Two firsts this year. I didn't hear what ended up being my top album until December, and it's the first time a band's debut album took my top spot. And strictly speaking, the best thing I heard all year isn't eligible (according to my criteria). You'll see it below. Enjoy the list.


cover art
The Beatles
The Beatles (aka The White Album)
50th Anniversary Edition

The Beatles, better known as The White Album, is easily the strangest and most adventurous album in The Beatles' catalog. It's a mix of rock & roll ("Back In The U.S.S.R.", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", and "Revolution 1"), over-the-top proto-metal ("Helter Skelter"), heavy blues ("Yer Blues"), musique concrète ("Revolution 9"), Roaring Twenties music ("Honey Pie"), some lovely ballads ("I Will", "Julia", "Mother Nature's Son", and "Blackbird"), and closes with Ringo singing a sweet lullaby over a lovely George Martin string arrangement. There is a school of thought that says this should have been edited down to a more coherent single album (the same argument exists for The Clash's sprawling Sandinista!, but Sandinista! really is an overlong mess). With the exception of the always controversial "Revolution 9", The Beatles is perfect in all its weirdness. It's less like listening to an album and more like listening to a free-form radio station that's mixing and matching styles.

The album itself has had a fresh remix by Giles Martin, and like Sgt. Pepper, the result is an album that sounds fresh with new details being revealed. It's like hearing an album you've known for ages for the first time again.

The first set of extras are the famous "Esher Demos" recorded at George Harrison's bungalow "Kinfauns" in Esher. The "Esher Demos" are a charming, acoustic, playful run through many of the songs that would make the album, plus gems like George's "Not Guilty", John's "Child Of Nature" (that he would rework as the classic "Jealous Guy") and early takes of Abbey Road's "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam".

Like last year's Sgt. Pepper reissue, the set come with a ton of outtakes from the original recording sessions. The legendary 27-minute version of "Helter Skelter" is not here, but there is a slow 13-minute version that gives the song a completely different vibe. There's also early takes of later releases like "Hey Jude", "Across The Universe", "Let It Be", a brief (but rocking) studio jam of "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" complete with Paul channeling Elvis, and a slew of fascinating works-in-progress. A must for Beatles fans.

tracks (2018 remix): "Back In The U.S.S.R.", "Dear Prudence", "Glass Onion", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "Wild Honey Pie", "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", "Martha My Dear", "I'm So Tired", "Blackbird", "Piggies", "Rocky Raccoon", "Don't Pass Me By", "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?", "I Will", "Julia", "Birthday", "Yer Blues", "Mother Nature's Son", "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey", "Sexy Sadie", "Helter Skelter", "Long, Long, Long", "Revolution 1", "Honey Pie", "Savoy Truffle", "Cry Baby Cry", "Revolution 9", "Good Night"

tracks (Esher Demos): "Back In The U.S.S.R." [demo], "Dear Prudence" [demo], "Glass Onion" [demo], "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" [demo], "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill" [demo], "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" [demo], "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" [demo], "I'm So Tired" [demo], "Blackbird" [demo], "Piggies" [demo], "Rocky Raccoon" [demo], "Julia" [demo], "Yer Blues" [demo], "Mother Nature's Son" [demo], "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" [demo], "Sexy Sadie" [demo], "Revolution" [demo], "Honey Pie" [demo], "Cry Baby Cry" [demo], "Sour Milk Sea" [demo], "Junk" [demo], "Child Of Nature" [demo], "Circles" [demo], "Mean Mr. Mustard" [demo], "Polythene Pam" [demo], "Not Guilty" [demo], "What's The New Mary Jane" [demo]

tracks (Sessions): "Revolution 1" [take 18], "A Beginning" [take 4] / "Don't Pass Me By" [take 7], "Blackbird" [take 28], "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" [unnumbered rehearsal], "Good Night" [unnumbered rehearsal], "Good Night" [take 10 with a guitar part from take 5], "Good Night" [take 22], "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" [take 3], "Revolution" [unnumbered rehearsal], "Revolution" [take 14 - instrumental backing track], "Cry Baby Cry" [unnumbered rehearsal], "Helter Skelter" [first version - take 2], "Sexy Sadie" [take 3], "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" [acoustic Version - take 2], "Hey Jude" [take 1], "St. Louis Blues" [studio jam], "Not Guilty" [take 102], "Mother Nature's Son" [take 15], "Yer Blues" [take 5 with guide vocal], "What's The New Mary Jane" [take 1], "Rocky Raccoon" [take 8], "Back In The U.S.S.R." [take 5 - instrumental backing track], "Dear Prudence" [vocals, guitar & drums], "Let It Be" [unnumbered rehearsal], "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" [third version - take 27], "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" [studio jam], "Helter Skelter" [second Version - take 17], "Glass Onion" [take 10], "I Will" [take 13], "Blue Moon" [studio jam], "I Will" [take 29], "Step Inside Love" [studio jam], "Los Paranoias" [studio jam], "Can You Take Me Back?" [take 1], "Birthday" [take 2 - instrumental backing track], "Piggies" [take 12 - instrumental backing track], "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" [take 19], "Honey Pie" [instrumental backing track], "Savoy Truffle" [instrumental backing track], "Martha My Dear" [without brass & strings], "Long, Long, Long" [take 44], "I'm So Tired" [take 7], "I'm So Tired" [take 14], "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill" [take 2], "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" [take 5], "Julia" [two rehearsals], "The Inner Light" [take 6 - instrumental backing track], "Lady Madonna" [take 2 - piano & drums], "Lady Madonna" [backing vocals from take 3], "Across The Universe" [take 6]

cover art
Big Country
Why The Long Face
4-CD Deluxe Edition

Back in 1995 I wrote:

Why The Long Face is another fine Big Country album. Drummer Mark Brzezicki has returned to the fold, and his superb, subtle drumming is a big plus. Stuart Adamson has written another fine batch of songs: "You Dreamer", "Post Nuclear Talking Blues", and the anthemic "Blue On A Green Planet" are the highlights. Recommended.

Why The Long Face is a suprising choice for a 4 CD reissue (it's 23 years old and not one of their better known albums), but it's a nice set nonetheless. The extra material has a strong bias towards acoustic performances, which is surprising for a band like Big Country, but they work. Along with the original album, you get a CD of bonus tracks, a reissue of their live album Eclectic, and a CD of demos. The outtakes are interesting, including acoustic versions of songs on the album, and surprisingly, a new acoustic take of their signature song "In A Big Country". "Monday Tuesday Girl" and "Ice Cream Smile" are great little pop songs that I'm amazed didn't make the album cut. Eclectic, an acoustic live album, was originally issued in 1996, and it appears here with some studio bonus tracks. The show is really unusual in that the include quite a few covers ("Big Yellow Taxi", "Summertime", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Eleanor Rigby" and "Ruby Tuesday"). The bonus tracks are three more covers, electric this time: Alice Cooper's "Teenage Lament '74", the CCR classic "Down On The Corner" and Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" along with a couple more acoustic versions of songs from the album. The demos are interesting, but not radically different from the final versions. Basically, they sound like earlier full-band takes. A really nice package to highlight a lesser-known (but still terrific) album.

tracks (Why The Long Face): "You Dreamer", "Message Of Love", "I'm Not Ashamed", "Sail Into Nothing", "Thunder & Lightning", "Send You", "One In A Million", "God's Great Mistake", "Wildland In My Heart", "Take You To The Moon", "Far From Me To You", "Charlotte", "Post Nuclear Talking Blues", "Blue On A Green Planet"

tracks (Why The Long Face - Bonus Tracks): "I'm Not Ashamed [single edit]", "One In A Milion [1st Visit]", "Monday Tuesday Girl", "In A Big Country [acoustic version]", "Crazytimes", "Blue On A Green Planet [cool version]", "You Dreamer [single edit]", "Ice Cream Smile", "Magic In Your Eyes", "Bianca", "Hardly A Mountain [HITW Tapes]", "Golden Boy Loves Golden Girl [HITW Tapes]", "Can You Feel The Winter [HITW Tapes]", "I'm Eighteen", "Vicious", "On The Road Again", "All Go Together [acoustic version]",

tracks (Eclectic): "River Of Hope", "King Of Emotion", "Big Yellow Taxi", "The Buffalo Skinners", "Summertime", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Eleanor Rigby", "Winter Sky", "Sling It", "I'm On Fire", "Where The Rose Is Sown", "Come Back To Me", "Ruby Tuesday"

tracks (Eclectic bonus tracks): "Teenage Lament '74", "Down On The Corner", "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)", "You Dreamer [acoustic version]", "I'm Not Ashamed [acoustic version]"

tracks (Why The Long Face - Demos): "You Dreamer [demo]", "Message Of Love [demo]", "I'm Not Ashamed [demo]", "Sail Into Nothing [demo]", "Thunder & Lightning [demo]", "Send You [demo]", "God's Great Mistake [demo]", "Wildland In My Heart [demo]", "Take You To The Moon [demo]", "Far From Me To You [demo]", "Charlotte [demo]", "Post Nuclear Talking Blues [demo]", "Crazytimes [demo]", "What About Peace [demo]", "Normal [demo]", "God's Great Mistake [alternate version]"

cover art
Electric Light Orchestra
Secret Messages
35th Anniversary Edition

Back in 2001 I wrote:

A planned double album, Secret Messages was forced by CBS to be a single, which may have been the death knell for Jeff Lynne's interest in doing ELO. Secret Messages doesn't have quite the futuristic feel that Time does, but the basic sound is similar. The title track is a strong opener, and probably the band's best post-Out Of The Blue track. "Take Me On And On" and "Four Little Diamonds" and another rockabilly-tinged single "Rock 'n' Roll Is King" are the other standouts.

