Album of the Week: Special by Lizzo


By https://open.spotify.com/album/1NgFBv1PxMG1zhFDW1OrRr, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71313872

Album: Special
Artist: Lizzo
Release Date: July 14, 2022
Label: Nice Life Recording Company
Favorite Tracks:

  • About Damn Time
  • Grrrls
  • 2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)
  • Naked
  • If You Love Me

Thoughts: Lizzo returns with her follow-up to the instant classic Cuz I Love You.  As the first single from the album (which has already become the Song of Summer) says, it’s “About Damn Time.”  I have to confess that I don’t like the songs as much as on the predecessor but it’s Lizzo, so it’s still irresistible.  She’s definitely feeling knowledge for the time of her infancy and before with the songs incorporating disco and 80s synth-dance sounds.  Makes me wonder what a Lizzo cover of “Let the Music Play” would sound like. Lizzo’s tireless positivity fills this album with joy and it can get a bit cheezy at times.  But it’s also a political at a time when the personal is deeply political.  Lizzo is also finding new ways of sharing her deepest self and discovering she loves what she’s found.

Rating: ***1/2

Album of the Week 2022

January

February

March

April

May

July

Favorite Albums of All Time: 190-181


Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list.  This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts.  The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.

250-241 200-191
240-231
230-221
220-211
210-201

 


190

Artist: Cyndi Lauper
Title: She’s So Unusual
Year:  1983
Favorite Tracks:

  • Money Changes Everything
  • Girls Just Want To Have Fun
  • When You Were Mine
  • Time After Time
  • She Bop
  • All Through the Night

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 1983, because my sister had it.

Thoughts: As I 9-year-old boy, I underappreciated Cyndi Lauper, although I never actually disliked her.  Every time I revisit this album, I’m struck by just how loaded it is with great songs.

Bonus Sounds: Although none of Cyndi’s later albums were as big as her solo debut, she’s continued to grace us with great songs over the years.  The most memorable of these is “True Colors.”


189

Artist: Sly and the Family Stone
Title: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Year:  1971
Favorite Tracks:

  • Poet
  • Family Affair
  • Time
  • Runnin’ Away

The First Time I Heard This Album …: RS 500, last year.

Thoughts: Despite liking and listening to Sly and the Family Stone for quite some time, I somehow slept on this album.  It’s deeper and funkier with more ruminative and bleak lyrics than on previous Sly and the Family Stone recordings.  Despite that – or because of that – it is mindblowingly good!

Bonus Sounds: There’s more Sly and the Family Stone coming up in this list (yay!).  So until then, you can “Dance to the Music.


188

Artist: Ali Farka Touré 
Title: The Source
Year:  1992
Favorite Tracks:

  • Goye Kur
  • Hawa Dolo
  • Cinquante Six
  • Mahini Me

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I had this in college in the early 90s, probably not too long after it was released.  I probably got it from Columbia House or BMG on a whim.

Thoughts:  In my teens and early twenties, I was fascinated with learning about Blues music and world music, particularly from Africa (still am, really).  Touré combined the traditional music of his homeland in Mali with the Blues, and made something beautiful and new.  So naturally I was drawn to it.

Bonus Sounds: A contemporary band from the Saharan region of Northern Mali, Tinariwen, also blends the Blues with their local traditional music as can be heard on their album Elwan.


187

Artist: The Ballroom Thieves
Title: Unlovely
Year: 2020
Favorite Tracks:

  • Unlovely
  • Tenebrist
  • Homme Run
  • Begin Again
  • Pendulum

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Summer of 2020.

Thoughts: It seems weird to say, but this album gives me nostalgia for the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Maybe not the whole staying at home the whole time and worried about people dying in great numbers, but I do remember working on my porch that summer and finding some peace listening to this album.

Bonus Sounds: The Ballroom Thieves have a new album, clouds, coming out on July 15.  You can be certain that you will read about it here.


186

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Title: Dig Me Out 
Year: 1997
Favorite Tracks:

  • Dig Me Out
  • One More Hour
  • Words and Guitar
  • Little Babies
  • Buy Her Candy

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 90s, maybe 2-3 years after it was released.

Thoughts: Screeching guitars and raging vocals are part of what makes Sleater-Kinney one the best rock bands of the 1990s. Dig Me Out captures them at their peak.

