OPENING GIBBERISH

Back in the late seventies, I remember reading about ELP's "Works Tour" in which they brought an orchestra with them on the road. Being an ELO fan (and thus a sucker for string arrangements), I thought this sounded phenomenally cool, and would have loved to have been there. Now in 2019, I see orchestras all over the place. The Who's "Moving On!" tour included local orchestras backing the band each night. And of course, Jeff Lynne's ELO has it's own built-in orchestral section. I've got four different live albums with orchestras involved in the reviews below. My teenage expectations were well-founded. When done right, the blend of rock and orchestra is indeed phenomenal.

I've also added a new section (that I'm calling "Also Considered") that my wife Noreen suggested. It's a list of other albums from 2019 that I listened to, but left off the main list. Not necessarily bad albums, just ones that didn't feel like including in the main review. So, if you don't see something reviewed that you expected I would've liked you'll know if I actually heard it or not.

Enjoy the list.


GOODBYE

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Neil Peart

"Suddenly, you were gone / from all the lives you left your mark upon." - from "Afterimage"

Neil Peart passed away in January, 2020 as I was finishing off this year's review, and didn't want to wait until my 2020 review to comment.

An old cliché is that the drum solo in a rock concert is when everyone gets bored and goes to get a beer or a snack or something. This rule did NOT apply to Neil Peart. I saw Rush a dozen times, and there was always a drum solo in the performance. In every case, the drum solo was a can't miss highlight of the performance. And there was always the drum fill in "Tom Sawyer" that an arena full of air drummers played along with at every show. His performances on Rush albums are just as impressive. He didn't dominate every song, but there were always moments that made it obvious who the drummer was. Really, it's kind of hard to describe. If you've listened to Rush, you already know what I'm talking about. If not, I'm not going to be able to do him justice. Watch the videos I've linked to get a feel for what I'm talking about. And if you've never seen the Rush documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage, you owe it to yourself to watch. The film is fascinating, and Peart (and his two bandmates) come across as three of the nicest, most charming guys you'd ever want to meet.

Additionally, Peart was a clever (if occasionally pretentious) lyricist. I've seen Neil's lyrics mocked, and while there are the occasional clunkers in his early work, he was clearly aiming for more than generic "boy-meets-girl" lyrics and frequently going for something more literary and more epic. And at his best, he wrote very personal and meaningful lyrics in songs like "Limelight", "Subdivisions", "Afterimage" and "Nobody's Hero".

Neil Peart was the best drummer in rock, period. Nobody played like he played, and it was a joy to watch him do it. I've missed him since Rush hung it up in 2015, and he'll be missed even more now.

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Neil Innes

"Ladies and gentlemen, I've suffered for my music, now it's your turn." - from "Protest Song"

Neil Innes had a brilliant and varied career. He was one of the founders and songwriters of the influential music/comedy group The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, best known for their hit "I'm The Urban Spaceman". After the Bonzos broke up, he recorded a handful of solo albums loaded with catchy songs and witty lyrics and even reuinted the Bonzos for a reunion album, Pour L'Amour Des Chiens. He also had a three-series UK TV show called The Innes Book of Records, that was simply made up of clever videos for Neil's songs. MTV before MTV was a thing.

Innes had a long-time association with Monty Python and was latter dubbed "The Seventh Python". He cowrote a few sketches for season 4 of the TV series and wrote songs for and appeared in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Neil plays Sir Robin's singing minstrel, one of the knights singing "The Knights Of The Round Table", the lead monk hitting himself, and a few other roles). He appeared in the group's live shows playing "Urban Spaceman" and "How Sweet To Be An Idiot". He also teamed up with Eric Idle in his post-Python series, Rutland Weekend Television. A sketch on that show parodying The Beatles (and the Hard Day's Night film specifically) led to Neil's best known work - The Rutles.

After a hosting appearance by Eric Idle on Saturday Night Live (in which The Rutles sketch was debuted in the US), producer Lorne Michaels commissioned a TV special called All You Need Is Cash to really play with the concept. Eric and Neil starred in the show as Rutles Dirk McQuickly and Ron Nasty. Of course, the show needed music, and Innes recruited a band and recorded a brilliant album of Beatles parody music for The Rutles. A few songs were specific parodies of Beatles songs (like "Ouch!" for "Help!" and "Piggy In The Middle" for "I Am The Walrus"), but most were songs that sounded like they could have been Beatles songs in some alternate reality. One Rutles song, "Cheese and Onions", even showed up on the occasional Beatles bootleg presumed to be an unreleased Beatles song. By coincidence, around the time of the release of the Beatles Anthology TV series and albums, Innes had a Rutles sequel ready to go: Archaeology. Both albums are tremendous. Some of the best work of Innes' career.

Last year, Neil started a fundraising campaign through Pledge Music (yeah, those people) to record his first solo album since 2005's Works In Progress. The campaign met its goal and raised £26,000, and musicians and studios were booked to start working. Right around this time, Pledge Music was revealed to be using the pledge money to keep itself afloat instead of paying it to the artists. Innes only received £3,000 and thus turned to GoFundMe to try to raise the remaining funds needed. The album, Nearly Really, did finally get finished and released in September. It's a wonderful album and is reviewed below.

Got to see Neil live in 2011 at The Winchester (a small club) in Cleveland. The show was a wonderful mix of solo songs, Bonzos and Rutles songs, and charming, witty banter in between. He had an impartial "meet-and-greet" after and seemed very much the same person off stage. I was really hoping the new album might lead to another US tour and another chance to see him perform live.

He may have been a bit of an unknown in the US, but his albums are well worth checking out. The Rutles were my first exposure (and they're a great place to start), but the Bonzos and his solo albums are well worth exploring. Great, great stuff. Neil will be missed.


REISSUES

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The Beatles
Abbey Road
Super Deluxe Edition

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

In January 1969, the Beatles worked on a back-to-basics album to be called Get Back without producer George Martin. The tensions within the band just got worse and the album was essentially shelved while the accompanying documentary was completed (it was retitled Let It Be and finally released in 1970). After the Get Back debacle, the band asked George Martin to produce them again, which he agreed to do as long as they truly put him back in charge. The result was a true "back to basics" album because it got The Beatles back to what made them great in the first place. The album was kicked off with a big compromise: Side one follows John's desire for a simple collection of songs, and the resulting side has a little of everything: hard rock ("Come Together"), a gorgeous ballad ("Something"), some music hall silliness ("Maxwell's Silver Hammer"), some bluesy rock ("Oh! Darling" and "I Want You"), and Ringo vocal on the charming "Octopus's Garden". Side two includes Paul's desire for a long medley that ends up taking up most of the side. The opening section ("You Never Give Me Your Money"), and the closing sections ("Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" / "The End") are the best things on the album, and among the best tracks in the whole Beatles catalog. While Abbey Road doesn't quite match Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, few albums do. Abbey Road is a classic in its own right and is a dazzling end to the Beatles recording career.

Like the recent deluxe editions of Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles, the new Abbey Road box combines a brand new remix by Giles Martin along with two CDs of studio outtakes titled Sessions. The album remix is probably going to elicit the same response as the other two remixes did. If you view the originals as sacrosant, then you probably won't like this one. Personally, I really like it. The overall sound is superb, and there are occasional additions (or enhancements) you never noticed before, especially in the vocal harmonies.

The outtakes are, as usual, very interesting listening. Along with various early takes of the songs on the album, you get early takes of the non-LP songs "The Ballad Of John And Yoko" and "Old Brown Shoe" and a couple of Paul's demos for other artists - "Goodbye" (Mary Hopkin) and "Come And Get It" (Badfinger). The big highlight of the Sessions set is the "trial edit" of "The Long One" - the famous side two medley running from "You Never Give Me Your Money" through "The End". This version is pretty close to the final version with two big differences: The rotating guitar solos in "The End" aren't there yet, and "Her Majesty" is back where it was originally intended to go: between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam". It's really cool to hear the medley in this order, but it also reinforces that the band made the right decision in removing it. It does kinda break up the flow.

