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I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.

— Elvis Presley.

My love affair with music is now in its fifth decade. Not just listening to tunes but thinking about, reading about, discussing and collecting music is a major part of who I am. As a music ‘consumer’ for so long it’s a new and somewhat scary notion that I could contribute to the experience and knowledge of others (music lovers or those simply bored enough to read this blog) through written reviews.

The intention of this blog is to connect you with music that has been meaningful to me in some way, resonated with my soul and increased my understanding of what it is to be human.

There is no rating system implied in the records I’ll select for review. In fact, some of the albums I love the most will not be represented here because either they’ve been reviewed so many times (Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors and the entire Beatles catalog) or I have nothing to add to the conversation around them as they’ve been reviewed by folks much smarter than me (this ain’t no Pitchfork). However, I reserve the right to break my own rules; it’s my party and I’ll act like a fool if I want.

You’ll find a fairly wide variety of musical genres included, from introspective singer/songwriter to straightforward pop/rock, from loud and obnoxious/anti-social metal all the way to classical and jazz.

As I write these entries, I’ll be thinking about a particular person I know that would benefit from listening to the record in review. It’ll remain my secret as to who that person is but, regardless, what I’d love for you to do is listen to these records in their entirety, end-to-end on whatever medium you prefer ( I guess Spotify, Amazon or Apple will be the most-used); engage with the music even if you hate it at first listen. I’ve missed (or delayed by years) many opportunities to discover a new favorite by dismissing music based on the genre or artist due to my own likes and dislikes. For example, I couldn’t even get through my first listen to Bjork’s “Debut” released in 1993. But something drew me back to the music and, after several spins (on CD) I started to appreciate her vision, aesthetic and artistry. I’ve listened to that record countless times and I now own and love all of Bjork’s albums.

This journey may meander and loop back on itself, I apologize in advance. By the end of it I truly hope that I might have influenced just ONE of you to change their mind or take a chance and experience a record, falling in love with it the way I have.

Comments are welcome! If my opinion irks you, keep it civil and I’ll do my best to respond.

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Live for the Music

  • Artist: Various
  • Title: My Favorite 70s Live Albums
  • Released: 1970-1979
  • Format: Vinyl, CD, FLAC, Streaming
  • Genre: Rock/Pop/Alternative
  • Beverage of Choice: Bud Lite in a 24 ounce plastic cup

It’s my opinion and assessment that all music is best experienced as a live performance, whether by the original artist or a cover band or just some kids playing in the garage. The immediacy, dynamic range, power and emotional resonance of music is usually diluted once it’s captured to a tape or disc of some kind. So it’s really difficult (and I have some experience here, having worked for radio stations and church as a sound engineer) to set up and accurately lay down the sounds coming from a variety of instruments and vocalists in real-time. You generally get one shot at it if you’re wanting to record a particular show and ‘fixing it in the mix’ means introducing additional and therefore artificial elements to the music.

These constraints inevitably mean that that there are not many great live albums; either the production values detract from the music and performances can sound flat, distant and uninteresting (unless you’re a total raving fan of that particular artist and then, of course, nothing sounds bad) or the performances are lacking merit. When a live album is good though, it’s amazing, and can transport the listener right into the mix and you become part of the crowd, connected and excited to be there.

These are the albums I reach for to get that ‘live fix’; generally on vinyl for the additional ambience but I have worn out many of these through constant play! Again, no particular order or ranking implied as each of these albums means something more than just the music to me. Some may even be ‘rated’ as below average by the experts and critics; music is so subjective to time, place, mood and preference that every listener gets to decide what they think is ‘good’ – so agree or disagree, all points of view are valid.

Alice Cooper – The Alice Cooper Show (1977) – Alice Cooper’s live performances in the 70’s are legendary for excess, drama, schlock horror and his idiosyncratic style (way, way ahead of his time). One thing Mr. Vincent Furnier knows for sure is how to pick musicians for his band. Steve Hunter blows the ceiling off the Aladdin hotel on guitar (“Is it My Body”) and the rest of the band rocks hard. It helped to have Bob Ezrin produce the album so that, even though the dynamic range is somewhat flat, the stereo imaging and clarity are excellent. Crank it up on headphones!

