Buffalo Tom – Skins

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

I had this CD in the “sell on Discogs” pile and then I rescued it. Perhaps I was feeling a kinship with the middle-aged (ahem) dudes of Buffalo Tom. This isn’t their best work but it is a far cry from their worst, and it’s clear that they love what they do. I respect that. By the way, Bill Janovitz is also an author and realtor.

What I Think of This Album

This doesn’t quite follow the familiar Buffalo Tom pattern of alternating rockin’ albums with quieter ones. Three Easy Pieces was generally upbeat, loud, and fast-paced, so naturally Skins should display the other side of the band. Instead, the trio mixes ballads with a fair number of energetic tunes here, resulting in something resembling balance.

Indeed, the band gets convincingly raucous on “Down,” a testament to the three old friends’ heart, grit, and talent; Bill Janovitz does some nice work on the guitar here. “Arise, Watch” revisits a Celtic influence that veers close to Connells territory, until Janovitz unleashes some ungodly guitar squalls all over the place.

Similarly, “Lost Weekend” is a dark, friable number that explores the narrator’s black heart with aplomb and some cutting guitar playing. More adult-onset desperation surfaces on the domestically-oriented “The Kids Just Sleep.”

“She’s Not Your Thing” is wise and tender and tuneful and sometimes that’s all you need (well, that and some cool harmonies, which this song also provides). “Guilty Girls” is another excellent pop offering. Deep cut “Here I Come” would’ve been a standout on Big Red Letter Day.

I’m not into the quieter material on this album. In particular, Tanya Donnelly’s guest vocals are sort of wasted on the forgettable “Don’t Forget Me.” Buffalo Tom adopts a soulful mien on the somber “Paper Knife” but again, it leaves me cold. “The Hawks & the Sparrows” is another miss. And “Miss Barren Brooks” is successfully titled so as to evoke the band’s New England roots, but unfortunately that is the most distinctive aspect of this okay-ish tune. Closer “Out of the Dark” is another clunker, plodding along in overtly maudlin fashion. 

“The Big Light” is dedicated to and about Janovitz’s uncle, who was a significant influence on Janovitz even after he was brutally murdered in 2009. This track builds and swells for over four minutes and given its importance to Janovitz, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to say more about it.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Lost Weekend,” maybe just over “Down.”

Release Date

March, 2011

The Cover Art

A near miss? I like the sharpness of the foregrounded cymbal A LOT and I am a fan of the lightning bolts coming off the ride, but the font for the band name and the graphic in the upper right do not work for me.

The Bats – Foothills

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 8)

I’ve made some (excellent) album purchases in the last several months, so I think it is time to backfill the relevant parts of my alphabetized collection. There is so much to appreciate about Foothills. It is the Bats’ tenth album, coming in their 38th year of existence – as previously mentioned, always with the same line-up. The music is just as appealing, polished, and melodic as everything else they’ve released. What a tremendous fucking band!

What I Think of This Album

There were probably a lot of reasons why this album might not have existed. The Bats have absolutely nothing left to prove – they’re giants of the New Zealand music scene and their track record is unassailable. They’re all in their late 50s to late 60s, and not only have day jobs but other musical projects as well. And the album was released during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the band with no ability to tour internationally to promote it. But we are all very fortunate that it does exist.

The Bats grace us with twelve warm, woody, comforting songs, mostly jangly in nature and sometimes augmented with colorful keyboard. Robert Scott delivers another strong batch of mostly downcast songs which he sings with his distinctive voice, and guitarist Kaye Woodward adds her perpetually underappreciated guitar leads as well as critical backing vocals and keyboards, too. The rhythm section of bassist (and sometimes second guitarist) Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant adds a sense of urgency and fullness to the proceedings. That the record company could print the lyrics to twelve songs on two pages with plenty of negative space left over speaks to the economy of Scott’s songwriting.

As on all Bats albums, there is nothing to complain about and much to praise. “Red Car” is deceptively simple lyrically, but Scott and Woodward give revelatory performances that turn this so-basic-it’s-opaque song into a cathedral of musicality. The backing includes what sounds to me like a melodica, but there is no such credit (rather, it appears Woodward is making these sounds on a keyboard); in any event, it adds depth, drama, and nuance to what ends up being a stunningly beautiful song.

“Warwick” is another standout, with a precise and sharp lead part and energetic drumming; when Woodward adds her vocal harmonies, it feels like a flower blooming. The delicate “Beneath the Visor” finds Scott and Woodward making lyrics like “I’m none the wiser with you” sound like the pinnacle of romance. 

