Monday, 12 December 2011

22. Marty Robbins- Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

Release Date: 1959
Label: CBS

After a couple of 'poorer' efforts from Miles Davis and Ray Charles, it was nice to listen to something that I could enjoy. Occasionally country music gets a bad reputation, but I've always had a soft spot for the Nashville Blues. If that phrase hasn't been used before, I'm claiming it by the way. I don't know much about Matry Robbins- I don't even know if he's still alive- (I've just checked, he died in 1982)- but I'm fully prepared to explore some more of his work after listening to this record- which is described by allmusic as the 'the single most influential album of Western songs in post-World War II American music'. Of course, one of the problems of listening to a single album by an artist you're otherwise naive towards is that sometimes it's unrewarding because it's not always representive of their other work.

Overall: 8.5/10
Favourite Track: They're Hanging Me Tonight.

21. Miles Davis- A Kind of Blue


Release Date: 1959
Label: Columbia

Second time around for Miles Davis, and the album which is generally regarded as the best of his career. Not by me though. I once owned A Kind of Blue, but I took it back to the man behind the counter. I have never understood its appeal (obviously my slight jazzphobia is partly to blame). I make no attempt to suggest it's not as good as critical/public opinion says it is; it's just not for me. I think there's a few more records to come from Miles so hopefully I'll appreciate those more. Otherwise I'll just have to suffer.

Overall: 6/10
Favourite Track: So What

Next Album: Marty Robbins- Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

Saturday, 10 December 2011

20. Ray Charles- The Genius of Ray Charles

Release Date: 1959
Label: Atlantic

I confess to having a pamphlet sized knowledge of Ray Charles. I know he was blind, he was portrayed by Jamie Foxx in the 2004 biopic, and I know he wrote What'd I Say. Apart from that, I don't know much. According to this album though- and it's a very bold statement to make- the man is a genius. Now, I don't want to start and arguments here, but I think the word 'genius' is a tad too strong. Whilst Mr. Charles is certainly talented (if the evidence of this record is to go by), he is no genius. If Mr. Charles or his record company don't want to get sued for false advertising, perhaps the album should be titled 'The Appreciative Talents of Ray Charles' instead. This album started of well, but just couldn't keep it up and seemed to fall away at the end.

Overall: 5/10
Favourite Track: Let The Good Times Roll

Next Album: Miles Davis- A Kind of Blue

Thursday, 8 December 2011

19. Ella Fitzgerald- Sings The Gershwin Song Book


Release Date: 1959
Label: Verve

Coming soon after Lady In Satin, I was expecting Ella to bare a strong similarity to Billie Holiday. I was both right and wrong. Whilst they're both female, jazzy and great, Ella has the better voice and songs. This album, which would be perfect for a Sunday, was a delight. Now, I'd heard of George Gershwin already; assuming this album would be about him alone, but I wasn't aware his brother (Ira) wrote the lyrics for a lot of G.Gershwin's compositions. And it was the lyrics I particularly enjoyed on this record. Of course, they were your typical Tin Pan Alley couplets, but they managed to be both original, catchy and memorable. This should take nothing away from Ella Fitzgerald's vocal performance, however, which is beautiful throughout.

Overall: 8/10
Favourite Track: Someone To Watch Over Me

Next Album: Ray Charles- The Genius of Ray Charles

18. Sarah Vaughan- Sarah Vaughan at Mister Kelly's

Release Date: 1958
Label: EmArcy

True fact - Sarah Vaughan is related to former Big Breakfast host Denise Van Outen. In other news, this is another album I've had to go back and listen to having missed it first time round. Spotify have a version with extra tracks which lasts for over an hour, but I listened to the original which lasts for just over thirty minutes. Vaughan's vocals are by far the highlight of this record, as the music allows her to showcase her talents.

Rating: 8/10

17. Jack Elliot- Jack Takes The Floor

Jack Takes the Floor.jpg
Release Date: 1958
Label: Topic

Jack takes the floor, takes the walls and the door. Jack takes to the stage and takes his acoustic guitar from its case. Jack steps up to the microphone and starts to strum. Jack sings a folk song, and another one. Jack sounds like a folk singer should sound in 1958. If he were performing live today, he'd be constantly drowned out by inane chatter and mumbling. As it is, he is clear and concise on this record. It clearly influenced Bob Dylan's debut album.