Humble Pie – Performance, Rockin’ the Fillmore (1971) – Despite being, essentially, a covers album, the way Humble Pie played other artist’s material really made it their own. Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton play off each other in a way that represents the underlying tensions in the band that would lead to Frampton heading off on his own and recording another well known if somewhat overplayed live album a few years later (“Comes Alive”). Great boogie and guitar jams on this one – check out “Stone Cold Fever”.

Rainbow – On Stage (1977) – I’ve already written an in-depth review of this, one of my favorite albums ever – you can read it here.

Deep Purple – Made in Japan (1972) – Instantly familiar to a generation of old rockers like me, this album represents the ‘best’ lineup Deep Purple ever had and, of course, substitute Ronnie James Dio for Ian Gillan and you pretty much have Rainbow a few years down the track. Incredible talent, great engineering from the legendary Martin Birch (who single-handedly created the British heavy rock sound) and music that has stood the test of time, what’s not to love?

Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous (1978)- The twin guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson are highlighted on this phenomenal album. Sadly this was Robertson’s last recording with the group and he was sorely missed on later efforts. An example of a live album ‘touched up’ in the studio (although exactly what Tony Visconti did to enhance the recordings is a mystery), the dynamic range and power of the music is amazingly well-rendered. Includes the best version of one of my favorite songs from the 70s , “Dancing in the Moonlight”, with a saxophone show-stopper from John Earle. RIP Phil Lynott, we miss you!

UFO – Strangers in the Night – (1978) – I recently purchased a new remastered vinyl copy as my original was worn out from over 40 years of play. A sorely underrated band and album; UFO is up there with the best hard rock bands of all time and what a year this was with the release of this album AND “Live and Dangerous” AND “Double Live Gonzo!” Sadly this was Michael Schenker’s last ‘classic’ recording with the great lineup of Phil Mogg, Paul Raymond, Pete Way and Andy Parker. The band would never sound this tight and heavy again. “Doctor Doctor”, “Lights Out” and “Too Hot to Handle” blow the roof off.

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same (1976) – I’ve seen critics dismiss this album as ‘disappointing’, ‘stodgy’, ‘overblown’ and even ‘boring’. Only to prove a point that critics can blow it sometimes; this is the music that, at 13 years old, expanded my mind, opened my ears and connected my soul to what I will always hold up as the gold standard for rock and roll. Sure, the 10+ minute drum solo on “Moby Dick” doesn’t need repeated playing and Jimmy plays thousands of notes more than he probably needs to – that’s not the point here. This is an historical document for the mid-70s – nobody then or since does it better. If you’ve ever seen the movie (this is really a soundtrack album) you’ll know what I mean and, if you haven’t, drop whatever you are doing, go directly to whatever streaming app you can find it playing on and watch it now!

Kiss – Alive! (1975) – “You wanted the best and you got it!” My best mate growing up, John, moved from England to South Africa and into my 4th grade classroom bearing this album and turned me on to what would be a lifetime love of monster plod music. I finally got to see Kiss live in Toronto in 2019 and, surprisingly, the band and music hadn’t aged a day since this, the first great live album I ever heard was released. If you think Kiss was/is a joke, go listen to this album and the level of passion, professionalism and sheer good times the band puts into a show – it’s always been about the fans (rise Kiss army!)

Ted Nugent – Double Live Gonzo (1978) – Another critically underrated artist (who never helped himself with outrageously dumb public interviews) this is another example of how vibrant the rock music scene was in the 70’s. Sadly, living in South Africa, I missed all of it but made up some ground when I moved to the USA in 1997, at least with the bands and artists that were still around at that point! Nugent is an amazing guitarist with his own unique stranglehold on the Gibson Byrdland that he played on this album; the band is super tight and no after-the-fact studio enhancements on this one – all live, all good and larger than life. Dig into “Hibernation” or “Stranglehold” for an understanding of Nugent’s particular brand of electric guitar wizardry.

Queen – Live Killers (1979) – All the hits represented here. Freddie was the ultimate front-man and there are multiple examples of the amount of sheer fun he brought to a show on this album. The production isn’t great , being slightly flat in the mix, but the band’s incredible cohesiveness and feeling for the music is on display throughout making this an excellent document for the halcyon days of classic rock music.