An atmospheric arrangement adds mystery and drama to the lovely “Scrolling.” The same is true of the watery guitar tones on the majestic “Another Door,” which benefits from an uplifting chorus that showcases Woodward’s vocal harmonies again; she also adds a great (albeit short) solo that Neil Young would be proud of. 

“Field of Vision” is one of the more upbeat tunes, with a great guitar part from Woodward and emphatic propulsion courtesy of Grant. “Change Is All” hints at domestic difficulties but does so via a charming melody, and towards the end of the song, the band adds a very encouraging drone (likely via Kean’s ebow guitar).

“As You Were” comes across as more intricate and also slightly darker in tone than the rest of the songs here, though Scott finds a way to interject some unusual bird-related humor into the proceedings (“You couldn’t say boo to a goose / You’re such a chicken”). Conversely, the surprisingly pounding “Smaller Pieces” sounds like the work of a tougher band, which is not to say there isn’t some delicate guitar work in the mix; this track may be the most welcome surprise on the entire album. Another surprise is the coda to this song.

The ebow makes additional appearances on “Gone to Ground,” which vacillates between reflective and somber, and the much more engaging “Electric Sea View,” which is the kind of song I could envision Ride playing when they are this age (if they are fortunate enough). 

Yes, it’s a Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Red Car” is phenomenal.

Release Date

November, 2020

The Cover Art

Reminds me of Yo La Tengo’s Fade, but in any event, this is very pretty and calming. Good sans-serif font use, but perhaps too large and not well-placed.

Beat Happening – Look Around

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I like twee pop just as much as the next guy. More even, as the average “next guy” has no fucking clue what twee pop is, and odds are, probably wouldn’t like it once exposed. Even so, I admit to struggling a bit with Beat Happening. Mostly, it’s Calvin Johnson’s pitch-optional singing that wears me down. But I am fully on board with the overall aesthetic, though it is a bit overstated in the case of Beat Happening. Purposely primitive and decidedly innocent (sort of), the band subverts rock expectations (and, more to the point perhaps, punk expectations, or more to the point of the point, male expectations) by offering up music that is casually if not haphazardly constructed, and with a determination to celebrate whimsy. Where this description falls apart is that Beat Happening was certainly capable of playing gritty and dark (and even sexual), but for the most part, they spearheaded a movement – in conjunction with Johnson’s K Records label – to champion what is essentially passionless passion. They clearly love what they do, but they are not going to make any effort to be good at it in a way that you would expect them to, and the fact that they can’t really play their instruments doesn’t even rise to the level of a minor inconvenience – it is just a simple reality that they not only accept but reclaim as proof of their commitment. Beat Happening formed in Olympia, Washington in the early 1980s, and the band – Johnson, Heather Lewis, and Brett Lunsford (all of them switched instruments regularly, and eschewed the bass altogether) – released five albums through 1992. Their songs have been covered by indie rock luminaries such as Luna (“Indian Summer”), Teenage Fanclub (“Bad Seed”), the BMX Bandits (“Cast a Shadow”), Cub (also “Cast a Shadow”), and Eugenius (uh, “Indian Summer,” again).

What I Think of This Album

This career-spanning compilation – oddly, not released on K Records – works as a better introduction to the band than perhaps intended. More than just simply compiling highlights, the collection gives equal weight to the undersold aggressive side of the band while also depicting a steady progression in terms of musicianship and professionalism, culminating in the excellent sequence of songs from the last phase of their career.

This comp is made up of two songs from the debut; another two songs from their first single; three tracks from Jamboree; three tunes from Black Candy; a full five songs from Dreamy; and another five from You Turn Me On. Also mixed in are single tracks “Look Around” and “Angel Gone,” as well as B-side “Knock On Any Door.”

The album can be roughly broken down into the Cramps-inspired songs and the Jonathan Richman-inspired songs. On the more sinister side of the ledger are tracks like “Bad Seeds,” “Nancy Sin,” “Pinebox Derby,” and “Black Candy” – these get repetitive and border on tiresome, and frankly, are not always credible. Still, sometimes the change of pace is refreshing:  “Bewitched” rides a dirty, distorted guitar line with Johnson threatening “I’ve got a crush on you”; and “Red Head Walking” is appealingly obsessive.