Bonus Sounds: Carrie Brownstein has had an interesting career which includes working with NPR Music and starring in the sketch comedy Portlandia.  Her book Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a very interesting memoir of her days with Sleater-Kinney


185

Artist: Antibalas
Title:Antibalas
Year: 2012
Favorite Tracks:

  • Dirty Money
  • Him Belly No Go Sweet
  • Sáré Kon Kon

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Around 2012.

Thoughts: Antibalas is a Brooklyn-based afrobeat band with ties to Daptone Records.  The channel both the sound and political outrage of Fela Kuti into a contemporary American setting.

Bonus Sounds: Another contemporary Afrobeat outfit from New York that I like is The Budos Band.


184

Artist: Johnny Most 
Title: Reverse The Curse
Year: 2004
Favorite Tracks:

  • An Eye Opener
  • Baby, That’s Fine
  • R.A.Y.F. (Kind of Man)
  • All People
  • Johnny’s Bender Sing Along
  • Uncle

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Circa 2004.

Thoughts: This may be one of the more obscure albums on this list.  Johnny Most was a Boston-based jazz/funk fusion band that didn’t seem to last long beyond this one album.  I believe I saw them in concert once, but I think I arrived right at the end of their set. The reason I know about Johnny Most at all is that their drummer, Joby DeCoster, was a guy who went to the College of William & Mary at the same time as me and we later worked together at Colonial Williamsburg.  I guess I was still in touch with him enough to learn that he was involved with this album which turned out to be excellent!

Bonus Sounds: DeCoster was also involved in a Boston-based alt-country band, The Scrimshanders, who just released a compilation album last fall, Songs That Never Were.


183

Artist: Freezepop  
Title: Fancy Ultra Fresh
Year: 2004
Favorite Tracks:

  • stakeout
  • bike thief
  • parlez-vous freezepop?
  • outer space
  • tonight

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Probably around 2006.  I learned of “bike thief” from a compilation of Boston bands, and then got the full album.

Thoughts:  Another Boston-based band, this one making synthop.  The beats are infectious and the lyrics are often hilarious.

Bonus Sounds:  Apparently, Freezepop is still active and released a new album as recently as 2020.  I should check it out, but I tend to be lazy (which is also the title of one of my Freezepop tunes).


182

Artist: Hum Machine
Title: Theorems and Compositions of the Last Action Rocker
Year:  2003
Favorite Tracks:

  • Bring it on Pepeyon
  • Remember When
  • Remote From Below
  • Mechanical Devices
  • Twisted Niche
  • It’s Gotta Be
  • Laughing As You Cry

The First Time I Heard This Album …:  Circa 2003

Thoughts: This may be more obscure than the Johnny Most album.  Hum Machine was a post-punk/power pop band from Madison, Wisconsin.  I only knew of their existence because one of the band members was on a message board for fans of the New York Mets that I frequented!  Listening to this album for the first time in a long time, I’m amazed that just every track is still a total banger.

Bonus Sounds: Hum Machine had other albums, but tracking down any information on them now is sadly a hard task.


181

Artist: The Velveteens
Title: ¡Viva!
Year: 1998
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fred Garvey
  • Dr. Moriarity
  • Wasted With the Cooper
  • Yak Farm
  • Port Authority

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Circa 1998.

Thoughts: Once again, a deep dive into the obscure.  This is another band with ties to The College of William & Mary, although I didn’t have any personal connection to any of the band members.  This is a large ska band I first heard play at a W&M reunion I attended when I was still living in Williamsburg.  I love their ska beats and story songs about a male escort, getting drunk in Colonial Williamsburg, and a woman pirate.

Bonus Sounds:  I seem to be the only one who remembers this band.  I can’t even find a way to embed one of their songs for you.  Oh well, it’s my little treat to listen to for as long as the CD holds out.

2021 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


I’ve reviewed 23 albums on this blog in 2021, and probably listened to just as many that I didn’t feel compelled to write about. From this list I’ve selected six of my favorite albums that I recommend you give a listen.

Check out my lists of favorite albums from 2014201620172018, 2019, and 2020 as well.

Afrique Victime by Mdou Moctar

The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite by IKOQWE

Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast

Menneskekollektivet by Lost Girls

Really From by Really From

They’re Calling Me Home by Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi

2020 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


I’ve reviewed 23 albums on this blog in 2020, and probably listened to just as many that I didn’t feel compelled to write about. From this list I’ve selected five of my favorite albums that I recommend you give a listen.

