Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
My original intention was to write two or three posts about my favorite one-and-done artists (side-projects, solo albums, supergroups and any artist with only one album in their discography), but as I’ve continued to revisit them I’m finding more and more of these albums that I want to talk about. Here are another ten examples, some of which have become critical darlings while others have fallen through the cracks, all of them excellent and deserving wider recognition.
Artist: HINDU LOVE GODS
Album Title/Year Of Release: HINDU LOVE GODS (1990)
What would R.E.M. sound like playing mostly blues covers with Warren Zevon replacing Michael Stipe on vocals? A lot like Hindu Love Gods, a collaboration between the brilliant, dark-humored singer-songwriter and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Mike Mills & Bill Berry. Recorded in 1987 around the same time as Zevon’s excellent Sentimental Hygiene record (which included appearances by all four R.E.M. members) but not released until three years later, it’s a fun set of tunes that sound like they were bashed out in one take. They tackle classics made famous by Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon & Muddy Waters as well as more recent songs like The Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains” and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” (a minor Modern Rock hit). The album ends with two folkier numbers, “I’m A One Woman Man” and “Vigilante Man,” but prior to that it’s straightforward rock ‘n roll. My favorite song is “Crosscut Saw,” which I was first introduced to via Eric Clapton’s 1983 recording, but I later discovered Albert King’s definitive version.
Artist: ECHOES OF AN ERA
Album Title/Year Of Release: ECHOES OF AN ERA (1982)
I didn’t always appreciate Chaka Khan, especially since my first exposure to her music was via 1984’s hip-hop influenced “I Feel For You,” which was not my cup of tea at the time. A few years later I wised up and realized that she’s one of the greatest singers of all time, notably the records she made with the soul/funk band Rufus in the ‘70s & early-‘80s. A decade ago, thanks to a CD reissue, I discovered this wonderful record she made with jazz giants Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and longtime Return To Forever bandmates Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke & Lenny White. Even if I never came around to her recordings with Rufus and later solo work, I would have loved her powerful readings of standards like “All Of Me,” “I Loves You, Porgy” and “Them There Eyes.” Her distinctive vocals are on full display, but with a much-needed restraint that allows the songs to breathe, and the amazing musicianship & stellar arrangements shine through as a result. Echoes Of An Era was a match made in musical heaven, and it’s a shame that this was their only release.
Album Title/Year Of Release: VICTOR (1996)
Alex Lifeson was the first member of Rush to release a full studio album outside of that band. Instead of placing his name front and center, he created this band (and album) that featured mostly the same group of musicians on all tracks along with a couple of different vocalists, but it’s really a showcase for his clever, quirky, humorous & often awe-inspiring songwriting & guitar playing. Singer Dalbello (aka Lisa Dal Bello) provides Geddy Lee-esque vocals on “Start Today,” making it the most Rush-sounding song here. “At The End” features spoken vocals by Lifeson on top of a moody & percussive backing track, and “Strip And Go Naked” is more subtle & tasteful than the majority of the record. The highlight for me has always been the Zappa-indebted “Shut Up Shuttin’ Up,” with valley girl chatter & some absolutely killer guitar work. This album probably didn’t appeal to most Rush fans, if they were even aware of it in the pre-internet age, but anyone with an open mind who loves some thoughtful guitar shredding would find a lot to like here.
Artist: GEDDY LEE
Album Title/Year Of Release: MY FAVORITE HEADACHE (2000)
Rush vocalist/bassist/multi-limbed genius Geddy Lee waited until the band was on a self-imposed sabbatical before releasing his only solo album. Featuring the talents of longtime k.d. lang collaborator (and one-time Rush touring partner with his band FM) Ben Mink on guitars, violin & viola and Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, this collection of driving modern rock songs isn’t far removed from the sound of Rush’s albums around that time, tied together by that one-of-a-kind voice. The sound is a little more streamlined than Rush’s more progressive approach, but songs like the title track, “Runaway Train,” “Grace To Grace” and “Home On The Strange” could pass for Rush, with only Neil Peart’s cerebral, thought-provoking lyrics missing from these more earthbound compositions.
Artist: DENNIS WILSON
Album Title/Year Of Release: PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (1977)
Dennis Wilson has long been the most overlooked and undervalued member of the original Beach Boys. He started out as their drummer, heartthrob and (ironically) the only member of the group who actually surfed, but over time he proved himself to be an emotive singer and captivating songwriter, which I discussed during my 9-part series on their discography. His best contributions to the band came in the ‘70s, after his brother (and resident genius) Brian Wilson lost his way. He may not have contributed any hit singles, but his songs usually packed an emotional punch that made me wish he had a bigger presence on their records. For a long time his only officially released solo album was hard to find, but thanks to a 2008 expanded reissue it’s now available with additional tracks and recordings he made for its ill-fated follow-up, Bambu. At times loose, a bit ragged and simply produced, it’s also surprisingly cohesive and I find it works best when played from start to finish, letting myself get lost inside its insular world. On the first few listens no individual tracks jump out at you, but collectively it’s quite powerful and it grows in stature with each subsequent listen. For the uninitiated rock fan of my generation, his raspy voice is best described as a cross between Eddie Money and Kiss’ Peter Criss, yet the music doesn’t recall either of those artists. Since I want to choose the best songs to recommend to new listeners, the ideal entry points would probably be the woozy, hypnotic & elegiac “Farewell My Friend,” the gospel-y Beach Boys sound of “River Song” (co-written with brother and fellow Beach Boy, Carl Wilson) and the funky cool “Dreamer” with its peaceful middle section.