Same general recommendation as the previous two sets. If you're a Beatles fan, you really need to hear this.

bonus tracks (Abbey Road 2019 Mix): "Come Together", "Something", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Oh! Darling", "Octopus's Garden", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", "Here Comes The Sun", "Because", "You Never Give Me Your Money", "Sun King", "Mean Mr. Mustard", "Polythene Pam", "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window", "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight", "The End", "Her Majesty"

bonus tracks (Sessions): "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" [Trident Recording Session & Reduction Mix], "Goodbye" [Home Demo], "Something" [Studio Demo], "The Ballad Of John And Yoko" [Take 7], "Old Brown Shoe" [Take 2], "Oh! Darling" [Take 4], "Octopus's Garden" [Take 9], "You Never Give Me Your Money" [Take 36], "Her Majesty" [Takes 1-3], "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight" [Takes 1-3], "Here Comes The Sun" [Take 9], "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" [Take 12], "Come Together" [Take 5], "The End" [Take 3], "Come And Get It" [Studio Demo], "Sun King" [Take 20], "Mean Mr Mustard" [Take 20], "Polythene Pam" [Take 27], "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" [Take 27], "Because" [Take 1 - Instrumental], "The Long One" [Trial Edit & Mix - 30 July 1969], "Something" [Take 39 - Instrumental - Strings Only], "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight" [Take 17 - Instrumental - Strings & Brass Only]

tracks (Blu-ray): Abbey Road [Dolby ATMOS], Abbey Road [5.1 Surround Sound], Abbey Road [Hi-Res Stereo]

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R.E.M.
Monster
25th Anniversary Edition

Back in 1994 I wrote:

Monster is not the album people were expecting (despite the advance buzz), but it's a great album nonetheless. On Monster, R.E.M. abandons the quiet sound from the last two albums. Instead, the amps are turned up full and the result is the loudest album of the band's career. Highlights include the lead single "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", the glam-influenced "Crush With Eyeliner" and the haunting "Strange Currencies".

The 25th anniversary edition of Monster includes the original album, a disc full of demos, a remixed version of the album, a live show from the 1995 Tour, and a Blu-ray with a 5.1 mix of the album, the Road Movie concert film, and the original videos.

I remember really enjoying Monster in 1995. It was (and still is) a radical departure from the rest of R.E.M.'s catalog. Roughly ten years later, when I started digitizing everything for my iPod, I found myself far less enamored of the album. My favorites on the album were still big favorites, but other songs just didn't cut it for me as much anymore. Now, over a decade later, a fresh listen has made me appreciate Monster much more again. It really is an oddity in the band's catalog, but it's an excellent album.

The demos are a particularly suprising listen because of how little they remind me of the final album. Like previous R.E.M. demo releases, these are rough sketches and ideas rather than early versions of songs on the album, with a couple of exceptions: "Black Sky 4-14" would show up twelve years later as "Until The Day Is Done", and "Revolution 4-21" would show up two years later as just "Revolution". Most of the demos are instrumental, but they're really interesting listens and for many of the songs I ended up thinking "How could you not use that one?". A real highlight of the set.

According to the CD liner notes, Scott Litt was never happy with the original mix for Monster and wanted a second shot at the album. Monster Remixed gave him the opportunity. There are quite a few changes along the way. For instance, those repeated distorted guitar chords from "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" are gone. The drums are gone from the first half of "You". "Strange Currencies" uses a different vocal take. "Crush With Eyeliner" has enough subtle changes to sound like an alternate version. It's a cool rethink of the album. Not sure if I like it better, but it's a very cool listen.

The live album is a sloppy performance from the 1995 Tour. It's an enjoyable listen overall, but occasional bum notes and odd harmonies mar things a bit. It's obvious they didn't go back in and polish it up like the infamous live albums by Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Not R.E.M.'s best live album, but still a lot of fun.

tracks (Monster): "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "Crush With Eyeliner", "King Of Comedy", "I Don't Sleep, I Dream", "Star 69", "Strange Currencies", "Tongue", "Bang And Blame", "I Took Your Name", "Let Me In", "Circus Envy", "You"

tracks (Monster Demos): "Pete's Hit", "Uptempo Mo Distortion", "Uptempo Ricky", "Harlan County" [with whistling], "Lost Song", "AM Boo", "Mike's Gtr", "Sputnik 1 Remix", "Black Sky 4-14", "Revolution 4-21", "Rocker" [with vocal], "Time Is On Mike's Side", "Experiment 4-28" [no vocal], "Highland Fling 4-29", "Cranky 4-29"

tracks (Monster Remixed): "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "Crush With Eyeliner", "King Of Comedy", "I Don't Sleep, I Dream", "Star 69", "Strange Currencies", "Tongue", "Bang And Blame", "I Took Your Name", "Let Me In", "Circus Envy", "You"

tracks (Monster 1995 Tour: Live In Chicago 6/3/95): "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "Circus Envy", "Crush With Eyeliner", "Near Wild Heaven", "Welcome To The Occupation", "Undertow", "I Took Your Name", "Strange Currencies", "Me In Honey", "Revolution", "Tongue", "Man On The Moon", "Country Feedback", "Monty Got A Raw Deal", "Losing My Religion", "You", "Departure", "Orange Crush", "Get Up", "Star 69", "Let Me In", "Everybody Hurts", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "Pop Song 89", "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

tracks (Blu-ray): Monster [5.1 Surround Sound], Monster [Hi-Resolution Audio], Road Movie, "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" [video], "Crush With Eyeliner" [video], "Star 69" [video], "Strange Currencies" [video], "Tongue" [video], "Bang And Blame" [video]

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Frank Zappa
The Hot Rats Sessions

1969's Hot Rats was Frank Zappa's first proper solo album*, his first foray into jazz-rock, the album that first really showed off his guitar skills, and a common selection for Frank's best album ever (personally, I prefer One Size Fits All but Hot Rats is pretty great). The opening track, "Peaches En Regalia" is a jazz-rock masterpiece, a giant fan favorite, and a contender for Zappa's best-ever composition. Following that is "Willie The Pimp" with Captain Beefheart performing the lone vocal on the album followed by Zappa's first epic guitar workout, setting a prototype for dozens of songs in this style going forward. The rest of the album is all-instrumental, and Zappa's guitar is a featured instrument throughout. If you're interested in Frank Zappa the guitar player, this is the album for you.

Zappa was never afraid to assemble pieces from a myriad of sources when creating an album, but Hot Rats is unusual for Zappa in that it was recorded in a specific set of sessions focused on making this album. And unlike some deluxe editions that simply include outtakes or early versions, The Hot Rats Sessions really makes you feel like you're actually in the session. A lot of the tracks are Frank instructing the other musicians in what he wants, so you'll hear a partial take, Frank interrupting with a correction, then another partial take, and so on. As a result, you don't really even hear Zappa's guitar until "Peaches Jam - Part 2". But fear not - by the time you get to the various takes of "Willie The Pimp", there's plenty of Zappa soloing in the set. One of the big highlights is "Bognor Regis" - it's got a long violin solo by Don "Sugarcane" Harris and a dazzling Zappa guitar solo.

The Hot Rats Sessions is a very different take on the usual deluxe edition because you really hear songs build up and get closer and closer to the final result. Hard core Zappa fans will see a lot of unfamiliar song titles below. Most of them were eventually used on other projects under different titles, but these are such early versions that you may not be able to sort them all out. As I mention above, Hot Rats is absolutely worth a listen for fans of Zappa's guitar work. The big box is a fascinating listen for anyone who's already a fan of the album and wants to have a "behind the scenes" experience.