The bonus tracks are leftovers from the double album version later used as B-sides. There's one leftover from Secret Messages that sadly Jeff Lynne won't allow to be released so fans can't recreate the double album themselves. "Beatles Forever" is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek homage to Lynne's admitted Beatlemania that is supposed to have become a bit embarassing now that Lynne has worked with Paul, George and Ringo.

When I first read about this release, I was thrilled. This new version is announced as "the album as it was originally intended". However, the most famous outtake from the album, "Beatles Forever", is still missing. The official line seems to be that "Beatles Forever" wasn't really going to be on the album in the first place. However, if you look at the running time for each of the four sides, you'll notice that Side B is about four minutes shorter than the others (and guess where "Beatles Forever" was supposed to appear on the album?). Need more reason for skepticism? An acetate of the double-album version showed up on eBay back in 2005, and "Beatles Forever" appeared on Side B, so I think there's a little revisionist history going on here. One other bit of confusion: "Rock 'n' Roll Is King" is listed on the album as "Motor Factory / Rock 'n' Roll Is King", but I don't hear any difference.

What's new on this album? You get seven new songs: "No Way Out", "Endless Lies" (the "1983 version", not the version from Balance Of Power), "Buildings Have Eyes", "Mandalay", "Time After Time", "After All", "Hello My Old Friend". Six of these have been previously released on the 2001 reissue of the album and Afterglow. The seventh, "After All", has been released as a full song as well, but the version on here is a less than one minute instrumental which serves as a short into to "Hello My Old Friend". "Buildings Have Eyes" and "Hello My Old Friend" are both excellent, and the lounge-jazz of "No Way Out" is a lot of fun as well.

So, is it worth it? If you're a hard-core ELO fan, you'll want to pick this up, and yes, you'll be disappointed by what's missing. Overall, the new songs give the album a little more variety, but they neither change the album to a classic nor ruin it.

tracks: "Secret Messages", "Loser Gone Wild", "Bluebird", "Take Me On And On", "Stranger", "No Way Out", "Letter From Spain", "Danger Ahead", "Four Little Diamonds", "Train Of Gold", "Endless Lies", "Buildings Have Eyes", "Rock 'n' Roll Is King", "Mandalay", "Time After Time", "After All" [shorter version], "Hello My Old Friend"

cover art
Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac
Super Deluxe Edition

Back in 2004 I wrote:

The revamped Fleetwood Mac came out with hits right off the bat. "Rhiannon", "Say You Love Me" and "Over My Head" are perfect pop songs, and the tense "I'm So Afraid", the rocking "Blue Letter", and the delicate "Landslide" are every bit as good as the hits. An amazing "debut".

The bonus tracks on Fleetwood Mac aren't particularly special: A laid back jam and a few single versions.

The Super Deluxe Edition of Fleetwood Mac expands the 2004 reissue to four discs, adding "early takes" of each song on the album, some early live performances, and a 5.1 version of the album. The "early take" versions aren't early demos, they're finished, full-band performances that very close to the final versions. They're interesting listening - the final official performances are better, but these are a little more rough around the edges and would have made a fine album on their own. The live performance is also very interesting listening, largely because the band performs material from older incarnations of the band like "Hypnotized", "The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)", and of course, "Oh Well". Plus, the band even covers the Buckingham/Nicks rocker "Don't Let Me Down Again", which really fits in nicely with the Mac. Definitely worth the upgrade.

tracks (The Original Album & Singles): "Monday Morning", "Warm Ways", "Blue Letter", "Rhiannon", "Over My Head", "Crystal", "Say You Love Me", "Landslide", "World Turning", "Sugar Daddy", "I'm So Afraid", "Over My Head" [single version], "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)" [single version], "Say You Love Me" [single version], "Blue Letter" [single version]

tracks (Early Versions & Live From The Warner Bros. Sound Stage): "Monday Morning" [early take], "Warm Ways" [early take], "Blue Letter" [early take], "Rhiannon" [early take], "Over My Head" [early take], "Crystal" [early take], "Say You Love Me" [early take], "Landslide" [early take], "World Turning" [early take], "Sugar Daddy" [early take], "I'm So Afraid" [early take], "Over My Head" [live], "Rhiannon" [live], "Why" [live], "World Turning" [live], "Jam #2", "I'm So Afraid" [early take instrumental]

tracks (Live From The Tour): "Get Like You Used To Be", "Station Man", "Spare Me A Little", "Rhiannon", "Why", "Landslide", "Over My Head", "I'm So Afraid", "Oh Well", "The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)", "World Turning", "Blue Letter", "Don't Let Me Down Again", "Hypnotized"

cover art
The Hold Steady
Stay Positive
10th Anniversary Edition

Back in 2008 I wrote:

For their fourth album, The Hold Steady make a few small changes to their sound, but don't go too far from what made their last album, Boys And Girls In America so great. The characters that figured in most of the songs on Separation Sunday and Boys And Girls In America are gone for the most part, "Sequestered In Memphis" features a horn section, "One For The Cutters" adds a harpsichord, and there's a little more heavy rock on this one, but the basic Hold Steady sound is still loud and clear. Craig Finn is still throwing out lines like "Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer, I think he was our only real teacher", "In bar light, she looked alright / In daylight she looked desperate / That's all right, I was desperate too", and "They used to think it was so cute / When she said 'Dyer Maker' / All the boys knew it was a joke about Jamaica"
The lead single "Sequestered In Memphis" is this album's answer to "Stuck Between Stations", an immediately catchy rocker with a great lyric about a one-night stand gone wrong. "Lord, I'm Discouraged" is epic ballad that builds to a towering guitar solo. The digipack edition of the album adds three more songs (all lumped together in one CD track) and it's definitely the version you want to get. "Ask Her For Adderall" sounds like an outtake from Boys And Girls, "Cheyenne Sunrise" is a ballad with a little country flavor, and "Two Handed Handshake" brings the horns back for one of the best songs on the album.
While Stay Positive doesn't quite measure up to Boys And Girls In America (a pretty lofty target), it's still a tremendous album.

The 10th anniversary edition of Stay Positive adds the two studio bonus songs from A Positive Rage, three new songs and eleven demos. The new songs ("This Isn't Enough", "You Tremble", "Ballad Of The Midnight Hauler") are pretty good, but they're not better than the songs on the original. The demos are interesting listening. The demo of "One For The Cutters", dubbed "Creepy Harpsichord Jam", indeed has a much creepier feel.The epic guitar solo in "Lord, I'm Discouraged" sounds rougher, but still powerful. "Sequestered In Memphis" is missing the horns and Craig Finn's vocal is rougher and some of the lyrics are different. It's a great album, and if you're already a fan, it's worth the upgrade.

Additional note: An excellent five-part podcast about the making of Stay Positive was released in late December. I've added a link below. If you're a Hold Steady fan, you should check it out. It's excellent.

tracks: "Constructive Summer", "Sequestered In Memphis", "One For The Cutters", "Navy Sheets", "Lord, I'm Discouraged", "Yeah Sapphire", "Both Crosses", "Stay Positive", "Magazines", "Joke About Jamaica", "Slapped Actress", "Ask Her For Adderall", "Two Handed Handshake", "Cheyenne Sunrise"

bonus tracks: "Spectres", "40 Bucks", "This Isn't Enough", "You Tremble", "Ballad Of The Midnight Hauler", "Sequestered In Memphis" [demo], "Yeah Sapphire" [demo], "Stay Positive" [demo], "Lord, I'm Discouraged" [demo], "Magazines" [demo], "Ask Her For Adderall" [demo], "Two Handed Handshake" [demo], "Joke About Jamaica" [demo], "Creepy Harpsichord Jam (One for the Cutters)" [demo], "40 Bucks" [demo], "Phil Spector (Spectres)" [demo]

cover art
Manic Street Preachers
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
20 Year Collectors' Edition

This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours follows much of the template from the previous album, Everything Must Go, but doesn't have songs of the same caliber. The album is seriously front-loaded with the five best tracks kicking off the album: the elegant "The Everlasting", the political "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next", the rocking "You Stole The Sun From My Heart", the dramatic "Ready For Drowning", and the epic "Tsunami". After that big start, the pickings get much slimmer, with only "Be Natural" matching that opening run. Overall, I wouldn't rate This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours with the Manics best albums, but those opening five alone are more than enough to make this a very good album.