Check out my lists of favorite albums from 20142016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Everyone liked this album and with good reason.

The Ballroom Thieves – Unlovely

The Boston-based trio released one of many albums that speaks to our time, on both the levels of personal relationships and social movements.

Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle

I am unable to rank my favorite albums, but this is most likely contender for my #1 album of the year, and also the most important.

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

“Speaking to our times” is the theme of this years list and no one does it better than Killer Mike and El-P.

Sault – Untitled (Rise)

We may not know who Sault is, but the British collective released not one but two of the great albums of 2020.

Album Review: Agitprop Alterna by Peel Dream Magazine


Album: Agitprop Alterna
Artist: Peel Dream Magazine
Release Date: April 3, 2020
Favorite Tracks:

  • Emotional Devotion Creator
  • It’s My Body
  • Do It
  • Eyeballs
  • Up and Up

Thoughts:

Brooklyn’s Peel Dream Magazine only formed in 2018, but they sound like they’ve mined the sounds of 90s bands like My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab. On the one hand, the lack of originality is frustrating.  I could just listen to Loveless and Emperor Tomato Ketchup if I wanted to.  On the other hand, those 90s bands are making anything new either and I love escaping in the dense swirls and minimalist  sounds of Peel Dream Magazine’s shoegaze  guitars and dreamy synths.

Rating: ***

Pitchfork People’s List


Pitchfork is running a poll called the People’s List where anyone can login and vote for at least 20 and as many as 100 of their favorite albums from 1996-2011.  I made my list mostly based upon albums from my own 2009 ranking of my 100 favorite albums of all time.  Numbers 1-52 retain the ranking from the earlier list while the additional albums are inserted more haphazardly.

I’m actually surprised at how many albums I had to fill in manually.  It makes me feel like a hipster to have musical tastes that are too obscure for Pitchfork.  Or maybe I’m too bland.   To be honest I’m no longer all to content with my ranking from three years ago.  I also feel like there are a lot of good albums out there that I haven’t listened to yet.

So take a moment to go Pitchfork Media and make your own People’s List.  Then come back here and post your list in the comments and let me know a few albums I really need to hear.

Meme: 15 Albums


Tagged for another music related-meme on Facebook by a different friend.

The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you’ve heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

Should be easy, no?  I promise not to look at my list of 100 favorite albums list first.

  1. This Are Two Tone – Various
  2. The Ultimate Otis Redding
  3. Folk Song and Minstelry – Various
  4. Belafonte at Carnegie Hall
  5. May I Sing With Me – Yo La Tengo
  6. The Beatles (White Album)
  7. Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World – Johnny Clegg & Savuka
  8. Ágætis Byrjun – Sigur Rós
  9. Lincoln – They Might Be Giants
  10. Free to Be You & Me – Marlo Thomas & Friends
  11. Intersections – Maus
  12. Tanglewood Tree – Dave Carter and Tracey Grammer
  13. Channel 1 – Various
  14. Doolittle – The Pixies
  15. Rum, Sodomy & The Lash – The Pogues

There’s a little method to my madness.  In addition to a few of my all-time favorites that I keep coming back to I picked out some albums I remember introducing me to a new band, new sound, or new genre and thus changing my musical tastes.  At any rate I did this in much less than fifteen minutes so I’m sure it’s not representative.

Related Posts:

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time 10-1


Yikes! I’ve reached the top ten.  It should be noted that I actually considered 12 albums as being good enough to be number one, but only one could qualify.  Or you could look at as a 12-way tie.

Previously:

10. Hush by Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin (1992)

A world famous concert cellist and an innovative a capella vocalist  (who has done a lot more than “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) collaborate on a children’s album and its brilliant.  There are a number of interpretations of classical pieces but my favorites are McFerrin originals such as “Stars,” “Grace,” and “Coyote.”

9. Belafonte at Carnegie Hall by Harry Belafonte (1959)

I was born to late to see Belafonte perform at his prime, but this recording captures his amazing voice and showmanship.  The show has three parts featuring Black American music, the Caribbean,  and folk songs from around the world with such highlights as “Jamaica Farewell,” “Shenandoah,” and “Matilda.”

8. Doolittle by Pixies (1989)

This album has kept me up all night and probably damaged my ear drums as I listened to it repeatedly with my headphones on many occasions over the years. I think it was a hand-me-down from my sister who didn’t like it. Highlights include “Debaser,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Hey,” and “Gouge Away.”