NOTE: The set includes Frank's 1987 version of the album instead of the original 1969 mix. It's very similar, but some of the songs are a bit longer in the 1987 version. To be fair, it's been ages since I've heard the 1969 mix, and the 1987 version is what I'm used to hearing now so it didn't strike me as that odd.

tracks: "Piano Music" [Section 1], "Piano Music" [Section 3], "Peaches En Regalia" [Prototype], "Peaches En Regalia" [Section 1, In Session], "Peaches En Regalia" [Section 1, Master Take], "Peaches Jam - Part 1", "Peaches Jam - Part 2", "Peaches En Regalia" [Section 3, In Session], "Peaches En Regalia" [Section 3, Master Take], "Arabesque" [In Session], "Arabesque" [Master Take], "Dame Margret's Son To Be A Bride" [In Session], "It Must Be A Camel" [Part 1, In Session], "It Must Be a Camel" [Part 1, Master Take], "It Must Be a Camel" [Intercut, In Session], "It Must Be a Camel" [Intercut, Master Take], "Natasha" [In Session], "Natasha" [Master Take], "Bognor Regis" [Unedited Master], "Willie The Pimp" [In Session], "Willie The Pimp" [Unedited Master Take], "Willie The Pimp" [Guitar OD 1], "Willie The Pimp" [Guitar OD 2], "Transition" [Section 1, In Session], "Transition" [Section 1, Master Take], "Transition" [Section 2, Intercut, In Session], "Transition" [Section 2, Intercut, Master Take], "Transition" [Section 3, Intercut, In Session], "Transition" [Section 3, Intercut, Master Take], "Lil' Clanton Shuffle" [Unedited Master], "Directly From My Heart To You" [Unedited Master], "Another Waltz" [Unedited Master], "Dame Margret's Son To Be A Bride" [Remake], "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" [Take 1], "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" [Master Take], "Big Legs" [Unedited Master Take], "It Must Be a Camel" [Percussion Tracks], "Arabesque" [Guitar OD Mix], "Transition" [Full Version], "Piano Music" [Section 3, OD Version], "Peaches En Regalia" [1987 Digital Re-Mix], "Willie The Pimp" [1987 Digital Re-Mix], "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" [1987 Digital Re-Mix], "Little Umbrellas" [1987 Digital Re-Mix], "The Gumbo Variations" [1987 Digital Re-Mix], "It Must Be A Camel" [1987 Digital Re-Mix], "The Origin Of Hot Rats", "Hot Rats Vintage Promotion Ad #1", "Peaches En Regalia" [1969 Mono Single Master], "Hot Rats Vintage Promotion Ad #2", "Little Umbrellas" [1969 Mono Single Master], "Lil' Clanton Shuffle" [1972 Whitney Studios Mix], "Little Umbrellas" [Cucamonga Version], "Little Umbrellas" [1969 Mix Outtake], "It Must Be A Camel" [1969 Mix Outtake], "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" [1969 Mix Outtake], "More Of The Story Of Willie The Pimp", "Willie The Pimp" [Vocal Tracks], "Willie The Pimp" [1969 Quick Mix], "Dame Margret's Son To Be A Bride" [1969 Quick Mix], "Hot Rats Vintage Promotion Ad #3", "Bognor Regis" [1970 Record Plant Mix], "Peaches En Regalia" [1969 Rhythm Track Mix], "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" [1969 Rhythm Track Mix], "Little Umbrellas" [1969 Rhythm Track Mix], "Arabesque" [Guitar Tracks], "Hot Rats Vintage Promotion Ad #4"

* Yes, strictly speaking, 1968's Lumpy Gravy was Frank Zappa's first solo album. However, Frank doesn't actually play on Lumpy Gravy. He wrote, arranged, edited and produced it, but the performers were the musicians he dubbed "The Abnuceals Emuukha Eletric Symphony Orchestra". So, that's why I'm referring to Hot Rats as his first "proper" solo album.

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Frank Zappa
Orchestral Favorites: 40th Anniversary

Orchestral Favorites was one of the "unauthorized" albums that Zappa delivered to Warner Brothers in 1977. After much legal back-and-forth (including the then-unreleased box set Läther), the album finally came out in 1979 with artwork commissioned by Warner Brothers and no liner notes.

For the album's 40th anniversary, the Zappa Family Trust released a 3 CD set with all-new authorized artwork, liner notes, etc. Disc 1 is the old album, and discs 2 and 3 are one of the two live performances used to make the album in the first place. The live album captures The Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra in 1975, which coupled an orchestra with keyboards, bass and drums and Frank's guitar on two tracks.

Full disclaimer: I'm generally not a big fan of Frank's orchestral work, but there are some definite highlights here. The opening "Strictly Genteel" is gorgeous, and the "Keyboard OD" version added as a bonus track (with some Tommy Mars keyboard work added to the original) is an interesting variation on the original. The live disc is better than the album, partially because of Frank's banter introducing a number of the songs, as well as stellar takes of "Rollo" and "Black Napkins" that feature Zappa's guitar work with the full orchestra behind him.

If you're a fan of FZ's orchestral work, you should definitely hear this. But even if you're not, it's worth a listen.

Additional note for hard-core Zappa nerds: When I reviewed the official release of Läther back in 1996, I talked about it's creation using the standard story from the Zappa camp: That Läther was delivered to Warner Brothers as a 4-LP set, rejected, then reluctantly split into 4 albums: Zappa In New York, Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan, and Orchestral Favorites. I found a very interesting write up from "Biffy the Elephant Shrew" talking about why this is likely a reverse of the truth. It's not the official party line, but it makes tons of sense. Hard-core Zappa fans should really read this: "Biffy the Elephant Shrew looks at Läther".

tracks: "Strictly Genteel", "Pedro's Dowry", "Naval Aviation In Art?", "Duke Of Prunes", "Bogus Pomp"

bonus track: "Strictly Genteel" [Keyboard OD Version]

live CD: "Bogus Pomp", "Revised Music For Low-Budget Symphony Orchestra", "Pedro's Dowry", "Rollo", "Black Napkins", "Dog / Meat", "Naval Aviation In Art?", "Lumpy Gravy (Extract) / Improvisation", "Evening At The Hermitage", "Duke Of Prunes", "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary", "Strictly Genteel"

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Frank Zappa
Zappa In New York

On December 11, 1976, Frank Zappa was the musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night (this was before the show's name was changed to Saturday Night Live). His band was augmented by the horn section from the house band for his three songs: "I'm The Slime" (featuring a monologue from the show's announcer Don Pardo), "The Purple Lagoon" and "Peaches En Regalia".

Later that same month, Zappa and his band (including Don Pardo and the horn section from the Saturday Night band) played four shows at the Palladium mixing old Zappa favorites with a slew of new songs. The combined band had a big sound similar to his 1988 "Broadway The Hard Way" lineup. The four shows were recorded and a double album of highlights, Zappa In New York, was scheduled to be released in 1977. The original album consisted of all new material with only one oldie ("Big Leg Emma") mixed in. The album is a mix of complex instrumentals like "The Purple Lagoon" and the two versions of "Black Page", with comedy routines like "Titties & Beer" (which even got airtime on Dr. Demento's radio show as "Beepers & Beer").