Worthy Mentions – Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive (1976); Wings – Wings Over America (1976); Genesis – Seconds Out (1977); Kiss – Kiss Alive II (1977)

Jump in the Water

  • Artist: Peter Gabriel
  • Title: Us
  • Released: 1992
  • Format: CD/Digital Download
  • Genre: Alternative/Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: Irish Breakfast Tea

Six years after the worldwide phenomenon that was So, Peter Gabriel released this absolute gem of a breakup album. Dealing with the emotional and spiritual pain of his divorce and other strained relationships, the record mirrors the sonic layering and rhythms of So but, in my option, surpasses the impact of that offering through exquisite song-writing and craftsmanship in the studio. In addition to Gabriel’s typically nuanced and percussion-driven sound, the choice of collaborators on the album is inspired: Sinéad O’Connor takes the role that Kate Bush played on “Don’t Give Up” (one of my favorite songs from Gabriel) and delivers a heartfelt and affecting performance on “Blood of Eden” as well as “Come Talk to Me“, the opening track. The plaintive poetry of the latter song never fails to provoke an emotional response in me that hovers between sadness and hope :

“I can imagine the moment

Breaking out through the silence

All the things that we both might say

And the heart, it will not be denied

‘Til we’re both on the same damn side

All the barriers blown away”

The track has a nuanced sonic landscape, utilizing a variety of instrumentation (synth, synth bass, bagpipes, drone, guitar, triangle and amazing percussion by Manu Katché). Another welcome collaborator is Daniel Lanois lending his amazing talent to various tracks and instruments (dobro, shaker, horns) on the album.

Long-time friend and colleague Brian Eno adds his inimitable keyboard skills to “Love to be Loved“, one of Gabriel’s most emotionally transparent and appealing songs. After the gloss and mainstream acceptance of So, it must have been taking a major risk for Gabriel to expose himself in this way; the subdued atmospherics and vocal delivery stir the heart and mind in ways that few pop songs could ever aspire to. In my opinion this track deserves to be an enduring reminder of Gabriel’s creativity and musicianship.

“Blood of Eden” explores the inner world of relationships (especially marriage) with an amazing vocal performance and a similar song structure to “Don’t Give Up”. Gabriel uses Biblical imagery and themes fairly often in his songwriting and this particular example is powerful and affecting.

Steam” is somewhat of an anomaly on this album with a strong resemblance (pretty much a rewrite) to “Sledgehammer”, the huge hit from So that launched Gabriel from a boutique fringe audience into the mainstream. Not a bad song, just somewhat out of place on this otherwise delicate and ephemeral track list. “Only Us” returns to the exotic and surreal soundscape that Gabriel excels at creating – Tony Levin providing a great lead bass performance and with Ayub Ogada on backup vocals, with additional musical punctuation from ney flute and violin.

Now we get to my favorite track on the album and possibly my favorite Gabriel track of all time – “Washing of the Water“. Measured and stately drums with piano lead and horns arrangement. Gabriel’s vocals are raw, infiltered and direct-to-the heart amazing. Listen to the lift on the bridge, his voice soaring and cracking with emotion, powerful and yet delicate; if I could sing at all I’d choose to sing like this.

Digging in the Dirt” is up-tempo to match the somewhat aggressive lyrics; almost like a disagreement that turns into a fight between a married couple. Gabriel was clearly working out some the frustrations, disappointments and resentments from his failed marriage on this album – sad for him but great for us as music lovers as he turned his emotions into creativity and gifted us this great music. “Fourteen Black Paintings” is another great collaborative effort with John Paul Jones (ex-Led Zep) playing bass, keyboards and surdo, Babacar Faye on djembe, Levon Minassian on duduk and Daniel Lanois on dobro. This musical approach (percussion-driven with deep and wide soundscape layered over) has been Gabriel’s strength and recognizable trademark for a long time now and it’s what I’ve learned to appreciate most about his talent.

“Kiss that Frog” could have been left off this album and nobody would have missed it (well, maybe Gabriel might); it’s the weakest offering on the album, gimmicky at best – skip it if you like. “Secret World” restores the mood and rescues the end of the album with another ode to relationships wrapped up in a musical blanket incorporating synth strings, Mexican flute and cello and Manu Katche’s stellar drumming.

Warning: this album is not as immediately accessible as So and it takes time and multiple listenings to extract all of the juicy goodness from Us. If you do invest he time though, I guarantee you a rich return from the effort and you’ll be able to amaze your friends when you next identify a duduk been played on a song!