Rating: 5/10

Next Album: Sarah Vaughan- Sarah Vaughan at Mister Kelly's

16. Billie Holiday- Lady In Satin

Release Date: 1958
Label: Columbia

Reading the reviews of this album, it's been said that Billie Holiday's voice was torn to shreds by the time she recorded these dozen songs; but because I've not heard much of her before, I don't really have anything to compare her with. Still, she does unfortunately, sound a little like Macy Gray on this album. Fortunately, she gets over this by providing an emotional depth to the songs (a couple of which appear on the two Sinatra albums I've already listened to). The fragility of her voice is somewhat complimented by the context of the songs; for forty minutes Holiday mourned tragedy, love lost and generally felt a little blue- which is fair enough, being a heroin junkie and all (she's like a female Renton). It's a shame she wasn't at her peak when this album was recorded, because it'd make what is a fine album even better. Eleanora Fagan, I'm glad I heard you and you're far better than Macy Gray!

Overall: 7/10
Favourite Track: You've Changed

Next Album: Jack Elliot- Jack Takes The Floor

15. Tito Puente and his Orchestra- Dance Mania, Vol. 1

Dance Mania (album).jpeg
Release Date: 1958
Label: BMG

With an album title which sounds like it comes from the Ministry of Sound, I have finally listened to this album seven years after buying this book. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. It was a good album, and remarkably different to what I've been listening to recently but I'm not sure I could stomach forty minutes of this every time.

Rating: 6/10

Next Album: Billie Holiday- Lady in Satin

14. Little Richard- Here's Little Richard

Release Date: 1957
Label: Speciality

Awapbopaloombopawambamboo is, as any fule kno, the first word in the rock 'n' roll dictionary, and also the most important. Following on from all the jazz I seem to be indulging in at the moment, it was a relief to hear some rock 'n' roll again, and Little Richard is one of the best people to listen to. A distant relation to Little Boots, the only reason Little Richard (born Richard Little) doesn't have as many imitators as Elvis is because nobody can imitate him without looking silly. The reason why Little Richard works is because he doesn't seem to care. He was openly gay from the start (despite claiming to have at least two girls in 'Tutti Frutti') and just seems to let the music take control. This album wasn't perfect (the bizarre 'True Fine Mama' saw to that), but it's definitely worth 8 stars for the energy alone.

Overall: 8/10
Favourite Track: Ready Teddy

Next Album: Tito Puente and his Orchestra- Dance Mania, Vol. 1

13. Machito- Kenya

Release Date: 1957
Label: Roulette Jazz

It seems, even in different disguises, jazz was very popular in the 50s. This particular album contains 'afro cuban jazz' apparently. If that's true, then I'm not a fan of the aforementioned genre. This was the first record I particularly struggled to get through, and I've not really got anything positive to say about it other than compliment mad rhythms that were going on. For some reason, the brass section reminded me of generic gameshow music.

Overall: 3/10
Favourite Track: Blues a La Machito

Next Album: Little Richard- Here's Little Richard

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

12. Miles Davis- Birth of the Cool

Release Date: 1957
Label: Capitol

In my collection I have two Miles Davis albums (Sketches of Spain and Bitches Brew). The former I'm rather fond of, but the latter less so. I was apprehensive about hearing this album because I half expected it to be full of thirteen minute jazz noodling. Fortunately, all of the songs are in radio-friendly lengths. It took seven years for these tracks to see the light of day, though I'm not sure why? For some reason (apart from Jamie Cullum) all jazz musicians seem to be rather cool, and Mr. Davis is no exception to the rule. The only flaw with the album is that the songs did sound remarkably similar to these untrained musical ears, but they were good nonetheless.

Overall: 7/10
Favourite Track: Boplicity

Next Album: Machito- Kenya

11. Sabu- Palo Congo

Release Date: 1957
Label: Blue Note

Louis 'Sabu' Martinez is one of those 'world music' musicians who's likey to have appeared on Later... with Jools Holland had he not died in 1979. He'll have probably have had to make do with one song, whilst Sting gets three. Whatever song they choose, I just hope it isn't 'Asabache' because any track with a bloody long percussion solo isn't worth listening to (e.g. Cream- 'Toad'). The albums had its highlights (the guitar work was particularly nifty at times), but they were outweighed by the erm...lowlights. Call me uncultured, but I just wanted something more western.

Overall: 3/10
Favourite Track: Rhapsodia Del Maravilloso

Next Album: Miles Davis- Birth of Cool

10. Thelonious Monk- Brilliant Corners

Release Date: 1957
Label: Riverside

Q: What do Andy Hinchcliffe and Thelonious Monk have in common?

