Question of the Day: Timeless Albums

29 10 2006

Turntable
What are some of your favorite, forgotten albums that have stood the test of time?
Submitted by PeterGibbons.

The two key words here seem to be “favorite” and “forgotten.” And I guess it’s my favorites, forgotten by everyone else. Hey, that’s my specialty!

1.) Braver Newer World by Jimmie Dale Gilmore — This is probably my favorite album of all time. Gilmore, who founded The Flatlanders with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, is one of the greats of alt country. His solo work, including Braver Newer World, is uniformly exquisite. But BNW is different and breathtaking. It’s the product of Gilmore’s interest in Buddhism and his upbringing in Lubbock; I guess you could say the album is a sort of glorious cross between Zen and Texas. That said, the Buddhist themes aren’t in-your-face, but—if you’re attentive—you’ll hear them from time to time. Here, for instance, is a snippet of Gilmore’s lyrics from the title track:

Tell me now that you know how
To greet the dawn each day.
Fearless and unfettered, stand
Before the sun and pray.
There’s no controversy
Let silence judge your plea
For justice or for mercy.
They both will set you free.

It’s a braver, newer world you’ve found,
Rolling ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s a braver, newer world you’ve found.

There isn’t a bad song on the album, but I highly recommend the title track, “Borderland,” “Headed for a Fall,” and “Where Is Love Now.”

This is an album that I’d evangelize for. I want all my friends and family, and you, to hear it. It’s that good.

2.) I’ve Got that Old Feeling by Alison Krauss — I think this just might be the best bluegrass album ever. I know that’s saying a lot, and I’ll rile up the Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and J.D. Crowe fans by saying so, but I stand by the comment. On Old Feeling, Krauss—who wasn’t even 20 yet when she recorded the album—shows off both the phenomenal fiddle-playing that first captured the attention of bluegrass fans as well as the voice that later won her fans among less bluegrass-oriented fans of country music.

Krauss has always had a thing for love-gone-wrong song, and she shows that off on Old Feeling. One song after another showcases the variety of broken hearts out there. My favorite is either the title track or “That Makes One of Us,” written by the great Sidney Cox, which has memorable lyrics like this:

You’ve made up your mind
We don’t want the same thing
And that we won’t change things
Wishing there were ways
And there’s no use staying together
Nothing lasts forever
That’s what you say

And that makes one of us not in love
And that makes one of us who can’t give up
If you can walk away from the life we’ve made
Then that makes one of us

That chorus always gets me. Other favorite songs on the album: “Wish I Still Had You,” “Steel Rails,” and “Tonight I’ll Be Lonely, Too.” Highly, highly recommended.

3.) Lovers Knot by Jeb Loy Nichols — I don’t understand why Jeb Loy Nichols isn’t a huge star. Or, at least, a cult favorite among those experimental types who might really appreciate his blend of R&B, country, reggae, and folk. Knot, which came out in 1997, and Just What Time it Is, which came out four years later, did garner critical success—but, dang it, Nichols just didn’t seem to cultivate anything but a small, if devoted, following. I’ve seen him in concert three or four times; each time, there were no more than 30 or 40 stalwarts in attendance. He deserves many, many more fans.

Anyway, Knot is absolutely one of my favorite albums. A little bit unusually for me, a couple of my favorite songs on the album are about love that’s actually working out. (Novel concept, huh?) In that vein, I’d recommend “Our Good, Good Thing (Just Gets Better)” and “Sugar Creek.” “Sugar Creek,” in particular, is dear to me because it reminds me of the happiest times I spent with my ex. The ex liked the song, too, and—for that matter—he turned into a big fan of Nichols. “Good, Good Thing” probably has more universally appealing lyrics, though:

Darling please forgive me
I was tired I didn’t mean a world I said
Now all this talk
Won’t stop the clock
And that sleepy look
In your eye
Say it’s time for bed

But I know
That when I apologize
She’s gonna say that’s OK
And when she tries to kiss me
I’m gonna let her
‘Cause I know everytime we make up
Gives our hearts a little shake up
And I believe
Our good, good thing
Just gets better

Other standouts on Lovers Knot include “Yesterday’s a Long Time Ago,” “Quickly into Trouble,” and “Ill Angel.”