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

  • Artist: Various
  • Title: Various
  • Released: 1900-2020
  • Format: Vinyl/CD/Digital Download
  • Genre: Various
  • Beverage of Choice: Caparinha

By no means a comprehensive list, here are fifteen of the greatest albums by female artists in my library. Again, the order of entry does not imply a ranking, these are all albums I consider to be worthwhile, extraordinary and musically engaging; simply enjoy them!

Little Queen – 1977


“Barracuda” destroys; whose says girls can’t rock?

Kala – 2007


Unmistakable, fearless and divisive; must be M.I.A.

Pearl – 1971

Janis Joplin

The whiskey-weathered voice and sheer power of a talent taken way too early.

Hounds of Love – 1985

Kate Bush

Her breakthrough album, made entirely in her home studio.

I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got – 1990

Sinéad O’Connor

Her genius lies in small touches, dynamics and contrast.

Stumble Into Grace – 2003

Emmylou Harris

Collaborations with Malcom Burn and Daniel Lanois breathe new life.

Bad Reputation – 1980

Joan Jett

Post-Runaways, pre-Blackhearts; the original bad girl.

Bella Donna – 1981

Stevie Nicks

Her debut album proved that she didn’t need Lindsey like air.

Peach – 2017

Larkin Poe

Blues, rock, guitars and attitude.

Jagged Little Pill – 1995

Alanis Morissette

Canadian girl wins over the world. Brilliant songwriting.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – 1998

Lauryn Hill

Stunning debut, crossover or cross-culture, all good.

Hannah Wicklund & The Stepping Stones – 2018

Hannah Wicklund

Tiny girl, huge sound.

Back to Black – 2006

Amy Winehouse

One of a kind talent; gone too soon.

Horses – 1975

Patti Smith

Intense, emotional and electric; Smith has never made a bad album.

19 – 2008


Before she ruled the world, Adele made simple, stunning music.

Shaken and Stirred

  • Artist: My Baby
  • Title: Shamanaid
  • Released: 2015
  • Format: Vinyl
  • Genre: Blues/Rock/Gospel/Dance/World
  • Beverage of Choice: Grey Goose Martini, straight up, two olives

Chances are you’ve never heard of this band or their cross-genre, compelling and satisfying music. Based in Amsterdam, My Baby combine elements of rock, blues, dance, gospel, folk and world music into a witch’s brew of entrancing rhythm and melody. Shamanaid is their sophomore album and expands the tone and musicality found on the debut Loves Voodoo with the use of slide guitar, lap steel, dobro and that undefinable element of ambience/feeling that defines great music.

Kicking off with a dance/EDM oriented tune, “Seeing Red“, your introduction to the band may make you scratch your head and ask ‘what the heck does he hear in this stuff that’s so wonderful?’ Just hang in there buddy, this music will creep up on you and, next thing you know, your toes will be tapping, body swaying and you’ll find yourself hooked on the catchiness, craft and concentrated strangeness this group manages to effortlessly create.

Meet Me at the Wishing Well” showcases a loping beat with lap steel and Cato van Dijck’s laid-back voice simultaneously soothing and exciting the ears. Backing vocals from brother Joost provide depth and nuance while guitarist Daniel Johnston interjects with delicious little runs and fills. Nice! “Uprising” focuses on that steel guitar sound with elements of blues, gospel and dance again all mixed up, shaken, stirred together and served up steamy and sweet. “The Doors of Your Mind” sounds like a 70’s throwback but has a modern mix and temperament; listen to this one through a good set of headphones to appreciate all the elements combined here (shaker, wide open mix, guitar interplay left and right; echo percussion and layers of ambience. )

OK, by now you either love it or hate it I guess. If the latter, go ahead and check out back to your comfort zone (anywhere from Demis Roussos to Lamb of God). The discerning rest of you, keep going and explore the excellence represented on the rest of the album with songs like “Mary Morgan“, “Hidden from Time“, “Marching” and “Panggajo” demonstrating the tremendous breadth of sound and expression the band has to offer.

By all accounts My Baby has a fantastic live show and a dedicated core fan group that will travel far to see them in concert. Hopefully they will get ‘big’ enough to make it over to the USA at some point – I will be there front and center to cheer them on!