One song that combined knotty instrumental work and off-color lyrics caused concern for Warner Brothers. The lyrics of "Punky's Whips" covers Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio's supposed infatuation with Punky Meadows, the lead guitar player in the glam-rock band Angel. ar-30 minute verion of "Black Napkins". If you're a big Zappa In New York fan, you definitely need this. If you're like me, on the fence about the original, the extra material will make it a lot more fun. If you're a casual fan but are curious about this era, you might be better off starting with 2017's Halloween 77 set instead. It lacks the horn section, but it's a better performance overall.

tracks: "Titties & Beer", "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth", "Big Leg Emma", "Sofa", "Manx Needs Women", "The Black Page Drum Solo / Black Page #1", "Black Page #2", "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?", "The Illinois Enema Bandit", "The Purple Lagoon"

"Bonus Concert Performances - Part One": "The Most Important Musical Event Of 1976", "Peaches En Regalia", "The Torture Never Stops", "Black Page #2", "Punky's Whips intro", "Punky's Whips", "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth", "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?", "The Illinois Enema Bandit", "Two For The Price Of One", "Penis Dimension", "Montana",

"Bonus Concert Performances - Part Two": "America Drinks", "Irate Phone Calls", "Sofa #2", "The Moment You've All Been Waiting For", "I'm The Slime", "Pound For A Brown", "Terry's Solo", "The Black Page Drum Solo/Black Page #1", "Big Leg Emma", "Jazz Buffs and Buff-etts", "The Purple Lagoon", "Find Her Finer", "The Origin Of Manx", "Manx Needs Women", "Chrissy Puked Twice", "Cruisin' For Burgers"

"Bonus Concert Performances - Part Three": "The Purple Lagoon/Any Kind Of Pain", "The Greatest New Undiscovered Group In America", "Black Napkins", "Dinah-Moe Humm", "Finale"

"Bonus Vault Content": "The Black Page #2" [Piano Version], "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth" [Alternate Version], "Chrissy Puked Twice ", "Cruisin' For Burgers" [1977 Mix], "Black Napkins", "Punky's Whips" [Unused Version], "The Black Page #1" [Piano Version]


LIVE ALBUMS

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Roger Daltrey
The Who's Tommy Orchestral

Recorded on Daltrey's 2018 Tommy tour, The Who's Tommy Orchestral is more of a cousin to the 1972 London Symphony Orchestra performance of Tommy than to The Who's current "Moving On!" tour. Daltrey is backed by his solo band (which overlaps The Who's touring band quite a bit), but the orchestra really takes center stage. Daltrey is in fine voice, and the arrangements are gorgeous. If you're looking for a rock version with orchestral backing, you may be disappointed. If you're OK with the focus being the orchestra and Daltrey's voice, then definitely check this out.

tracks: "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "Cousin Kevin", "The Acid Queen", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror!", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "Smash The Mirror", "It's A Boy" [refrain], "I'm Free", "Miracle Cure", "Sensation", "Sally Simpson / Gospel Piano Interlude", "Welcome", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

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The Flaming Lips
featuing The Colorado Symphony with conductor André de Ridder
The Soft Bulletin: Live At Red Rocks

Back in 1999 I wrote:

On The Soft Bulletin, The Lips have taken the lusher elements they brought into their sound on Zaireeka, but provided perfect melodies with a haunting, melancholy feel to go with them. The lyrics deal with a range from topics like death, hopelessness, the spiderbite that nearly cost drummer / keyboardist / guitarist Steven Drozd his hand, the pursuit of medical breakthroughs, and a song about someone realizing they'd been shot and never noticed. The combination of lyrics aiming high with Wayne Coyne's almost-cracking-but-not-quite voice and perfect, lush arrangements makes this an absolute must-hear. From the time I first heard The Soft Bulletin, I don't think I've gone more than a few days without a listen. Without a doubt, the album of the year, and a true masterpiece.

I'd kind of lost touch with The Flaming Lips after their 2011 experimental singles and 2013's The Terror, which really left me cold. Turns out, in 2016, the Lips did a live performance of their masterpiece The Soft Bulletin (the #1 album in my 1999 Top 10 list and the #12 album in my Top 100 Albums Of All-Time in 2014) with The Colorado Symphony accompanying them. Now, on the 20th anniversary of the original album's release, they've released that performance and it's absolutely brilliant. They've kept the arrangements of the songs the same, but instead of using synthesized strings we have a full symphony and choir adding extra power to the performance. Absolutely spectacular and essential for anyone who's a fan of the original album.

One nitpick though: the album fades in and back out for each song so it feels a little less like a complete live performance and more of a sampler. On the plus side, this makes it better if you'd like to mix these into a shuffled playlist. However, if that's your plan, you'll want to join up "What Is The Light?" and "The Observer", since they play like one song.

tracks: "Race For The Prize", "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton", "The Spark That Bled", "The Spiderbite Song", "Buggin'", "What Is The Light?", "The Observer", "Waitin' For A Superman", "Suddenly Everything Has Changed", "The Gash", "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate", "Sleeping On The Roof"

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The Hold Steady
Live In San Francisco 8-3-18
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The Hold Steady
Live In Toronto 9-14-18
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The Hold Steady
Live In London 3-8-19
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The Hold Steady
Live In Nashville 9-7-19
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The Hold Steady
Live In Chicago 6-17-17

As they did last December, The Hold Steady released live albums from four recent residencies and all four raised money for the K+L Guardian Foundation. As with last year's releases, the performances are terrific. The set lists include a nice mix of songs from across the band's career, including the digital singles and some songs from Thrashing Thru The Passion in the very last show of the set. An absolute must.

In addition to the four main releases, the band released a fifth live album (Live In Chicago 6-17-17). This one's listed a "true bootleg" with dodgier sound quality than the other four. But this one is free, so it's hard to complain.

tracks (San Francisco 8-3-18): "Positive Jam", "Stuck Between Stations", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Stevie Nix", "Multitude Of Casualties", "One For The Cutters", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Yeah Sapphire", "The Sweet Part Of The City", "Party Pit", "Star 18", "Knuckles", "Chips Ahoy!", "The Weekenders", "Entitlement Crew", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Slapped Actress", "Certain Songs", "Banging Camp", "Most People Are DJ's", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Toronto 9-14-18): "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Magazines", "Stevie Nix", "Multitude Of Casualties", "Sequestered In Memphis", "The Last Time That She Talked To Me", "Yeah Sapphire", "Party Pit", "On With The Business", "First Night", "Entitlement Crew", "Chips Ahoy!", "T-Shirt Tux", "The Weekenders", "Stuck Between Stations", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Southtown Girls", "Slapped Actress", "Citrus", "The Swish", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Stay Positive", "Killer Parties"

tracks (London 3-8-19): "Ask Her For Adderall", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Ascension Blues", "Barfruit Blues", "Banging Camp", "One For The Cutters", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Entitlement Crew", "Confusion In The Marketplace", "Party Pit", "First Night", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "The Weekenders", "Chips Ahoy!", "Stuck Between Stations", "Massive Nights", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Southtown Girls", "Slapped Actress", "Citrus", "Stay Positive", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Nashville 9-7-19): "Positive Jam", "Stuck Between Stations", "Denver Haircut", "Sequestered In Memphis", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Epaulets", "One For The Cutters", "Chips Ahoy!", "Knuckles", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "The Ambassador", "Yeah Sapphire", "Ascension Blues", "Entitlement Crew", "Southtown Girls", "Confusion In The Marketplace", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Crucifixion Cruise", "How A Resurrection Really Feels", "Citrus", "Banging Camp", "Stay Positive", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Chicago 7-7-17): "Positive Jam", "The Swish", "Sequestered In Memphis", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Yeah Sapphire", "Spinners", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Lord, I'm Discouraged", "Party Pit", "Multitude of Casualties", "Stevie Nix", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Citrus", "The Weekenders", "Massive Nights", "Stuck Between Stations", "Chips Ahoy!", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Southtown Girls / Sleeveless Saturday", "212-Margarita", "Too Much Time on My Hands", "Stay Positive", "Killer Parties"

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TC&I
Naked Flames: Live At Swindon Arts Centre

If 2017's Great Aspirations wasn't a big enough surprise for you, Naked Flames documents highlights from a four show live stand from TC&I (made up of former XTC members Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers). The set on the CD is made up of Colin's songs for XTC, along with one song from the EP and one Andy Partridge XTC song. The band sounds wonderful, and Colin is in fine voice. My only quibble with the set is that it's so short. I've seen the set lists - a full set would've been been a double CD, and more of the terrific EP would have been included. A must hear for XTC fans.