Like last year's anniversary edition of Send Away The Tigers, there's been two changes to the base album. The opening song, "The Everlasting" is the full six-minute version (my old copy of the CD used the four-minute edit), and the longer version is terrific. Additionally, "Nobody Loved You" is replaced in the running order by the former B-side "Prologue To History", and it's definitely an upgrade. Fits very naturally in that slot. "Nobody Loved You" is still there, it's just a hidden track now, buried after 30 seconds of silence at the end of "S.Y.M.M."

The "20 Year Collector's Edition" adds two new discs. The first is a collection of demos, but they're a mix of more polished studio demos and rougher live rehearsals. The second has a collection of remixes (which a not really my thing), and five interesting b-sides from the singles released for the album. The live rehearsals are the best part of the bonuses. Worth checking out if you're a fan of the album.

tracks (Remastered Album): "The Everlasting", "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next", "You Stole The Sun From My Heart", "Ready For Drowning", "Tsunami", "My Little Empire", "I'm Not Working", "You're Tender And You're Tired", "Born A Girl", "Be Natural", "Black Dog On My Shoulder", "Prologue To History", "S.Y.M.M.", "Nobody Loved You"

tracks (Demos & Live Rehearsals): "The Everlasting" [live rehearsal demo], "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" [Dave Bascombe Mix], "You Stole The Sun From My Heart" [live rehearsal demo], "Ready For Drowning" [live rehearsal demo], "Tsunami" [studio demo], "My Little Empire" [live rehearsal demo], "I'm Not Working (Home Recording Demo) You're Tender And You're Tired" [studio demo], "Born A Girl" [Alternative Version], "Be Natural" [live rehearsal demo], "Black Dog On My Shoulder" [live rehearsal demo], "Prologue To History" [live rehearsal demo], "S.Y.M.M." [studio demo], "Nobody Loved You" [live rehearsal demo]

tracks (Remixes & B-Sides): "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" [Massive Attack Remix], "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" [David Holmes Remix], "The Everlasting" [Deadly Avenger's Psalm 315], "The Everlasting" [Stealth Sonic Orchestra Remix], "You Stole The Sun From My Heart" [David Holmes Remix], "You Stole The Sun From My Heart" [Mogwai Remix], "Tsunami" [Cornelius Remix], "Tsunami" [Stereolab Remix], "Montana/Autumn/78", "Black Holes For The Young", "Valley Boy", "Socialist Serenade", "Buildings For Dead People"

cover art
Clutching At Straws
Super Deluxe Edition

Back in 1987 I wrote:

Marillion is the heir apparent to the "art rock" throne long since vacated by Pink Floyd, Yes, and Genesis. Marillion has taken the flowing sound these three used, added a bit more punch in the upbeat numbers, and shortened the songs a touch. Rather than four or five songs, they weave eleven into a unified whole. Clutching At Straws is a classic example of why a "rock opera" can work. The story isn't spectacular, but it adds the bond between that changes a collection of songs into an album. The sound that tagged Marillion as Genesis imitators has settled down and become unique. The album couples delicate ballads with rockers that have more power than Genesis ever had. "Incommunicado", "The Last Straw", "Just For The Record", "Sugar Mice" and "Warm Wet Circles" have potential to be hits if radio ever opens up and tries a Marillion song other than "Kayleigh". A must hear.

Clutching At Straws was the #1 album in my 1987 list (the first review I wrote). Listening again to the new release, I stand behind that ranking. Clutching At Straws is a brilliant album, and one of my all-time favorites.

The new Super Deluxe Edition is basically a similar package to last year's Misplaced Childhood reissue. You get the original album, a full show from that tour, parts of which were released on the 1988 live album The Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra), a selection of demos and outtakes (most, but not all, of which were released on the 1999 reissue), and a Blu-ray with an hour-long interview, videos for the three singles, and 5.1 mixes. It's a wonderful album, and the extras are definitely worth an upgrade.

tracks (Clutching At Straws): "Hotel Hobbies", "Warm Wet Circles", "That Time Of The Night (The Short Straw)", "Going Under", "Just For The Record", "White Russian", "Incommunicado", "Torch Song", "Slàinte Mhath", "Sugar Mice", "The Last Straw / Happy Ending"

tracks (Live At The Edinburgh Playhouse, 19th December 1987): "La Gazza Ladra", "Slàinte Mhath", "Assassing", "White Russian", "Incubus", "Sugar Mice", "Fugazi", "Hotel Hobbies", "Warm Wet Circles", "That Time Of The Night (The Short Straw)", "Pseudo Silk Kimono", "Kayleigh", "Lavender", "Bitter Suite", "Heart Of Lothian", "The Last Straw", "Incommunicado", "Garden Party", "Market Square Heroes / My Generation / Margaret / Let's Twist Again"

tracks (Clutching At Straws Demos): "Beaujolais Day", "Story From A Thin Wall", "Shadows On The Barley", "Sunset Hill", "Tic-Tac-Toe", "Voice In The Crowd", "Exile On Princes Street", "White Russians" [demo], "Sugar Mice In The Rain" [demo], "Hotel Hobbies / Warm Wet Circles" [The Mosaic Demos], "Just For The Record" [demo], "Torch Song" [demo], "Slàinte Mhath" [demo]

cover art
Pete Townshend
Who Came First
45th Anniversary Edition

Back in 2006 I wrote:

In 1970 and 1971, a group of followers of Indian guru Meher Baba (including Townshend) compiled two albums of songs and spoken word pieces for distribution to other "Baba lovers" called Happy Birthday and I Am (A third such album, With Love, was released in 1976).

For his first solo album, Pete Townshend took five of his contributions to those albums (one of which, "Evolution", is actually a Ronnie Lane performance), and mixed in four of his home demos (three of which were for the aborted Lifehouse project). As you might expect, the Lifehouse demos are the highlight of the album. "Pure And Easy" is one of the best songs Townshend ever wrote, and his demo take is superb. Overall, Who Came First is really closer to the Scoop series of outtake albums than a proper solo album. It's better suited to the hardcore Townshend fan, but still quite a good listen.

The reissue adds nine more tracks. Eight of these are also taken from the Baba albums and were previously released on Rykodisc's reissue of the album. This re-release adds one brand new track, the previously-bootlegged piano blues "I Always Say". A real change-of-pace for Townshend, and definitely worth hearing.

The latest reissue of Who Came First keeps much of the same content as the 2006 reissue, but adds in a few gems. One big one is the nearly 10-minute long instrumental version of "Baba O'Riley" from I Am (and the Meher Baba album compilations). It's a riveting listen. The familiar synth track that backs the song is still the same version you're expecting, just much longer. Pete plays the guitar, bass and drums and the result is both hypnotic and rocking. There's a couple of previously unreleased songs on here as well - a great demo from 1972 ("There's A Fortune In Those Hills"), an instrumental theme for a Baba documentary ("Meher Baba In Italy"), a live solo "Drowned" from 1976, and a live take of Pete playing Ronnie Lane's "Evolution" at the Ronnie Lane Memorial concert in 2004. If you're a fan of the album (or of Pete's demos), definitely worth picking up.

tracks: "Pure And Easy", "Evolution", "Forever's No Time At All", "(Nothing Is Everything) Let's See Action", "Time Is Passing", "There's A Heartache Following Me", "Sheraton Gibson", "Content", "Parvardigar"

bonus tracks: "His Hands", "The Seeker" [2017 edit], "Day Of Silence", "Sleeping Dog", "Mary Jane" [Stage A version], "I Always Say" [2017 edit], "Begin The Beguine", "Baba O'Riley" [Instrumental], "The Love Man" [Stage C], "Content" [Stage A], "Day Of Silence" [Alternate Version], "Parvardigar" [Alternate take], "(Nothing Is Everything) Let's See Action", "There's A Fortune In Those Hills", "Meher Baba In Italy", "Drowned", "Evolution" [Live at Ronnie Lane Memorial]


cover art
Biffy Clyro
MTV Unplugged: Live At Roundhouse, London

disclaimer: To be honest, I didn't realize MTV Unplugged was still a "thing" anymore.