7. If I Should Fall From the Grace of God by The Pogues (1988)

This was always one of the first albums I’d upgrade to new formats, mainly because I’d worn out tape and CD copies from repeat listenings.  Shane and the gang do their punky Celtic best on songs like “Fairytale of New York,” “Turkish Song of the Damned,” “Thousands Are Sailing,” and “Medley.”

6. Flood by They Might Be Giants (1990)

I think I’ve tried to explain the genius, artistry and symbolism of songs by TMBG to people who think they’re just funny ditties.  See what you think when listening to tracks like “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Road Movie To Berlin,” “Particle Man,” and “Your Racist Friend.”

5. Sacrebleu by Dimitri From Paris (1996)

A French house DJ mixes in all sorts of loungey music and soundtracks for a really cool effect.  Try out “Sacre Francais,” “Reveries,” “Une Very Stylish Fille,” and “Un World Mysteriouse” for starters.

4. BullsEye by The Kevin Hanson Trio (2001)

Saw Hanson solo at Club Passim and was impressed by his guitar virtuosity.  Got the album and was impressed by the imaginative lyrics and music of songs like “I Wish,” “Just Because,” and “Circus.”

3. Cry Cry Cry by Cry Cry Cry (1998)

Contemporary folk singer/performers Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, and Lucy Kaplansky collaborate on covers of songs by other contemporary artists such as”By Way of Sorrow,” “Cold Missouri Waters,” and “Shades of Gray.” Funny that none of their solo work made my list, but together they’re three times as good.

2. Rum, Sodomy and The Lash by  The Pogues (1985)

Pogues’ fans argue about which album is there best and I believe its this very raw, very powerful, and very good collection. It feature Cait O’Riordan’s only lead vocal performance on (ironically) “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday,” a beautifully haunting song. “Sally MacLennane,” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” are a couple of other Pogues standards on this all around excellent album.

1.  Tanglewood Tree by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer

The folk duo’s masterpiece includes  the brilliant lyrics and music of Dave Carter with Grammer on vocals and fiddle on songs such as “Tanglewood Tree,” “The Mountain,” and “Cowboy Singer.”  Ten years have gone by and I’m still wowed by this album.

Next week:  Some honorable mentions that did not crack the Top 100 although many were deserving.

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time 20-11


Previously:

20. Graceland by Paul Simon (1986)

Simon’s solo masterpiece is great for integrating “world music” and some of the most well-thought-out lyrics ever written.  Highlights include “Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes,” “Homeless,” “I Know What I Know,” and the title track.

19. Singalong by Pete Seeger (1980)

Pete Seeger and thousands of voices in Cambridge’s Sanders Theater sing the great folk songs of a generation.  Seeger is not really about recordings, but I find this recorded Pete at his best virtually bringing you the concert experience.  Favorites include “If I Had A Hammer,” “The Water is Wide,”  “Old Devil Time,” and many more.

18. London Calling by The Clash (1979)

This may be the first time that Pete Seeger and The Clash appear in a list next to one another, but they share a certain passion and do-it-yourself ethic, so why not.  I’m not the first one to extol the greatness of London Calling so I’ll just tell you my favorite songs are “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Guns of Brixton,” “The Right Profile,” the title song and the rest of the whole album.

17. I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One by Yo La Tengo (1997)

I resisted putting every single album by Yo La Tengo in this list, but if you don’t have any albums by this band please get this one.  You may also enjoy “Moby Octopad” (and its Mets’ references), “Sugarcube,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Shadows,” “Autumn Sweater,” and the rest.

16. So by Peter Gabriel (1986)

There are probably diehard Gabriel fans who roll their eyes at this pick but I say that any album with experimental sounds and clever lyrics that can still be a huge hit is worth remembering.  I like all the songs that got played all the time on the radio, and the one from that movie, and then there’s “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).”

15. Revolver by The Beatles (1966)

This is my favorite Beatles album and I’m never sure why.  Lots of studio experimentation pays off (not to mention drug experimentation), I guess.  Favorite songs include “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

14. Intersections by DJ Maus (2000)

DJ Maus is a drum & bass DJ we once danced to long ago in Montreal and this is one of her albums I picked up and have been entranced by ever since. Favorite tracks: “Plug,” “Phoneheads,” and “Amon Tobin.”

