Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Second Five of My Personal Top Albums List

This is the second installment of my personal list of top albums. They're in order, so Randall Bramblett's Thin Places clocks in at number six. My list certainly may differ from yours, and I'm glad we all tend to have differing views of things; it makes for a richer existence. To help keep myself in line and to avoid a list that would be much longer than this, I made myself a few simple rules. 1 - No greatest hits, anthologies, or multi-artist compilations. 2 - It’s my personal Top 10 list, so I will try not to be overly influenced by the critics. 3 - There is no limit on the number of albums an individual or group can have in the listing. 4 - All songs on an album count, not just the best ones so a bad cut counts against inclusion.
Randall Bramblett - Thin Places Wonderfully jazz influenced rock and roll for grown-ups. If it can make a sound, then I’m pretty sure this multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter can play it, and play it well. You might know Randall Bramblett from Sea Level or from his many gigs as a session musician for everyone from Robbie Robertson to Widespread Panic to Gregg Allman.
If you haven’t heard Randall Bramblett, then this Jesup, Georgia, native will come as a wonderful surprise. Bramblett has several superior albums, but this one is my favorite.
There is not a bad song on this album. The lyrics are thoughtful, insightful, and make a lot of sense in a world that seldom does. The music matches the mood of the music perfectly, perhaps best exemplified with “Gotta Stop Somewhere” bouncing between nearly frenetic to more controlled statements. This is a great album that never got the listens it deserves and that’s a shame - not just for Bramblett, but more for the people who have not had an opportunity to listen. As Bramblett says in “Black Coat”: “There’s nothing left to do but to laugh and feed the angels . . .” And listen to this great recording.
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story Rod Stewart’s embrace of disco in the late 70s nearly put me off him for life. I still abhor disco, but after a decade or two, I was able to go back and listen again to Stewart’s non-disco output and it was impressive. Stewart is thought of mainly as a singer and a songwriter, but there are only three Stewart original songs on this album. The three songs he wrote are brilliant, but it's the arrangements of the cover songs that shines here.
Every Picture Tells a Story features Stewart’s great songwriting (Every Picture Tells a Story, written with Ronnie Wood); Maggie May; and, Mandolin Wind) and brilliant choices of cover songs including the definitive version of The Temptations’ (I Know) I’m Losing You as well as the great Reason to Believe from Tim Hardin. Among the other covers is Stewart’s arrangement of the traditional Amazing Grace and Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow Is a Long Time. I’ve got to say, I love the the choice of instruments and how they’re used here. Listen to the drums fills at the end of the lines in the title cut and, of course, the mandolin, guitar, and steel guitar interplay across the album. The production is perfect; it’s straightforward and for these songs that is exactly what is needed. You’ll likely never hear the song Every Picture Tells a Story on the radio again; the politically correct would get a case of the vapors, but you can still hear it on the album. Once again, this is an album I can put on, sit back, and listen to the whole thing without the urge to skip a track or shake my head.
Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks If I run across anyone who has never really listened to Bob Dylan, this is the album that I recommend they listen to first. It’s a wonderful album, even though Dylan himself couldn’t understand how people enjoyed listening to it. In a radio interview, he told Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary), “A lot of people tell me they enjoyed that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that—I mean, people enjoying that type of pain.” Dylan associates the album with pain, but it’s hard not to see “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” as a love song about an amicable, but reluctant, parting. Perhaps it’s two sides of a coin, because Dylan’s marriage was in trouble during this period. Dylan denies that he writes from personal experience - with one admitted exception and this ain’t it - so perhaps that isn’t why he associates it with pain. I’m not saying there is no pain in this album, and I’m not saying there isn’t a lot on here that’s reflective of Dylan’s life at the time, but I am saying there is beauty.
“Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate” are about star-crossed lovers, though in the latter only one of the two cares. “Simple Twist of Fate” is especially intriguing because of the post one-night stand role reversal. The thing that stand out for me about the lyrics are how descriptive and detail-oriented they are without being lengthy. Dylan gives just enough to flesh out his stories and the songs are easily excuses to call Dylan a genius. As for the production, for some reason Dylan was in a hurry to finish this off and the production suffered. Perhaps, Dylan was less forthcoming about the inspiration for these songs and the “pain” he refers to was very real and very contemporary. Either way, the shoddy production is a fact, but that cannot diminish the greatness of the songs. The songs make this a favorite of mine and number eight of my top ten albums. Continued after the jump.
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