***3 Albums was a semi-regular music series I wrote for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library between July 2016 and January 2018.
All 3 Albums posts can be found in their original published form HERE***
Bam! Welcome to edition #1 of what may be a somewhat regular, (hopefully) delightful, informative and/or entertaining music blog where I suggest/pontificate on 5 albums that I think are worthy of your ears. If you like musical discoveries… you’ve come to the right place.
“Who the heck are you and what makes you qualified to recommend music?!?”
Great question, Mr. Italicstext! Perhaps we should start with a quick 5 point intro:
Hi, I’m Kyle. I work in the Interlibrary Loan Department.
I’m a kindasorta-musician myself.
Moreover, I’m just a huge music lover/appreciator/sharer.
I’m constantly filling my ears up with new tunes and the library is where I make a ton of new discoveries.
I go in for a wide range of styles and genres but my wheelhouse is singer/songwriters and anything of the __-rock variety. (fill in the blank with: indie, folk, alternative, pop, classic, etc) Still, I dabble in bluegrass, pop, soul, musical theater, hip-hop and country (think “Johnny Cash country” not “modern radio country”). I’m up for giving almost anything a spin.
Cool? Cool. So let’s get crackin’!
5 albums I think you should listen to (and why)… GO!
The Avett Brothers: True Sadness (2016)
“Got a whole lotta reasons to be mad, let’s not pick one.” – Ain’t No Man
Some songwriters are able to create a worldview within their music that you want to throw on like a new suit and live in for awhile. The brothers Seth and Scott Avett (hey! They really ARE Avett Brothers!) have done this to me time and time (and time) again with every new album in their impressive discography. Their 9th studio album True Sadness is no exception, although it marks some new genre-blurring experiments for this already genre defying alt-bluegrass-punk-country-folk band.
The Avetts do not pull any punches when it comes to their songwriting. They see the world with open eyes… it’s pretty dark and life is tough (heck, note the album title) BUT, it is the sparkling sprinkles of joy, relationship, and a stubborn determination to live/love better that breaks through in every song and ends up eclipsing the surrounding darkness. This is why I love the Avetts… those sparkling sprinkles.
Some have been critical of this album for the new musical direction it skews towards. It’s really kind of a mixed bag: plenty of the Avett’s signature banjo and acoustic guitar sounds… with some new fiery remixes full of synth sounds and programmed drumbeats added to the stew.
It’s human nature to want musicians to stay exactly the same. We all do it with our favorite bands. But that’s hard on the creative life of an artist. I’m a firm believer that you have to let your favorite bands grow and explore new terrain. It prevents stagnation and allows for discovery. It’s a thing that should be embraced. Fortunately, excellent songwriting will shine through any arrangement and that’s exactly what it does on True Sadness.
(Favs: Ain’t No Man, No Hard Feelings, True Sadness, Divorce Separation Blues)
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II (1969)
“I don’t care what the people say, I know where their jive is at.” – Heartbreaker
Led Zeppelin II is one of my all-time-desert-island albums. Beyond being a near-perfect-solid-gold-rock-n-roll specimen it also bears special significance for me because it torpedoed into my life right after I picked up my first guitar. It blew my mind clean out of the water… leaving me with an awkward head crater.
I mean… Jimmy Page couldn’t cram any more riffs in there if he tried. (riffs on riffs on riffs #alltheriffs) Robert Plant tearing and wailing his way across the vocal spectrum. John Paul Jones lays it down with authority (his bass lines during “The Lemon Song” CAH-RUSH me). And, of course, there is John Bonham bringing it on home one solid beat at a time. (Moby Dick = drum solo perfection)
So, I almost literally tore my hair out when I saw the recent news that the band Train released a full cover album of Led Zeppelin II. I will not mince words here: I have zero love for Train.
More over, I am at a loss to properly tell you how much I dislike the idea of any band doing a full cover of Led Zeppelin II because it’s already such a perfect album. The icing on this awful, awful cake is that, by their own admission, Train tried to do a note-for-note remake.
Listen…I love cover songs. I’ve performed cover songs. I get it. Why wouldn’t performers want to take songs that they love and are inspired by and perform them? It’s logical. However, the best cover songs don’t come from duplication. You can’t be another band or artist. Great cover songs come from using your unique musical voice to re-imagine another artist’s song and make it into your own thing. This is why this Train(wreck) album is especially painful. You can’t be Led Zeppelin if you aren’t Led Zeppelin (I’m talking to you, Train)… and even if you could be… what exactly is the point of releasing an album exactly as it has already been done?
Now, in order to completely fair in this review I gritted my teeth and I listened to the ENTIRE Train version. It was painful and I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cry… but I made it through. The major problem with trying to duplicate Led Zeppelin’s music is that it’s pretty glaringly obvious when you fall short, and you will fall short if you are trying to sound exactly like one of rock’s greatest bands. Like when your guitarist plays the iconic Heartbreaker riff just slight out of tempo and it is literally… a Heart breaker…
You can listen to Train Does Led Zeppelin if you so choose… the library owns it. However, you won’t get a link to it in this blog. I’m going to make you do a little work if you’re not going to listen to this sound advice: Plug in the original. Led Zeppelin will never be out-Led Zeppelin’d… Trust me.
