Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
These one-and-done artists keep coming, and the quality remains extremely high for the third entry in this series. As stated in my previous posts, I’m highlighting side-projects, solo albums, supergroups and any artist with only one album in their discography. My criteria for what qualifies as “one and done” continue to expand, but the essence of this concept remains. Whether or not you agree with all of these choices, I hope you enjoy some of them, and perhaps you’ll discover an artist or album you missed the first time around.
Artist: THE STILLS-YOUNG BAND
Album Title/Year Of Release: LONG MAY YOU RUN (1976)
It’s a little surprising to think that Stephen Stills and Neil Young only recorded one album together outside of their collaborations as members of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Then again, when you consider the egos of these two great songwriters and guitar masters, it may be more shocking that they managed to release such a solid & coherent record before imploding. Long May You Run began as a CSNY album before David Crosby and Graham Nash backed out. I thought about including it in my series on the Neil Young discography but with Stills on board I considered it more of a separate entity. After revisiting it this past week, I confirmed my suspicion that it would have been out of place there, as it’s evenly divided between the talents of these two legends. Young’s acoustic & rocking sides are both on display, and Stills adds some of the Latin flavors that he had previously offered on his solo records. My favorite Stills song here is “12/8 Blues (All the Same),” while the two biggest highlights for me are Young’s title track and the soaring “Fontainebleau,” featuring some truly killer guitar work.
Artist: TINTED WINDOWS
Album Title/Year Of Release: TINTED WINDOWS (2009)
I know there had to be others like me out there who didn’t bat an eye when this “supergroup” consisting of Taylor Hanson (of Hanson), Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains Of Wayne), James Iha (of Smashing Pumpkins and This Perfect Circle) and Bun E. Carlos (of Cheap Trick) appeared out of nowhere in 2009, and even those who were skeptical would have been won over by the fun, loud, punchy, melodic power-pop on display throughout this record. Schlesinger is a highly regarded songwriter and Carlos is a drumming legend, but Hanson was the wildcard here. The former “MMMBop” singer was always in danger of being dismissed as a teen idol, but anyone who’s followed his career knows that Hanson (the group) has delivered a number of great albums filled with melodic nuggets, all of which they write, perform & produce themselves. I know this isn’t a review of Hanson but you need to keep an open mind about Tinted Windows’ lead singer in order the fully appreciate this immensely enjoyable album. With 11 songs in less than 36 minutes they waste no time, trimming the fat as they subscribe to the “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” philosophy of the best pop songwriters. There’s not a bad song here, with standout tracks being album opener “Kind Of A Girl,” “Nothing To Me” and the driving “Can’t Get A Read On You.”
Artist: BENJAMIN ORR
Album Title/Year Of Release: THE LACE (1986)
When bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr died from pancreatic cancer in 2000, the prospects for a reunion of his ‘70s/’80s band The Cars died with him. Although Ric Ocasek was that band’s songwriter & guiding light, Orr provided lead vocals on about 35% of their songs, many of them among their biggest hits. Casual fans probably didn’t realize that there was more than one lead singer, but most of my fellow music lovers have long appreciated Orr’s contributions to their sound. The Lace is his only solo album and it’s a good one, showing off his strong songwriting abilities (along with his then-girlfriend, Diane Grey Page) and his warm vocals make even the lesser material worth hearing. Overall it’s a very ‘80s-sounding record, yet the production perfectly suits the material, with hit single “Stay The Night” and album tracks “Spinning” and “Too Hot To Stop” being longtime favorites. He also surrounded himself with some world class musicians, including keyboardist Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell’s then-husband) and guitarists Mike Landau and The Cars’ Elliot Easton.
Artist: THE SEX PISTOLS
Album Title/Year Of Release: NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS (1977)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not much of a punk rock fan, so the inclusion of The Sex Pistols in this series might come as a surprise to some of my readers & friends. I was in my pre-teens when punk was in its heyday and I enjoyed bands like The Ramones and The Clash, but only the songs I heard on the radio or at friends’ houses. I didn’t buy any of their albums nor did I have the same reaction to punk that I did to so many other genres. What little I knew of The Sex Pistols, it was clear that they weren’t in my musical wheelhouse. I first heard their only studio album when I was in my early-‘20s, expecting a collection of noisy, tuneless, aggressive songs with amateur musicianship yet, much to my surprise, it was the exact opposite. Sure, Johnny Rotten’s sneering vocal delivery is an acquired taste (one which I acquired more than 25 years ago, and renewed recently when I gave his later band Public Image Limited a shot), but musically they’re incredibly tight, thanks to the solid drumming of Paul Cook and the inventive guitar work of Steve Jones. Co-producers Chris Thomas and Bill Price gave the record a commercial sheen that a typical underground punk band would never be able to achieve (nor would they want to). There are plenty of great songs here, from the awareness-raising abortion song, “Bodies,” to classics like “God Save The Queen” & “EMI” and especially my favorite track, “Pretty Vacant.” I may never be passionate about The Sex Pistols but for a non-punk guy I find this album immensely enjoyable.