4.) The Happiest Dogs by Mighty Joe Plum — Mighty Joe Plum was dismissed, I suppose, as just another post-grunge, mid-to-late 1990s rock band. Its one album, The Happiest Dogs, went nowhere, and that’s a real shame. If there were any justice, at least one of the songs on Dogs, probably “Live Through This (Fifteen Stories),” would have been a hit. Since I’m quoting right and left in this post, here’s the chorus to that song:

What if I fell fifteen stories
What if my weight wasn’t enough to kill me
What if I were sticky enough
to walk the ceiling….
then maybe I could live through this.

The raw emotion of that always gets me…. Anyway, Mighty Joe Plum offered everything that was popular at the time—driving guitar work; energetic, masculine vocals (in the vein of, oh, Staind, I guess); genuine-feeling, original lyrics; catchy hooks. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as the biggest fan of this genre of music, I took to this album like few others.

Other standout songs on Dogs: “Irish,” “Borderline,” “Please (Hear Me)”, and—fittingly for a Florida band—”Sweet Orange Marmalade.”

5.) Wild Kentucky Skies by Marty Brown — I guess Marty Brown was alt country before there was such a thing. Brown, who wrote and performed on four quality-but-little-noticed albums in the early 1990s, is downright Country (yup, with a capital ‘C’). And it’s legitimate: He grew up in tobacco country in Kentucky, and all the biographies say he started playing in honky tonks when he was 14. Anyway, he sounds like your long-lost cousin from the sticks. (I have a ton of those, don’t you?) And, yes, that’s a good thing.

I had a tough time deciding between Brown’s first album, High and Dry, or his second, Wild Kentucky Skies, for this list. I ultimately, and somewhat arbitrarily, opted for Skies, but—I assure you—both albums are top-notch ultra-country productions. Skies, for what it’s worth, probably has a few more songs that still give me goose bumps. Maybe my favorite song is the lead-off song, “It Must Be the Rain”:

I’ve seen bluer skies — I’ve known brighter days
I’ve had sunshine, but now my skies are grey
You just told me you don’t love me anymore
There’s nothing I can do but watch the rain pour
I can’t believe that you’re leaving me
I can’t believe that your love is really gone

It must be the rain, I can’t be crying
It must be the rain, our love can’t be dying
I saw the lightning strike, and I heard the thunder roll
When I thought I heard you say you don’t love me anymore

I just listened to “It Must Be the Rain” again this afternoon, and it got to me like it always does. I got a little tear-y, and there wasn’t even any rain to blame. Brown’s high-lonesome vocals really complement his lyrics here. “Rain” is good stuff. It’ll definitely make you feel something. Other noteworthy songs on the album include “God Knows,” “Honey, I Ain’t No Fool,” “She’s Gone,” and the title track. There’s really only one clunker (“I’d Rather Fish than Fight”) on the album. How often can you say that about an album?

I’m sure Brown isn’t for everyone. But if you like a little authentic country yodel, or if you yearn for honky tonk sounds of 50 years ago, check him out.

It’s a real shame Brown didn’t become a superstar. I hope he’s got another album or two in him.

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2 responses

1 11 2006
Randall

Marty is some sort of cousin of mine. Last I heard, he was working at a gas station/convenience store, but his Momma told my girlfriend that he had recorded a new album and he was trying to find a label to publish it.

I’ve tried to get Rhino to re-release him, but I might as well try to get Ford to re-release Edsel.

They don’t answer my emails.

25 11 2006
Jay

Hey, thanks for the comment, Randall. Good info.

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