Rhapsody Streamnotes: October 30, 2013

Fifty-seven records below, a rebound from last month's 25 and the third-most of any month this year, trailing May (58) and January (60). Could have been more, as I've held a couple records back for further listening or just because I don't want to take advantage of my insider knowledge of next month's Turkey Shoot/Black Friday Special. (By the way, we're still looking for hunters, especially ones who have a secret favorite to reveal in the latter column.)

By the way, I've closed up comments again. Not sure whether technical problems prevented participation -- I've heard that Chrome users have found it impossible to submit comments -- but the fact is that more than 80% of the comments that have gotten through have been utter nonsense. An example (by no means the worst -- just one that I hadn't deleted from my mail yet):

It is proper time to make some strategies for the potential and it is time to be pleased. I have study this publish and if I could I desire to recommend you number of interesting issues or tips. Possibly you could publish next posts referring to this write-up. I would like to read far more items about it!

Reminds me of an old UNIX program called "fortune" which picks random lines from a file of fortune cookie text. Many are complimentary. Some even ask coherent questions I wouldn't mind replying to but they have no particular bearing on the post. I've also found the trackback feature to be totally useless: wish I could turn off the blog's efforts to ping blogs I link to (they almost never work) as well as incoming connects.

Not especially happy with the writing below. Seems like I'm running across more and more records I care less and less about, so I'm brush them off rather than wait for something useful to come. Nor is every short review below a dismissal.


These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3859 records).


AFI: Burials (2013, Republic): Initials stand for A Fire Inside, but I haven't seen any periods lately, not that I'm up for looking through ten album covers to see when they disappeared. A hard rock group with hooks, listenable (sometimes even cheesy) although I stopped trying fifteen minutes ago, giving up especially on trying to figure out whether they're full of shit, which they probably are. B-

The Harry Allen Quintet: Plays Music From the Sound of Music (2011, Arbors): Following up on previous discs of songs from Guys and Dolls and South Pacific, the tenor sax great and his old fashioned swing group -- Rossano Sportiello, Joe Cohn, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs -- move on through the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook. Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson sing, not as witty as Guys and Dolls but still "as corny as Kansas," and the sax leads are sublime. B+(***)

Allo Darlin': Europe (2012, Slumberland): English indie group, guitar-guitar-bass-drums, fronted by singer Elizabeth Morris who's clear and credible, too much so for the "twee" tag. In one song she thinks the coming day will be "amazing," and you believe her. A- [bc]

Thomas Anderson: On Becoming Human: Four-Track Love Songs (2013, Out There): A wordsmith first and foremost, he starts this off improbably with an instrumental, then returns with several odd tales involving Bo Diddley and Walter Mondale and then the longest, most improbable yarn of all, "The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover." Some of the connections I don't get -- I always figured Mondale lost that last Senate race because Minnesota voters didn't like to be taken for granted, and he didn't much care anyway. A- [cd]

Babyshambles: Sequel to the Prequel (2013, Parlophone): Ex-Libertines singer Pete Doherty's vehicle, starts with a couple rockers that that suggest his first profound imprint of rock was from the Clash, but soon enough he moves on to songs catchy enough you might expect them in pub singalongs save for their offhanded obscurity. B+(***)

Sam Baker: Say Grace (2013, self-released): Pretty basic, even when the horns come in behind a lyric that says it all with "isn't love great?/isn't love grand?" and a bit of piano or a wash of violin shows that he's not just a guy with a guitar -- a folkie on technical grounds, sentimental too. Some day I should dig through the back catalog. A-

Dave Bennett: Clarinet Is King: Songs of Great Clarinetists (2010, Arbors): Clarinet player, first record was a tribute to Benny Goodman and this sequel doesn't fall far from the tree. Without the booklet I'm not even sure how all of these fit into the canon -- Artie Shaw and Barney Bigard, of course, and "Stranger on the Shore" was a hit for Acker Bilk, but "Where or When" and "You Are My Sunshine" could have been anyone. Backed by Tad Weed's piano trio, taking a much more reserved, or reverent, tone than Bennett's new album. B+(*)

Jim Black/AlasNoAxis: Antiheroes (2012 [2013], Winter & Winter): Drummer's sixth album with this quartet since its eponymous debut in 2000 features Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) and Hilmar Jensson (guitar), interesting as long as the rhythm is quirky with Speed in contrast, less so when it starts to sound like ordinary fusion. B+(*)