(Favs: Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker/Livin’ Lovin’ Maid, Ramble On, Bring It On Home)
Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording (2015)
“Hey yo, I’m just like my country I’m young, scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwing away my shot!” – My Shot
This one is a no-brainer, folks. Fresh off an incredible 11 wins at the Tony Awards (out of a record breaking 16 nominations)…AND a Pulitzer Award for Drama… AND a Grammy (Seriously… all the awards!). Hamilton is the hottest thing to hit Broadway in a long, long time. Odds are you’ve already listened to this ground breaking cultural phenomenon… but in case you haven’t (no judgement here… we all find things when we find them!)
take some time to get Hamiltonized.
It’s worthy of all the buzz and all the accolades that have come its way. A perfect marriage of hip-hop, history and musical theater. Other than the stellar music, writing, and performances (as if that wasn’t enough…) I think this show has hit such a strong chord with such a huge audience because it really humanizes our Founding Fathers (and Mothers) and makes them relatable in a way that’s never been seen before. 200some years has a way of covering up the simple truth that these revolutionaries were men and women with similar wants, hopes, struggles, and passions that we all wrestle with today.
So, prepare yourself for a history lesson unlike any you’ve ever heard as creator Lin-Manual Miranda and the original cast bring the story of our country and its founding off the black-and-white page and into full, bright, humanized color!
(Favs: My Shot, Non-Stop, Cabinet Battle #1 & #2, The World Was Wide Enough)
The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer – A Real Fine Mess (2014)
“Gotta get back, pay back, come back, sway back, kick back, flash back to glory days, glory days, oh, oh oh!” – Black and Blue
Winner for “Best Band Name of All Time” goes to this Canadian blues/rock/soul duo. It definitely makes a statement. It just gets better when you realize there’s meaning behind the name:
The Harmonica -> aka French Harp -> aka Harpoon-> Bandmember Shawn Hall rips it up on the Harmonica -> He’s: The Harpoonist
The Electric Guitar -> aka an Axe -> Other bandmember Matthew Rogers kills it on the git -> He’s: The Axe Murderer
The only downside of such an epic name is that you’ve got to bring the thunder in the music… fortunately, these guys are up to the task. Every song on this album comes out swinging and smacks you in the face with a jolt of energy. Crammed full of catchy riffs and hooks with the guitar/harmonica combo often used to great effect by mirroring the riff in tandem then playing off and around each other. Did I mention catchy? The chorus of “Closer to Death” has been spinning around my head for days.
Everything is solid on this album and there’s no filler to be found in the 15 tracks. Take a chance on this one!
(Favs: Mamas in the Backseat, Closer to Death, Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To, In and Out of Love)
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
“Throw out your cares and fly… Wanna go for a ride?” – Zero
Musically speaking, I came of age in the alternative 90’s… and few albums embody that era like Smashing Pumpkin’s epic, wide-sweeping, double-disc’d, magnum opus.
I regret to inform you that I never had the chance to listen to it back when it was released, but I do have a perfectly good excuse: I happen to have been born two years after my brother…
Now, my older brother did a decent job trying to tolerate my overwhelming desire to be just like him, but he had to put his foot down once his little brother’s musical tastes started mirroring his own. (I mean, think of your reputation!) Thus, a musical embargo was decreed and “His” bands became strictly off-limits to me. The Smashing Pumpkins absolutely-positively were “His” band… Period. So, melancholy little me got no Mellon Collie.
That’s not to say I didn’t rebel against said embargo by soaking in the videos for “Tonight, Tonight”, “1979”, and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” on MTV… I most certainly (in secret) did! This was back in a simpler time before MTV was 100% reality programming and you could still occasionally find some music.
Fast-forward 20 years and I saw Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness here at the library and realized I had never actually listened to the whole album. (As previously stated… we all find things when we find them) and so I allowed myself to be whisked back in time by Billy Corgan’s wide world of distorted, fuzz-soaked guitars thrown in next to carnival piano waltzes and lullabies (I’m really not sure how this album works as a whole… being that the individual pieces are so dramatically different…but it really, really does!)
I completely recommend the trip – for longtime fans of this album or anyone just wanting a double shot of 90’s nostalgia. AND if you really want to go down the Mellon Collie rabbithole: Hoopla has the DELUXE EDITION with a staggering 92 tracks full of out-takes, rejected songs, and different edits… It clocks in at just under 6 hours…
(Favs: Tonight, Tonight, Jellybelly, Zero, Thirty-three)
That’s all for now, folks. Here’s hoping you see (and hear) something that will make your ears happy! Let me know if YOU find an album that I just have to check out!
PS… My brother and I eventually grew up into somewhat reasonable adults and his musical embargo was eventually lifted. These days we actually go out of our way to get each other excited about “my” bands and “his” bands and we openly share our new musical finds.
Which, I suppose, has led to me getting great joy out of helping people find new music to get excited about… and inadvertently, this blog… so.. Thanks bro!