Biffy Clyro's recorded a few acoustic songs on their most recent studio album, Ellipsis, so an all-acoustic concert isn't that much of a stretch. The songs sound terrific in this format, and the lower volume gives the band's harmonies a chance to shine. The big epic songs like "Many Of Horror" and "Biblical" still sound powerful. Definitely worth hearing, and go for the version with the DVD attached. The staging of the show is tremendous. Makes it absolutely worth watching.

tracks: "The Captain", "Biblical", "Re-Arrange", "Drop It", "Black Chandelier", "Folding Stars", "Different Kind Of Love", "Mountains", "God Only Knows", "Opposite", "Small Wishes", "Bubbles", "Medicine", "Many Of Horror", "Machines"

cover art
The Hold Steady
Live In Philadelphia 7-26-18
Live In Philadelphia 7-27-18
cover art
The Hold Steady
Live In Chicago 6-15-17
Live In Chicago 6-16-17

Along with their recent run of digital singles (see below), The Hold Steady has started releasing recordings of recent shows with their current six-man lineup (with Franz Nicolay back in the fold). The Hold Steady is an excellent live act, and these four releases show off the band in excellent form. They tend to focus on the releases with Franz, skipping or playing down Heaven Is Whenever and Teeth Dreams, and including songs from the recent digital singles. The first Chicago show has a nice treat - Kelly Hogan and Jason Narducy join the band to do the character vocals on "Chillout Tent" and then hang around for a cover of Cheap Trick's "Southern Girls". Like the singles, both albums raise money for the K+L Guardian Foundation, and initially, the price is whatever you want to pay. If you're a Hold Steady fan, you definitely want to grab these.

tracks (Philadelphia 7-26-18): "Positive Jam", "Stuck Between Stations", "The Swish", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Chips Ahoy!", "Stevie Nix", "Multitude Of Casualties", "A Snake In The Shower", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Barfruit Blues", "First Night", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Party Pit", "Star 18", "The Weekenders", "Yeah Sapphire", "Massive Nights", "Entitlement Crew", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Southtown Girls", "Banging Camp", "Most People Are DJs", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Philadelphia 7-27-18): "Ask Her For Adderall", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Same Kooks", "Magazines", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Entitlement Crew", "One For The Cutters", "Stuck Between Stations", "The Stove And The Toaster", "Party Pit", "Girls Like Status", "The Sweet Part Of The City", "Yeah Sapphire", "Chips Ahoy!", "Knuckles", "The Weekenders", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Slapped Actress", "Certain Songs", "Stay Positive", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Chicago 6-15-17): "Stuck Between Stations", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Rock Problems", "Magazines", "Chips Ahoy!", "Barfruit Blues", "Cattle And The Creeping Things", "You Can Make Him Like You", "First Night", "Party Pit", "Stevie Nix", "Mulitiude Of Casualties", "Sequestered In Memphis", "The Weekenders", "The Swish", "Constructive Summer", "You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came To The Dance With)", "Massive Nights", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Southtown Girls", "How A Resurrection Really Feels", "Certain Songs", "Chillout Tent", "Southern Girls", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Chicago 6-16-17): "The Sweet Part Of The City", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Banging Camp", "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You", "Ask Her For Adderall", "Hornets! Hornets!", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Yeah Sapphire", "Most People Are DJs", "Citrus", "Knuckles", "Same Kooks", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Chips Ahoy!", "Stuck Between Stations", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Slapped Actress", "Oaks", "I'm The Man Who Loves You", "Stay Positive", "Killer Parties"

cover art
The Who
Live At The Fillmore East 1968

In the 60's, The Who had a reputation for being a way different act live. Their records were great, but they didn't capture the power of the band in concert. In attempt to capitalize on their live reputation (and get a release out while Tommy was in the works, Who producer Kit Lambert recorded two nights (April 5 & 6) at the Fillmore East in New York to make a live album. The result was an acetate that mixed songs from the 6th ("Summertime Blues" through "Relax"), and the 5th ("A Quick One While He's Away", "My Way", "Shakin' All Over", "Boris The Spider" and a 9-minute version of "My Generation". And of course, the acetate was bootlegged. If you're a Who fan who bought bootleg LPs (or CDs for that matter), you've most likely heard this acetate (I have it on vinyl as Souvenir and on CD as Shakin' All Over, but there are a ton of these boots out there).

The new Live At The Fillmore East 1968 presents the whole April 6 show, minus the first two songs ("Substitute" and "Pictures Of Lily"). If all you'd heard at the time was The Who's studio albums, you'd be amazed it was the same band. "I Can't Explain" roars, the band fly through "I'm A Boy", "Relax" is extended to over ten minutes with a long improvisational section. Pete Townshend introduces a pair of Eddie Cochran covers ("My Way" and "C'mon Everybody") as "HAAAAAARD ROCK", and he's not kidding. The real stunner is the closer - a 30-minute version of "My Generation".

Don't care if you already have one of the bootlegs, you NEED to hear this one. Breathtaking.

tracks: "Summertime Blues", "Fortune Teller", "Tattoo", "Little Billy", "I Can't Explain", "Happy Jack", "Relax", "I'm A Boy", "A Quick One While He's Away", "My Way", "C'mon Everybody", "Shakin' All Over", "Boris The Spider", "My Generation"

cover art
The Roxy Performances

After finally releasing Roxy: The Movie back in 2015, the Zappa Family Trust has created a sequel of sorts to last year's Halloween 77 set. This time around, we get a box set containing all five shows from Zappa's 1973 concert series at the Roxy. Halloween 77 suffered from a bit of sameness in the setlists (4 of the 6 shows had identical setlists), but The Roxy Performances has a bit more variety. As on the other Roxy releases, the band sounds fantastic, especially the trio of percussionists. If you enjoyed Roxy & Elsewhere, Roxy By Proxy, or Roxy: The Movie, it's actually worth picking this one up as well. Same shows, just lots more.

tracks (December 9, 1973 - Show 1): "Cosmik Debris", "Pygmy Twylyte", "The Idiot Bastard Son", "Cheepnis", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "The Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat", "RDNZL", "Montana", "Dupree's Paradise", "Dickie's Such An Asshole"

tracks (December 9, 1973 - Show 2): "Inca Roads", "Village Of The Sun", "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?", "I'm The Slime", "Big Swifty", "Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen's Church)", "King Kong / Chunga's Revenge / Son Of Mr. Green Genes"

tracks (December 10, 1973 - Show 1): "Montana", "Dupree's Paradise", "Cosmik Debris", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "The Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat", "RDNZL", "Pygmy Twylyte", "The Idiot Bastard Son", "Cheepnis", "Dickie's Such An Asshole"

tracks (December 10, 1973 - Show 2): "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "The Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat", "RDNZL", "Village Of The Sun", "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?", "Cheepnis - Percussion", "Cheepnis", "Pygmy Twylyte", "The Idiot Bastard Son", "Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen's Church)", "Dickie's Such An Asshole", "Big Swifty"

tracks (December 10, 1973 - Roxy Rehearsal): "Village Of The Sun", "Father O'Blivion", "Pygmy Twylyte", "That Arrogant Dick Nixon"

tracks (December 12, 1973 - Bolic Studios): "Kung Fu", "Kung Fu" [with guitar overdub], "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow", "Nanook Rubs It", "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast", "Father O'Blivion", "Rollo" [Be-Bop Version]

tracks (December 8, 1973 - Private Show): "Pygmy Twylyte / Dummy Up", "Pygmy Twylyte (Part II)", "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?", "Orgy, Orgy", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "The Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat"


cover art
Tom Petty
An American Treasure

An American Treasure is a collection of rare recordings (some studio, some live), and it's a spectacular set. You get shoulda-been hits like the previously unreleased songs "Keep A Little Soul", "Walkin' From The Fire", and "Gainesville". There are also interesting alternate versions like the original 1976 take of "Surrender", "Here Comes My Girl" with a very different ending, and a rawer version of "Straight Into Darkness". The live cuts are well-chosen as well. You get a killer rendition of the lesser-known "Kings Road", a soulful take on "I Won't Back Down" and the whole set closes with an powerful set-closing 2016 Mudcrutch performance of "Hungry No More" with a powerful Mike Campbell solo. The set is broken down by decade, and each disc also includes a few regular album tracks, but they've chosen under-appreciated songs to give 'em a little fresh attention.