Robert Sarazin Blake with Jefferson Hamer and the Powderkegs: Put It All Down in a Letter (2011, Same Room): Wordy focus, like spoken word poetry except sometimes Hamer's band gallops along so infectiously Blake has to sing to keep up even though he doesn't have the voice to make it graceful. One piece runs 18:41, another 12:45, eight more are shorter, every one makes me strain harder for the words -- something I rarely go out of my way for. A- [bc]

Danny Brown: Old (2013, Fool's Gold): Rapper, has quite some mouth on him, maybe because he works out so hard. B+(***)

Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers: Nothing Can Stop Us (2013, Strut): Jamaican singer, cut his first single in 1956 at age 11 and enjoyed his peak success in the 1970s with the lovers rock boomlet. Soothsayers seem to be a UK-based band with a horn section and a handful of albums since 2008. Campbell still has that sweet voice, and the band gets a fairly classic groove going, so what's not to like? B+(**)

Brandy Clark: 12 Stories (2013, Smith Music Group): Started off as a songwriter with a taste for the ordinary slice of life, which means broken homes, love as drunken illusion before the not inevitable marriage that strips it bare, a preference to cope by getting high rather than drowning your sorrows, and enough good sense to think twice before committing a "crime of passion" (unlike those other crazy women). Several potential clichés-in-the-making here, and I would argue that the political cult against abortion has more to do with making illegitimate children than drunken cab rides and lowering inhibitions, but this much substance is still rare enough in Nashville it's worth celebrating. A-

Cults: Static (2013, Columbia): Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, second album, first album cover suggested clean-cut dance frenzy, this one is all mottled -- I think posterized is the technical term. The pop tunes are jumpy enough, but strike an annoying tone, which belies the point, like trying to come up with unsweet candy. B-

Miley Cyrus: Bangerz (2013, RCA): Show biz kid, father is Billy Ray Cyrus -- someone I forgot about so long ago I it never crossed my mind -- worked her way through the Disney machine, dropping her fifth album at age 20. Looks like a corporate effort: I count 35 writer credits, 84 personnel credits (only 19 musicians, mostly violin); half the tracks were produced by Mike Will Made-It and P-Nasty, two by Pharrell Williams, the rest scattered, and five have featured guests -- Britney Spears and four rappers (Nelly, Future, Big Sean, and French Montana, whose "FU" is a riot, although I'm not sure FM can claim any credit). She's an unremarkable singer, so the big production may be her only shot, but it mostly works: this is roughly comparable to last year's Nicki Minaj thang, nothing close to the peak moments but a lot more consistent. Fairly good chance it would grow on me if I gave it the chance. B+(***)

Deer Tick: Relativity (2013, Partisan): John McCauley, singer-songwriter from Rhode Island with enough twang and middling classness to work in Americana, or what's left of it. B+(**)

Deltron 3030: Event 2 (2013, Bulk): Back in 2000 rapper Del the Funkee Homosapien, producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, and turntablist Kid Koala got together for a one shot sci-fi album called Deltron 3030. Well, they're back, and projected even further into the future. A-

Dirty Beaches: Drifters/Love Is the Devil (2013, Zoo Music): Alex Zhang Hungtai's "low slung, lo-fi, post-rockabilly" project sprawls to 16 pieces and 75 minutes, for the most part dark, shadowy, haunting instrumentals -- guitar, I think, from the attack, but the sample-and-hold morphs into keyb tones, prolly a laptop. Interesting in moderate doses, but does run on too long. B+(*)

DJ Khaled: Suffering From Success (2013, Cash Money): Palestinian-American DJ, b. in New Orleans, based in Miami, seventh album in as many years; big, booming sound, the pieces thick with guest shots -- a single song pitches Big Sean, Rick Ross, French Montana, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Ace Hood, and Timbaland -- most hard to distinguish, although Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj are exceptions. B+(*)

DJ Rashad: Double Cup (2013, Hyperdub): Chicago juke music producer: some interesting beats, but also a lot of junk, leaving little desire to trying to suss it all out. B-

Drake: Nothing Was the Same (2013, Cash Money/Republic): Canadian rapper, first album's basic underground sound set him up as a nice guy contender, while second album suggested success was going to his head. This is somewhere in between: long, perplexed, shallow, steady. B