  • Artist: The Be Good Tanyas
  • Title: Blue Horse
  • Released: 2000
  • Format: CD, Digital Download
  • Genre: Americana/Folk
  • Beverage of Choice: Moonshine

I’ve always been a sucker for layered, nuanced and clear album mixes regardless of musical genre and, in this case, the arrangements and production of traditional and new folk songs is a stellar example. On the first bar of “The Littlest Birds” the attention to detail and pains taken to elevate the somewhat simple music to a great experience is evident.

Hailing from Vancouver, The Be Good Tanyas have a small but expressive catalog, carving out a niche in the generally cluttered and undifferentiated genre. It’s not easy breathing new life into old tunes and it’s even more difficult to come up with something distinctively new but they succeed on both counts admirably. The music is deftly presented with a minimum of fuss or sonic trickery with small touches here and there (a breathy line, electric guitar behind the mix, banjo counterpoint) and, especially for a debut album, the group display a control and surety of vision that belies their experience.

Listen to the intermingled harmonies on a song like “Broken Telephone” with a bright mandolin playing the role of a third voice and then electric guitar solo and you’ll be left wondering and marveling at how uplifting and joyous the song is even with a rather maudlin lyrical content. These thematic elements (counterpoint, harmony and clear, bright production pervade the album, making it an absolute listening pleasure from beginning to end – slap on a pair of good headphones for an optimal experience.

Black is a Color Too

  • Artist: Johnny Cash
  • Title: American Recordings I-VI
  • Released: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2010
  • Format: CD, Digital Download
  • Genre: Americana
  • Beverage of Choice: Knob Creek Rye and Fresh Apple Cider

Between 1994 and 2003, the year he died, The Man in Black enjoyed a late career surge in popularity and creative output due to producer Rick Rubin’s vision, care, and industry smarts, releasing four albums combining Cash’s unmistakable style with contemporary artist’s songwriting. The positive trend continued posthumously between 2004 and 2010 with the release of two additional albums; American V: A Hundred Highways, becoming Cash’s first number one album in 37 years. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Johnny was all washed up but, by 1994 he had certainly mined out the country/folk/traditional vein he had so long been associated with and these (mostly) covers revitalized his prolific talent for storytelling and musical purity. After all, Mr. Cash was 60 when he recorded the first of this set and died at age 71 shortly after the released of the fourth (and, in my opinion, best) album.

The song selections are eclectic but, true to form, Johnny made them his own. Not all of the covers are a spectacular success (“Danny Boy”) but, in general, the level of engagement and musical interpretation is excellent; some standouts to explore are “Thirteen” (Glenn Danzig), “Rusty Cage” (Chris Cornell), “I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty, “One” (U2), “The Mercy Seat” (Nick Cage), “Hurt” (Trent Reznor) and “Personal Jesus” (Martin Gore – Depeche Mode). The original, Cash-created, tunes featured on the albums are some of his finest writing in decades (“Like the 309”, “I’m Leaving Now”) and mostly deal with the fact of his imminent departure from this old globe with candor, humor and grace.

Cash also had some great assistance in creating this body of music from artists like Tom Petty, Flea, Lindsey Buckingham, Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and Nick Cave. It seems that everyone owes some kind of musical debt to the great man and many were honored and overjoyed to get a chance to work with him even as his days ran out (maybe especially so).

We’ve been left a great legacy of honest, uncompromising and soul-satisfying music by a man whose personal demons drove him to the brink of ruin but whose ultimate faith in God and man is a testament to the resilience of the human heart. Explore all of these albums without necessarily taking them in chronological order, each is rewarding and compelling on it’s own merits. Approached as a holistic body of work the American Recordings are a fitting tribute to a true American musical hero.

Family Values

  • Artist: Chris Stills
  • Title: 100 Year Thing
  • Released: 1998
  • Format: CD
  • Genre: Folk Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: Peet’s Light Roast – French press

30 years after Crosby Stills Nash & Young ushered in the Summer of Love at Woodstock, the son of one of the most acclaimed musicians in the folk rock genre released this album to a collective yawn. The late 90’s was a tough time to be introducing a retro-acoustic set with a folksy/rocky aesthetic; the music-buying youth had already started to move away from CDs to MP3 pirate downloads which would be the format of choice by 2000 with the launch of Napster. For the mainstream, if it wasn’t Madonna, Cher or Celine Dion, you could basically forget about selling any large numbers of expensive CDs. I might be one of only a handful of people who actually paid good money for this CD when it was released. And I am glad I did! Christ Stills took his family legacy and ran with it: writing, arranging, playing and singing these songs with the aplomb and confidence of a 30-year veteran at the ripe old age of 24.