I prefer the lighter stuff, though, which I find more endearing. The droney “Our Secret” overcomes Johnson’s meandering past the boundaries of the key; Lewis’s vocal turn on the delightful, bouncy “What’s Important” is critical to its success; and Johnson carries the wistful (but shockingly graphic)  “Look Around,” with the inimitable line “If a black cat’s gonna cross my path / It might as well be you.” The bittersweet “In Between” is another plus, with a simple drumbeat propelling Lewis’s plain vocals past your defenses. “Indian Summer” is deservedly a classic, with its matter-of-fact recitation of life’s little pleasures (“croquet and Baked Alaska”) against a backdrop of young love (“Cover me with rain / Walk me down the lane / I’ll drink from your drain / We will never change / No matter what they say”) and all of two chords.

The band wisely decided to have Lewis and Johnson duet on “Other Side,” and it may be one of their best songs as a result. “Cast a Shadow” really is pure Richman, childlike and awed, with a relentless tom-tom beat. Similarly, “Fortune Cookie Prize” is disarmingly sweet, with stellar performance from Lewis, and the silly “Hot Chocolate Boy” is better than it has any right to be. “Tiger Trap” is gently gorgeous and hypnotically heartwarming. Of course, the apex of the album (if not of all of Beat Happening’s career) is “Godsend,” a nine-minute epic which distills the love song to its purest form, with Lewis taking (multi-tracked!) lead. The lyrical directness and the repetitive jangle combine to transport you to a world where this sort of compulsive devotion is appreciated and reciprocated (you know, a fantasyland).

“Teenage Caveman” is of a piece with the preceding two songs, as is the fizzy “Noise.” The regret-laden late single “Angel Gone” is a perfect career capstone. I suppose it would have been nice to have tracks like “The This Many Boyfriends Club,” “Sea Hunt,” “Cat Walk,” and I am sure there are others I’ve missed, but overall, this works well as both a standalone album and a gateway drug.

Producers on the tracks include Stuart Moxham (Young Marble Giants), Steve Fisk (the Wedding Present), Greg Sage (the Wipers), and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Godsend” is a . . . well, you know.

Release Date

September, 2015

The Cover Art

My album has this annoying blue sticker in the upper right hand corner, but otherwise, I like the composition and use of color. Also, bunnies!

Black Tambourine – Black Tambourine

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Excavating the past can be a little embarrassing. Discovering some great band from my youth that was unknown to me at the time sometimes makes me think “why wasn’t I listening to this and what the hell was I listening to instead?” While I am not prone to cutting myself slack, I think I can be forgiving of my absolute ignorance of Black Tambourine, who were a blip on the scene and whose importance was only made apparent later. Formed in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1989, Black Tambourine ended up having an outsized influence on American indie. Guitarist Archie Moore was in Velocity Girl at the same time, and Brian Nelson eventually joined Velocity Girl as well. Band member (drummer?) Mike Schulman founded the influential Slumberland label, and vocalist Pam Berry, who had co-founded the Chickfactor zine, went on to sing for bands like Veronica Lake, Glo-Worm and the Castaway Stones.

What I Think of This Album

Listening to this, you hear the first stirrings of American shoegaze, and the inspiration for scores of domestic indie bands. It’s not hard to draw the line from Black Tambourine to Vivian Girls (“For Ex-Lovers Only”), The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (“We Can’t Be Friends”), or Veronica Falls (“Black Car”). It’s all the more impressive because the band lasted approximately two years and released just nine original songs, one an instrumental (their tenth released song was a Love cover). This album adds two demos and four songs recorded by a reconstituted Black Tambourine in 2009 – those songs date back to the band’s active period and which, while played live, had never been committed to tape. And honestly, the songs are pretty awesome.

The hooky lead bass on the darkly ethereal “Black Car” is magnificent, and the noise pop of rumbly “For Ex-Lovers Only” is timeless. “Pack You Up” is basically the American version of a 4AD single. The cover of Love’s “Can’t Explain” sounds like kids who have learned that adding Jesus and Mary Chain sonics improves most songs by 300%. “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an insular, hilarious, and heartfelt, as well as highly melodic, tumbledown plea to Pastels’ leader Stephen Pastel to dispose of Pastels’ keyboardist Aggi Wright (Shop Assistants) and make room in his heart for the narrator. The drums on this are fantastic; the demo version adds a whammy bar inflection at one point (2:12, to be more or less exact) that will make you stand up and cheer.

Releasing the short instrumental “Pam’s Tan” as the band’s very first single was a weird decision. The nervy “I Was Wrong” and speedy, distortion-laden “We Can’t Be Friends” are delightful. “Drown” is a girl-group number that predicts the 2009 recording of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and is just okay. There is a calming, deep, foreboding to “By Tomorrow,” with its trance-inducing bass line and waves of distortion.