I don't see any YouTube clips with official tracks from the album, but I did find two decent live recordings.
YouTube: "Making Plans For Nigel", "Life Begins At The Hop"

tracks: "Say It", "Ten Feet Tall", "Scatter Me", "Wonderland", "Grass", "The Meeting Place", "Bungalow", "Big Day", "Standing In For Joe", "Generals And Majors", "Making Plans For Nigel", "Statue Of Liberty", "Life Begins At The Hop"

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Richard Thompson
Across A Crowded Room: Live At Barrymore's 1985

Back in 1985, Richard Thompson released Across A Crowded Room and a live video of the same name. For this tour, Thompson added the duo of Clive Gregson & Christine Collister (who would end up recording quite a few albums as a duo). Across A Crowded Room: Live At Barrymore's 1985 captures the whole show from the video, which restores two songs to the running order: Christine Collister's "Warm Love Gone Cold" and Richard's "How I Wanted To". The show is terrific, especially when Thompson lets loose on guitar.

I was a little surprised that a DVD (or Blu-ray) of the show wasn't included since the original video was only available on videotape and never got a disc release. Regardless, it's a must-hear for Thompson fans.

tracks: "Fire In The Engine Room", "She Twists The Knife Again", "Shoot Out The Lights", "You Don't Say", "Warm Love Gone Cold", "Wall Of Death", "How I Wanted To", "Little Blue Number", "When The Spell Is Broken", "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?", "The Wrong Heartbeat", "Summer Rain", "For Shame Of Doing Wrong", "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight", "Nearly In Love", "Love In A Faithless Country", "I Ain't Going To Drag My Feet No More", "Tear Stained Letter", "Withered And Died", "Skull And Cross Bones"

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Paul Weller
Other Apsects: Live At The Royal Festival Hall

After the release of last year's acoustic True Meanings, Paul Weller staged two rare acoustic concerts with his band backed by an orchestra and horn section. The result is a big departure for Weller, but it worked wonderfully. The lighter True Meanings songs fit the performance very easily, but it was suprising to hear old solo and Jam songs given this treatment and having them really shine. "Boy About Town", "Private Hell", and "Tales From The Riverbank" work far, far better than you'd expect and become big highlights. "Wild Wood" and "A Man Of Great Promise" fit the style more natually, and they're terrific as well. Definitely worth hearing, and seeing. Get the version with the DVD.

tracks: "One Bright Star", "Glide", "The Soul Searchers", "Boy About Town", "Have You Ever Had It Blue", "What Would He Say?", "Wild Wood", "Country", "Aspects", "Strange Museum", "Amongst Butterflies", "Old Castles", "Gravity", "Where'er Ye Go", "A Man Of Great Promise", "Mayfly", "Private Hell", "Tales From The Riverbank", "Movin On", "Long Long Road", "Hopper", "White Horses", "Books", "You Do Something To Me", "May Love Travel With You"

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Frank Zappa
Halloween 73
Costume Box Set
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Frank Zappa
Halloween 73 Highlights
Single CD Edition

In late 1973, Frank Zappa tweaked his band lineup, removing Jean-Luc Ponty and Ian Underwood. Added to the band were Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax and vocals and second drummer Chester Thompson. This completed what would be his Roxy & Elsewhere lineup. Halloween 73 captures the 2nd and 3rd performances by the new lineup and the results are pretty amazing. While not quite as dazzling as the performances compiled on the various Roxy releases, this is still an impressive performance. It includes earlier takes on Roxy material, an early run through what was then called "The San Clemente Magnetic Deviation" (later retitled "Dickie's Such An Asshole"), and some nice older material like the "Dog Breath" / "Uncle Meat" medley and "The Idiot Bastard Son".

Like the Halloween 77 set from 2017, there's a full version and a highlights CD. The setlists have more variety, so I'd recommend the full set. Plus, the highlights CD omits the "Village Of The Sun" / "Echidna's Arf (Of You)" / "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?" sequence that is such a highlight of the Roxy band's repertoire. As with the Halloween 77, the box set includes a Halloween costume, and the digital release will save you a buck or two.

COSTUME BOX SET:

October 31, 1973 (First Show): "Pygmy Twylyte", "The Idiot Bastard Son", "Cheepnis", "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue", "Kung Fu", "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?", "Montana", "Dupree's Paradise", "Dickie's Such An Asshole"

October 31, 1973 (Second Show): "Cosmik Debris", "Pygmy Twylyte", "The Idiot Bastard Son", "Cheepnis", "I'm The Slime", "Big Swifty", "Dickie's Such An Asshole", "Farther O'Blivion, Pt. 1", "Farther O'Blivion, Pt. 2", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "RDNZL", "Inca Roads", "Son Of Mr. Green Genes/King Kong/Chunga's Revenge"

Bonus Rehearsals 10-20/21-73: "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "Dog Breath", "The Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat", "RDNZL", "Magic Fingers", "Inca Roads", "Farther O'Blivion", "Cosmik Debris", "Big Swifty"

HIGHLIGHTS CD:

tracks: "Pygmy Twylyte", "The Idiot Bastard Son", "Cheepnis", "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue", "Kung Fu", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "The Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat", "RDNZL", "I'm The Slime", "Big Swifty", "Dickie's Such An Asshole"


COMPILATIONS

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Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
The Best Of Everything

Billed as "the definitive career spanning hits collection", The Best Of Everything includes tracks from The Heartbreakers, Petty's solo albums and Mudcrutch. I can't fault the song selection, although I prefer these sorts of albums in chronologial order. In my mind though, it really needs a 3rd CD to do Tom's catalog justice. "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)", "Change Of Heart", "Straight Into Darkness", "Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)", and "Have Love Will Travel" are essential listening and "All Mixed Up", "Can't Stop The Sun", and "Swingin'" are pretty close. And surely a Traveling Wilburys song should show up in here somewhere. There are two obligatory "previously unreleased bonus tracks": "The Best of Everything" and "For Real". The alternate version of "The Best Of Everything" has an extra verse which is cool. The closing track, "For Real", is a total gem and worth the price of purchase. If you're an iTunes user you can download just these two songs by themselves, which is nice.

Overall it's a solid "best of", although I think Anthology: Through The Years is a better compilation of just Petty's Heartbreakers and solo work. If you want a compilation, and you'd like some Mudcrutch in the mix as well, then The Best Of Everything is a good choice.