This is a fantastic set. If you're a Tom Petty fan, you absolutely need this. It's one of the best box sets like this I've ever heard. If I put sets like this in my Top Ten, this would be an easy #1 for the year.

tracks (1970s): "Surrender", "Listen To Her Heart" [live], "Anything That's Rock 'N' Roll" [live], "When The Time Comes", "You're Gonna Get It" [alternate version], "Radio Promotion Spot", "Rockin' Around (With You)", "Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)" [alternate version], "Breakdown" [live], "The Wild One, Forever", "No Second Thoughts", "Here Comes My Girl" [alternate version], "What Are You Doing In My Life" [alternate version], "Louisiana Rain" [alternate version], "Lost In Your Eyes"

tracks (1980s): "Keep A Little Soul", "Even The Losers" [live], "Keeping Me Alive" "Don't Treat Me Like A Stranger", "The Apartment Song" [demo], "Concert Intro" [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on-stage announcement], "King's Road" [live], "Clear The Aisles" [Tom Petty on-stage announcement], "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)" [live], "Straight Into Darkness" [alternate version], "You Can Still Change Your Mind", "Rebels" [alternate version], "Deliver Me" [alternate version], "Alright For Now", "The Damage You've Done" [alternate version], "The Best Of Everything" [alternate version], "Walkin' From The Fire", "King Of The Hill" [early take]

tracks (1990s): "I Won't Back Down" [live], "Gainesville", "You And I Will Meet Again", "Into The Great Wide Open" [live], "Two Gunslingers" [live], "Lonesome Dave", "To Find A Friend", "Crawling Back To You", "Wake Up Time", "Grew Up Fast", "I Don't Belong", "Accused Of Love", "Lonesome Sundown", "Don't Fade On Me"

tracks (2000s): "You And Me" [clubhouse version], "Have Love Will Travel", "Money Becomes King" "Bus To Tampa Bay", "Saving Grace" [live], "Down South", "Southern Accents" [live], "Insider" [live], "Two Men Talking", "Fault Lines" "Sins Of My Youth" [early take], "Good Enough" [alternate version], "Something Good Coming", "Save Your Water", "Like A Diamond" [alternate version], "Hungry No More" [live]

cover art
R.E.M. At The BBC

R.E.M. At The BBC is a eight CD and one DVD set collecting five full concerts recorded for the BBC and a bunch of shorter apparances and some video into a very cool package that largely documents the 90s/00s years of the band. The lone exception is an excellent 1984 show recorded for the "In Concert" radio series in which they previewed several songs from the then-unreleased Fables Of The Reconstruction as well as "Hyena" (to be released in 1986) and a rare non-album track, "Windout".

The first disc in the set collects four "live-in-the-studio" performances. With no audience, they sound like looser versions of the original studio versions and they're wonderful, especially the heavy 2003 performances. In those sessions, R.E.M. has almost a hard rock edge that sounds cool (an slightly out of character). The second disc is a 1998 show promoting Up, and it's terrific. Almost sounds like a different band from the one recording that 1984 show.

The remaining discs in the set cover more current shows (1995, 1999 and 2004). To be honest, I haven't had a chance to listen to 'em all yet, but based on what I've heard so far, this is definitely a must.

tracks (Into The Night, BBC Radio 1, 13 March 1991): "World Leader Pretend", "Fretless", "Half A World Away", "Radio Song", "Losing My Religion", "Love Is All Around"

tracks (John Peel Studio Session, 25 October 1998): "Walk Unafraid", "Daysleeper", "Lotus", "At My Most Beautiful"

tracks (Mark and Lard, BBC Radio 1, 15 October 2003): "Bad Day", Orange Crush"

tracks (Drivetime, BBC Radio 2, 15 October 2003): "Man On The Moon", "Imitation Of Life"

tracks (Radio 1 Live Lounge, 26 March 2008): "Supernatural Superserious", "Munich"

tracks (BBC Radio 1 Session, 25 October 1998): "Losing My Religion", "New Test Leper", "Lotus", "Parakeet", "Electrolite", "Perfect Circle", "The Apologist", "Daysleeper", "Country Feedback", "At My Most Beautiful", "Walk Unafraid", "Man On The Moon"

tracks (Rock City, Nottingham, 21 November 1984): "Second Guessing", "Hyena", "Talk About The Passion", "West Of The Fields", "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville", "Auctioneer (Another Engine)", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "Old Man Kensey", "Gardening At Night", "9-9/Hey Diddle Diddle/Feeling Gravitys Pull", "Windout", "Driver 8", "Pretty Persuasion", "Radio Free Europe", "Wendell Gee", "Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars)"

tracks (Milton Keynes, 30 July 1995): "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "Crush With Eyeliner", "Drive", "Turn You Inside Out", "Try Not To Breathe", "I Took Your Name", "Undertow", "Bang And Blame", "I Don't Sleep I Dream", "Strange Currencies", "Revolution", "Tongue", "Man On The Moon", "Country Feedback", "Half A World Away", "Losing My Religion", "Pop Song 89", "Finest Worksong", "Get Up", "Star 69", "Let Me In", "Everybody Hurts", "Fall On Me", "Departure", "Its the End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

tracks (Pyramid Stage Glastonbury Festival, 25 June 1999): "Lotus", "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "So Fast, So Numb", "The Apologist", "Fall On Me", "Daysleeper", "The Wake-Up Bomb", "The One I Love", "Sweetness Follows", "At My Most Beautiful", "Losing My Religion", "Everybody Hurts", "Walk Unafraid", "Star 69", "Finest Worksong", "Man On The Moon", "Why Not Smile", "Crush With Eyeliner", "Tongue", "Cuyahoga", "Its the End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

tracks (St. James' Church, London Radio 2, 15 September 2004): "So Fast, So Numb", "Boy In The Well", "I Wanted To Be Wrong", "E-Bow The Letter" [with Thom Yorke], "Around The Sun", "Aftermath", "Losing My Religion", "Walk Unafraid", "Leaving New York", "Imitation Of Life", "Man On The Moon"

tracks (Accelerating Backwards [DVD]): "Moon River", "Pretty Persuasion", "Pop Song 89", "Orange Crush", "Losing My Religion", "Half A World Away", "Crush With Eyeliner", "Man On The Moon", "Daysleeper", "Imitation Of Life", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "All The Way To Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star)", "Leaving New York"

tracks (Later… with Jools Holland Presents R.E.M. [DVD]): "Losing My Religion", "Lotus", "New Test Leper", "Daysleeper", "Electrolite", "At My Most Beautiful", "The Apologist", "Country Feedback", "Parakeet", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "Walk Unafraid", "Man On The Moon", "The Passenger"

tracks (Bonus videos [DVD]): "I've Been High", "Nightswimming", "Bad Day"

cover art
Tom Waits
This Is Tom Waits (Spotify)
cover art
Tom Waits
Waits On Waits: A Career Playlist (Apple Music)

Instead of releasing a conventional "greatest hits" album, Tom Waits released a staggering five-hour playlist on Spotify and Apple Music. The playlist favors Waits more recent work (roughly half the list is from 1999 or later), but it's an impressive overview of an eclectic career. Personally, I would have preferred a litte more balance between the earlier and later stuff, but hey, it's the equivalent of 4 CDs worth of music, and it doesn't cost you anything if you're a subscriber to either service. I may quibble over song choices, but it's a clever concept and there's plenty of great stuff in there. One thing to keep in mind: Waits' style changes over his lengthy career, and the playlist isn't chronological, so if you like one style more than another you may end up skipping around the list.

tracks: "Clap Hands", "Come On Up To The House", "Cemetery Polka", "I Wish I Was In New Orleans (In The Ninth Ward)", "House Where Nobody Lives", "Ol' 55", "Goin' Out West", "God's Away On Business", "A Sight For Sore Eyes", "Take Care Of All My Children", "Cold Cold Ground", "Pony", "Bad As Me", "Jesus Gonna Be Here", "All The World Is Green", "Army Ants", "Lost In The Harbour", "Temptation", "Day After Tomorrow", "Talking At The Same Time", "Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)" [live], "Take It With Me", "The Briar And The Rose", "Heartattack And Vine", "Good Old World [waltz with vocal]", "Johnsburg, Illinois", "On The Nickel", "Chicago", "Shore Leave", "New Coat Of Paint", "Fish & Bird", "Hang On St. Christopher", "Home I'll Never Be", "Invitation To The Blues", "A Little Rain", "Trampled Rose", "Lucky Day", "Broken Bicycles", "Walk Away", "What's He Building?", "Step Right Up", "Make It Rain", "Jockey Full Of Bourbon", "Raised Right Men", "Blue Valentines", "Picture In A Frame", "16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six", "Get Behind The Mule", "(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night", "Mr. Siegal", "Alice", "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)", "The Part You Throw Away", "What Keeps Mankind Alive", "Hoist That Rag", "Misery Is The River Of The World", "I Don't Wanna Grow Up", "Time", "Chocolate Jesus", "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis", "Fawn", "Innocent When You Dream (78)", "Green Grass", "Ruby's Arms", "Way Down In The Hole", "In The Neighborhood", "Lord I've Been Changed", "Strange Weather" [live], "Nobody" [live], "Hell Broke Luce", "Lowside Of The Road", "Kommienezuspadt", "Table Top Joe", "Watch Her Disappear", "Get Lost", "November"


cover art
Arthur Buck
Arthur Buck

Arthur Buck is Peter Buck's latest collaboration, this time with singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur. "I Am The Moment" is the standout with R.E.M.-style mandolin, rock guitar, and hip-hop style samples mixed in. Sounds weird, but it totally works. The rest of album is occasionally inconsistent, but pretty good overall. Worth checking out.