Kudos to the band for recording the 2009 songs in a way that sounds exactly like the 1990 songs; tracks “Lazy Heart” (with sludgy bass and a xylophone) and double-timed “Tears of Joy” fit in nicely with the original, original songs. That said, the greatest revelation from the more recently recorded tracks is the cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” (more xylophone!) which sounds like a kinder, gentler Spacemen 3 (who also covered Suicide).

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is referenced (along with about 500 other indie pop signifiers) in the classic Tullycraft song, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee.” If you care at all about indie, you need to own this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an indie-pop classic for a reason BUT . . . listen to the scuzzier demo version because it hits different.

Release Date

March, 2010

The Cover Art

Yeah, I like this. Simple and direct, and I am a huge fan of denim jackets. Also, props for adding a glossy texture to the button (or badge, as they would say in the UK).

David Byrne – Rei Momo

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It took me a while to figure out I was not into the Talking Heads, even as I could point to several songs of theirs that I liked (this is sometimes known – to me – as Bob Mould Syndrome); I tend to prefer very early Talking Heads, but even then, neither consistently nor deeply. Thus, it is a mystery why I ended up with David Byrne’s first post-Talking Heads solo release, but maybe not so much of a mystery why I like it.

What I Think of This Album

David Byrne lovingly explores Latin music on this album, which features collaborations with several Latin American superstars, including Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, percussionist Milton Cardona, and Johnny Pacheco. Was I concerned about the possibility of this being an exploitative project? You bet! Do I think it is? No. First, this actually seems pretty light on the Byrne and heavy on the authentic Latin sounds. That is, this doesn’t sound like the whitewashing and co-opting of culture. Second, it helps that Byrne identifies his partners by name and also the genre of each song. These are signs of respect and admiration, and an honest recitation of what’s happening on the album. Third, Byrne established the Luaka Bop label, which has been releasing and promoting world music since 1988, so I’m not inclined to see Rei Momo as mere tourism.

With that aside, the songs are delightful. Over 15 tracks, Byrne and his giant cast of musicians celebrate genres from cumbia to merengue to charanga to salsa to mapeyé and several others. This is a vibrant and joyous album; everyone seems like they’re having an absolute blast. “Independence Day” is fantastic; the bright horns and dizzying percussion of “Make Believe Mambo” are amazing, as is the piano by Paquito Pastor. The dual accordions (one played by Jamie Fearnley of the Pogues) of yearning “The Call of the Wild” carry the song, only to be upstaged by the countermelody of the backing chorus.

“Dirty Old Town” could easily have been a Talking Heads song – this is the number that Byrne dominates the most, with a familiar vocal melody. “The Rose Tattoo” is as dark and moody as it is intricate, with another outstanding choral part, and some impressive work on the cuatro by Yomo Toro. Celia Cruz’s vocals are a long time coming in “Loco De Amor” but when they finally arrive they cut through like a laser – if only there were more of them (Byrne should have ceded more of the spotlight on this one). Cheap Trick will have to give up the rights to the name “The Dream Police” in recognition of the superior, smoothly gliding cha cha chá number here. “Good and Evil” is a mesmerizing rumba, boomy in its low end with piercing strings and sinister horns, as well as another piano showcase for Pastor. This album is an overlooked gem.

Rei Momo translates to King of the Carnival in Portuguese (with “momo” deriving from the Greek god of satire and mockery). Fellow Latin music enthusiast Kirsty MacColl sings backup on several songs (and her husband, Steve Lillywhite produced).

The Best Thing About This Album

Probably “Call of the Wild” but “Good and Evil” is a close second. In fact, with only a few exceptions, any song on the album could win this crown.

Release Date

October, 1989

The Cover Art

This is fairly disturbing, with Byrne’s face overlaid by a lattice of what might be cardiac tissue? The colors are also off-putting.

The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

The last Byrds album worth a damn, and the end of their classic period, though they were basically down to a duo at this point. Gene Clark had left after Turn! Turn! Turn! and David Crosby and drummer Michael Clarke had left or been fired in the summer of 1967, during the sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Fortunately for everyone, Roger McGuinn (Jim had changed his name in 1967, as part of his conversion to Subud) and Chris Hillman decided to hire Gram Parsons as a keyboard player in 1968 and, more importantly, heeded his advice on the new direction for the band. It only lasted for one album but, Jesus, what an album.

What I Think of This Album

I was encouraged to listen to Sweetheart of the Rodeo by a former boss, Jeff; he would be pleased to hear that he was right. I love this album. It is almost entirely covers, with no songwriting contribution by any original Byrd (though Parsons is credited with two songs). 