YouTube: "For Real"

tracks: "Free Fallin'" [Tom Petty], "Mary Jane's Last Dance", "You Wreck Me" [Tom Petty], "I Won't Back Down" [Tom Petty], "Saving Grace" [Tom Petty], "You Don't Know How It Feels" [Tom Petty], "Don't Do Me Like That", "Listen To Her Heart", "Breakdown", "Walls (Circus)", "The Waiting", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Southern Accents", "Angel Dream (No. 2)", "Dreamville", "I Should Have Known It", "Refugee", "American Girl", "The Best Of Everything" [alternate version], "Wildflowers" [Tom Petty], "Learning To Fly", "Here Comes My Girl", "The Last DJ", "I Need To Know", "Scare Easy" [Mudcrutch], "You Got Lucky", "Runnin' Down A Dream" [Tom Petty], "American Dream Plan B", "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" [Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers], "Trailer" [Mudcrutch], "Into The Great Wide Open", "Room At The Top", "Square One" [Tom Petty], "Jammin' Me", "Even The Losers", "Hungry No More" [Mudcrutch], "I Forgive It All" [Mudcrutch], "For Real"


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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The Anderson Council
Worlds Collide

The Anderson Council's latest is full of their signature 60's-style power pop and occasional hard rock. There's nothing fancy, nothing experimental, just loud guitars, lots of catchy hooks, and a killer riff in "Amazing". If that's your kind of thing, definitely check this out.

tracks: "Collision", "Worlds Collide", "Lord Cornelius Plum", "Camden Town", "Mrs. Kirkby's Refrigerator", "Amazing", "Gentlemen", "Santa Clara", "Grey Heavenly Way", "Your Devices", "When I Fall", "How Much How Long", "Into The Clouds", "Wrong Way Out", "Mrs. Kirkby's Refrigerator" [feat. Peter Noone], "Lads And Lassies"

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Coldplay
Everyday Life

Coldplay's latest is billed as a more experimental album. The "experiments" come in the form of some genre switching along the way. The album is split into two halves (titled "Sunrise" and "Sunset"), but I'm not sure I really get the difference. The album opens with a lovely instrumental, "Sunrise", and the Coldplay pop of "Church". "Trouble In Town" starts out pop and it's quite good until you get to a dialogue section seemingly inspired by Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City", which really ruins the flow of the song. Yes, I get that they're making a statement, but it just doesn't work here. "Guns" (which kicks off" "Sunset") is a much more effective statement song, and the best thing on the album. "Arabesque" and "Everyday Life" are the other two big highlights. After that, it's pretty hit-and-miss with more misses than hits. Some parts of the album reminds me of the dour Ghost Stories album, but with cleaner production.

tracks (Sunrise): "Sunrise", "Church", "Trouble in Town", "BrokEn", "Daddy", "WOTW / POTP", "Arabesque", "When I Need a Friend"

tracks (Sunset): "Guns", "Orphans", "Èkó", "Cry Cry Cry", "Old Friends", "بنی آدم", "Champion of the World", "Everyday Life"

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Craig Finn
Plattsburgh
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Craig Finn
I Need A New War

Craig's latest solo album, I Need A New War, is intended to be the completion of a trilogy. Like the other albums, the sound is quieter than his albums with The Hold Steady. "Blankets" is an upbeat opener with a cyclical riff that ends up feeling like a loop at points, which is very catchy. The rest of the album generally follows the template of the last two solo albums, but the songs aren't quite as good overall. It's not a bad album at all, but I don't think it matches up to his last album, We All Want The Same Things

The bonus EP, Plattsburgh, has a few extra songs and some alternate versions of a few songs on the main album. Interesting, but not essential.

tracks (I Need A New War): "Blankets", "Magic Marker", "A Bathtub In The Kitchen", "Indications", "Grant At Galena", "Something To Hope For", "Carmen Isn't Coming In Today", "Holyoke", "Her With The Blues", "Anne Marie & Shane" tracks (Plattsburgh): "Plattsburgh", "It's Never Been A Fair Fight", "Magic Marker", "Grant At Galena", "Blankets"

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Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Black Star Dancing
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Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
This Is The Place

In lieu of a new album, Noel Gallagher opted to release a series of EPs in 2019. Three were planned, but the third has been delayed until early 2020. On his first three albums, Gallagher has flirted with a dancier sound, and he indulges more on both EPs. It's an interesting departure and it took a little getting used to. But I like the end results. I hope this isn't a permanent change in Noel's sound, but it is a very interesting change of pace. Give it a few listens before you really decide if you like it or not.

tracks (Black Star Dancing): "Black Star Dancing", "Rattling Rose", "Sail On", "Black Star Dancing" [12" mix], "Black Star Dancing" [The Reflex Revision]

tracks (This Is The Place): "This Is The Place", "A Dream Is All I Need To Get By","Evil Flower", "This Is The Place" [Dense & Pika Remix], "Evil Flower" [The Reflex Revision]

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Glen Hansard
This Wild Willing

While not a bad album, This Wild Willing was a bit of a disappointment after three excellent albums in a row. The problem is the sameness of the album. There's a quiet, somber tone to most of the album, and Hansard wastes his powerful voice by whispering through a number of songs. "Brother's Keeper" is a highlight, but it feels like Hansard is holding back throughout the album. These aren't bad songs - some would be great changes of pace on another album. It's just too much of the same thing in a row.

tracks: "I'll Be You, Be Me", "Don't Settle", "Fools Game", "Race To The Bottom", "The Closing Door", "Brother's Keeper", "Mary", "Threading Water", "Weight Of The World", "Who's Gonna Be Your Baby Now", "Good Life Of Song", "Leave A Light"

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Amy Rigby
A One Way Ticket To My Life

As a companion to her new biography, the excellent Girl To City: A Memoir, the CD A One Way Ticket To My Life collects a bunch of homemade solo recordings Rigby made before she had a recording contract. I wasn't sure what to expect. The CD is a collection of songs with Amy singing and playing acoustic guitar, and the the sound quality is better than you might expect. The songs don't sound much like her early solo albums (except "All I Want" and "Time For Me To Come Down"), but they're consistently good throughout. You can order the book and the CD as a bundle from Amy's site. You can also hear the whole thing on her Bandcamp site, and order a CD or digital version as well.

tracks: "One Way Ticket To My Life", "Voices In My Head", "When A Piece Of The Sky Falls", "Wish That I Could Be In Your Shoes", "Mrs. Gordon Ray Thomas", "Let's See How It Goes", "Apple Green", "Demolition", "Almost Had Me Convinced", "Another Day", "You're Getting Old", "All I Want", "Time For Me To Come Down", "Baby Doll", "Contractor", "Only A Dream", "Housecleaning", "Black Box", "Tomorrow's All We've Got"

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Amy Rigby
The President Can't Read

Last year, Amy Rigby released a wonderfully melancholy one-off single called "Tom Petty Karaoke". This year, the one-off single replaces the melancholy with anger aimed at the obvious (and deserving) target. At the very least, go over to Amy's Bandcamp page or YouTube and give it a listen.

track: "The President Can't Read"


WOULDA-BEEN TOP TENS HAD I HEARD 'EM IN TIME ... aka ... "D'OH!"

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Barns Courtney
The Attractions Of Youth

Thanks to my lovely wife Noreen, I came across Courtney's excellent debut, The Attractions Of Youth, via the Netflix series Safe. The opening and closing credits used "Fire" and "Glitter & Gold" from that album, and it's excellent. "Fire" is great bluesy guitar rock with big guitars and Courtney's excellent voice. "Glitter & Gold" is in the same mould, but even better. "Hobo Rocket" mixes in a little hip-hop feel that reminds me a little of early Beck. It's not all max volume though, "Goodbye John Smith" is a nice piano ballad that mixes things up a bit. A superb debut.

