Monday, December 27, 2010


Back after some holiday traveling with the second-to-last installment of my Top 100 list. These are the ones I go back to frequently...

20. Donovan - Sunshine Superman (UK) 1966: I prefer Donovan over Dylan for sheer listenability, although he would also be the more engaging dinner guest which is one of my lesser ranking factors. This album has some magical psychedelic folk songs which predate a lot of the classics of that style. There is good sixties rock and folk present as well. The songs are more varied than that of most albums, yet everything flows together wonderfully. There is a lot of great Donovan material elsewhere but this one puts it all on display from start to finish.

19. The Who - Live at Leeds (UK) 1970: The Who are difficult to get a finger on album-wise which makes them a great debate topic among your classic rock friends. A friend and I have fully decided that we would indoctrinate people with this album if they wanted to hear the Who. All the great playing is clear in the production, the song mix is excellent with the great old singles and the thematic album material. The bonus material CD releases are even better than the vinyl with a more comprehensive collection of songs. I guess this and Hawkwind are the only live albums I would recommend in lieu of the studio work.

18. Meic Stevens - Ghost Town (UK) 1970: This actually was released in 1997 although the material is from the late sixties through 1970 or thereabouts. I could have listed "Outlander" as the album to get as the material is similar and there are some shared songs, but I really like this album's material. It is sung in English vs. the Welsh language albums Stevens did more of. That helps the accessibility a bit, but it is the haunting voice along with the distant psyche vibes in the arrangements and guitar playing that make it a universally brilliant album. Stevens got a little less interesting as he went on, but was a major figure in his early career and really deserved a larger audience. But he stuck to singing in Wales and not chasing popularity, so he remains an important cult figure. Well worth checking out if you want to expand beyond Dylan and Donovan.

17. Robbie Basho - Zarthus (USA) 1974: I am stunned that I have an album this high on the list which has never had a CD release. It looks like there is only one song on Youtube even. There is vinyl out there and this is worth hunting down. Even if you have heard and enjoyed Basho's guitar playing on fellow guitar genius, John Fahey's Takoma label, you may not be ready for this meditative monster. Side One is filled with his spacey guitar playing and strange meditative crooning. Side Two is an amazing piano piece where he cuts loose on the keyboard with the damper pedal down the whole time in a percussive dynamic drone (the kind of which I badly played in my youth). There is some pretty cool Basho out there and absolutely dazzling songs, but this album really puts it all together.

16. Book of AM - Book of AM (Spain) 1979: This is an intriguing album that Daevid Allen of Gong produced and plays on with a communal band on an island off of Spain. The album is a deep song cycle that is a classic in the psyche-folk field. It is tricky to find, but there was an incredible re-release with the full two albums of material and huge thick book or art which was originally supposed to come out. This was quite a welcome addition for me in lieu of my bootleg copy of this great album. This will appeal to Gong fans, fans of classic UK folk, or psychedelic music fans.

15. Incredible String Band - The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (UK) 1968: I recall that America liked the fourth Dr. Who better than the third which was preferred by the UK. For ISB albums, it is the same thing although in this case, the US goes with the third. I have to go along with this here as this album is just so much wilder and varied than the equally great 4th album "The Wee Tam and Big Huge". ISB were innovators and were in full force here with folk, psyche-folk, psyche, chidren's songs, Monty Python like singalongs, and a thirteen minute song about an amoeba. Robin Williamson and Mike Heron are the ISB at this point with only a little help and they are at their height of creative song writing and use of varied, unique instruments. They lost the formula a few years later, but they were at the height of their shamanistic, magical powers here. And I can listen to Robin Williams sing and tell stories all day long.

14. Tim Buckley - Goodbye and Hello (USA) 1967: Any Jeff Buckley fan that has not gone back to listen to his father's work is missing the real genius at work. Jeff might have been good, but aside from a brilliant Leonard Cohen cover, he has nothing on daddy. And he was fortunate to inherit some of what was one of the most stunning vocal ranges ever displayed. The shame of it all was that Buckley could not continually find that happy median between singer/songwriter material and the wildly experimental free form jazz-folk he created. This second album is the perfect bridge and would be the best place to start. I go to it most frequently as I like the creativity, but also the accessibility. I have linked "Pleasant Street" as I find it one of the most emotionally powerful songs that any vocalist could ever put on record. And with driving rock music keeping it moving, it is amazing, but only the best of a strong group of songs.

13. Love - Forever Changes (USA) 1967: Yes, the rediscovery of this neglected album has brought a whole lot of new fans and converted fans into overblown discussions that never happened when this was released. Is this over-hyped? No. It lives up to the hype and then some. The first two Love albums have moments of equal brilliance, but they have some wrong choices or mediocre songs as well. This one has the magical flow from beginning to end. I also like the CD versions with the last single that has two more mind-blowing songs which fit perfectly within this work. Arthur Lee was a genius and I am happy he got to experience some of his renaissance during his last few years on this planet. Seeing him live a few years back and having him coming over to shake my hand was a highlight for me. He was and continues to be of major importance in rock music history.

12. Roy Harper - Stormcock (UK) 1971: Jimmy Page and company tried their best to tell the world how good Roy Harper was, but not enough people listened. Joanna Newsome refuses to let him retire and makes him open shows for her in the UK, so she knows something, too. I hope most of my readers know how brilliant this guy is, although we know that much of the rest of the world is not trying hard enough to find out. Harper's early work is all great and his latter work is at worst, good. Stormcock usually wins out as the favorite and I concur. It's four songs show a bit of variety and there is even some Jimmy Page guitar in there. "Me and my Woman" is an amazing work full with simple moments of voice and guitar to full orchestral moments. Harper sounds huge even with just voice and guitar, but also makes great arrangement decisions here as well. Brilliant.

11. Midwinter - The Waters of Sweet Sorrow (UK) 1973: The UK label Kissing Spell was hunting down lost psyche-folk classics to release and wanted some work from a great band called Stone Angel. While digging through an attic, a Stone Angel member found the tapes from his first band which had not been released. The result was one of the finest psyche-folk albums in history. This was primarily to guitarists and a female vocalist although a couple musicians augment them here. I have described many  albums as moody, contemplative psyche-folk classics, but this one may be the finest. There are more famous, but this one has the magical formula that is only known in the deepest ancestral dreams and cannot be put down in tablature. Dig in and find your spiritual past.

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