Artist: JEFF BUCKLEY
Album Title/Year Of Release: GRACE (1994)
I fell in love with this album the moment I heard it, and 20 years later it’s lost none of its power. I hadn’t considered Buckley a one-and-done artist since he had a previous live EP and several posthumous releases (he drowned in 1997 at the age of 30), but when a friend suggested Grace for this series I agreed that it fits my loose criteria. The only other studio release credited solely to him was Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, which consisted of songs he recorded for his second album that he planned on re-recording, hence the “sketches for” portion of the title. Therefore, he only has one official release in his discography, and it’s a monumental album. Its impact isn’t immediate but it grows in stature the more you spend time with it. His voice is a finely tuned instrument that could be tender one moment and soaring the next, and the musicians assembled for the record (guitarist Michael Tighe, bassist Mick Grondahl and drummer Matt Johnson) offer powerful yet sympathetic accompaniment. Although it’s best to listen to Grace from start to finish, a number of songs are perfect introductions to the beauty within: his exquisite take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (inspired by John Cale’s version), the intense emotional ride of “So Real” and the swinging tour-de-force of the title track.
Artist: THE HONEYDRIPPERS
Album Title/Year Of Release: VOLUME ONE (1984)
Led Zeppelin has been my favorite band by a wide margin since I was 13, so for most of my life I’ve devoured as much of the music they recorded together and just about everything they’ve released individually & collectively since they split in 1980. Lead singer Robert Plant had already released two excellent solo albums in 1982 & 1983, streamlining his sound for the new decade while still maintaining his “golden god” status (I was fortunate to see his first solo tour in 1983 at Madison Square Garden, when he was still at the peak of his abilities), but for his next project he tried something different. The Honeydrippers was a studio project where Plant could indulge his love of songs from the ‘50s in various styles (jump-blues, string-laden ballads, R&B and more), with a band that featured Paul Shaffer on keys, Nile Rodgers on rhythm guitar, jazz great Dave Weckl on drums and Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck each adding lead guitar on a couple of songs. Sadly this EP only contains 5 tracks and lasts less than 18 minutes, but that brevity allowed me to play it dozens (possibly hundreds) of times throughout the ‘80s & beyond. The passion he had for this music is evident in every note, and listening to it now makes me feel like that 18-year-old who excitedly bought it on the day of release. From Ray Charles’ bouncy “I Got A Woman” to Phil Phillips’ gorgeous “Sea Of Love” (a huge hit single) and on to the uptown horn-drenched R&B/blues of “Rockin At Midnight,” you would have to be a grouch to not love this EP.
Artist: THE TEARS
Album Title/Year Of Release: HERE COME THE TEARS (2005)
Suede (aka The London Suede here in the U.S.) were a hugely popular band in the U.K. during the early- to mid-‘90s Britpop era of Oasis, Blur, Pulp and my personal favorite, Supergrass. I didn’t listen to them until the end of that decade, quickly realizing that I had missed out on a great band that peaked early. Their first two albums, which were the result of the fiery partnership of singer Brett Anderson and guitar whiz Bernard Butler, showcased a modern glam-rock group with soaring, epic songs that didn’t sound like anything being created by their contemporaries. After Butler’s acrimonious departure in 1994, the band continued without him but none of their subsequent albums possessed the unique qualities of the first two. It was a pleasure, then, to see the two founders reunite under the name The Tears more than 10 years later. All of the dramatic, chiming, glam-pop majesty of those early Suede records was immediately on display and, even though the album may not be as consistently rewarding, it was great to have them working together again. Their U.K. Top 10 hit “Refugees” was a perfect choice for leadoff single, and it was followed by the excellent “Lovers” and standout album tracks like “Imperfection,” “The Ghost Of You” and the majestic Bowie-esque “Apollo 13.”
