbols was created by guitarist Jimmy Page which dolts that word.

Although it has sold millions of copies, it can be hard to run across an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album that is in excellent condition.  Partly because many people in the ’70s did not know how to properly care for vinyl records (vinyl takes a little more TLC than CDs) and also because when CDs came out, unless someone decided to get rid of their entire collection, this was one of the few the had to hold on to. After all, there are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather

There was a huge pawn shop just outside gate 4 of Fort Campbell. When I was stationed there back in the ’80s, I want to that pawn shop all the time to see if there were any goodies that I could pick up for a steal. When I visited it one particular day in 1984, my favorite radio station in Clarksville, Tennessee was doing a remote broadcast in the parking lot. When I approached the tent, they told me I could win a free record if I could correctly answer a music trivia question. I don’t remember the question I was asked, or answer, but I do remember the album I chose from their selection: “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I didn’t choose a Stevie Ray Vaughan album because I was a fan. I had never had of him. But the album had a add sticker on it that said he had been voted guitarist of the year by a guitar magazine. I figured “well, then the guy should be pretty good”.

I had no idea.

There will never be another guitarist like Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had it all – the tone, the feel, the emotion, the skill. He was the kind of player that could make you stop dead in your tracks, forget what you were doing and just listen. He was, in my opinion, the best blues guitarist that ever lived.

Sadly,  the world lost Stevie Ray on August 27, 1990 when the helicopter he was flying in while on tour crashed shortly after takeoff.

This 2011 reissue version of “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” includes a second album of songs that were never released while SRV was still alive; many of them appearing on his posthumous  album “The Sky is Crying”. Included on the second album is Arvo incredible version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Little Wing”. Stevie Ray never had a chance to record the vocals for the song, but with the way he could make his guitar sing, none were necessary. I still get goosebumps listening to it.