Five More Favorites from Todd

Herein lies a knave’s tale of exploits few and far between – a slim tome of needless boasts and aimless toasts. Doff your cap with pity and enter a realm of cherished miscellany.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Jimmie Dale Gilmore (1989)

I bought this on cassette at Turtle’s – probably in 1990; I didn't have a CD player until late ’91 or early ’92 (my first CD was Combat Rock). I was attracted to JDG by the name and the cover, which features a man’s profile centered in a woodblock printing press arrangement. I’m pretty sure that the cassette was stocked in the Alternative section because I wouldn’t have been browsing the Country section in 1990.

Still, JDG didn't look like a typical recording of any sort, so I went in with no expectations other than that the first track might be some sort of ironic take on Honky Tonkin'. Instead, “Honky Tonk Song” turned out to be just that: “Honky tonk – all night long/Honky tonk – she done me wrong/Honky tonk – my money's all gone/Honky tonk – same old song.”

Now, I'm going to give myself younger self some credit here; this was the same young man who used to fall asleep to the dulcet tones of Metallica’s ...And Justice For All. And this was the same young man who (regrettably) thought his college suitemates were “fags” for going to see R.E.M. in 1989. And, this was the same young man who was viscerally excited by the music Public Enemy and RHCP were putting out around this time. However, I was also the same young man who was entranced by the cover of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and the one who bought it when he could no longer stand not knowing what magic he might find within that double-cassette package priced $10.98.

Even at that young age, I was immediately enchanted by JDG, and it's been a treasured part of my collection ever since. The music is simple and straightforward, but it has the craftsman's touch. I'd love to tell you who else played on it (Jimmie is a singer-songwriter, so he plays guitar, of course), but the cassette insert is black and blank on the inside, and the Internet only tells me that it was produced by Joe Ely. Anyway(faring stranger), the highlight is Jimmie's handsome (and lonesome, when needs be) tenor, which giddies up suitably on the rug cutters “Honky Tonk Song” “Up To You” and “Red Chevrolet”, ambles warmly on the mid-tempo charmers “See The Way” “Dallas” and “That Hardwood Floor” and yearns smoothly on the slower “Deep Eddy Blues” and “When The Nights Are Cold”. That last one features the memorable passage: “Please don't ask me/To cross that river/Please don't ask me/For silver and gold/I can't give you things/That I can't deliver/But I'll keep you warm/When the nights are cold.”

Both Jimmie Dale and Ray Wylie Hubbard are part of the Austin, Texas, scene, but they're very different artists musically. “Dallas” was a song Jimmie used to play in his Flatlander's band, and they were the '70s progenitors of the alternative country sound (yet more AOR-oriented). But like Mr. Hubbard, it took Jimmie a long time to find himself as an artist and reach a wider audience. Jimmie's next record, After Awhile, was highly acclaimed critically, and after that, his Spinning Around The Sun formed a well-deserved nexus of popularity. I may like this recording of his the best because I heard it first, but if you want to hear something unique and timeless, it's hard to beat Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Prince - Around The World In A Day (1985)

In 1985, I was among the many who could not wait for this album to drop. As it happened, this was the very first official release cassette tape I ever bought. Prior to ATWIAD, I had a cassette recorder and bought blank tapes so I could record songs off the radio. For this momentous occasion, I bought World at a mall in Maryland while on a school trip. Presciently, I had acquired a knock-off Sony Walkman before the trip because I knew I would be given spending money, and I knew that $10 of that money would go toward purchasing ATWIAD.

I do remember being slightly disappointed that World didn't feature as much guitar as Purple Rain, but I heard other textures and sounds that intrigued me. I certainly wasn't amongst those on the trip who thought ATWIAD was “too weird” or, dare I repeat, “sucked”. I wouldn't say those things until I heard Under The Cherry Moon for the first time (I later fell in love the music on Cherry Moon, but, damn, that movie is awful).

At any rate, the title track truly is a journey around the world with its exotic touches and unusual instrumentation. If “World” is a journey, then “Paisley Park” is a stroll around the neighborhood and the last stop before some would say this trip goes off the rails with “Condition Of The Heart”. However, I love “Condition” – it features some absolutely gorgeous keyboard work and Prince harmonizing with himself. Plus, the lost love lyric pierced me because my own heart had been recently broken.

Of course, Prince next whips out his “Raspberry Beret” and reminds everyone just how much of a musical and lyrical craftsman he truly is: “Rain sounds so cool/When it hits the barn roof/And the horses wonder who you are/Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees/And you fe-e-eel like a movie star”. The violin and cello are ganache on this track – perhaps licked off the belly of your beret-laden lover. “Tamborine” is a dirty little ditty about the part just below the belly – thus the intentional (and still annoying to an English major) misspelling.