Now , there is a strong sense of déjà vu on some of the tracks, with Chris sounding like Steven a generation earlier, but that’s not a bad thing; Steven Stills is one of my favorite guitarists and I remember seeing him in concert in Lake Tahoe in the late 90’s (for an amazing $10 ticket fee) playing his favorite Gretsch and just generally having a great time under the radar. This album feels like that show; laid back, expertly crafted and fun.

The music is retro but modern-sounding in production values and arrangement. Acoustic guitar dominates but there are a smattering of electric lead breaks, Hammond organ fills and enough strong percussion to satisfy rock fans (check out “God Won’t Make You a Man” and “Lucifer & Jane”) as well as those yearning for those halcyon days of the late 60’s when everything was changing and love was all.

This is a solid album that deserves much more attention that it probably ever received and I still listen to it regularly as a reminder that you don’t have to be famous to be good.

I’ve Been to the Edge

  • Artist: Van Halen
  • Title: Original Studio Albums
  • Released: 1978 – 2012
  • Format: Vinyl, CD, FLAC, Streaming
  • Genre: Hard Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: “Anything you can see through”

2020 has been, so far, an experience that I expect everyone will want to forget. Losing Eddie Van Halen to cancer this past week added another layer of suckiness to this long and frustrating year. Eddie was the genius that lifted Van Halen from just another American rock group to an international phenomenon, spinning hit after hit built on his incredible technique and vision. The band members he has left behind, past and present, all represent solid and even gifted musicianship, but Eddie was the one-in-a-million talent, up there with those guitarists we stand before in awe and wonder. He belongs to a small and growing-smaller circle of musicians that dominate or dominated their specific time and genre: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to name a few. Even as troubled a soul as he was and his various struggles with relationships and addiction, it was way too early a departure and the world is a poorer place indeed without Eddie.

So, I’m breaking my own rules and ranking the Van Halen albums from worst to best. I’m sure you’ll disagree, especially if you grew up with their early albums like I did. I was fourteen when Van Halen was released and right from the first rising, screaming, bullet train note and explosive riff of “Running With the Devil” it set a new bar for raw guitar sound, creating a standard against which I still judge other guitarists and rock music. So, let me know if you think I got it wrong; after all, music is so subjective to time, place, age and emotion, it would be weird if we all agreed on the list – I did my best to be objective but I guarantee it’s still not perfect!

Van Halen III – The switch from Sammy Hagar to Gary Cherone on vocals added precisely zero to Van Halen’s sound or musical direction. If you listened to the album not knowing about the change in front man, it’s unlikely you’d even hear the difference. The album is over-produced, tired and not worthy of the previous incarnations of the band.

Balance – The last album with Sammy Hagar on vocals reveals a band sick of itself and, with tensions rising between Hagar and Eddie, a lack of cohesiveness and inspiration in the songwriting. Mid-paced rockers more suited to the Eagles than a band with the hard-rock pedigree of Van Halen and not at all fun. Not one song worth listing in even their top 30.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge – Straightforward rock attempting to be as radio-friendly as possible in the 1990’s context couldn’t save this album from the bargain bin. It spawned one hit “Right Now”, ironically piano-led. Forgettable and uninspired , the only song I really like is one of Eddie’s ‘filler’ instrumental guitar interludes (“316“) – at least it’s pretty.

OU812 – Possible VH’s most musically diverse album it suffers from a lack of the joy and sense of humor that make their strongest offerings such fun and so emotionally satisfying. Hagar’s vocals seem strained at times, like he was trying too hard to make a rock statement in an attempt to top Diamond Dave’s silliness with seriousness. “Finish What Ya Started” is a great song (strangely, Hagar sounds more like Roth than anywhere else on the album) and the harmonies and backing vocals sound like the original band.

