Classic Album of the Week

Only Classic Albums from the most recent three months are included on this page.

Older Classic Albums can be found on the original playlist pages, listed in alphabetical order here.

Click on LP covers for more info and reviews.

   

Black Dice "Creature Comforts"  2004 (USA)
This week we have a 21st century musical group to induct into the CAOTW hall of fame. Black Dice is the trio of Eric Copeland, Bjorn Copeland, and Aaron Warren. I'm not exactly sure how to even describe their sound: "electronic" and "avant-garde" are the two things I think of first, but there are actually guitars in their music too and originally I understand they were a "punk" band with all the usual instruments including a singer and live drummer. But this electronic music is not for dancing - a lot of it doesn't even have a discernable beat. There is definitely a "junkyard band" quality to their lo-fi sound, but it isn't "noise" or "industrial" either. Wikipedia describes them as "experimental" (the ultimate cop-out record critic weasel-word). But even though most of their albums sound different, somehow there is a "Black Dice aesthetic" that is very distinctive. As I mentioned on the show, when the 2022 debut album by a new group called Flaccid Mojo turned up in the "ole Kosmik Radiation mailbag" last week it immediately reminded me of Black Dice. Later I looked it up, and whadayaknow Flaccid Mojo is a duo consisting of Aaron and Bjorn from Black Dice! It is hard to pick a definitive "best" album by a group whose albums all have their own character, so I chose their second full-length LP Creature Comforts because it is as psychedelic and weird as anything they've done. The group has been less active in recent years, with their 2021 album Mod Prog Sic having been their first afer about a decade of no new music. Eric Copeland has released a lot of solo music in the meantime, including the 2008 classic Alien In A Garbage Dump which is a pretty good description of the Black Dice sound!
Larry Coryell "Spaces"  1970 (USA)
Electric guitarist Larry Coryell was an important figure in the early days of "jazz fusion" who released many acclaimed and popular albums at the end of the 1960's and beginning of the 1970's. In 1969 he played on a groundbreaking funk-fusion album by Herbie Mann and recorded the sessions for this week's CAOTW. The rest of his band on this album are second guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Billy Cobham (future founders of Mahavishnu Orchestra), future Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous, plus Chick Corea (future founder of Return To Forever) playing electric keyboards on one track. Coryell himself would also start a fusion group later in the 1970's called The Eleventh House, though they were never as big as Mahavishnu/Forever/Report. But Spaces was recorded before any of these guys were very famous: in 1969 McLaughlin, Cobham, and Corea were still sidemen in the Miles Davis band recording albums like Bitches Brew! So the Miles influence is pretty thick on this album "conceptually" (use of space, modes, and rhythms), but not in terms of "how it sounds": this is a "jazz" band with no horns and two shredding electric guitars, which I think was unheard of at that time. Coryell continued making great electric guitar jazz up until his passing in 2017.
Nico "Desertshore"  1970 (Germany)
Along with Scott Walker and Kate Bush, Nico is one of the most singular artists in the last century of Western music. I was tempted to say "in popular music" except her music has never been popular! It's a testament to her uniqueness that her legend looms so large considering she recorded very little music in her lifetime (five solo albums in 15 years) and never had a hit song anywhere. She sang three songs on the first Velvet Underground album, but was never really a rock artist. Her solo debut Chelsea Girl was kind of like folk music and had contributions by Tim Hardin, Jackson Browne, and even Bob Dylan himself, though she was never a folkie (or at least her idea of Volkmusik is quite different from that of an English speaker's). Her peak period was the three albums arranged and produced by her former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale. The Marble Index (1969) and Desertshore in particular create their own musical world: a baroque/gothic cathedral of sound mostly created by layers of Cale's viola and Nico's harmonium, framing the bottomless Teutonic sadness of Nico's voice (I may have paraphrased Lester Bangs in that last sentence!) This sure isn't rock and roll, and not the kind of thing most people would want to listen to very often, but if you seek to hear a challenging art music statement, then this is the album for you.
Black Sabbath "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath"  1973 (UK)
For this year's Halloweeny show, we induct the last of the first six Black Sabbath albums into the hall of fame. The band's glorious run from their 1970 debut album to "last truly great album" in 1975 showed the way for all future heavy and metal bands. Sabbath's status as the "first" metal band is unequestioned, but sometimes overshadows what a great "classic rock" band they were as well. All of the musicians in this group and their legendary singer Ozzy Osbourne have instantly recongizable styles and have been hugely influential on heavy music of every type. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was recorded at the zenith of the prog rock era, and incorporates synthesizers and orchestras and heavy lyrical concepts. Most of the band members seem to think of this album as their finest hour, though personally I think it's my least favorite of those first six classic albums (I like the first two the best - gimme those huge gothic riffs over a Rick Wakeman overdub any day!) Which is not to criticize this album: the production does sound amazing and it has it's fair share of kewl riffs and grooves (plus their best album cover). Black Sabbath's sixth-best album of the 1970's is still mega-classic.