Side two – sorry, track six – then kickstarts your heart with “America”, which is somehow both an ode to and indictment of our glorious country. “Pop Life” features Sheila E. on drums and is just one of those catchy-ass castoffs Mr. Nelson probably emits in his sleep: “Oh, joy, there's another song in my sheets!” – Prince, probably. Things do get a bit dodgy after that with the “suite” provided by the last two songs. Just think of and listen to them as Prince looking for God “The Ladder” and recognizing the Devil “Temptation” in himself. Either you'll appreciate them for that or you won't; I do.

And for the curious, yes, all the song titles are represented on the album artwork. “Around The World” is the jet (and balloon), “Paisley Park” is the setting, “Heart” is the old man, “Raspberry Beret” is, well...wearing one, there are two tambourines, the baby is holding the American flag, “Pop Life” is the person on the far left on the back cover, the ladder is right in the middle of everything and “Temptation” is the ice cream cone (wink). And it took me far too long to realize that the paisley hills in the background are actually a supine female body (in my defense, it is hard to make that out on the cassette cover and insert).

Note: I selected this recording as a favorite before Prince passed. Regardless of the way he went, the man was a musical genius whose talents entertained and enraptured millions around the globe. Even I haven't followed him into all the musical nooks and crannies he explored, but I hope to before I hop off this mortal coil. RIP.

Sonny Sharrock - Ask The Ages (1991)

I actually don't have a lot to say (hold your tongue, smartass) about the music on this recording. What I do have to say mostly concerns the man who made the music. Inspired by Coltrane, Sonny wanted to play the saxophone, but asthma derailed that dream. Instead, he took up guitar and recorded some little-heard albums in the late '60s and early '70s. He did play on Jack Johnson with Miles Davis, but he wasn't credited for his work until recently. Like Miles, Sonny retired from music for a while until (unlike Miles) he was rediscovered (and recorded and promoted) by Bill Laswell (okay, Laswell likes Miles, too).

Then, in 1991, Sonny released this masterwork. Think of it as A Love Supreme for guitar (Elvin Jones plays drums), but these are modern hymns for a messed up world. The great thing about this music and this world is that beauty exists. The amazing thing is that Sonny and his sessionmates captured that beauty and distilled it into an eternal slice of Jazz for all to partake.

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

Just when you thought I only listened to music from before the turn of the century...

I'm not naming this one because it's new. It has quickly become one of my favorite records in the weeks since I ordered the special edition. I DLed the .wav copy immediately and burned my own disc soon after – including “Spectre” (it's going to be one of the tracks on the bonus disc) and the video version of “Burn the Witch” (with the bird noises, as I feel they nicely offset the paranoia).

Before I burned the disc, I watched/listened to the “Witch” video at least once a day. I was struck by the stirring strings balanced against the underlying borborygmi. Thom's lyrics and measured vocal delivery are the perfect foil for the sustained chaos churning around him.

“Daydreaming” is a beautifully crafted song about falling apart emotionally. I suppose it's intentional in the video that Thom crawls into a cave and is eaten by a bear – what? Oh, sorry, that's only Thom grunting. Seriously, though, the dark cave is symbolic of the womb. And it's not shown, but we can safely assume that Thom re-emerges as a new man (perhaps) ready to love again.

While listening to this album for the third time, I began laughing to myself and shaking my head when “Decks Dark” started playing. Why? Because Radiohead are just fucking with us. These blokes are super-talented (no matter how much they may claim otherwise), and they can seemingly make any style/type music they want (except Jazz – by their own admission). When people say, “I just wish they would fucking RAWK once in a while”, those people are kind of right, but they are mostly incorrect. I should know, because I used to be one of them.

Radiohead merely choose to Rock in a different manner these days. More often than not, their latest albums have found them seeking forms of musical beauty while still maintaining an underlying tension. It's a delicate balancing act, but they've largely succeeded to my ears – especially on this album, which is an orgy of piano, strings and other lush vegetation. Hell, Thom's voice is an instrument all its own. Jonny, Colin and Ed still rock, they just pick their spots (for example, the end of “Identikit” may melt your face off). Radiohead have evolved to a higher artistic plane where the band members serve the needs of the music rather than the music serving to highlight the individual need to play.

Then there's “Desert Island Disk”. It sounds like a haunting reverie (featuring acoustic guitar, nonetheless), and it sounds more than a little like a Drake outtake – Nick Drake, that is. Most of the Pool tracks have had light shed upon them before appearing on this album. Let's just say they've had long gestations. “Ful Stop” is one – it sounds like it could have been on Amnesiac, but I think it's more recent. That neverending rhythmic groove carries the bottom and allows the rest of the guys to play around up top.