Parsons (born Ingram Connor III) was a rich kid who had gone to Harvard and had released a country-rock album with his International Submarine Band. Parsons’s love of and experience with country resonated with Hillman, who had a background in bluegrass. For his part, McGuinn wanted to turn the band’s fortunes around. With as-yet-unofficial Byrd Clarence White, they went to Nashville to record with a bunch of session musicians.

True to form, Dylan covers bookend the album, both from the then-unreleased Basement Tapes (which would not see the light of day until 1975). Opener “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” gets things started on the right foot, with a lyrical steel part from Lloyd Green and excellent group harmonies. Dylan released a non-Basement Tapes version of this in 1971; Cracker also covered it (with Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows on lead vocals). Traditional “I Am a Pilgrim” is sung by Hillman, and is fine but nothing special. The Louvin Brothers’ sweetly self-righteous declaration “The Christian Life” is marvelous. This was one of three tracks that Parsons originally sang lead on but for which McGuinn re-recorded the vocals when Lee Hazlewood objected to Parsons’s appearance on the album due to a pre-existing contract with Hazlewood’s label (though some theories state McGuinn simply used that as an excuse to create more parity – and indeed, Parsons’s vocals remained on three other songs). The harmonies on this are fantastic.

The biggest and best surprise on the album was the reworking of William Bell’s soul number “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (also recorded by Otis Redding in 1965). The vocals and weepy steel guitar (by JayDee Maness) are transcendent. This song has also been covered by Brian Eno, Peter Tosh, and the Triffids. “You’re Still On My Mind” may have bordered on country music parody (“An empty bottle / A broken heart / And you’re still on my mind”) even back in 1968, but its broad strokes make it no less poignant. Parsons sings lead on this, and truly, his voice is wonderful. McGuinn adapted Woody Guthrie’s socialist-flavored outlaw anthem “Pretty Boy Floyd,” complete with violin, banjo, and mandolin; the result is colorful and energetic.

Parsons original “Hickory Wind” (co-written with his ISB partner Bob Buchanan) is a mournful slice of nostalgia; his aching vocals are expertly matched by the steel guitar of Green. Parsons also wrote “One Hundred Years From Now,” though this was one of the tracks on which McGuinn substituted his vocal. It’s a nice little song with fine filigreed guitar part. Hillman takes the lead on “Blue Canadian Rockies,” which is sort of a cousin to “Hickory Wind” with the same reflective qualities tied to a specific locale. More interesting is that “Blue” was written by Cindy Walker, who had a number of songs that became hits, including “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” which Roy Orbison recorded. Merle Haggard’s “Life In Prison” was the last of the Parsons-sung tunes on the album, and feels a bit like filler. Closer “Nothing Was Delivered” benefits from steel guitar and some nice harmonizing; Parsons plays the piano and organ on this one, and the band builds up some steam towards the end, approaching a rock sound.

My CD adds eight bonus tracks including the original Parsons-led versions of “The Christian Life” and “One Hundred Years From Now.” There is also a very Chuck Berry-flavored Parsons original titled “Lazy Day” that definitely would not have fit on the album (though it did end up on a Flying Burrito Brothers album).

The Byrds played the Grand Ole Opry after recording and were poorly received; they were also mocked by Nashville DJ Ralph Emery during a promotional appearance, and he became the subject of future song “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man.”

Parsons had already quit the band by the time this album was released, his tenure lasting only a few months. Hillman left later that same year, and joined Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons died at the age of 26 of an accidental morphine and alcohol overdose in 1973; the fascinating story of the theft o this corpse (from Los Angeles International Airport) and its impromptu cremation in the Joshua Tree National Park is too long to retell here.

The Best Thing About This Album

Hard to pick between “Going Nowhere,” “Miss Your Water,” and “Christian Life.” But I think the Louvin Brothers’ classic wins this one.

Release Date

August, 1968

The Cover Art

I love this cover. I probably can’t even judge it objectively at this point. Just look at it. LOOK AT IT.

The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

In my dreams, I believe this album title was the inspiration for the name of 90’s R&B vocal group Tony! Toni! Toné! I prefer to keep my dreams small. This was the last proper Byrds album with Gene Clark (though he stuck around to co-write and record “Eight Miles High,” contributed to The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and then returned for a reunion album in the ’70s), and that’s a pity, as he was clearly a talented songwriter. The next three Byrds albums – Fifth Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday, and The Notorious Byrd Brothers – are somewhat spotty, and that can’t be an accident. The next truly great Byrds album is Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but the main point is that while McGuinn’s 12-string is what people tend to associate with the Byrds (appropriately), the real story of the band is Gene Clark. Clark died in 1991 at the age of 46.