Courtney's second album, 404, was released this year and it was a little disappointing in comparison. It changed his style away from the heavy blues rock of this album to a gentler indie guitar pop. It's still a good album, but The Attractions Of Youth is the one to check out. Definitely would've been a top ten entry for me.

tracks: "Fire", "Glitter & Gold", "Hands", "Golden Dandelions", "Hellfire", "Hobo Rocket", "Hobo Outside Tesco, London (Interlude)", "Champion", "Kicks", "Never Let You Down", "Goodbye John Smith", "Little Boy", "Rather Die", "The Attractions of Youth"

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Five Grand Stereo
Sex And Money

"But you give me a feeling I cannot hide / You make everything sound like 1975"

A review from Classic Rock magazine on Five Grand Stereo's website describes the band as sounding like "Marc Bolan impersonating Jeff Lynne on the way over to David Bowie's house", and that kind of gets the vibe right. They're a modern band playing music that sounds like it could be from 1975. And to top it off, the album is an authentic rock opera, complete with libretto to help advance the storyline. The result is stunning classic rock and power pop, something that would have played to death on radio in the seventies. Despite the story, the songs stand alone quite well, highlighted by the clever tribute "David Bowie". Had I heard this last year, it definitely would've made my top ten.

tracks: "In Your Garage", "Boots Of Leather", "Iceberg", "Corinthians I", "All You've Got To Do Is Go To Bed", "Mr. Lighter", "1975", "This Stuff", "Clip Joint (Soho)", "Corinthians II", "David Bowie", "Anyone Can Be A Star"


THE TOP TEN FOR 2019

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#10
The Waterboys
Where The Action Is

The last Waterboys album, Out Of All This Blue, suffered from a lack of editing. It was a double CD that should've been a single. Where The Action Is corrects that problem by limiting the main album to a single CD, and the results are much better. The album starts out with the title track combining soulful keyboards into a hard rock song, and it's easily one of the two best songs on here. It also includes a charming tribute to Clash guitarist Mick Jones on "London Mick", some urgent jazz piano on "Labroke Grove Symphony", and dancier pop on "Right Side Of Heartbreak (Wrong Side Of Love)". The closing track on the album, "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", is nine-minutes of Mike Scott dramatically reading the chapter from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows backed by a gorgeous accompaniment. Seems like something that shouldn't work, but it's really very pretty and it's the other best track on the album.

Like Out Of All This Blue, Where The Action Is also comes in a deluxe edition with a bonus CD, and it's a collection of remixes, mashups and outtakes. Not worth the extra money unless you're a completist.

tracks: "Where The Action Is", "London Mick", "Out Of All This Blue", "Right Side Of Heartbreak (Wrong Side Of Love)", "In My Time On Earth", "Ladbroke Grove Symphony", "Take Me There I Will Follow You", "And There's Love", "Then She Made The Lasses O", "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn",

tracks (Where The Action Is… Mashed): "Where The Action Is" [Mash], "London Mick" [Jess 'n' Zeenie Mix], "Out Of All This Blue" [Soul Choir], "Right Side Of Heartbreak (Wrong Side Of Love)" [Box & Vox], "In My Time On Earth" [Scott & Wickham Mix], "Ladbroke Grove Coda", "I Will Follow You Take Me There", "And There's Love" [Mashtrumental], "Then She Made The Lasses O" [Mash], "Where The Action Is" [Reprise], "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" [instrumental]

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#9
Robyn Hitchcock / Andy Partridge
Planet England

Apparently in the works for ages, Planet England is a surprisingly effective blend of two amazing songwriters, who also handle all the instruments and vocals as well. Robyn Hitchcock is generally the lead singer, but this definitely does not come off like just a Robyn Hitchcock project. You can hear Andy Partridge's classic pop songwriting all over this EP. No "best song" here - they're all great. Seems like most of the people I know that like Robyn Hitchcock also like XTC, so for those folks: You absolutely need this EP. For the newbies, it's worth a listen if you're a fan of slightly off-kilter pop. Really hope they go for a full album at some point. They make a great team.

tracks: "Turn Me On, Deadman", "Flight Attendants, Please Prepare For Love", "Got My…", "Planet England"

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#8
Adrian Belew
Pop Sided

Since recording 2006's Side Three, Adrian Belew has recorded an experiemental intrumental album called e, worked on a music app called FLUX by belew™, and toured widely. Pop Sided is his first solo album since, and it's a true solo album since Belew plays all the instruments. It's a very welcome return to the style of his 80's and 90's albums, although more melodic and less aggressive with the guitar. The album opens on a gentle note with "When Is It Coming Back", but pretty quickly gets back to Belew's signature guitar pop on "The Times We Live In". Another highlight is "Lobsters And Hypocrites" which merges spoken word shaggy dog stories over choppy guitar work (think a mellower "Thela Hun Ginjeet"). A very welcome return.

YouTube: "Although"

tracks: "When Is It Coming Back", "Obsession", "The Times We Live In", "Everybody's Sitting", "Lobsters And Hypocrites", "Although", "Take Five Deep Breaths", "The Ladder Of Life", "Road Rage", "Wait To Worry", "Luminous"

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#7
Neil Innes
Nearly Really

"My Body said, 'My time is almost done.' / My Soul said, 'That's when I'll be up and gone.'
'Where will you go? Is there another side?' / 'Nobody knows for sure,' my Soul replied."

What is now Neil Innes' final studio album turns out to be one of his best. As always, the lyrics are clever and witty, and the music varies from a rock to pop to reggae, with even a little ukulele thrown in. A few of the lyrics take on an extra poignant note now that Neil has passed away. The gentle "Old Age Becomes Me" and the bittersweet "Just Sitting Here" have extra meaning now, and so especially does "Body And Soul". "Body And Soul" is one of Innes' best-ever songs, a great rocker with a clever lyric about a body and a soul talking about what happens after you die. It's not all sad though. "Surly In The Morning" is just Innes and a keyboard set to the "voice" setting, and it's the funniest thing on the album. "Soft Shoe Shuffle" is a piano-led shuffle with witty lyrics about "a man who's got to do what a man's got to do", and "I So Don't Care" is happy-go-lucky song with a snarky lyric to go with it.

As I mentioned above, I'm so sad to see Neil Innes leave us, but I've very glad he finished off this last album. It's excellent.

tracks: "Old Age Becomes Me", "Folk Song", "Different Ways", "Surly In The Morning", "Something To Say", "I So Don't Care", "Like Father Like Son", "Cats Don't Like The Rain", "Give It Up", "Disillusioned", "The Filthy Rich", "Soft Shoe Shuffle", "Mother Nature", "Body And Soul", "Song Of The Sky", "Just Sitting Here"

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#6
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Colorado

Neil Young's first album with Crazy Horse in seven years finds the first lineup change in a while. Long time guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro has retired, so Nils Lofrgen (who'd been in Crazy Horse in the early seventies) takes over on guitar. Colorado is a much more varied album than Crazy Horse classics like Ragged Glory and Psychedelic Pill. The album opens and ends on folky notes with "Think Of Me" (with terrific harmony singing) and "I Do". "Green Is Blue" and "Eternity" lead with piano instead of guitar, and are both very pretty. But fear not: "She Showed Me Love", "Help Me Lose My Mind", and especially "Shut It Down" are exactly what you expect from a Neil Young & Crazy Horse album. There's more variety this time around, but there's still a lot to play at full-blast. I don't know that'd I'd rate it as highly as Psychedelic Pill, but it's still a very good album, and Neil's best in quite a while.

tracks: "Think Of Me", "She Showed Me Love", "Olden Days", "Help Me Lose My Mind", "Green Is Blue", "Shut It Down", "Milky Way", "Eternity", "Rainbow Of Colors", "I Do"

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#5
Biffy Clyro
Balance, Not Symmetry
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Biffy Clyro singer/guitarist Simon Neil co-wrote the screenplay for the film Balance, Not Symmetry, and it's no surprise that the band provided the soundtrack. The opening title track (as well as "Sunrise") are full-blast Biffy, but most of the album is a mix of a quieter songs and the three instrumentals ("Pink", "Navy Blue", "Yellow") that seem like link music. The quieter songs are not just ballads - they're more along the lines of the lighter songs on Opposites or Ellipsis. The lighter material also really shows off the band's harmonies, and the songs are terrific. It's an interesting change of pace for the band.