A: Brilliant Corners.

For many Jazz fans, The Lonliest Monk is a genius. A brilliant, innovative, original genius. This album is generally regarded as his best work, so it'll be fair to assume it's fantastic, yes? Well, for some, but not for me. Whilst I appreciate the talents of Monk and refuse to criticise the man, I struggled to agree with the democratic opinion. It was just too slow-paced to fully register, I guess. Still, it wasn't all bad- it has helped me relax after a particularly stressful day at work.

Overall: 4/10
Favourite Track: Brilliant Corners

Next Album: Sabu- Palo Congo

9. Count Basie- The Atomic Mr. Basie

Release Date: 1957
Label: Roulette

Aside from Count Dracula, and his animated likeness 'Duckula', Atomic Basie is the the most famous Count, and the jazziest. He's also much friendlier than Dracula. This album is my favourite of the current crop of pure-jazz records I seem to be listening to at the moment (c.f. Duke Ellington, Louis Prima) because it's more melodic; plus, I love anything with a bassline that runs up and down scales (if that makes any sense?) The songs reminded me a little of the Batman theme, if I'm honest, so it was quite remarkable to observe that Neal Hefti Arrangements (to give the man his full title) wrote the theme for the caped-crusader.

Overall: 8/10
Favourite Track: Whirlybird

Next Album: Thelonious Monk- Brilliant Corners

8. The Crickets- The 'Chirping' Crickets

Release Date: 1957
Label: Brunswick

It's time the truth was told- Elvis Presley wasn't the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Buddy Holly was; and if it wasn't for his untimely death a mere two years after the release of this record, it could be suggested he'd have gone on to make a bigger impact on music than the Beatles. Of course, that's hypothetical, but his initial impact and his legacy are proof that Holly was a major talent. This album (the only one released in his lifetime) showcases a band at their peak, and it's a delight. In a similar fashion to Elvis Presley it doesn't stick exclusively to rock 'n' roll, providing some tender moments along the way, but it's the punchier numbers that took my fancy. Holly's hiccuping vocal may not be to everyone's taste, and he's certainly not the greatest looking star of the era, but in my eyes he was by far the coolest.

Overall: 9/10
Favourite Track: Oh! Boy

Next Album: Count Basie- The Atomic Mr Basie

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

7. Frank Sinatra- Songs For Swingin' Lovers

Release Date: 1956
Label: Capitol

Sinatra's second entry in the list, and the better of two. If In The Wee Small Hours is his break-up record, then this is his make-up one (not that he needs to wear make-up etc..) The songs are not as ballady or orchestral as the previous album (not that that was a bad thing), but Sinatra still posseses one of the best voices in the history of music. Out of the two, I think I prefer this one at a push, because it's more upbeat and, for want of a better word, poppy.

Overall: 8.5/10
Favourite Track: Too Marvellous For Words

Next Album: The Crickets- The 'Chirping' Crickets

6. Duke Ellington- Ellington at Newport 1956

Release Date: 1956
Label: Columbia

Almost a year to the day before Paul met John, Sir Duke Ellington almost caused a riot at the Newport Jazz Festival. It's all here on this recording (except the exerts from Woolton), and whilst the audience certainly sound like they're enjoying it, I'm just not a big fan of live albums. If I'm not there when it happened, then I'd rather not know. I can appreciate the album, and there were some cracking songs on it, but I'd rather have witnessed it live.

Overall: 6/10
Favourite Track: Festival Junction

Next Album: Frank Sinatra- Songs For Swingin' Lovers

5. Fats Domino- This is Fats

Release Date: 1956
Label: Imperial

Ignore the terrible record cover that looks like it's come from the imagination of a ten year old schoolboy, forget the fact that, in his later years, Fats went on to take a slice out of the fresh pizza market. Just listen to this album for what it is and what it does. What does it do? Not a lot, it doesn't even last for thirty-minutes (cheapskate!). I liked the album, but I didn't love it, and after the highlights ('Blueberry Hill', 'Blue Monday' and 'Honey Chile') I got a little bored. Sorry Fats. The piano chord progression reminded me of a Bonzo Dog Band track that I can't remember the name of.

