11: Dionne Warwick – Just Being Myself (1973)
The usually tasteful lounge pop and Bacharach interpretations of Warwick take a left turn here. There’s no Bacharach on here, all the songs come from Motown geniuses Holland/Dozier/Holland. There’s a crack soul band behind her. And she proves she could belt on the same level as the Martha Reeves’s and Diana Ross’s of the world. While she’d shown her soul chops earlier on the aptly titled Soulful (1969) (check out the incredible version of “You’re All I Need to Get By” on that one) this is her with the benefit of experience, at the top of her game. This album has unfortunately been sampled more than it’s been listened to. Or maybe that’s fortunate since you can come to it fresh. It’s uneven like any other Warwick album, but “You’re Gonna Need Me”, “I Think You Need Love” and the title track are slow burn gold.
12: Mellow Candle – Swaddling Songs (1972)
Don’t hear much about this one much. Unlike much UK folk rock of the time, they could do the rock just as well as the folk. The harmony arrangements are inventive and psychedelic. Mellow Candle can be mellow in a moody way at times. The overall vibe is very witchy. Cover almost has a Moebius feel. Songs are all the length they need to be. I go back to this one a lot. Not available on a lot of streaming services, there’s a decent playlist of the whole album on the Youtube. Good luck finding a physical copy of this.
13 – Digable Planets – Blowout Comb (1994)
Even with the absurd number of hip hop gems that dropped in 1994 this album stands out. The production is not the DJ Premier/Pete Rock style soul samples that dominated the east coast at that time. The closest thing is maybe De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate but approached with the ambitious scope of prog rock. The rapping is distinctive and concerned with subjects that weren’t very common at the time. Doodlebug might be my favorite female MC of all time (sorry Lauryn Hill). Both MCs are outspoken Marxists but it never seems confrontational. The grooves are infectious and complex enough to seem closer to actual jazz than just your run of the mill rap that happened to be sampling jazz records.
15: De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate (1993)
Prince Paul’s masterpiece and unfortunately his last album with the group. The Native Tongues collective was falling apart and that weariness shows through here in places though it wouldn’t fully spill out into the rhymes until De La’s next album Stakes Is High. “Ego Trippin Pt. 2” is a vicious takedown of the gangstas of excess that were ascendant at the time (and the music video is hilarious). “I Am I Be” has the epic pop feel of a “Good Vibrations” but with much better lyrics. This is the last hurrah of their vision for hippie rap. Depending on the day of the week, I would consider either this or Stakes Is High to be the group’s greatest statement. There aren’t a lot of guest spots but Shortie No Mass contributes a few excellent verses and I wish we’d heard more from her after this besides her excellent single “Like This/U Like My Style”.
16: Sandy Bull – Demolition Derby (1972)
Takes the acoustic guitar improvisation style pioneered by Basho, Fahey, and a younger Sandy Bull and puts a handlebar mustache on it. This is some spaced out swamp rock. Bull isn’t a loose player but knows where to leave space. More relaxed and funky than most solo guitar records of this era. Altered enough, you might even start dancing. Patti Smith likes it. I like it. You should like it too.
17: Robert Ashley – Perfect Lives (1980)
I wrote a 15 page paper on this in college and probably could have gone longer. I’ll try to keep this short. Ashley combines opera, television, boogie woogie, metaphysics and John Cage into an epic statement laying out an idiosyncratic but wise view of the world. What is the place of sound? What is the difference between tourettes and speaking in tongues? What is the self and how does it change over the plane of time? Was “Blue” Gene Tyranny the greatest improvisational piano player of all time? All this and more on the next episode of Perfect Lives.
18: Mike O’Neill & Devon Sproule – Colours (2013)
Really nice low key indie pop. Excellent vocal harmonies and song writing with hooks galore. The vibe is more middle-aged but in a good way. Sproule’s voice is in top form here. “Walking In the Folly” should have been a huge hit. While both have had solo careers, I would definitely get excited for a sequel. Many lyrical quotables. The Madvillain of indie pop.
Check out “You Can’t Help It” and “Talk To You” first.
19: The Innocence Mission – Glow (1995)
One of the high points of 90s soft rock. Karen Peris takes lyrical influence from Emily Dickinson, a pretty unusual influence in the music world. The production and guitar tones are on point. “Bright As Yellow” makes rather delicate sounds seem enormous. “Happy, The End” is a menacing side A closer with a great instrumental coda. Catchy melodies everywhere that feel earned. One of few albums I own multiple copies of.
20. The Bats – Daddy’s Highway (1987)
Jangly melodic pop with harmonies from New Zealand. This one has some very subtley odd production-sort of like fellow NZers The Clean, they figure out how to make acoustic guitars come across as being punk. The songwriting is top notch. The sound is firmly planted in the 80s jangle scene but it holds up.