tracks: "I Am The Moment", "Are You Electrified?", "The Wanderer", "Forever Waiting", "If You Wake Up In Time", "Summertime", "American Century", "Forever Falling", "Before Your Love Is Gone", "Wide Awake In November", "Can't Make It Without You"

cover art
Eoin Colfer
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase

DISCLAIMER: Haven't had a chance to listen to this yet, so this is more of an "FYI" than an actual review.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase is the BBC Radio adaptation of the "6th book" in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy trilogy. The book, And Another Thing…, is an enjoyable continuation to the story. Eoin Colfer does a pretty good job with the spirit of the thing, making the story nice and convoluted and working in a bunch of characters from the other books. It's a fun read, but it's not Douglas Adams. I have hope for the radio adaptation though. The radio versions of So Long And Thanks For All The Fish and Mostly Harmless were excellent (despite those being the weakest books in the original "trilogy"). And for this one, they have most of the original cast, and that'll help it feel less like an "add-on".

So, no idea if it's any good, but if you're a Hitchhiker fan like me, I figured you'd want to know about it.

cover art
The Hold Steady
"Eureka" b/w "Esther"
cover art
The Hold Steady
"The Stove & The Toaster" b/w "Star 18"
cover art
The Hold Steady
"Confusion In The Marketplace" b/w "T-Shirt Tux"

Last year, The Hold Steady released what I assumed was a one-off single, "Entitlement Crew". I was hoping it would lead to a new album. No new album; however, the band has released three more singles roughly timed with live appearances. Like "Entitlement Crew", the new singles are classic Hold Steady with big hooks and witty, dense lyrics.

Like last year's single, these are available on Bandcamp for a minimum $2.00 donation for the K+L Guardian Foundation.

tracks: "Eureka", "Esther"

tracks: "The Stove & The Toaster", "Star 18"

tracks: "Confusion In The Marketplace", "T-Shirt Tux"

cover art
Ray LaMontagne
Part Of The Light

Part Of The Light has a similar dreamy, hypnotic sound as 2016's Ouroboros, but lacks the standout tracks that made Ouroboros special. "As Black As Blood Is Blue" adds some heavier guitar, and "No Answer Arrives" adds a bluesy touch, but the rest of the album has that same very pretty, very dreamy sound. Overall, Part Of The Light is very enjoyable, but a bit of a disappointment by comparison. Still worth a listen though.

tracks: "To The Sea", "Paper Man", "Part Of The Light", "It's Always Been You", "Let's Make It Last", "As Black As Blood Is Blue", "Such A Simple Thing", "No Answer Arrives", "Goodbye Blue Sky"

cover art
Andy Partridge
Apples & Oranges / Humanoid Boogie

Andy Partidge's first pop release since XTC broke up is an EP of covers of two relatively obscure '60s songs. Both are presented in stereo and mono versions, and the 10" vinyl is set up so that's there's no clear A-side by looking at it. The Ape House website (where you can get a copy), lists it as I show above.

"Apples & Oranges" was the 3rd Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd single, and the first two ("Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play") are far better known. "Apples & Oranges" is definitely the weirdest of the three, mixing a pop chorus with verses and seem to preview Barrett's brief (and odd) solo career. Partidge's cover is fairly faithful, and really does the song justice.

"Humanoid Boogie" was a track from the Bonzo Dog Band's second album, The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse. Doughnut moved the Bonzos away from their covers of songs from old 78's and into more pop and rock music. The original is a pop song with a proto-rap vocal. Partridge's cover pushes the evolution much further, giving the song more of a hip-hop feel.

Like the TC&I EP from last year (featuring XTC's bassist and drummer), this EP also makes me miss XTC. It's as close as you're going to get nowadays. If you're an XTC fan, you definitely need to hear this.

tracks: "Apples & Oranges" [stereo], "Apples & Oranges" [mono], "Humanoid Boogie" [stereo], "Humanoid Boogie" [mono]

cover art
Bohemian Rhapsody: The Original Soundtrack

The soundtrack for Bohemian Rhapsody has some treats for Queen fans. Apart from the hits that move the story along, you get the first official audio release of some of the Live Aid performance (although the whole set is on the official Live Aid DVD), an alternate version of "Don't Stop Me Now", a brand-new performance of "Doing All Right" by a re-formed Smile (Tim Staffell, Brian May, and Roger Taylor), and a playful version of the famous "20th Century Fox Fanfare". The "movie mix" of "We Will Rock You" starts with the studio recording and ends with a live version (as it does in the movie). The live version of "Keep Yourself Alive" is from the Live At The Rainbow '74 official release and "Now I'm Here" is from the 2011 reissue of Sheer Heart Attack, but the live "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Love Of My Live" are previously unreleased. Overall, an interesting (but not essential) sampler of Queen's career.

The movie is worth seeing, but you need to keep in mind that it's definitely NOT a documentary. They've added some drama to the story in the form of events that simply didn't happen, and the timeline of events gets "wibbly-wobbly" at points. There's also some musical rearrangment with the band recording "Seven Seas Of Rhye" (from Queen II) as part of the sessions for their first album, and playing "Fat Bottomed Girls" (from their 7th album, Jazz) on what's supposed to be their debut tour. If those kinds of inconsistencies are going to ruin your ability to enjoy the movie, check out the excellent documentary Days Of Our Lives instead.

tracks: "20th Century Fox Fanfare", "Somebody To Love", "Doing All Right" [Revisited] - Smile, "Keep Yourself Alive" [live], "Killer Queen", "Fat Bottomed Girls" [live], "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Now I'm Here" [live], "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "Love Of My Life" [live], "We Will Rock You" [Movie Mix], "Another One Bites The Dust", "I Want To Break Free", "Under Pressure", "Who Wants To Live Forever", "Bohemian Rhapsody" [Live Aid], "Radio Ga Ga" [Live Aid], "Ay-Oh" [Live Aid], "Hammer To Fall" [Live Aid], "We Are The Champions" [Live Aid], "Don't Stop Me Now" [Revisited], "The Show Must Go On"

cover art
Amy Rigby
Tom Petty Karaoke

"After another week of dischord and divisiveness in the news, I saw a video of J Mascis singing Tom Petty in a karaoke bar and wrote this song." - Amy Rigby

A charming, bittersweet, one-off single that name-checks seven Petty songs, weaves in the chords to Petty's classic "American Girl", and ends with grungy J Mascis-style guitar. If you're a Tom Petty fan, you should really hear this.

What? No, no … I've been chopping onions. Why do you ask?

tracks: "Tom Petty Karaoke"

cover art
The Rutles
The Wheat Album

This was a nice little surprise. The Wheat Album is a compilation of the demos Neil Innes recorded along with Rutle John Halsey ("Barry Wom") and two members of Innes' then-touring band. Most of the songs appeared on Archaeology, with three exceptions. "Imitation Song" was later released on Innes' web site and described as "Ron Nasty's Last Song". It's a Lennon-style piano ballad, and a good one. "Absurd Reductions" ended up on the 2007 Bonzo Dog Band reunion album as "Fiasco". It's a quick one-minute fake commerical jingle. The strangest of the three is "Evolution Number Ten". It's his solo track "Them" (the 1992 version) overlaid with Innes repeating "Number 10, Number 10" every so often. Obviously a parody of "Revolution 9", but I think a collage of Rutles stuff would have fit the bill better.