13. Ten Thousand Mornings by Peter Mulvey (2002)

This is the first and only album on this list that I was present for its recording, albeit briefly and accidentally.  Many musicians in Boston hone their skills by playing in the subways and Mulvey paid tribute to this by recording the entire album in Davis Sq station in Somerville.  It’s a great mix of cover songs, collaborations with other folkies, and roaring trains in the background.  Highlights include “Oliver’s Army,” “Comes Love” (with Erin McKeown), “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind” (w/ Sean Staples), “The Ocean,” and “Two Janes.”

12. Lincoln by They Might Be Giants (1988)

The Brooklyn-based band pays tribute to their Massachusetts’ home town in the title.  More importantly upon hearing “Ana Ng” I was inspired to actually turn the radio dial and check out that modern rock station.  Other favorites from this album include “Kiss Me, Son of God,” “Cowtown,” and “Purple Toupee.”

11. Citizens Band by The Operators (2002)

Here’s yet another band of people I sort-of-know that broke up…wait a minute, they’ve reunited!  Anyhow, some great punk rock from Somerville.  Great tracks include “The Old Man Doesn’t Like It,” “Parasite Rex,” “Bottle,” and “Rock City.”

The top ten is next week.  I think my writing is getting crappier as the albums get better.

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (30-21)


Previously:

30. Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco (1998)

An English singer/songwriter/radical and a rock/alt-country band from Chicago join to record tunes for the lost songs of Woody Guthrie and produce a masterpiece.  Once again it proves the timelessness of great music.  Favorites include “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” and “I Guess I Planted.”

29. This Are Two Tone (1983)

I was about a decade late discovering the UK’s Two Tone ska revival, but as soon as I heard The Specials “Ghost Town” on my radio I wanted to hear more.  I went to my local record store who of course did not have anything by The Specials, but I decided to check the compilations’ area where I found this gem and my life was changed.  Other highlights include “Gangsters” and “Rudi, A Message To You” by The Specials and “Rankin’ Full Stop” by The Beat.

28. Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction (1988)

Nirvana gets the credit for bringing so-called alternative music to the masses but Jane’s Addiction lead the way with this terrific album of funky hard rock.  Favorites include: “Jane Says,” “Ocean Size,” and “Mountain Song.”

27. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy (1988)

Hip hop at its best with a strong rhymes containing a serious social and political message over some densely-layered and funky samples.  Tracks that are still strong and relevant twenty years later include “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.”

26. Lifes Rich Pageant by R.E.M. (1986)

Another torch bearer carrying the underground music of the 1980’s to the mainstream of the 1990’s was R.E.M. who started out with very esoteric, experimental recordings early on and gradually became more radio friendly.  This album captures them striking a balance between the two extremes and includes some of the band’s best song such as “Fall On Me,” “The Flowers of Guatemala,” and “Swan Swan H.”

25. Shamrock Shake by Echolalia (1997)

This obscure album was recorded by a Williamsburg, VA -area Celtic folk/rock band who then vanished into the ether.  They are a band who follows the Celtic punk zeitgeist of the Pogues including a cover of “Boys from the County Hell,” but also their own material such as the topical “Serbian’s Wake,” but were best in their interpretations of timeless standards such as “The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel.”

24. Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans (2003)

This album was a gift from my brother-in-law that introduced me to a great Canadian rock band performing intelligent and chipper rock songs about death, depression and hating Winnipeg.  Highlights include the title track, “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute,” “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)” and “The Reasons.”

23. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)

I think enough ink has been spilled explaining the greatness of OK Computer that I need not add to it, but here are my favorite songs from the album: “No Surprises,” “Karma Police,” “Airbag,” “Lucky,” and “Paranoid Android.”  What are yours?

22. Distillation by Erin McKeown (2000)

I attended the new artists showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2000 and after a series of waifs singing about their sad lonely lives, Erin McKeown took the stage and had people singing, dancing and cheering for her two songs.  Later this album was played between sets of some other bands on the main stage and people were singing along to that!  Find out why by listening to catchy and clever tracks like “Queen of Quiet,” “Blackbirds,” and “Fast As I Can.”

21. The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses (1989)

This album was another discovery in a library back when I was in high school.  I listened to it for years and loved it before realizing that other people liked it too.  In fact New Musical Express named it the best British album of all-time in 2000. Not too shabby.  Highlights include: “Shoot You Down,” “I Am the Ressurrection,” “She Bangs the Drums,” and “I Wanna Be Adored.”