Album Title/Year Of Release: THIS IS HAZELVILLE (2006)
Captain was one of my favorite discoveries of this century; a short-lived English band whose songs have a similar vibe to Prefab Sprout, Deacon Blue and even Johnny Hates Jazz. Their only album was immaculately produced by Trevor Horn, the former Buggles/Yes frontman who has put his sonic stamp on the recordings of countless artists. I love their blend of male & female vocals (Rik Flynn and Clare Szembek), both with a distinctly British flavor. There’s not a wasted note throughout the record, with “Western High,” “Frontline” and “Glorious” being three standouts. I remember this was very highly regarded by the UK music press at the time of release but, other than a couple of singles that reached the lower portion of the Top 40, it was a commercial disappointment. They did record a follow-up (Distraction) but it was never released, making them a one-and-done artist…at least until album #2 officially sees the light of day.
Artist: FISTFUL OF MERCY
Album Title/Year Of Release: AS I CALL YOU DOWN (2010)
Sometime in the late-‘90s I got into the music of two contemporary artists whose work didn’t seem to have much in common: Ben Harper, the blues/folk singer/songwriter/guitarist whose career has seen him tackle numerous styles, and Joseph Arthur, another talented singer/songwriter who was discovered by Peter Gabriel (he was actually the first American-born artist signed to Gabriel’s Real World Records). With at least a dozen releases each, all of which I own, it’s not an understatement to say I’m a huge fan of both of these guys. For this album they joined forces with Dhani Harrison, son of Beatle George Harrison, creating a collection of mostly acoustic, energetic folk-based songs which are all credited to the trio, making it a truly unique collaboration. Ubiquitous drummer Jim Keltner adds his usual tasteful percussion throughout, giving the songs a little extra punch that they might have been missing when Harper, Arthur & Harrison were sitting around with acoustic guitars writing them. Each singer has a very distinctive voice, which makes for a diverse collection that’s unified by their wonderful harmonies. There’s a Dylan quality to album closer “With Whom You Belong,” I love the violin on the title track, and the two most instantly catchy songs are “In Vain Or True” and “Father’s Son,” the latter showing that George Harrison’s voice has been passed down to his son. I’ve heard that they’re talking about recording a second album together, which I hope is the case even though it would negate their one-and-done status.
Album Title/Year Of Release: MARY STAR OF THE SEA (2003)
During the grunge explosion of the early-to-mid-‘90s, I was interested in other styles of music, with only the occasional song making an impression on me. It wasn’t until the end of that decade when I finally went back & discovered some great artists that I probably should have been listening to during their heydays. One prominent example was Smashing Pumpkins, who were at one time among the biggest bands in the world. It took the incredible drumming of Jimmy Chamberlin to make me realize how good they were, and I’ve since become a fan of Billy Corgan’s songwriting and his love-‘em-or-hate-‘em vocals. When he split up the band (prior to their resurrection with other musicians several years later) he put together this short-lived group that continued the Smashing Pumpkins vibe, thanks in no small part to Chamberlin’s impressive contributions. Overall it’s a little smoother and more instantly melodic than much of the Pumpkins’ output, and it lacks some of that band’s intensity, but Zwan could easily be mistaken for Smashing Pumpkins by anyone other than their most obsessive fans. I love the extended musical roller coaster that is the 14-minute juggernaut, “Jesus, I/Mary Star Of The Sea,” but some shorter songs are probably better entry points, such as “Honestly,” “Ride A Black Swan” and “Lyric.”
Artist: PETE TOWNSHEND & RONNIE LANE
Album Title/Year Of Release: ROUGH MIX (1977)
The Who has long been among the handful of artists I consider my “favorites of all time,” and their chief songwriter, Pete Townshend, has had a solo career that’s nearly as impressive as his day job. I came to The Small Faces and Faces (two distinctly different British bands which consisted of mostly the same musicians across two different decades) sometime in the ‘80s, but it was years later when I realized the importance of their bassist/songwriter, Ronnie Lane. My first exposure to him was the A.R.M.S. benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in 1983 that featured the talents of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck & Eric Clapton, raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, the disease that was slowly crippling him and would eventually kill him in 1997. Over time I’ve realized what a great songwriter he was and what a wonderful earthy voice he had. I’ve had this one-off collaboration between these two musical giants for many years, and each time I play it I enjoy it a little more than I did before. There’s a folky vibe throughout, with country influences as well, and the cast of musicians is impressive: the aforementioned Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart, John Entwistle, and many others. The album is packed with highlights: “Keep Me Turning” (a pretty Townshend tune), Lane’s rollicking “Catmelody,” “Street In The City” (with its lovely string section), Townshend’s classic rocker “Heart To Hang Onto,” the instrumental title track with Clapton on lead guitar, and the best-known song here, “My Baby Gives It Away.”
Artist: ART IN AMERICA
Album Title/Year Of Release: ART IN AMERICA (1983)
Not many rock bands featured a harp as one of the main instruments, and if they did you would have expected it in the ‘60s or ‘70s, but Art In America was not your typical band. Formed by three American siblings, they were influenced by progressive giants like Genesis and Yes but sounded more like those bands’ ‘80s incarnations, with more than a hint of prog supergroup Asia. This was a modern, slick, progressive-pop-rock record that should have gotten more exposure, but I’m glad that FM radio played the title track (one of those rare examples of a band name, album & song having the same name) in 1983. Otherwise I might have missed this excellent record that may sound a bit dated to newcomers but still sounds fresh to me. The bouncy “Sinatra Serenade” is another highlight, pointing ahead to The Dream Academy, but it’s “Art In America” that will always be this band’s calling card.
Please let me know how many of these albums you recognize, and if you love any of them as much as I do. Thanks. I need to take a brief break but I will return to wrap up this series shortly after Thanksgiving.