The demos themselves are pretty similar to the officially released versions, but I still find it fascinating to hear these early run-throughs. If you're a Rutles fan, you should check this out. Only place (I know of) to get it is Neil's web site

tracks: "Imitation Song", "Major Happy's Up And Coming Once Upon A Good Time Band", "Rendezvous", "Questionnaire", "Joe Public", "The Knicker Elastic King", "Eine Kleine Middle Classe Musik", "Hey Mister!", "Easy Listening", "Absurd Reductions", "Shangri-La", "Evolution Number Ten", "Don't Know Why"

cover art
Richard Thompson
13 Rivers

After a detour into acoustic solo recording with his Acoustic Classics II and Acoustic Rarities sets, the Richard Thompson Eletric Trio is back on 13 Rivers, and results show off Thompson's always dazzling electric guitar. The big highlight for me is "Pride", a classic Thompson rocker. The edgy rhythm of "Bones Of Gilead" is another big highlight - It's a little unusual, but it works. "The Dog In You" is a moody blues with an excellent guitar solo. Overall, the album isn't as good as his last band album, Still, but still definitely worth a listen.

tracks: "The Storm Won't Come", "The Rattle Within", "Her Love Was Meant For Me", "Bones Of Gilead", "The Dog In You", "Trying", "Do All These Tears Belong To You?", "My Rock, My Rope", "You Can't Reach Me", "O Cinderella", "No Matter", "Pride", "Shaking The Gates"

cover art
Laura Veirs
The Lookout

Back working solo again after the superb case/lang/veirs collaboration, The Lookout is another fine collection of Veirs' atmospheric indie pop, with some rockier numbers thrown in. "The Canyon", with terrific guitar work from My Morning Jacket's Jim James is the highlight of the album, and "Watch Fire" is close. Still want to hear another case/lang/veirs album, but The Lookout shows how good she is solo.

tracks: "Margaret Sands", "Everybody Needs You", "Seven Falls", "Mountains Of The Moon", "Watch Fire", "Heavy Petals", "The Lookout ", "The Meadow", "The Canyon", "Lightning Rod", "When It Grows Darkest", "Zozobra"

cover art
Paul Weller
True Meanings

Paul Weller has recorded acoustic ballads before, but True Meanings is his first foray into classic "singer/songwriter" territory. The album is a collection of gentle acoustic songs with orchestration more akin to the ballads on last year's Jawbone soundtrack EP. "Gravity" is probably the highlight here with a lovely melody and a gorgeous string arrangement. "Bowie" is a gentle tribute with lyrics like "we miss you everywhere". The album's sound does get a little "samey" after a while though. The songs are excellent, but I think they've would've been better spaced out as changes-of-pace on more varied albums.

The deluxe edition adds a couple of remixes and a couple of instrumentals. Not essential.

tracks: "The Soul Searchers", "Glide", "Mayfly", "Gravity", "Old Castles", "What Would He Say?", "Aspects", "Bowie", "Wishing Well", "Come Along", "Books", "Movin On", "May Love Travel With You", "White Horses"

bonus tracks (deluxe edition): "The Soul Searchers" [Richard Hawley remix], "Aspects" [RAVEN remix], "Mayfly" [The Reflex Revision], "Glide" [instrumental], "Old Castles" [instrumental]

cover art
Fly From Here - Return Trip

Back in 2011 I wrote:

When lead singer Jon Anderson was suffering from respatory problems in 2008, the rest of Yes opted to bring in singer Benoît David, formerly with a Canadian Yes tribute band called Close To The Edge to fill in. Over time, David became the new official lead singer. Fly From Here is the first Yes album to be recorded with him, and to my surprise, its' a very good album. Well, it's half excellent, and half pretty good album. The second half has one real highlight, Steve Howe's "Hour Of Need", an excellent (but very short) pop song. The reason this album is in the top 10 is the first half. The title track (broken up into six segments) is Yes' best epic in ages. The core section "We Can Fly" is also something that probably would've been a hit in Yes' heyday. If you're like me and basically gave up on Yes post-Drama, you really ought to check this out. It's not a classic album, but it's a pretty impressive return. And as you'd expect, David's voice is pretty much a dead ringer for Jon Anderson, so the sound is what you'd expect.

This is an interesting, and odd, release. It's an updated mix of Yes' 2011 album, Fly From Here, with Benoît David's lead vocals replaced with new lead vocals from producer Trevor Horn, essentially creating a 2nd relase from the Drama lineup. And since an early version of the "Fly From Here" suite was performed as "We Can Fly From Here" on the 1980 Drama Tour, it makes sense to have a version with Horn on vocals. However, it doesn't really change the album all that much. David and Horn aren't radically different styles of singers, so you won't notice a giant change there. "Hour Of Need" gets a longer version here, and it's definitely better than the original short version. There's one extra song added, "Don't Take No For An Answer" that makes a nice addition to the album.

If you really enjoyed Fly From Here, it's probably worth picking this up to hear the updates. If you've never heard either version but are curious now, I'd probably go with Return Trip to get the extras (plus, I was a big fan of Drama, so I like that lineup).

YouTube: Surpringly, there appear to be no videos for this version of the album. Here's a link to the original version of "We Can Fly" for at least a little context.

tracks: "Fly From Here: Overture / We Can Fly / Sad Night At The Airfield / Madman At The Screens / Bumpy Ride / Reprise", "The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be", "Life On A Film Set", "Hour Of Need" [full-length version], "Solitaire", "Don't Take No For An Answer", "Into The Storm"


cover art
Dave Alvin
Eleven Eleven

Came across this album via the excellent TV series Justified (it's on Amazon Prime and binge-worthy). In the third episode of season two ("The I Of The Storm"), the main character meets his ex-wife at a bar where Dave Alvin is playing. Alvin and band are playing "Harlan County Line", a killer blues-rocker with Alvin's searing guitar and gruff vocals. The snippet on the show got me curious, and the full album just blew me away. "Harlan County Line" is a classic, and another huge highlight is "What's Up With Your Brother?", a duet between Dave and his brother (and former partner in The Blasters) Phil Alvin, coupling boogie piano, blazing guitar, and wonderfully playful lyrics. "Johnny Ace Is Dead" is another barn burner, but the album mixes in some slower material including a pretty ballad ("No Worries Mija") and a charming shuffle ("Two Lucky Bums"). Would've made my top ten easily had I heard it back then.

The deluxe editions adds a great live set and another song written for Justified, "Beautiful City 'Cross The River". Absolutely go for the deluxe edition.

tracks: "Harlan County Line", "Johnny Ace Is Dead", "Black Rose Of Texas", "Gary, Indiana 1959", "Run Conejo Run", "No Worries Mija", "What's Up With Your Brother?", "Murrietta's Head", "Manzanita", "Dirty Nightgown", "Two Lucky Bums"

bonus tracks (live, backed by The Guilty Ones): "Harlan County Line", "Boss Of The Blues", "Long White Cadillac", "Rio Grande", "Johnny Ace Is Dead", "Out Of Control", "Dry River", "Run Conejo Run", "Fourth Of July"

bonus tracks (studio): "Beautiful City 'Cross The River", "Signal Hill", "Never Trust A Woman"


cover art
Paul McCartney
Egypt Station

Paul's last studio album, 2013's New, caught me off guard. I really didn't expect much, but I was very impressed. As a result I knew I had to try his latest, Egypt Station. Paul's over 75 years old, and can finally start to hear it in his voice. But the songwriting is still top notch. "I Don't Know" is a pretty ballad, "Come On To Me" is catchy driving pop (and the first standout on the album), "Fuh You" is Paul being "cheeky", and the closer "Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link" combines three song fragments into the second standout. Excellent.

tracks: "Opening Station", "I Don't Know", "Come On To Me", "Happy With You", "Who Cares", "Fuh You", "Confidante", "People Want Peace", "Hand In Hand", "Dominoes", "Back in Brazil", "Do It Now", "Caesar Rock", "Despite Repeated Warnings", "Station II", "Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link"

bonus tracks: "Get Started", "Nothing For Free"

cover art
Long Branch
Found The Setting Sun

Long Branch walks a line between moody rock and alt-country and couples it with terrific harmonies. The album opens with the catchy rock of "Lilacs" and then transitions into the moody "Somebody Else" which couples grungy guitars with sweet harmonies. The best song on the album is the closer, "Wheels", which couples a lilting melody with a lush arrangement and the best harmonies on the album. Hypnotic and wonderful.

