Echo & the Bunnymen: Siberia • 2005
If you were an “alternative” kid in the eighties, there were likely three bands that spent an abnormal amount of time in your Sony walkman: The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs. As a testament to music’s power to fling the listener back into their personal history, the first few notes of “All Because of You Days” had me recalling the stress of class changes, jock avoidance and locker combinations. With many bands of this era cashing in on the “retro” craze of their long past glory, Ian McCulloch and Will Sargent turned out Siberia, a beautiful album that manages to illustrate their musical evolution and pay homage to the sound we funny haired kids knew so well. Reflective, chiming and wonderfully paced, Siberia is good stuff.
Chris Whitley: Living With The Law • 1991
Haunted, atmospheric, earthy and timeless: it’s hard to describe Chris Whitley’s amazing debut album and do it any justice. Living With The Law seamlessly melds plaintive character studies, Delta blues, Hendrix approved squawks of feedback and spacious, multi-dimensional production into one glowing whole. The airy pads of synth in “Big Sky Country” gently draw you in, and the gutbucket dobro of “Make The Dirt Stick” kicks you right back out. A restless stylist and severely underrated talent, Chris Whitley was a remarkable Texas singer-songwriter that refused to be pigeonholed. He passed away just last November, but his musical legacy remains and nearly demands a good listen by curious ears.
The Pernice Brothers: Yours, Mine and Ours • 2003
OK, I’m a sucker for smart, well-crafted pop with intelligent lyrics, great arrangements and killer harmonies. If the production is fantastic and the guitar playing is inventive, even better. Joe Pernice and company delivered all the goods on Yours, Mine and Ours and the CD spent a ridiculous amount of time in my player. Echoing the best of jangly pop’s purveyors (Johnny Marr’s Smiths era work comes to mind) and the wit and skill of Brian Wilson and Todd Rundgren, Yours, Mine and Ours is a melancholy, sometimes angry look at relationships through the eyes of Joe Pernice. From the dreamy movements of “Water Ban” to “Blinded By The Stars” to the bitterness and resolution of “Number Two” — this is one helluva record.
Jellyfish: Spilt Milk • 1993
Speaking of pop, if you ever wondered what the bastard love-child of T-Rex, Cheap Trick, the Beatles, Badfinger, the Partridge Family, the Beach Boys, Walt Disney and Queen would sound like, here’s the answer: Jellyfish. The term “kitchen sink” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Spilt Milk is SO over-the-top (in a good way) that I don’t think most people knew what to think when the album appeared. They were the first band to be featured on the very first installment of “MTV’s Summer Beach House” but you can’t hold that against them. It’s a real puzzler how this album just came and went because honestly, every single tune is a near perfect example of power-pop songwriting. Crunchy guitars, pianos and organs, strings and almost inhumanly gorgeous vocal arrangements just weren’t what people wanted to hear in ’93, I guess. But listening to “New Mistake” or the lilting “Russian Hill” makes me wonder where the bands are today with the nerve to even attempt this kind of grandeur, let alone pull it off as effortlessly as Jellyfish did 13 years ago.
Danny Gatton and Joey DeFrancesco: Relentless • 1994
Relentless is a stunning blowing session from two great, great musicians. Danny Gatton’s chameleon-like ability to fit into any style was always well documented on his solo albums, but in this context (with a fiery young B-3 player like DeFrancesco as sparring partner) we get to hear him swing so hard it almost hurts. This album is the musical equivalent of consuming a triple espresso whilst riding a roller coaster — possibly in flames. Though the set opens with a mid-tempo blues in the Gatton penned “Fine,” by the time they reach Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” both players are trading furious fours at warp-speed, and you can almost hear them smiling (and sweating) as they do it. The range of tones Gatton could coax from a Telecaster is mind-boggling, as is the creativity of both players’ lines. A must have album for Gatton and DeFrancesco fans, and probably jazz aficionados everywhere.