The Breeders "Pod"  1990 (USA)
Nine of the last ten Classic Albums have been from 1975 or earlier, so here's a (slightly) more modern classic from a band that's still around. The Breeders began as a side project for Pixies bassist Kim Deal, whose singing and songwriting skills were never fully utilized by that band (originally alongside singer-guitarist Tanya Donnelly from Throwing Muses, though Donnelly didn't write songs for Breeders and left to form her new band Belly in 1992). This week's CAOTW was The Breeders debut, produced with brutal minimalism by Steve Albini and highly acclaimed though not a big seller at the time. After grunge-mania struck in 1991, Pixies broke up and Kim focused on The Breeders alongside a new member to replace Donnelly: Kim's identical twin sister Kelley Deal, who plays lead guitar and has a singing voice that is basically identical to Kim's. By 1993 they found themselves with a hit record that surpassed the popularity of anything Pixies had done. The group has continued over the years with a few hiatuses and Kim the sole constant member, though the classic version is Kim and Kelley with bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson (the lineup for their 1992-1995 salad days and also from 2012 to the present day.) Here's a nostalgic clip of the band playing their quirky/catchy tunes live on European teevee in 1993.
Also on the show this week: it's time for a round-up of the latest pop tunes from Japan! My favorites Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Dempagumi.inc have recently released new songs and music videos. Former Dempagumi member Nagi Nemoto has also launched a new career as a "virtual idol" and released her first EP as a solo artist: she now appears in videos as a digitally-animated avatar based on an illustration of her own design! Finally, fresh jams from Japanese rapper-ladies DAOKO and Ichigo Rinahamu. And from another exotic island on the other side of the planet, the hottest indie rock band in the English-speaking world for the last year or so has been the Manx duo Wet Leg: a group with catchy/quirky songs led by a couple of gal-pals (I think they sound a lot like The Breeders.)
Pharoah Sanders "Tauhid"  1967 (USA)
Pharoah Sanders just passed away, a few weeks before his 82nd birthday. He played saxophone with Sun Ra and John Coltrane back in he 1960's, and after Trane's death Pharoah became one of the leaders of the "spiritual jazz" movement along with Alice Coltrane (they also played together on a half dozen albums). His final album was a collaboration with electronic music project Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra that came out in 2021. One of his finest albums, and arguably most important, was this week's CAOTW which was his second album as a leader, and his debut with the Impulse! record label. At the time this was recorded, Pharoah was still in John Coltrane's band, though he struck out in an entirely different direction on his own record. Coltrane's music of this period was extremely chaotic, and "songs" would often jam on for 20 to 60 minutes of unstructured improvisation. Sanders' album includes plenty of free jamming, but reins it in to achieve a more "cosmic, flowing" vibe, and he was also more into funky grooves than Trane ever was. It really isn't that much like the jazz that came before it at all - even the forward-thinking bosses at Impulse! weren't sure what to do with it, but it was the sixties maaaan, and Tauhid turned out to be a harbinger of where jazz was going next. This album even includes nasty pre-fusion electric guitar for the rock-heads, courtesy of the brilliant and unsung Sonny Sharrock (this was certainly the most acclaimed album Sharrock ever played on, if not the best-selling.) The first song on this record, a 16-miunte suite called "Upper Egypt And Lower Egypt" is the standout cut on the album - and was so groovy, the revolutionary hippie-punk band MC5 played an acid rock version of it.
The Fraternity Of Man "The Fraternity Of Man"  1968 (USA)
We're digging deep for the most obscure psychedelia of the 1960's this week, to entice you with the awesomeness of community radio for WORT-FM's Fall Pledge Drive! The Fraternity Of Man was known for one song in the sixties ("Don't Bogart Me" from the soundtrack to the movie Easy Rider), but they were an interesting California psychedelic blues band whose lineup included guitarist Elliot Ingber (former Mothers Of Invention, future Captain Beefheart band) and drummer Richie Hayward (later to found Little Feat with two more ex-Mothers: Lowell George and Roy Estrada). The group only made two records in the sixties: their debut is our CAOTW and is the best of the two because it is more psychedelic (the follow-up was more blues 'n' boogie kind of stuff). This LP is also notable for including a version of Frank Zappa's song "Oh No" a couple years before his own band released a version of it (though the tune itself had already appeared in instrumental form on Lumpy Gravy). Perhaps relating to their Zappa connections, The Frat also displayed more of a sense of humor than most sixties groups. More specifiically relating to the Zappa thing, The Frat was also one of the most weed-loving bands of their day (Zappa had fired Ingber from The Mothers for doing drugs).