“Identikit” is one of my new favorite Radiohead songs. It starts so simply and is carried along by a chorus of Thoms until the gospel choir of Thoms explodes across the soundscape. Various elements hinted at in the beginning are brought to the fore, and the whole is carried to its illogical conclusion by Jonny's Psycho-tic guitar stabs until it all ends full stop. “The Numbers” is another winner featuring echoed keyboard figures tracing an eternal loop of joy in the sky – their effect is like a modern version of the Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter”. Then full-bodied strings show up and add drama to the convivial dialogue.

Given all the strings and piano (or piano-like keyboards) on Pool, I'm tempted to say that Radiohead recorded several different James Bondian songs as a big “Fuck you!” to that franchise for not choosing their song for the Spectre film. But it's most likely that they at last felt comfortable composing with strings – Jonny especially. To belabor my earlier point, Radiohead have grown in some way with each release – changing from an Alt-Rock band to whatever-the-hell-you-wish-to-call-them-now band. Here's a quick review of albums and styles:

Pablo Honey – U2-inspired alternative rock; The Bends – non-grunge '90s intelligent rock; OK Computer – alt rock with hints of prog and experimentation; Kid A – alt rock and electronica; Amnesiac – kitchen sink alt rock; Hail To The Thief – the equalizer/the compromise (in which the band tried to reconcile the balance of alt rock and electronica with more emphasis on rock); In Rainbows – Radiohead rock (where they mostly stopped worrying about what everyone else wanted); The King Of Limbs rhythmic-based Radiohead rock; A Moon Shaped Pool – music (combines what they've done before with wherever their heads are now). Within these releases, we see growth, a willingness to experiment and a realization (by the band) of what they do best. Unshackled by expectation, they are now free to make music and release it to the world in its present form. Speaking of...

“Present Tense” probably relies a bit too heavily on vocal effects, but the lyric is quite good. The impact is maybe a touch too subtle. “Tinker Tailor” is another spy theme (strings!) with a soft electronica underbelly. I'm glad they finally put “True Love Waits” on an album. I'm also glad that it's the last track so that I don't necessarily have to listen to it. I might be wrong, but I've never loved it as much as everyone else seems to.

As my site partner CM wisely surmised in an email, A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead taking several little-heard and/or undeveloped songlings and unleashing them upon the public as fully grown, mature birds of paradise. I'm aware of recency bias, but I'm inclined to think that this record will stand as one of their best albums as time moves onward and hindsight takes focus.

Alice in Chains - Jar of Flies (1994)

If you're going to introduce someone to Alice In Chains, this EP is a good place to start – especially if that person isn't into “heavier” music (their debut full-length was super heavy and grindingly good). Flies contains AIC's most diverse set of music while still keeping the core group spirit and attitude intact. Incredibly, this album was made in a week when the guys came together to jam after Mike Inez joined the band.

Speaking of, Mike starts off “Rotten Apple” with a resounding bass intro before the tune settles into its relaxed stride with Layne singing about the effects of (what else?) heroin and Jerry adding talkbox guitar touches that don't outweigh and actually fit in with the song, for once in the history of music. Even the outro solo with the talkbox isn't overwrought. That deft guitar work leaves me wanting more even after nearly seven minutes.

“Nutshell” is the perfect song to follow “Apple”. Bluesy but striking guitar work is the highlight here as Jerry soars over the (surely nylon-stringed) guitar backing chords. “I Stay Away” was a big single; it stands out thanks to the heavy tone and dark lyrical matter. When the string quartet backing provides a late emotional lift, the contrast is remarkable, and the release is palpable.

“No Excuses” was an even bigger single (even though the EP was never intended to be released), and it would have fit in well on any AIC album except for the full-length debut. The brighter feel of the music no doubt led to this one being extremely popular, yet the lyric still treads mostly down Layne's dark alleys except for the memorable and compelling “You my friend / I will defend / And if we change / Well, I love you, anyway” lines. Shadowy, stirring and gorgeous. “Whale & Wasp” is like the time when Eric Cartman tried to get a pig and an elephant to make love, with Chef providing the necessary romantic backing. Only this time, the soundtrack is a bit more eloquent and provided by AIC.

“Don't Follow” does follow Layne and Jerry as they sit around blowing harp, strumming guitar and recording the results. Then the rest of the band jumps in and lends a hand by taking them...home. Finally “Swing on This” begins as a jazzy escapade that lurches into grunge rock before swinging back to Birdland (okay, maybe not all the way to Birdland, but Mike's strolling bass line makes the Jazz-ish sections work). Meanwhile, the chorus gets the crushed Rock treatment again before the gents take us to the end with some hepcat licks.

Until recently, Jar of Flies was the best-selling EP of all time. As a Chains fan, it's easy to hear why, but for whatever reason, this release felt like a hidden gem mostly covered in rubble only shining through the debris at those rare times when the clouds parted and the sun struck at just the right angle giving a brief glimpse of its beauty for those lucky enough to see.

From Hyde Park to Hyde Park...

Boston or Chicago?

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