100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (50-41)


Part six of my top 100 albums of all time.

Previously:

50. The Trinity Session by The Cowboy Junkies (1988)

I’m sure that there are diehard Cowboy Junkies’ fans who scorn people like me who know the band only for this album, but it is an awesome album.  The slow, moody and bluesy tunes and the ethereal vocals of Margo Timmins carry me away.  Highlights include “Blue Moon Revisited,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and of course their cover of Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”

49. Vs. by  Mission of Burma (1982)

I first heard this album about 20 years after it was released and it really sounded like a brand-new recording.  Either Mission of Burma were 20 years ahead of themselves or bands today are just catching up to their sound.  This is a must-have for any fan of punk rock.  Favorite’s include “Einstein’s Day,” “Progress,”  and “Train.”

48. Trainspotting Motion Picture Soundtrack (1996)

The music from this film about heroin-users in Edinburgh makes for one of the best soundtracks ever with a good mix of electronic, punk, and Britpop.  Highlights include “For What You Dream Of” by Bedrock, “Born Slippy” by Underworld, and the lengthy instrumental “Trainspotting” by Primal Scream.

47. Emperor Tomato Ketchup by Stereolab (1996)

Another great album by the post-rock band from London.  Highlights include “Les Yper Sound,” “Metronomic Underground,” and “The Noise of Carpet.”

46. Songs For a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst (2003)

Delmhorst is a singer-songwriter big on the Boston folk scene and one of our favorites to see in concert.  This album is her masterpiece (so far).  Highlights include “Juice & June,” “You’re No Train,” and “Hurricane.”

45. Blind Faith (1969)

This blues rock supergroup only released one, brilliant 6-track album and a tour before seperating, an almost Zen-like moment of perfection.  Favorite tracks include “Presence of the Lord,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and “Sea of Joy.”

44. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Out by Yo La Tengo (2000)

This band has it all – great tunes, Mets anecdote related name, and a blue-collar New Jersey work ethic.  I probably should’ve have put all of Yo La Tengo’s albums in this list since this band manages to maintain a distinctive sound while reinventing themselves with every album.  This album captures YLT in a slow, sprawling mood with highlights like “Last Days of Disco,” “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House,” and “You Can Have It All.”

43. OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) by The Mekons (2002)

This album is a tribute to the public library as I discovered this album and band by randomly checking it out one day.  The Mekons also join Mission of Burma as proof that aging is no deterrent to producing brilliant – if bizarre – punk/post-punk.  This is the first album in this list in which every single song is starred in my iTunes library, but highlights include “Bob Hope & Charity,” “Thee Old Trip to Jerusalem,” and “Only You and Your Ghost Will Know.”

42. Let’s Get Out of this Country by Camera Obscura (2006)

I’m a sucker for ethereal vocalists and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Cambell singing over a jangly wall of sound gets me every time.  Favorites include “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,” “Razzle Dazzle Rose,” the title track and “I Need All the Friends I Can Get.”

41. Beggar’s Banquet by  The Rolling Stones (1968)

The Stones kicked off their five-year period of their best best work with a back-to-basics blues and roots music album which I consider their best ever.  Highlights include “No Expectations,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Street Fighting Man.”  While this is the highest ranking Rolling Stones album in my list, these albums are also worth checking out – Aftermath, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street.

Book Review: The Making of the Fittest


Author: Sean B. Carroll
Title: The Making of the Fittest
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2007), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 1400103150

Summary/Review:

This book is a primer on how natural selection works.  Carroll approaches this topic from a mathematical perspective through statistics and probability, but does so in layperson’s terms (which means I can just barely understand it – hah!).  The book uses examples such as Antarctic icefish for whom natural selection has chosen genes that give them enlarged hearts, blood without red blood cells, and a natural antifreeze.

Mutation is a key idea, with Carroll stressing that mutations despite their bad PR can be beneficial and points out that in fact we are all mutants.  While mutation is blind, natural selection is not.  Natural selection acts cumulatively.  Carroll also takes on the people who deny evolution by natural selection, refreshingly pointing out that it’s not just religious conservatives with examples of Soviet geneticist Trofim Lysenko who persecuted proponents of Medelian genetics and chiropractic practitioners who denied germ theory.

This is a good practical summary of the fascinating key ideas of biology.

Recommended books: On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Rating: ***

Book Review: Where the Wild Things Were


Author: William Stolzenburg
Title: Where the wild things were : life, death, and ecological wreckage in a land of vanishing predators
Publication Info:  New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by Macmillan, 2008.
ISBN: 9781596912991

Summary/Review:

This book explores the role of predatory carnivores in ecosystems.  Far from just being the top of the food chain, Stolzenburg shows the evidence of numerous researchers that predators are necessary for maintaining a healthy balance of prey and vegetation.  Without predators, ecosystems collapse completely.

Stolzenburg shows evidence of similar regions with and without their primary predator – whether it be sea otters, sharks, or wolves – and the differences are alarming.  The most dangerous predator of course is the human, and we have a long history of exterminating predators.  Stolzenburg believes this goes back to the Pleistocene when the first humans arriving in the Americas eliminated the megafauna of two continents.  Some of the most fascinating and controversial ideas are to “rewild”the Americas by introducing large mammals such as camels, lions, and elephants into the wild!  While discussing the objections to the plan, I am surprised that Stolzenburg made no mention of the unfortunate history of invasive species (cane toads anyone?).

This is a very illuminating, saddening, but ultimately important perspective on how to preserve and recreate damaged ecosystems.

Read this Conservation magazine article by Stolzenburg for more details.

Favorite Passage:

The most dangerous experiment is already underway.  The future most to be feared is the one now dictated by the status quo.  In vanquishing our  most fearsome beasts from the modern world, we have released worse monsters from the compound.  They come in disarmingly meek and insidious forms, in chewing plagues of hoofed beasts and sweeping hordes of rats and cats and second-order predators.  They come in the form of denuded seascapes and barren forests, ruled by jellyfish and urchins, killer deer and sociopathic monkeys.  They come as haunting demons of the human mind.  In conquering the fearsome beasts, the conquerors had unwittingly orpahned themselves. – p. 200

Recommended books: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Rating: ****

Book Review: Little Fingers by Filip Florian


Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Romania

AuthorFilip Florian
Title: Little Fingers
Publication Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2009)
ISBN: 0151015147

Summary/Review:

The hot new novel from Romania is based on the premise of excavations of a Roman fort in a small town unearth a mass grave.  It is immediately rumored and believed that the bones belong to people executed by the communist regime in the 1950’s and the situation denigrates into a morbid and sensationalist media circus.

Florian builds around this premise a series of biographies and set pieces.  Multiple voices speak that tell stories often tangentially related to the main story.  There’s Petrus the archaeologist who spends a lot of time listening to the stories, dreams, and prognostications of the elderly women of town.  There’s the priest who waits on the next apparition of the Virgin.  There’s the lone partisan, survivor of the communist era.  Then there are the Argentinians, experts in political murders, who fly in to examine the grave.

I’d admit this is not a straightforward nor easy to read novel.  Still I enjoyed the humor and the writing of Florian (as translated by Alastair Ian Blyth) which is both poetic in the dreamy sections and poetic in the many portions that describe and list ordinary objects.  Florian is an interesting voice and addition to my Around the World For A Good Book project.

Recommended books: The Joke by Milan Kundera, A Mercy by Toni Morrison.  This book falls well into the magical realism category, so if you enjoy that you’ll probably like Little Fingers.
Rating: ***