Overall: 6/10
Favourite Track: Blueberry Hill

Next Album: Duke Ellington- Ellington at Newport 1956

4. Louis Prima- The Wildest!

Release Date: 1956
Label: Capitol

Even if you've never heard of Louis Prima, you've probably heard him. Years after recording this album, he became the voice of King Louie in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967) and his vocal talents can be heard on 'I Wanna Be Like You'. If you're particularly fond of that song (and who isn't?) then you probably wont be too disappointed with this album. Featuring Keely Smith on a number of songs, it's uplifting, free and definitely wild. There's a party spirit to the album; it's fun and exciting. Of course, if you played it a party these days, you'd probably get thrown out along with the record tokens you brought along with you. You wont care though, because you'll still be grinning like a loon. The cover image is a photograph of Prima taken after he'd just heard the record (probably).

Overall: 7/10
Favourite Track: Jump, Jive an' Wail

Next Album: Fats Domino- This Is Fats

Monday, 5 December 2011

3. The Louvin Brothers- Tragic Songs of Life

Release Date: 1956
Label: Capitol

Until the other day, I'd never heard of the Louvin Brothers. The Everlys? Yes. The Outheres? Again, yes. The Chemicals? Most definitely. But Mr and Mr. Louvin, I had not. As such, I had no idea what to expect from this album; although I immediately presumed it wouldn't sound anything like Dig Your Own Hole. Perhaps, surprisingly, I was genuinely delighted by this album. The high-tenor of Ira Louvin (yes I did have to look that up) felt like it belonged in my record collection, whilst the close harmony of Charlie (baritone) compliments it like a cheese does a cracker. In fact, Ira sound a little feminine, and that's what makes the album stand out for me. The songs are tragic, and apparently these boys had their fair share of temptation, sin and tragedy. The fact that I'd not heard of them before now is one of them (sorry lads).

Overall: 8.5/10
Favourite Track: A Tiny Broken Heart

Next Album: Louis Prima- The Wildest!

2. Elvis Presley- Elvis Presley

Release Date: 1956
Label: RCA

A year after Sinatra makes us all sob, somebody invents Elvis Presley, and with it, the most iconic singer of the 20th century. Is he black? Is he white? Does anyone even care? Did he go forward in time and take note of the London Calling cover? It's plausible. Everything about this album is iconic- including the aforementioned sleeve. The funny thing is though, it doesn't play like a five-star album. Despite starting off with a bang ('Blue Suede Shoes'), Presley doesn't keeping rockin' like he should and seems to prefer to wander all over the place. The rock 'n' roll is great, but songs like 'Blue Moon' and 'I Love You Because' do nothing for me. I want to phone the young Elvis up and tell him to stop pussyfooting around with the slow songs and just rock. Shake your hips Elvis, shake your hips! Pitched halfway between the two styles is the country-twinged 'Trying To Get To You', which is the highlight of the album. If you want to know why The Beatles and every other 60s musician were in awe of Elvis, then Elvis Presley is the reason why. It hasn't got his best songs on it (indeed, the original version of this album didn't even have 'Heartbreak Hotel' included; though I do have a suspision singles weren't put on albums in the olden days?) but this is Elvis at his raw, natural, pre-bloated best.

Overall: 6.5/10
Favourite Track: Trying To Get To You

Next Album: The Louvin Brothers- Tragic Songs of Life

1. Frank Sinatra- In The Wee Small Hours

Release Date: 1955
Label: Capitol

I like Frank Sinatra, he pisses all over Michael Buble, or any of the other contemporary Easy Listening acts, so I was looking forward to this album. This is Sinatra's break-up record. 50 minutes of heartache and sorrow. Whatever his love (Ava Gardner) did to him, or whatever caused the split seems to have hit poor Frank pretty bad. This is the musical equivalent of getting kicked in the guts, or catching your missus at it with the man next door. Calm orchestral music (reminding me of classic Disney) peppers the record as Frankie boy croons over the top. The instruments are used sparingly, and don't detract from the vocal- which, coming from Sinatra, is warm, relaxing and genuinely incredible. I was rather surprised to hear an earlier- less upbeat- version of 'Glad To Be Unhappy' (i.e. not the one by the Mamas and Papas). It's good, although it does drag a little; I prefer Sinatra with a bit of swing. Mind you if he sang these songs to me, I'd take him back in a heartbeat. Sniff. Ava Gardner, you should never have let him go!

Overall: 8/10
Favourite Track: Glad To Be Unhappy

Next Album: Elvis Presley- Elvis Presley
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