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Born and Raised (John Mayer)

In albums, current listenings on June 26, 2012 at 9:00 am


I’ve always been a huge John Mayer fan, since his first release. I’ve seen him several times in concert and always loved his show. When I listened to this album, I wasn’t too into it right away. In fact, shortly after hearing this album for the first time, I told one of my friends that it sounds like John Mayer is trying to be Neil Young, and that the sound of this album seemed forced to me. My friend wisely pointed out that this could actually be a more honest album. Maybe John actually plays more like this on his own, and we now have the opportunity to see this side of him? Of course, we were just speculating about the difference in sound.

Here’s what I do know: this album could arguably be John’s most honest album to date. He had a few rough years of scandalous comments (such as the infamous comments about sex with Jessica Simpson), and it seemed that he might have lost his way a little bit. He was being incredibly open but it was a little much. On Born and Raised, John is open, too, but this time its more honest and its more heart-felt. It feels like he is actually expressing himself in a softer tone with more perspective and understanding about the past few years of his life.

Born and Raised marks a shift in style for Mayer, although I suppose every album of he has released shows a different style of his musical talents. Still, his latest release is more stripped down and exposed. With the exception of “Something Like Olivia” and “Love Is a Verb”, there aren’t many tracks on this album with his usual guitar solos. Its much more subdued, focusing on some easy drums and beautiful country-inspired keys and harmonica. Once I realized that this album was actually something with a lot more substance than I originally thought, I also learned that Graham Nash and David Crosby provide vocal support for John on the album’s title track, “Born and Raised”. Prior to learning this, I no longer felt like John was trying to be Neil Young. And for some reason, when I heard Nash and Crosby on the album, it actually made the album even more authentic for me. What a great throw-back to those guys! Its like John is telling everyone how much Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young influenced him and this record, and gives them some really well-deserved recognition. I love it.

So yes. I am a huge fan of this album. Its grown on me and now I love the diversity of tracks, from “Queen of California”, which sets the tone of the album with some country-inspired guitar riffs at the start of the album, to the anthem-like track, “The Age of Worry”, to “Something Like Olivia”, a track that feels to me like John is singing a duet with his guitar. Born and Raised shows us humility and maturity that will no doubt drive Mayer’s musical journey and evolution of his craft.

Pick up this album and listen to it a few times with some good headphones or some good speakers with a nice, full sound. I really think you’ll love this album.

#104 – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Ray Charles)

In 124-100, Top 150 on June 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I haven’t written an entry for two weeks now, and its been mostly because I haven’t been sure what to do with this album. I’ve listened to it start to finish a few times, and was a little caught off guard. I love Ray Charles and specifically, my friend helped me clarify that I love the live music I’ve heard from Ray Charles. But something shocked me when I listened to this album. It wasn’t as soulful and expressive as I expected. At least, not on the first listen.

When I first listened to Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, I thought it sounded like Ray Charles was singing over the background tracks of really white music. The precision and stiffness of the choral background tracks, and the string arrangements…it just didn’t seem to add up for me. But I listened to this album a few more times, and finally, decided to do some reading, and discovered the songs from this album were selected from about 250 country and western songs that one of Ray’s producers sought out for him. He selected the final tracks on the album, but wanted to make his own versions of these tracks. Ray played piano in a hill-billy band when he was young, and so he was heavily influenced by country music in his early days. He also said that country and western music is just like blues and jazz, and that the lyrics are not smoothed out  the same way that other music might be – they are honest, they are blunt, they say it like it is. And I can definitely say I agree with this. Most country songs I’m familiar aren’t incredibly poetic, rather they tell a story in clear and plain English and that story is what people connect to. My understanding of this album is that Ray believed the same thing was true of Blues, and as a result, he fused the two genres by taking country and western songs and making his own R&B, blues, and jazz versions of them.