What I Think of This Album

This album proved that the Byrds could literally sing the Bible and make it sound good. Overall, not as strong as their debut and I would argue not an essential Byrds album, it is still pretty good. Again, over half the album is covers (though the bonus tracks prove it didn’t have to be this way).

Jim McGuinn had been in Judy Collins’s band and had previously arranged Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” for her, so he repurposed that arrangement, plugged in his 12-string, and had the Byrds add their vocals – the result was magic. The band dipped back into the Dylan songbook for then-unreleased  “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The former got a soulful and rich treatment (with a prominent bass part from Chris Hillman), while the latter received an oddly bloodless makeover. The other cover of note is “Satisfied Mind,” a country song that portended the future for the band but otherwise is nothing special. McGuinn also adapted a traditional folk song to pay tribute to JFK on “He Was a Friend of Mine.” The album closes with a cover of “Oh! Susanah,” which is dumb.

As for the originals, it was pretty much the Gene Clark show again. His wordy, twisty “Set You Free” is down and blue, with a nice harmonica part at the end. There is a psychedelic, Eastern element to “The World Turns All Around Her,” an all-around excellent song.” The melody of “If You’re Gone” is not something I care for, but the arrangement – with the unusual harmony creating an otherworldly drone in the background – is pretty cool. McGuinn brought an old song of his, “It Won’t Be Wrong,” which is fine – with some nice rhythmic changes – and he and David Crosby collaborated on the very good “Wait and See.”

The extra tracks are great, and employed correctly, could have elevated this album to a status closer to that of the debut. Clark song “The Day Walk (Never Before)” was very good, with a propulsive, soul-inspired bass part and a nice vocal melody. More importantly, the outstanding “She Don’t Care About Time” was criminally relegated to a B-side, when it would have arguably been the highlight of the album; the harmonies are great, McGuinn’s guitar is perfect, the melody and lyrics are first-rate, and those tom rolls are key. Apparently, the rest of the band was jealous of the prolific Clark’s extra income as the group’s primary songwriter, so they just left his songs off the albums. The rest of the bonus tracks are a superior version of “Time They Are A-Changin’” and other album tracks, another version of both “She Don’t Care About Time” (faster, with an awesome harmonica part) and “The World Turns All Around Her,” another Dylan cover (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”), and Crosby’s pretty good instrumental  “Stranger In a Strange Land.”

The Best Thing About This Album

Technically, it’s “The World Turns All Around Her,” but it really should be “She Don’t Care About Time.”

Release Date

December, 1965

The Cover Art

There is a LOT of blue on this cover; I feel like they could have planned this better. Also, what the fuck is that tunic that Crosby is wearing?

The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I’m pretty sure I first heard “Mr. Tambourine Man” (the Byrds cover, not the original) on the schoolbus in elementary school – there was a busdriver who listened to the classic rock station – but I’m not sure. I love the Byrds, though the enthusiasm is dampened by the heavy reliance on covers throughout their career. In terms of sheer enjoyability, though, it’s hard to beat the combination of chiming guitars and sweet harmonies. And to be honest, they chose their covers well. Not quite the Great American Band I wish they were, but they had a major hand in folk-rock, psychedelia, country-rock, and by extension, power-pop.

What I Think of This Album

This is an album of tremendous beauty. Even if you (wrongly) dismiss the Byrds as mere interpreters, they did it better than anybody else. While I will defend Dylan’s singing anytime and anyplace, his songs are truly elevated by the Byrds’ presentation.

This debut album relies on four Dylan songs – fully ⅓ of the disc – and they are uniformly excellent. The title track, of course, is a classic. Oddly, of the five band members at the time, only Jim McGuinn played on this song (though Gene Clark and David Crosby sang the harmonies); at the insistence of the record company, session musicians (the Wrecking Crew) played behind McGuinn’s 12-string work. It is worth pointing out that when the Byrds recorded the song, it was still just a Dylan demo and had not yet been released in its original form. I defy you to not love this song. The band’s take on “All I Really Want to Do” transforms what was in Dylan’s hands (or, voice) a very unpolished piece into a gleaming gem. “Chimes of Freedom” works in the other direction, with the Byrds’ unbelievably pretty rendition diluting some of the power of the original. Finally, “Spanish Harlem Incident” sounds warm and inviting.