Wendy & Bonnie "Genesis"  1969 (USA)
We're digging deep for the most obscure psychedelia of the 1960's this week, to entice you with the awesomeness of community radio for WORT-FM's Fall Pledge Drive! Wendy and Bonnie Flower (those are their real names) made one groovy teenage folk rock album at the end of the sixties. They sing very well, many of the tunes are memorable, and the production is also terrific. So why did this album become a classic obscurity instead of a hit? Two reasons I think: first, their record label Skye went out of business shortly after their album came out. But secondly, I don't know that there was a very big market for teen girls singing honest songs about their feelings at that time. Mopey Joni and Neil could get away with it because the Love Generation looked up to them as hip elder sibling types, but who wants to hear teenagers sing about being depressed? It also sounds extremely dated - this music could only have been recorded in the late sixties - which probably also worked against it at the time ("cringe!"), but for those of us in the far future it becomes an engaging time capsule showing the groovy years from a perspective that wasn't often heard: the sixties had tons of songs about teen girls, but very few songs from their point of view.
The Gil Evans Orchestra "Out Of The Cool"  1961 (Canada/USA)
Creed Taylor passed away this year at the age of 93. Among his many achievements, he founded the Impulse! record label which released some of the best jazz of the 1960's. He was hired by ABC records to run a new label which was to be devoted to "cutting edge modern jazz", and his masterstroke was signing John Coltrane who became the flagship artist not just for the Impulse! label, but for jazz itself in the 60's. But amazingly, Taylor quit that job after barely a year! The three most important albums Creed Taylor personally produced while he was at the label were Coltrane's ambitious Africa album, Oliver Nelson's also ambitious The Blues And The Abstract Truth (both of these albums also featuring young phenom Eric Dolphy), and this week's Classic Album for Gil Evans. Evans was a hot commodity at the time due to his work arranging music for Miles Davis on his classic albums like Sketches Of Spain which was released the previous year. One of the all-time great jazz arrangers, Evans had little formal training (a couple years of community college; I'm not even sure he studied music). Out Of The Cool was an interesting step forward for Evans, being looser and "funkier" than his earlier work, and incorporating more improvisation. His "orchestra" on this album crucially included a stellar rhythm section: Elvin Jones on the drums and the GOAT bassist Ron Carter. 
Freddie Hubbard "Red Clay"  1970 (USA)
Creed Taylor passed away this year at the age of 93. Among his many achievements, he founded the CTI (Creed Taylor Incoporated) record label which released some of the best jazz of the 1970's. CTI records come in slick gatefold packages and are always pressed on top-quality viny, so I have been collecting everything on that label for years. But even better, I've never come across a CTI release that wasn't solid music, and many of them are terrific. The most important element is the incredible lineup of talent who played on their albums: the usual suspects who turn up on large numbers of CTI albums include George Benson, Hubert Laws, Ron Carter (greatest bassist ever), Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Bob James, and Freddie Hubbard. The other thing that makes CTI great is that these aren't "old fashioned" jazz albums, they were very contemporary for their time, blending modern jazz ideas from the 60's with the pop eclecticism of the 70's. Some albums are more funky, or more pop, or even classical/jazz fusions. CTI was progressive not in the sense of "prog rock" but in the sense of seeking new and innovative sounds to incorporate into jazz. Freddie Hubbard was probably the biggest star on the label, and Red Clay was one of CTI's biggest sellers and most acclaimed releases. I joked that Hubbard was Miles Davis' arch-enemy because those two stood head and shoulders above all other trumpet players of their era in terms of popularity, and their styles are actually pretty similar - comparisons not helped by the fact they used a lot of the same musicians on their albums, including the aforementioned great Ron Carter as well as Herbie Hancock, who both play on this album.
Herbie Mann "Memphis Underground"  1969 (USA)
Released in 1969, this was one of the earliest jazz fusion albums (along with Miles' In A Silent Way), and a big seller thus important in paving the way for future fusionistas. It's also pretty unique, in that most fusion was based on slick funk or prog rock but Memphis Underground is, as the title implies, gritty Memphis-style soul music along the lines of Booker T & the MGs, Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, and Isaac Hayes (when he was a producer and songwriter at Stax, before he went for baroque as a solo artist). The rhythm section on this album are not jazz musicians, they are soul musicians from Memphis, where the album was recorded. The out-of-town soloists who play jazz over the top are leader Herbie Mann on flute, Roy Ayers on vibraphones, and two then-unknown hotshot electric guitarists: Larry Coryell (who deserves his own CAOTW) and Sonny Sharrock. Coryell plays groovy Hendrixian stuff which is pretty great, but Sharrock hauls pure free jazz skronk sounds from his axe - no wonder he was later a big inspiration for Sonic Youth!
     
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