And so, with this context in mind, I re-listened to the album and discovered a whole new sound and an entirely new experience. Suddenly, this album has so much more weight as an artistic expression and also as a piece of musical and social history. Ray combines the two genres with ease and every song sounds like his own.  Before, I thought Ray was not as soulful and expressive as other recordings I’ve heard, but now that I listen with a new perspective I feel like he kind of tricked me. Like this album was so much smarter than I imagined it to be when I first listened. He is soulful and soft and honest on tracks like “It Makes No Difference Now”, and with the slow and easy horns and drums on this track, it feels like its straight from Ray and nobody else, like there never was version of this song before this album was released. Some of my personal favourites are “Hey, Good Lookin’” from the original release, and “Here We Go Again”, which was on the 1988 re-release of the album, possibly because I feel like they both capture the deep, soulful vocals that so many of us know  and love about Ray Charles. I never knew this was a country cover until I was researching this album, but now that I do, it seems completely obvious that the main vocal line has country influences.

So yes, Charles was successful at combining Country and Western music with Blues and Jazz, two genres which he already said were so similar. What’s even more exciting about this album is that it was one of the best selling albums by a black recording artist at the time. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was released in April of 1962, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The combining of genres on this album was symbolic of the movement to move past racism and prejudices. The recording significantly increased the amount of white listeners that Ray had, without losing his established listener base, which was mostly black. This album was a unification of American music and of American society, and as a result, it is incredibly significant in music history.

I have to admit, I was getting annoyed over the last two weeks, thinking about this album, wondering what I really had to say about it. Now I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and I actually think this has been one of the most transformative listening experiences for me so far, because my opinion and my view of the album changed so much from the first time I listened to it, until now. I’m really thrilled that I had such a fascinating learning experience from listening to this album. That’s what this project is all about.

Enjoy and please let me know your thoughts, as well.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Bye Bye Love
  2. You Don’t Know Me
  3. Half as Much
  4. I Love You So Much It Hurts
  5. Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Way)
  6. Born to Lose

Side Two

  1. Worried Mind
  2. It Makes No Difference Now
  3. You Win Again
  4. Careless Love
  5. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  6. Hey, Good Lookin’

#117 – Sweetheart of the Rodeo (The Byrds)

In 124-100, Top 150 on September 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

August 30, 1968 - Sweetheart of the Rodeo

As the sixth studio album from The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo has beautiful sound with a clear country (or should I say, Rodeo?) sound to it. In fact, I think the reason its on this list is mainly because when this album was released, in the Summer of 1968, most of the mainstream music was psychadelic rock. And so was much of the music previously released by The Byrds, although they did experiment with some country-influenced tracks on past albums. But this album has a different core to it, which comes partially from the addition of Gram Parsons. Gram joined the band before they recorded Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and as the result of tensions between him and the rest of the band members, ended up leaving the band around the time that the album was released on August 30th. The country influence came mainly from Parsons, although the album initially started as a concept album to outline American music history, with different styles including jazz and blues. Clearly, that idea was scrapped.

The album that remains is beautifully defined and is really relaxing to listen to! In fact, it actually reminds me a bit of the Avett Brothers debut release – the slow banjo and slightly wavered vocal lines have this unsettled sound that instantly brought the Avett Brothers to mind. Very cool.

This album was an attempt to bring country music into the mainstream, but it ended up alienating many of The Byrds previous fans due to the sudden change of their style (which, at the time, was psychadelic rock…and it was popular).

I’ll keep this short, since the album is pretty self-explanatory when you listen to it. Its definitely a great, enjoyable one to listen to though, and I think you’ll like it.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. You Ain’t Going Nowhere
  2. I Am A Pilgrim
  3. Christian Life
  4. You Don’t Miss Your Water
  5. You’re Still On My Mind
  6. Pretty Boy Floyd
Side Two
  1. Hickory Wind
  2. One Hundred Years From Now
  3. Blue Canadian Rockies
  4. Life In prison
  5. Nothing Was Delivered

#122 – Pearl (Janis Joplin)

In 124-100, Top 150 on July 13, 2011 at 11:39 am
Pearl (album)

Janis Joplin's album art for 'Pearl' (released January 11, 1971)

Janis Joplin’s posthumous album, entitled ‘Pearl’ was actually not completed because of her unexpected death, which is supposedly from heroin overdose when she was only 27 years old. In fact one track, “Buried Alive in the Blues” is instrumental because Joplin passed away before she could record the vocals.