The band also offered a cool take on early feminist songwriter/guitarist/singer Jackie DeShannon’s very good “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe,” with a Bo Diddley beat and a tremeloed guitar. Folk-rock got another shot in the arm via the cover of “The Bells of Rhymney,” though the energetic interpretation is a little at odds with the subject matter; George Harrison was inspired by the riff here and used it on Rubber Soul’s “If I Needed Someone.” Rounding out the covers is the unusual choice of British World War II song “We’ll Meet Again.”

The originals are not to be ignored. Mostly written by Gene Clark, they range from good to outstanding. In particular, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” is wonderful and wise – this early song already established the Byrds sound, even if the riff was stolen from the Searchers’ version of “Needles and Pins” (coming full circle, that song was first recorded by Jackie DeShannon). Tom Petty covered this on Full Moon Fever. A joint effort by McGuinn and Clark, “You Won’t Have to Cry” owes more than a little to the Beatles, though the harmonies are all Byrds. “Here Without You” is a downcast ballad which again showcases Clark’s promising songwriting talent; this was covered by Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple on their post-dB’s Mavericks collaboration. “I Knew I’d Want You” shuffles along, half-melancholy and half-celebratory, and it’s fine but not something I get excited about. “It’s No Use” is slightly more successful, and at least offers an interesting solo that hints at the sounds the band would explore on “Eight Miles High” later.

My reissue includes six bonus tracks, including the single and alternate versions of some album tracks, an instrumental, and another Clark song, “She Has a Way,” which could have easily gone on the album in place of the weaker “Here Without You.”

The album was produced by Terry Melcher, who was Doris Day’s son.

The Best Thing About This Album

As much as I love “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” I can’t deny the power of “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

Release Date

June, 1965

The Cover Art

The fisheye lens shot is a classic. I like how all the information is crammed into the upper quarter of the cover. David Crosby is incredibly annoying, but I approve of his color-coordinated outfit on the left.

Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

So, not only have I seen ¾ of the original Buzzcocks live, and not only did I meet Steve Shelley, but I also shared a cab with him. In Baltimore. And did I appreciate it at the time? I did not. I had only the slimmest understanding of the band then – the early ‘90s – and I was at the show (with my friend Meetul) because replacing the other ¼ of the band that night was Mike Joyce, former drummer of the Smiths. And as I would never get to see Joyce drum with the Smiths, I was damn well going to see him drum with Buzzcocks (there is no “the” in the name, which is admittedly weird). And then I was damn well going to meet him. So after the show we waited outside of Hammerjacks, for a while, and the first to emerge was Pete Shelley, who offered to share a cab with us back to the band’s hotel. We chatted about the band’s recent reunion on the ride. He left us in the lobby, and when Joyce showed up, he kindly spared a few minutes to talk – he shared how he hated U2 – and signed autographs. And this is the story of how much of a dork I am. Anyway, Buzzcocks are actually an amazing band. Pete Shelley died in 2018.

What I Think of This Album

This compilation is probably the only Buzzcocks you need (I at one time owned a couple of their studio albums), and you definitely need it. It collects the band’s eight singles from 1977 to 1979, with the first eight songs being the A sides and second batch (or Side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts) being the B sides. Buzzcocks took the sound and fury of punk and joined it with the melodies of pop and added candid but familiar lyrics about love, resulting in a loud and fast power-pop. These boys were as much romantics as they were punks, and the openly bisexual Shelley was both in spades.

“Orgasm Addict” verges on novelty, to be sure, but the band is definitely having fun with the joke and Shelley’s panting and grunting are still surprisingly direct. The band takes on unrequited love in “What Do I Get?,” where the catchiness is only outdone by the frustration of the lyrics; the dark, overdriven tone on the solo is fantastic and the call-and-response outro is brilliant. “I Don’t Mind” sounds like a ‘50’s rocker crossed with punk rock, the “ooh oohs” sitting comfortably amidst the chainsaw guitars; Shelley’s vocal is perfection, again. Similarly, “Love You More” is basically a punked up Beatles love song; bassist Steve Garvey does a nice job here. Classic “Ever Fallen In Love?” really demonstrates the brilliance of Buzzcocks and Shelley in particular, whose anguished, energetic vocal sold the song much more authentically than a smoother vocal could ever have. Also, drummer John Maher just obliterates his kit on this song.