A Different Kind of Truth – The reincarnation of a post-Hagar (and, sadly post Michael Anthony) Van Halen was, for me, an indication that the creativity, musical chops and songwriting ability of the band had not been entirely lost in the years between 1984 and 2012. Eddie replaced Anthony with son Wolfie on bass, so it’s a family affair with Diamond Dave back in front and sounding a lot like his old self. The album deserves a second listen if you haven’t spent much time with it. The riffs are big, Eddie plays hard and fast and the production is uncluttered and loud – very much like the VH of the 70’s. It’s just a little too relentlessly hard, without the snarky humor and party-band-fun flavor of the first six albums. Only “Stay Frosty” relieves the heaviness to a degree, recalling “Ice Cream Man” on the first album but without the swing and laid-back coolness that Diamond Dave evoked in the early years.

5150 – The first album with Sammy Hagar sounds pretty much like a continuation of the musical direction set by 1984. The only reason this album doesn’t make it into my top six is that old subjective element: Van Halen > Van Hagar. It’s a good 80’s album with some of the band’s most memorable songwriting delivered flawlessly and with minimal production changes from the sound that made the band great in the first place. “Best of Both Worlds” is arguably the peak of the band’s songwriting with Hagar adding his unerring understanding of what makes a tune radio-friendly, especially while driving over 55.

Diver Down – Still a rather strange album what with all the covers, novelty songs and short running time but against-all-odds wonderfully delivered in the light of getting an album to market and make some more of those dollars. It’s also somewhat of a reaction to the previously dark and ‘nasty’ album, Fair Warning, and sounds like a band getting back to the party after a fistfight in the parking lot (with the bloody evidence on their faces – witness “Intruder” , the intro into “(Oh) Pretty Woman“.)

Van Halen II – One of the strongest follow up albums ever in that it sounds pretty much exactly like the first one! The band could have written and recorded the nine original songs at the same time as those on Van Halen and nobody would be the wiser, making this almost as good but not as instantly groundbreaking. Every song is familiar and showcases the bands strengths; humor, cohesiveness, sing-along choruses, huge riffs and, of course, Eddie’s amazing sound and technique.

Women and Children First – simply put, “Take Your Whiskey Home“. It’s everything Van Halen could be in one song.

1984 – Eddie took the 80’s by the throat and shook them hard. Guitars are passé? Take that, pow! The band had been using keyboards as background on their albums for a while and now brought them to the fore (on the opening, title intro track , “Jump” and “I’ll Wait“), incorporating pop hooks into their rock roots to great effect. A landmark album in a decade where music seemed to be more of a political statement than entertainment and the more ‘serious’ you were the more the critics loved you. Van Halen managed to keep the joy alive and produce an album that crossed genres while remaining true to the spirit of the band. David Lee Roth’s last album before handing the reins to Sammy Hagar and probably a wise move on Roth’s part; Van Halen never made better music than this after 1984. “Drop Dead Legs” and “Hot For Teacher” are top ten songs.

Fair Warning – I remember getting the original vinyl as a gift from my Dad. He’d spent a few weeks in the USA on business and walked into a record store somewhere in Texas and asked what was ‘new’. They gave him this album (and Tommy Tutone – 2 of all things – although I guess “867-5309/Jenny” was pretty massive). The first time I played it I thought they might have mislabeled the band somehow, it just didn’t sound at all like the first three records. Complicated riffs, percussion and snarly, pissed-off vocals. Where was the party-band vibe? And then I played it again… and again and… fell in love with the sound of realized songwriting, truly heavy playing and the sound of Van Halen all grown up. “Mean Street” blows down the door and Eddie has never sounded leaner, meaner and more focused, the bridge sounds like that on “Ain’t Talking About Love” (my number one VH song) and it simply rocks hard. “Push Comes to Shove” sounds like the band picking over the bones of past slights and fights to a disco rhythm – appropriate as the beginning of the end was in sight for the band.

Van Halen – The original and best. ‘Nuff said.

25 Reasons to Love Music

If you get a chance, please read my initial post (“Start Here“) for a glimpse into why I decided to write an album review blog in the first place and maybe begin to understand the diversity in my choices for review. I would love to foster and encourage a deep love of music in my grandchildren and hope that these entries will survive me to guide them towards developing a sense for what I believe to be excellent, worthwhile and enduring. Again, your preferences may be entirely at odds with mine but, you know what? – that is just fine. In fact, it’s wonderful, because then I may have an opportunity to introduce you to a band, and album or a song that cracks open that door a little and expands your ability to appreciate the wide , infinite universe that is music.

