Some real folk blues here. Languid and ethereal, James’ high-pitched voice brings a powerfully mournful feel to the sparse arrangements (James accompanies himself on either guitar or piano; only one track features a sideman, Russ Savakus on bass). It’s the perfect record for a Sunday morning spent reflecting on – and probably regretting – those things you did the night before.
Released in 1984, this album would have been a lot better if it had been recorded four or five years earlier. Dreadful ’80s production techniques wash out most of the impact of a pretty solid, if not spectacular, collection of songs. It’s not just the synthesizers, though: it’s the backup singers, constantly inserting themselves where they don’t belong, who are the problem more than anything else. A more austere guitar / bass / drums / vocals approach would have done much to bring out the life of songs like “I Love You, Suzanne,” “My Friend George”—which still manages to bop along contentedly and stick in your head for a little while after the record’s over—or “Down at the Arcade,” a fun little closer. File this under “missed opportunities.”
Clocking in at slightly over half an hour, this album is about the same length as the theoretical optimum for any visit to Detroit. But unlike its sprawling namesake, this record is tight, focused and organized, a high-energy blend of jazz and funk that, at times, feels like it could drift into prog-rock territory with no more provocation than a stiff breeze. The city of Detroit has seen (heard?) its share of musical tributes; “Yusef Lateef’s Detroit” has to rank among the best of them.
The Allman Brothers: “At Fillmore East”
I don’t usually dig live albums, at least for rock bands, and that goes double for double-live albums. But then again, this isn’t just a rock record – it’s what you’d get if you put together a band with Elmore James, Jerry Garcia and Art Blakey, more blues and jazz than anything else. Masterful slide guitar playing over long jams that don’t feel like they’re 23 minutes long (true, not all of them are, but it’s my blog and I will exaggerate if I wanna). Great, great record.
The Runaways: “Queens of Noise”
An all-girl band featuring a very young Joan Jett and future glam metal star Lita Ford, the Runaways had a lot more going for them in the musical talent department than bands like the Sex Pistols or Spice Girls, to name two groups that were assembled in the same way. But having all that talent doesn’t necessarily translate to making a great album, and Queens of Noise is Exhibit A in that argument. Jett’s “I Love Playing with Fire” is far and away the best track on the record – you can definitely hear the archetypal Joan Jett sound that she and the Blackhearts would make famous four or five years later; I also love the title of “Neon Angles on the Road to Ruin,” but not the actual song. As for the rest of it, I’ve already forgotten what most of it sounds like.