“Promises” was co-written by Shelley and guitarist Steve Diggle, and is another fast and melodic love song propelled by an amazing opening circular guitar riff and another dynamo performance by Maher. Love was set aside for anxiety on the frenetic, spindly “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” with sort of faux-Beach Boys harmonies. Final single “Harmony In My Head” is a Diggle composition, and he sings it too, which you can tell because instead of Shelley’s high-pitched yowl, Diggle gruffly shouts his way through it (actually, Diggle claimed to have smoked 20 cigarettes in a row to achieve the desired vocal tone). He also pronounces “harmony” as “har-MOW-knee.”

The B sides predictably take more chances while also lacking the immediacy of the A sides. Early song “What Ever Happened To?” is sort of generically discontent, but it employs a fantastic gurgling bass line and Shelley’s vocal is to die for. “Oh Shit” is amusing, but not, you know, sophisticated; that said, the guitars sound great. Diggle provides the forward-looking “Autonomy,” which sounds a bit like Wire in the chorus and almost nothing like Buzzcocks anywhere, tense and mysterious, with an overwhelming, galloping rhythm. Very cool stuff. The band was not trying very hard on “Noise Annoys,” which is silly filler, but it still sounds okay. “Just Lust” and “Lipstick” are both love songs; nothing special but still a good listen, with “Lipstick” being much better.

Surprisingly funky and long “Why Can’t I Touch It?” (written by the entire band) isn’t about what you think, but it is about frustration and the inability to achieve goals that seem so reasonable and close but are forever out of reach; there is a short atmospheric guitar partway through that is wonderfully ghostly, and then two extended instrumentals where Shelley and Diggle trade riffs. Too long to have been an A side, this is nonetheless on par with their best material. I could do without essentially atonal “Something Gone Wrong Again,” though the band was trying a new sound.

The Best Thing About This Album

“What do I get? / No love / What do I get / No sleep at nights / What do I get? / Nothing that’s nice / What do I get? / Nothing at all at all at all at all at all at all at all / Because I don’t get you”

Release Date

September, 1979

The Cover Art

The colors are amazing! I like the image – all those cords – but I wish it was larger. I also like the black-on-black squares in each quadrant (which can only be discerned in person, probably).

Solomon Burke – The Very Best of

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I got into soul later – not that I’m aware of a typical timeline for this sort of thing – but I am a big fan. I am pretty sure it was Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity that introduced me to Solomon Burke, actually. He is inexplicably sort of a lesser-known soul singer. It’s not his voice – which is marvelous. It’s not his material, which includes at least one bona fide soul standard. And it’s not his story – a child preacher (a calling he pursued until his passing); a mortician; a showman who took the stage in a cape and crown; the owner of funeral parlors, a popcorn business, drugstores, a limo service, and the first Mountain Dew franchise in Philadelphia; and the father of many children, the first when he was 14. He died in 2010.

What I Think of This Album

I honestly have no way of knowing, but I have proceeded under the belief that this is a solid and sufficient – perhaps ideal – compilation of Burke’s essential material; I trust Rhino to do a good job with these sorts of things. I do find it to be extremely enjoyable, so there’s that.

You can definitely tell that Burke had a background in gospel. He croons gently – with angelic harmonies – on “Just Out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms),” which owes more to ‘50s country balladry than ‘60s soul (and in fact was recorded by Patsy Cline). Things get grittier on “Cry to Me,” with some great repetition of the “cry.” The horns on 19th century folk song “Down In the Valley” are a nice counter to Burke’s emotional vocal. He pledges his devotion and promises changed behavior on the sweet “I’m Hanging Up My Heart for You,” with a subtle horn and wonderful piano accompaniment. Burke absolutely owns the Otis Redding written (in part) “If You Need Me” (on which Cissy Houston sings backup).

“Can’t Nobody Love You” is romantic and seductive, starting low and slow and then Burke builds up to some gravelly shouting. Try not to sway to “You’re Good for Me,” and smile as you fail. I assume a fair number of people recognize “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” from the Blues Brothers, and beyond that, Otis Redding had a hit with it, but Burke’s original version is excellent (he also co-wrote it). The intro sermon is priceless. “The Price” is a drama-filled song of a man done wrong, with some cool drumming. Things get more upbeat on the bright-but-sad “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” which he wrote with his mother and his wife (background vocals again included Cissy Houston and DeeDee Warwick).

The rest of the album works its way towards the end of Burke’s seven year run at Atlantic, culminating with the rare “Soul Meeting,” a collaboration between Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King, Arthur Conley, and Don Covay, that was intended to be part of a larger social justice project intended to benefit African-American communities in the South.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Got to Get You Off My Mind”

Release Date

February, 1998

The Cover Art

Standard, but good. The color palette is great, the wave format for Burke’s name is fantastic and the different fonts are well-chosen.

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