YouTube: "Lilacs", "Ash", "Wheels".

tracks: "Lilacs", "Somebody Else", "Rising Tide", "Ash", "Roam", "Phone Is Ringing", "Precious", "2AM", "Empty Suitcase", "Wheels"

cover art
Johnny Marr
Call The Comet

Johnny Marr's first studio album since 2014's Playland shows Marr evolving a bit from the style of his first two solo albums, but the basic sound is still there. "Rise" hints at a little electronic feel before the guitars come crashing in, and "New Dominions" takes the electronic feel even further. "Walk Into The Sea" has a dreamy sound that reminds me at points of the 90's Flaming Lips. But overall, you still get great guitar rock with Marr's excellent playing. Highly recommended.

tracks: "Rise", "The Tracers", "Hey Angel", "Hi Hello", "New Dominions", "Day In Day Out", "Walk Into The Sea", "Bug", "Actor Attractor", "Spiral Cities", "My Eternal", "A Different Gun"

cover art
Amy Rigby
The Old Guys

Amy's last true solo album was 2005's excellent Little Fugitive. Since then, Amy and husband Wreckless Eric have released a trio of albums together where they share songs and vocals, and the sound is much more Eric's grungy lo-fi than Amy's pop. The Old Guys is a return to solo work, although Eric plays on and produces the record so that grungy sound is still there, although more of Amy's pop feel comes through along with much louder guitars than her work in the past. "The Old Guys" has more of Amy's old sound, and it's a stunner. "One Off", "The Barricade" and "New Sheriff" are all excellent as well. Her best work in years.

tracks: "From Philiproth@gmail To", "Are We Still There Yet", "Back From Amarillo", "Playing Pittsburgh", "Leslie", "The Old Guys", "On The Barricade", "New Sheriff", "Robert Altman", "Slow Burner", "Bob", "One Off"

cover art
Glen Hansard
Between Two Shores

Between Two Shores is another collection of great songs with Hansard's amazing voice to power them. The opener couples a great horn sound with loud guitar and an terrific bassline. The album with a trio of seemingly related songs about the end of a relationship. "One Of Us Must Lose" is a lush ballad that wouldn't have been out of place on the Once soundtrack. "Your Heart's Not In It" shows off Hansard's powerful voice on a dramatic lyric, and the album ends on a quiet note of reconciliation, "Time Will Be The Healer".

tracks: "Roll On Slow", "Why Woman", "Wheels On Fire", "Wreckless Heart", "Movin' On", "Setting Forth", "Lucky Man", "One Of Us Must Lose", "Your Heart's Not In It", "Time Will Be The Healer"

cover art
Valley Lodge
Fog Machine

If you've watched Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, then you've heard Valley Lodge. Their song "Go", from 2013's Use Your Weapons is the theme song. Fog Machine follows a similar sound - catchy power-pop with big guitars, harmony vocals and hooks to burn. The only knock: the band occasionally strays into a more conventional hard rock sound that really doesn't do 'em justice. But the bulk of the album is excellent. Check out the opening two songs below ("Stars Won't Fall" and "Stand") for a good intro.

tracks: "Stars Won't Fall", "Stand", "Come Back To Bed", "I'm Gone", "It's Alright", "I'm Your Man", "Keeping This World Alive", "Fire", "True", "Let's Go To The Woods", "Days Of Our Lives", "Ecstasy", "I Don't Mind", "Home"

cover art
Roger Daltrey
As Long As I Have You

Roger Daltrey's last true "solo" album was 1992's Rocks In The Head, which combined a few great songs with a lot of filler. In 2014, he recorded Going Back Home with Wilko Johnson, a blistering collection of covers of Johnson's songs with Dr. Feelgood (and solo), and easily recorded the best album of his solo career. As with any artist who isn't a prolific songwriter, the key is finding the right songs to cover, and Wilko's were perfect. Daltrey's latest, As Long As I Have You, learns from that last album and the song choices are far better than his early solo career. But the album almost wasn't released. After his long break dealing with viral meningitis, Daltrey considered abandoning the project. Pete Townshend heard the early mixes, encouraged Daltrey to finish the album, and ended up playing guitar on seven songs. The album starts with a roar: the title track is a killer cover of a soulful rocker by Garnet Mimms from 1964, and it fits Daltrey's voice perfectly. It's a stunner, and the best thing on the album. The rest of the album is excellent as well. As with most of Daltrey's albums, it's mostly covers with a couple of originals in. The covers are varied in styles from folk-rock ("How Far" by Steven Stills' early seventies band Manassas), to the slow blues of "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind", to a faithful (and delicate) cover of Nick Cave's "Into My Arms". Daltrey's two originals are two ballads: the soulful "Certified Rose", originally considered for a Who album, and the lovely "Always Heading Home". Despite Townshend's presence, you'd never mistake this for a Who album. But that's OK. With the exception of the insanely great Going Back Home, this is Daltrey's best work outside The Who. The songs suit his style, and he's in great voice.

tracks: "As Long As I Have You", "How Far", "Where Is A Man To Go?", "Get On Out Of The Rain", "I've Got Your Love", "Into My Arms", "You Haven't Done Nothing", "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind", "Certified Rose", "The Love You Save", "Always Heading Home"

cover art
The Deconstruction

After 2014's very personal album, The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett, E took a break from the music business. The Deconstruction is his return, and it's terrific. This time around, Eels has been reduced to E, long-time collaborators Koool G Murder (bass) and P-Boo (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums), along with "The Deconstruction Orchestra & Choir". The dramatic title track that opens the album could slot in nicely on the somber Electro-Shock Blues. "Bone Dry" follows it up with big drums, loud guitars, and a lush arragement that totally works. "The Epiphany" is all strings with E singing melancholy lyrics - sad and beautiful at the same time. And then, follows it up with a reply of sorts. "Today Is The Day" is a slice of classic Eels pop, and the best song on the album. If you like the bittersweet, melancholy side of Eels, The Deconstruction is totally for you.

tracks: "The Deconstruction", "Bone Dry", "The Quandary", "Premonition", "Rusty Pipes", "The Epiphany", "Today Is The Day", "Sweet Scorched Earth", "Coming Back", "Be Hurt", "You Are The Shining Light", "There I Said It", "Archie Goodnight", "The Unanswerable", "In Our Cathedral"

cover art
Manic Street Preachers
Resistance Is Futile

The last two Manics albums, 2013's Rewind The Film and 2014's Futurology were both big changes of pace for the band. Whereas the excellent Rewind had a mostly acoustic vibe, and the disapponting Futurology had a Krautrock influence, Resistance Is Futile is a return to the Manics' signature anthemic hard rock. "People Give In" is a solid opener, but the album really takes off with the second song, "International Blue". That song and "Sequels Of Forgotten Wars" are classic Manics anthems, and both have an absolutely massive sound. "Vivian" and "Dylan & Caitlin" (a duet between James Dean Bradfield and The Anchoress) and the closing "The Left Behind" (with lead vocals from Nicky Wire) are gentler songs and give the album a nice balance. An excellent return to form.

The Deluxe Version of the album adds a second CD with demos of all the songs on the album plus two new studio tracks. The demos interesting, but many of them sound more like complete, but slightly earlier takes of the final versions. The two extra songs "Concrete Fields" and "A Soundtrack To Complete Withdrawal" are both quite good, but not as good as any of the main songs. Only go for the deluxe if you're a hardcore fan.

tracks: "People Give In", "International Blue", "Distant Colours", "Vivian", "Dylan & Caitlin", "Liverpool Revisited", "Sequels of Forgotten Wars", "Hold Me Like a Heaven", "In Eternity", "Broken Algorithms", "A Song for the Sadness", "The Left Behind"

bonus tracks: "People Give In" [demo], "International Blue" [demo], "Distant Colours" [demo], "Vivian" [demo], "Dylan & Caitlin" [demo], "Liverpool Revisited" [demo], "Sequels of Forgotten Wars" [demo], "Hold Me Like a Heaven" [demo], "In Eternity" [demo], "Broken Algorithms" [demo], "A Song for the Sadness" [demo], "The Left Behind" [demo], "Concrete Fields", "A Soundtrack To Complete Withdrawal"

cover art
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Hope Downs

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever combines three guitars (two electric, one acoustic) for an urgent sound reminiscent of early Teenage Fanclub or Bernard Butler's Trans EPs with deceptively melancholy lyrics mixed in. The album is superb top to bottom, with classics mixed in along the way. "Talking Straight" is an absolute stunner with a near-perfect chorus. "Mainland" is just as good. "Bellarine" combines fiery guitars with a lyric of regret about a divorce and missing a daughter. If you love indie guitar rock, you owe it to yourself to play the videos I have linked so you can hear these guys for yourselves. Amazing.

A digression: Love the album, love the band, but I gotta say it. "Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever" is a terrible band name. It's too long and if it means something, it's too obscure to guess. Notice the album simply uses "Rolling Blackouts C.F."? That does't make it better. Guys, just change it to "Rolling Blackouts"; I suspect it's how people will refer to the band anyway.

tracks: "An Air Conditioned Man", "Talking Straight", "Mainland", "Time In Common", "Sister's Jeans", "Bellarine", "Cappuccino City", "Exclusive Grave", "How Long?", "The Hammer"


Just click on the album cover to see that year's review.