tracks: "Balance, Not Symmetry", "All Singing And All Dancing", "Different Kind Of Love", "Sunrise", "Pink", "Colour Wheel", "Gates Of Heaven", "Fever Dream", "Navy Blue", "Tunnels And Trees", "Plead", "The Naturals", "Yellow", "Touch", "Jasabiab", "Following Master", "Adored"

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#4
The Hold Steady
Thrashing Thru The Passion

"It doesn't have to be pure / It doesn't have to be perfect / Just sort of has to be worth it" - from "Denver Haircut"

In 2016, keyboard player Franz Nicolay rejoined the band and restored the band's full sound. Starting in 2017, The Hold Steady started changing how they work. Instead of big tours, they started playing occasional "residencies" - three or four day stands in one city. And instead of recording albums, they started recording a few songs at a time and releasing them as singles, generally to concide with a residency. The band's most recent session resulted in five new songs, and the band decided that it sounded like a side of an album. So, the five new songs became side one, and side two was made up of five songs from the recent run of singles. Despite the piecemeal construction, Thrashing Thru The Passion definitely feels like an album. Craig Finn's lyrics are as dense and clever as usual, and the band is firing on all cylinders. "Denver Haircut" and "Blackout Sam" are the standouts from the recent sessions, and the band selected great tracks from the previous singles. It's been five years since the last album, and results are totally worth the wait.

When the album was first released, people who bought the singles on Bandcamp could buy the album there for half-price (since only half was new). I'm not sure if that deal is still in place, but it was a nice touch.

tracks: "Denver Haircut", "Epaulets", "You Did Good Kid", "Traditional Village", "Blackout Sam", "Entitlement Crew", "T-Shirt Tux", "Star 18", "The Stove & The Toaster", "Confusion In The Marketplace"

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#3
The Who
WHO

For the first new Who album since 2006's Endless Wire, Pete Townshend recorded a series of "high quality demos", in which he played all the instruments and sang lead vocals. In the studio, guests like Zak Starkey, Pino Palladino, Joey Waronker, and Benmont Tench rerecorded Pete's original parts. Then, in a separate studio, Roger Daltrey recorded lead vocals replacing Pete's vocal. Surprisingly, the results sound way more like a band effort than you'd expect. Like Endless Wire, most of the songs aren't going to make you think it's the seventies Who again. Pete's a very different songwriter now, and the album reflects that. There's some of Pete's self-described "yaggerdang" guitar, but there's also a ballad, a bossa nova, some strings, and a few poppier numbers. Roger Daltey's voice sounds fabulous throughout the album. The problems he had 5-10 years ago appear to be behind him. The highlights are the powerful opener "All This Music Must Fade", the poppier "I Don't Wanna Get Wise", and Simon Townshend's contribution "Break The News".

The deluxe edition of the album adds three demos. The vinyl doesn't include those three demos, but does include a different one from 1966. Interestingly enough - Roger's been very vocal about not wanting bonus tracks released because he feels it waters down the album. On one hand, I see where he's coming from: If the songs weren't good enough for the main album, why release them now? On the other hand, the extra songs are terrific, and I'm not sure why they weren't included. They're better than a couple of songs that made the cut. Two appear to be part of the demos Pete recorded for the album. The third, "Got Nothing To Prove", has the vocal from a 1966 demo with fresh backing that sounds like it's right out of 1966. The vinyl bonus track, "Sand", is an untouched Pete demo from 1966 that's a must hear. It turned up on an acetate this year and a clip of about half the song showed up on YouTube (presumably to get interest in a sale). The full song is amazing.

The Who's promo ads for the album describe WHO as "their best since The Who By Numbers", and Roger Daltrey called it their best album since Quadrophenia. I got thinking about that, and I realized I wasn't able to make that kind of comparison. At first, I assumed it was simply because the original run of Who albums (from My Generation to Who Are You) have been such long-time favorites and have been played so often that I couldn't make an impartial comparison. However, now I think I realize the problem: I end up feeling like I'm comparing apples to oranges. There are/were three lineups of the band in the studio (the original lineup, the lineup with Kenney Jones, and the Pete & Roger years), and Pete Townshend's songwriting seems to change a bit with each lineup. With the Kenney Jones lineup, Pete's songs seemed to get a little poppier, and in the two albums as a duo, Pete's songwriting has grown more eclectic with songs I'd never think of as "Who songs" appearing on the album.

So, is WHO their best since The Who By Numbers or Quadrophenia? I wouldn't put in the same class as either of those albums, but I'm extremely biased. WHO is far, far better than Endless Wire or It's Hard. Beyond that, I think you're just going to have to check it out and make your own call. If you're going to get hung up on the fact that it doesn't sound like Who's Next (or even Face Dances), then skip it. Otherwise, it's absolutely worth hearing.

Like I did for Endless Wire, I've done a more detailed track-by-track review of WHO.

tracks: "All This Music Must Fade", "Ball And Chain", "I Don't Wanna Get Wise", "Detour", "Beads On One String", "Hero Ground Zero", "Street Song", "I'll Be Back", "Break The Newse", "Rockin' In Rage", "She Rocked My World"

bonus tracks (deluxe edition): "This Gun Will Misfire", "Got Nothing To Prove", "Danny And My Ponies"

bonus tracks (deluxe vinyl only): "Sand" [demo]

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#2
Jeff Lynne's ELO
From Out Of Nowhere

Rarely has an album title been more appropriate. Since relaunching the band as "Jeff Lynne's ELO", Lynne has toured multiple times and released Alone In The Universe in 2015. The 2018 tour was extended into 2019, and I figured Lynne would take a break afterwards given the long gap between his previous work under the ELO banner. I was completely wrong! In between tours, Lynne quietly assembled a new album and released it shortly after the 2019 tour was completed. As with the last album, Lynne plays pretty much everything himself, although longtime ELO alum Richard Tandy returns to play the piano solo on "One More Time".

From Out Of Nowhere has similar sound to Alone In The Universe, but the songs are stronger this time around. "One More Time" and "Time Of Our Life", both about Lynne's return to the stage, are the big highlights. "Time Of Our Life" has a charming lyric about the Wembley show (captured as Wembley Or Bust) where Lynne sounds genuinely floored by the enthusastic response to "every little song".

I love the album overall, but I do have one criticism. The album has a bit of a claustrophobic, muffled sound that takes a little bit away from the songs. This doesn't ruin it by any stretch, but I wish it was clearer. It sounds like Lynne wants to tour again, and I hope he works some of these songs into the set. I'd love to hear them live.

tracks: "From Out Of Nowhere", "Help Yourself", "All My Love", "Down Came The Rain", "Losing You", "One More Time", "Sci-Fi Woman", "Goin' Out On Me", "Time Of Our Life", "Songbird"

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#1
Bob Mould
Sunshine Rock

Sunshine Rock is Mould's fourth album in a row with the same lineup, and the band is firing on all cylinders. The opening three songs ("Sunshine Rock", "What Do You Want Me To Do" and "Sunny Love Song") are classic Mould songs. They are poppy and catchy, but they absolutely roar. Later in the album, Mould has a few changes of pace up his sleeve. "The Final Years" reminds me of the less electronic parts of modulate., "Lost Faith" is poppier and lighter than Mould's usual style, and "Camp Sunshine" is simply acoustic guitar and vocals. "Send Me A Postcard" is a cover of a 1968 single by Shocking Blue, and it fits Mould's style perfectly. Can't think of a cover on a Bob Mould album before, but boy does this one work. Another terrific album.

tracks: "Sunshine Rock", "What Do You Want Me To Do", "Sunny Love Song", "Thirty Dozen Roses", "The Final Years", "Irrational Poison", "I Fought", "Sin King", "Lost Faith", "Camp Sunshine", "Send Me A Postcard", "Western Sunset"


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