Posted by: kubiakl | May 23, 2009

Great Albums

Do bands still make great albums?  I’m not talking about a great collection of songs that happen to be on the same disc, I’m talking albums.  Maybe the whole iPod revolution killed off that concept, because most people listen to music on a track-by-track basis.  I noticed this during my off period on Friday –  while relaxing in my classroom with my iPod plugged in to some speakers I kept reaching down to switch tracks/albums/artists.  It didn’t take any work, no switching discs and waiting for it to load, just a few rotations on the wheel and I was hearing something new.

It made me think about some of my favorite albums that don’t get heard as much anymore, because there isn’t just one song I want to hear.  They are better when taken as a whole and iPods make it too easy to jump around.  Maybe it’s some form of musical ADD that is born out of convenience.  Maybe it’s the fact that fewer real albums are made.  Maybe I’m just blabbering.

Whatever the case, I wanted to talk about some albums that I like to listen to from beginning to end.  Because I can.

Rolling Stones – “Exile On Main St.”  I know it’s cliche to cite this as their best album, but there’s a reason cliches exist – often they’re true.  It has some great individual songs on it, but no big hits (“Tumbling Dice” made it to #7).  But overall it is a truly solid album.  There’s no real throwaway tracks or filler.  It also includes my favorite version of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”.  The reason it’s such a great album probably has a lot to do with the way it was recorded – everyone was holed up in a house in France, with musicians coming and going at all times.  So what emerged was a very organic product that still sounds good when listened to from start to finish.  In fact, I think it helps – I like the song “Sweet Virginia”, but I like it even better sandwiched between “Tumbling Dice” and “Torn And Frayed”.

Widespread Panic – “‘Til The Medicine Takes”  Maybe it’s because this was the first Panic album I bought, but I keep coming back to it over and over.  The songs all fit together well, with good songwriting and some great Southern jams.  It didn’t have the extended jams that marked earlier records but overall you get a great listening experience.  They did a great job with track sequencing on this one.  It switches from earthy to spacy, urgent to laid back, and upbeat to melancholy.  Incredible album.

Son Volt – “Trace”  Jay Farrar was no stranger to the business when Son Volt released their first album, having basically revolutionized alt.country with his former band Uncle Tupelo.  But “Trace” does something to me that no UT album has – makes me love every song.  My favorite will always be “Drown”, but the whole album is captivating.

Black Keys – “Rubber Factory”  It was actually recorded in an abandoned rubber factory in Akron, Ohio.  I like most of their stuff, but this is one album where I like to listen to the entire thing.  The inclusion of a few softer tunes (“Act Nice And Gentle”, a Ray Davies cover, and “The Lengths”) really make it stand out, gives it a few valleys to offset the hard nature of the other songs.

James McMurtry – “Live In Aught-Three”  This is kind of cheating, putting a live album on this list.  But it’s such a great live album that I don’t care.  Again, start to finish, you won’t find anything to skip over.  If you aren’t familiar with McMurtry then this is a good place to start.

Grateful Dead – “American Beauty”  Such a relaxing album, this is one I usually go for if I’m just trying to mellow out in the middle of the day.

Bob Schneider – “I’m Good Now”  Okay, there’s one song that I usually skip – “The Bridge Builders”.  Not because it’s a bad song, I’m just usually not in the down mood that song requires.  Everything else on the album is absolutely killer though.

Bob Dylan – “Bringing It All Back Home”  Nope.  Nothing to say about this one.  You know it’s a great album.

So that’s my list.  It doesn’t include some of my favorite bands, but these are the albums I can enjoy without reaching for the “next” button.  What are yours?

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