Current DJ: Matty O
Woongi Swim from Music for Prophet (Self-released) Buy Woongi Music for Prophet at Reckless Records Buy Woongi at iTunes Buy Woongi Music for Prophet at Amazon Add to Collection
By Josh Friedberg
Alison Krauss has been recording bluegrass, country, and pop since she was a teenager, and her 1995 compilation, Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, first exposed her to a mass audience years before her appearance on the smash soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?
For millions of country fans, including my mother, Now That I’ve Found You introduced them to one of the most beautiful voices of the last generation. I heard this album when I was a kid, and I was drawn to the quiet, largely acoustic sound, which reminded me of a variation on the ‘60s folk in my parents’ record collection.
Hearing it now after seeing the CD at a library, I’m amazed at how well it holds up. I’ve generally enjoyed this collection more than the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, despite Krauss’s excellent contributions on that album. Now That I’ve Found You is gorgeous and intimate, containing moments of both older and more contemporary styles.
by Joshua Friedberg
Any discussion of Joan Osborne’s career begins—and often ends—with her one hit, the controversial “One of Us,” a song that was everywhere c. 1995. The problem is that as great as that single is, it doesn’t show off her soulful voice. I’ve seen reviews of her music that express surprise that she can sing at all, but her multiplatinum disc, Relish, includes plenty of surprises for the average listener who purchased it for that one hit.
When I first got into this album around seventh grade, I was listening to a lot of canonical classic rock, and I seriously thought that Relish was one of the greatest albums ever made. I was shocked when I didn’t see it on “best albums of the 1990s” lists. Of course, today, having heard more music from the ‘90s, I can see the relative folly of my youthful judgment, but going back to this album, I’m surprised at how well most of it holds up.
Granted, this is a more retro-sounding album than more acclaimed albums of 1994-95, such as PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love and Hole’s Live Through This. But the electric piano straight from ‘70s soul, the swampy harmonica groove of “Dracula Moon,” and the eerie slowness of her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat” are appealing to me, regardless of whether or not they would be to most rock critics oriented towards innovation.
The album sounds more akin to the swaggering rock ‘n’ soul of the Black Crowes than to most of the Lilith Fair crew of singer-songwriters that Osborne toured with in 1997: there’s a real groove in tracks like the rocking “Right Hand Man” and the T. Rex-sampling “Ladder” that you don’t associate with the music of (admittedly talented) artists like Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos.
So, this album holds up as a retro (some might say “timeless”) collection of songs. Other highlights include “St. Teresa,” “Pensacola,” and “One of Us,” of course. Just a warning, though: much of the album doesn’t sound at all like that one hit.
by Josh Friedberg
Willie Nelson’s mainstream success began with a spare concept album (some would say “rock opera”) that went completely against the grain of country music at the time. Today, Nelson’s Outlaw persona is taken for granted, including in mainstream country circles: CMT (Country Music Television) even voted Red Headed Stranger as the #1 country album of all time.
But in 1975, this album came as a surprise to everyone, including Columbia Records. The label granted Nelson artistic control over his music, and they were shocked when they heard this bare-bones album that cost only $20,000 to make. To everyone’s surprise, the album sold millions of copies and became a beloved classic of the genre, including among rock critics.
Often forgotten, however, is the fact that Nelson didn’t write a lot of the songs on the album. This is surprising because up to this point, Nelson had been known as a songwriter of hits for other artists: in the ‘60s, his songs became hits for Patsy Cline (“Crazy”), Faron Young (“Hello Walls”), Ray Price (“Night Life”), and others. Red Headed Stranger is also full of instrumentals and fragments that move the story along.
When I first heard this album a long time ago, it struck me how scattered this album seems for such a classic: unlike earlier Nelson albums of the time, such as 1974’s Phases and Stages, there aren’t many fully fleshed out songs of even two or three minutes. There are, however, a few exceptions: gems like his classic version of a song Ernest Tubb had made famous three decades earlier, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and the five-minute, startlingly vulnerable “Can I Sleep in Your Arms” are two standouts.
Today, I love listening to this album, but I’m still somewhat mystified by the concept, as I am with a lot of higher-level concept albums. I have trouble following the storyline, though the album does feel cohesive. This is Nelson’s most acclaimed album, but if I want a collection of songs (as opposed to a concept album), I might prefer Stardust, his highly popular 1978 collection of pop and jazz standards like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Blue Skies.”
Still, this is a classic album experience that rewards time and repeated listening.
Preachy, saccharine, bloated, inconsistent—call it what you will, but Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life has held up exceptionally well over the last 40 years. Maybe it’s because the messages are still relevant, maybe it’s because the arrangements to songs like “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” still sound fresh, maybe it’s because Stevie Wonder toured behind the album two years ago and audiences still love it. In any case, this month, Stevie Wonder’s double-LP-plus-a-7”-EP (!)-length monstrosity has been selected for Classic Album Sundays, which CHIRP is sponsoring in Chicago at Transistor (transistorchicago.com) on Sunday, September 25.
In terms of my relationship with this album, I saw it in my mother’s CD collection as a kid, and I eventually bought the later remastered version. I’ve sometimes had a mixed reaction to this album: as others have pointed out, the lyrics are convoluted and the songs go on and on, but if you just pay attention to the arrangements and the overall sound, the album is absolutely brilliant, and today it is among my ten (five?) favorite albums ever.
I’ve pretty much always loved Carole King’s 1971 blockbuster album Tapestry, but I’ve sometimes been conflicted about embracing its flaws. Yes, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of pop song craft ever made—it’s a different kind of candidate for “greatest pop album ever” than a dance album like Michael Jackson’s Thriller—but I would be dishonest if I acted like I think every single song is an absolute masterpiece. In fact, 1971 was so good a year for classic albums that Tapestry was probably not even one of the very best albums of the year, though it won Album of the Year at the Grammys. But today I do enjoy every single song on the album, while acknowledging that some are better than others.
One sleeper track, “Way Over Yonder,” has played a very special role in my life. I sang it at my college graduation ceremony and at a Take Back the Night march against sexual violence, dedicating it to a number of friends. But still, “Way Over Yonder” is by no means one of the album’s several all-time classics: “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and others far outdistance it in quality. But this song has woven itself into the story of my life in a way that different songs on the album did for millions of listeners in the ‘70s.