In all honesty, I appreciate the significance of Janis Joplin in music history, but I’m not really drawn to her music overall. There are songs here and there that I like, but its not the kind of music that I can consistently listen to and say “Yep, I like that…and that track too, and also that…and that…and that…” et cetera, et cetera. That said, Joplin has an incredibly unique, raspy, vulnerable voice and she has this fantastic mix of Texan-country twang with a beautifully deep and soulful sound. It’s interesting to listen to her sing because she has such conviction – you can feel how passionate she is about her music as she sings…and as many of you probably know, she really wails!

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Move Over
  2. Cry Baby
  3. A Woman Left Lonely
  4. Half Moon
  5. Buried Alive in the Blues
Side Two
  1. My Baby
  2. Me and Bobby McGee
  3. Mercedes Benz
  4. Trust Me
  5. Get It While You Can
Joplin rose to success in just 5 years, between 1965 and 1970 and was in her 20s for the height of her career. She managed to break into the blues-jazz-psychedelic-rock scene when it was mostly dominated by male vocalists. Tracks like “My Baby” demonstrate her blues-rock talents and secure her in the list of top rock acts of her time.
Like I said before, I dig the album because of Joplin’s unique voice which is a major hybrid of so many genres. Ultimately though, the honesty and soul in Joplin’s music is what makes her interesting to listen to. In particular, “Pearl” was a huge success, and I’m sure part of that is due to her death before its completion.  Even though it was so popular, most of the tracks on this album I didn’t recognize before, although I do know “Me and Bobby McGee”. Then there’s this great social commentary on the track “Mercedes Benz”. At the beginning of the track, Janis says she’s going to do a song of “great social and political import”, which speaks well to Joplin’s involvement in the “hippie movement”, as her sister and parents called it.
I’m glad to have listened to “Pearl”. Again, I knew nothing about Janis Joplin or what music she sang, so itwas a great album to listen to on the Rolling Stone Top 150.

Barton Hollow (The Civil Wars)

In albums, current listenings on April 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

If you haven’t heard any of the music from this hauntingly-beautiful duo, then you need to drive yourself to HMV, or click yourself onto the iTunes music store and check them out.

The Civil Wars have only been known by that name for a year and a half. In fact, as I just read on their website, Joy Williams and John Paul White met at a call for country writers. Basically, they were in a room with a bunch of writers who were together trying to come up with a few new singles for a country band. From there, they connected really well (emotionally and musically) and started to write songs together. They aren’t married though! No White Stripes or anything.

Some of you may know their single ‘Poison & Wine’ from Grey’s Anatomy, and some may know their title-single, ‘Barton Hollow’, which has got a rockin’ guitar riff that drives the song with a mix of some seriously sassy vocal harmonies reminiscent of any sort of Alabama, Southern-U.S.A. music you might here. Their album is spectacularly simple: its just Williams, White and a guitar piano (and I guess bits of percussion added in too). Its a fantastic album to listen to, start to finish, because each song is a beautiful but secretive story that’s sung with conviction, passion, and emotional clarity that pours out of your speakers as you listen.

I would highly recommend this album to anyone who appreciates a little Nashville mixed with some really special vocal duets.

Oh, and I should mention: you can download a free live recording from their website, and its their second show ever. The album is Live at Eddie’s Attic, and I’m about to have a listen to it as well!

Enjoy, and special thanks to Alex Lepinski for another great find!

Album Art

Track Listing

  1. 20 years
  2. I’ve Got This Friend
  3. C’est la Mort
  4. To Whom It May Concern
  5. Poison & Wine
  6. My Father’s Father
  7. Barton Hollow
  8. The Violet Hour
  9. Girl With the Red Balloon
  10. Falling
  11. Forget Me Not
  12. Birds of a Feather
  13. I Want You Back (Bonus Track)
  14. Dance Me to the End of Love (Bonus Track)
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