Artist: DAVID + DAVID
Album Title/Year Of Release: BOOMTOWN (1986)
I’m usually pretty good at remembering where/when I first heard about an artist or album, but in the case of this one-time collaboration between songwriters David Baerwald and David Ricketts, I don’t recall whether a friend recommended it, I read a review in a magazine or I randomly bought a copy of the CD because I was somewhat aware of David Baerwald in the early-‘90s. I know it was already a few years old when I became aware of it and it’s always an enjoyable listen, even though I’ve often gone long periods of time without playing it. The drum sounds and overall production date-stamp it to the mid-‘80s but that never takes away from the strength of the songs. It’s mostly atmospheric melodic rock with strong musicianship (the duo play most of the instruments), interesting arrangements and passionate vocals. Had this been recorded 10 years earlier or later, they likely would have pursued a rootsier Americana direction and been much more highly regarded, but instead this slow grower is an album out of time (which somehow managed to just crack the Top 40). There’s no better introduction to this stellar record than its leadoff track, “Welcome To The Boomtown.”
Artist: CHRIS BELL
Album Title/Year Of Release: I AM THE COSMOS (1992, recorded mid-‘70s)
Briefly mentioned in my “B-Sides The Point” post on Big Star, this one and only album recorded by that band’s co-founder in the early- to mid-‘70s but not released until 1992, 14 years after his death in an auto accident, strikes the perfect balance between dreamlike, slightly woozy ballads and brittle, melodic power-pop rockers. I always had trouble distinguishing Bell’s contributions to Big Star’s debut album from those of his bandmate, Alex Chilton, but it’s clear that Bell was just as instrumental in making that record a bonafide classic as his more celebrated colleague. Just about every song on I Am The Cosmos would have fit comfortably on a Big Star record, and the more I’ve listened to it over the years the more I recognize the gaping hole left in the world of melodic rock since his passing. I could choose just about any of the album’s 12 songs as the ideal entry point, including the title track, “You And Your Sister,” “Make A Scene” and “I Got Kinda Lost,” but it’s the proto-Cheap Trick of “Better Save Yourself” that encapsulates all that he had to offer.
Artist: THE UNCLE DEVIL SHOW
Album Title/Year Of Release: A TERRIBLE BEAUTY (2004)
In all the years since I graduated college (in 1988), no artist has had a bigger impact on me than Del Amitri, the Scottish band fronted by singer/bassist Justin Currie, whom I consider to be one of the most consistently brilliant pop/rock songwriters of all time. His ability to combine incisive & often biting lyrics with catchy melodies and clever arrangements, delivered with those smooth, tender, vibrato-laden vocals, never ceases to amaze me, and nearly 30 years since Del Amitri’s debut album he continues to deliver the goods in his solo career. Shortly after Del Amitri took an extended hiatus around 2002, Currie formed The Uncle Devil Show with fellow Scottish singer-songwriter Kevin McDermott (whose 1989 album Mother Nature’s Kitchen was my only previous exposure to his music) and his brother Jim McDermott on drums, all three adopting aliases and cheekily denying any connection to their true-life alter-egos (hence the kooky costumes on the front cover, which was an homage to The Strangeloves’ I Want Candy). This album was probably not intended as anything other than a laugh for the trio that wouldn’t find an audience beyond their existing fans, allowing themselves to write quirky songs with sharp but silly lyrics like “Bimbo In The Limo,” “Leonardo’s Bicycle” and “Sidelong Glances Of A Pigeon Kicker.” For this longtime Justin Currie fan, the album was a breath of fresh air and showcased his dry, cynical sense of humor more openly than anything he had previously released. A Terrible Beauty is probably not the ideal place to start if you’re unfamiliar with Currie &/or McDermott, but “She Cuts Her Own Fringe” could have easily appeared on a Del Amitri album and is my favorite song on the album. I was fortunate to see The Uncle Devil Show during one of their handful of live appearances in Scotland the year this album was released. Of the dozen or more Del Amitri/Justin Currie shows I’ve seen over the years, it ranks among my favorites.
I had a lot of fun revisiting these ten albums this past week. They may span more than three decades but it was still a pretty cohesive listening experience. Let me know if any of them are important to you. I’ve already got another 10 one-and-done albums ready to be played, and I look forward to sharing them with you next week.