Here are 25 albums that I will not review on this blog site because they are so intrinsically important to me that I don’t want to even start trying to analyze or squeeze them to reveal their secret hold over me – I will just continue to play them over and over until the day I shuffle off this old earth to my heavenly reward where, I am totally convinced, music will continue to play a huge role in my enjoyment of God, family and life.

  • Artist: Various
  • Title: Rick’s Recommended 25
  • Released: 2020
  • Format: Cassette, Vinyl, CD, FLAC, Streaming
  • Genre: Various
  • Beverage of Choice: Whatever brings a smile to your dial and a skip to your step

In no particular order and no rating/ranking implied (I love them all):

TitleArtistRelease Date
IVLed Zeppelin1971
Physical GraffitiLed Zeppelin1975
A Night at the OperaQueen1975
Moving PicturesRush1981
The WallPink Floyd1979
TuskFleetwood Mac1979
Van HalenVan Halen1978
The Joshua TreeU21987
WildflowersTom Petty1994
Live and DangerousThin Lizzy1978
Stop Making SenseTalking Heads1984
Dire StraitsDire Straits1978
News of the WorldQueen1977
Couldn’t Stand the WeatherStevie Ray Vaughn1984
Stephen StillsStephen Stills1970
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandThe Beatles1967
Sound of SilverLCD Soundsystem2007
In Through the Out DoorLed Zeppelin1979
Heaven and HellBlack Sabbath1980
Use Your Illusion IIGuns N’ Roses1991
Mixed UpThe Cure1990
Wish You Were HerePink Floyd1975

Wow, that was tough! There are at least another 25 albums that could make this list on any given day. I love listening to albums from start to finish but, with the amazing capabilities of Plex, I also love ‘on-the-fly’ playlists, jumping from artist to artist and genre to genre as mood dictates.

This is a hobby/passion that is endlessly fascinating and infinitely rewarding; there is always some new artist, new album/old-album-that-I-never-heard-before to discover and enjoy. Join me on the journey and let music take you to unexpected and exciting places.. whenever you like and wherever you are!

Bring the Rush

  • Artist: Chevelle
  • Title: La Gárgola
  • Released: 2014
  • Format: Digital Download
  • Genre: Hard Rock/Alt Metal
  • Beverage of Choice: Bourbon and Ginger Beer

Despite having to stave off the inevitable comparisons to Tool over the years, Chevelle have managed to remain relevant and consistent with a distinctive energy and songwriting ability that many of their alt metal peers probably envy. This, their seventh album, displays that cohesive vision and expands on their sound with , I dare say it, funk and pop elements that serve to elevate and expand the music and gives La Gárgola a more radio-friendly and crowd-pleasing sound than many other records in this genre.

The songs are all tightly constructed around a punchy rhythm section, syncopated vocals and riffs that are familiar but also creative and fresh to my jaded ears. I find myself returning to this album when I want a energizing jolt of heavy rock to clear my mind. It’s in the same class as many of the other great metal albums I love but also separate, modern and undeniably ‘different’. Something to do with Chevelle’s take on song structure, ambient space in their layering of guitar, bass, distortion and percussion and even the placement of instruments across the stereo space. Songs like “One Ocean” hint at a potential alternative career in pop, sounding eerily similar to U2 circa “Joshua Tree”.

The heavier tracks like “Jawbreaker” and “Under the Knife” are balanced by the melodic and singalong “Take Out the Gunman” (one of the catchiest and likable ‘metal’ tracks ever), the 90’s-sounding “Twinge” and the aforementioned pop-new-wavy”One Ocean”. Chevelle are no one-trick-pony, that’s for sure.

The band has promised a new album in 2020 and I, for one, can’t wait to hear the progress that they will have made, each album building on the previous , expanding their range and creativity. If you haven’t heard any of Chevelle’s music before, start with La Gárgola but do go back and take a listen to ‘Hats off to the Bull‘ and their debut album ‘Point #1‘ to get a sense of their depth and progression since 1999. They will definitely surprise you and maybe, just maybe, extend your musical appreciation and preferences a tiny bit. Let me know what you think?