Heidi Feek: The Only (2013, Western Pin-Up): Showbiz kid from Nashville although I'm not clear on the details, writes songs in the realist tradition but rocks them out harder than is the local custom -- kind of like the young Marshall Chapman, which makes me wonder how she'll flesh out once she experiences some of life's hard knocks. Closes with a "Heartbreak Hotel" that is less harrowing than John Cale's, but headed in that direction. B+(***)

Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut: Sackbut Stomp (2013, Multiphonics): Second album for Fiedler's "low brass" choir -- three trombones (Fiedler, Ryan Keberle, Luis Bonilla) and Marcus Rojas on tuba, plus they've nabbed Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet) as featured guest. After the title stomp, "King of the Road" comes off as the novelty it's meant to be, establishing the band's limits -- not much speed or sizzle, but over album length the pumping humor comes out, and liabilities turn into assets. B+(***)

Chris Flory: The Chris Flory Quintet Featuring Scott Hamilton (2012, Arbors): Guitarist, only a half dozen albums since 1988, first two on Concord, rest on Arbors -- not a unique career path, reunited with the tenor saxophonist who led the "young fogey" movement -- Flory was on eight Hamilton records, so this hook up is about as comfortable as can be. B+(***)

Ghostpoet: Some Say I So I Say Light (2013, Play It Again Sam): British rapper Obaro Ejimiwe, draws his sluggish beats (and increasingly his ominous drones) from trip hop, while the lyrics pick up from his debut, aplty titled Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam. B+(**)

Gordon Grdina/Mark Helias: No Difference (2012 [2013], Songlines): Guitar- and oud-player from Vancouver, always inventive, in duets with bassist Helias and quartet tracks with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Kenton Loewen -- the former remain sketchy, the latter ramp up into real power. B+(**)

Marty Grosz & the Hot Winds: The James P. Johnson Songbook (2010 [2012], Arbors): Guitarist, plays banjo and sings some, son of legendary anti-Nazi satirist Georg Grosz. Now in his eighties, playing music originating from the great pianist, mostly from the decade before Grosz's birth. With a terrific trad jazz band: Jon-Erik Kelso (trumpet), Scott Robinson (saxes), Dan Block (clarinets), James Dapogny (piano), Vince Giordano (bass, bass sax, tuba), and Arnie Kinsella (drums) -- the '20s roar again. A-

Haim: Days Are Gone (2013, Columbia): Three sisters, common surname Haim, grew up in Los Angeles, first album although the group dates back to 2006; tight, polished production with pop hooks and standout drums -- their father, Mordechai Haim, was the group's initial drummer but Danielle Haim and Ariel Rechtshald are credited with drums here. Don't have a fix on the lyrics, but will say neither the critics tying them to Fleetwood Mac nor the band's preference for R&B groups like TLC come close to the mark. B+(**)

Hera/Hamid Drake: Seven Lines (2013, Multikulti): Polish avant-jazz band, best known member (at least the only one I was aware of) is clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, with a lineup that includes tenor/soprano sax, guitar, hurdy-gurdy, bass, and drums -- the latter redundant given the special guest. But rather than push the edge of modernism, they globetrot, with the first three songs namechecking Asian spots -- Baluchistan, Kyoto, Tibet -- with much of the music settling into fierce grooves. Recorded live, so you get a Drake drum solo too. B+(***)

Richard X. Heyman: X (2013, Turn-Up): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey, started in a garage rock band called the Doughboys, regarded as "power pop," his voice and guitar approximating Marshall Crenshaw. This is the first of nine albums (going back to 1988) I've heard, and its basic sound is right up my alley. Just haven't detected any great songs yet. B+(*)

Homeboy Sandman: All That I Hold Dear (2013, Stones Throw, EP): Seven songs, 25:26, vinyl release, second EP this year in a career strategy that seems to prefer short product, much as the rapper eschews big statements as much as bling and glitz; the pieces are built on idiosyncratic rhythm tracks, in some cases (like the opening "King Kong Got Nothing on Me") totally slipped out of the joint. B+(**)

Icona Pop: This Is . . . Icona Pop (2013, Big Beat/Atlantic): Swedish synthpop group, big dance beat, layered synths and vocals; nominally their second album, but starts by repeating their hit single "I Love It," as infectious a pop confection as I've heard all year. They sustain that vibe through three cuts before you start to notice they're a bit stiff and exhuberant isn't all that distinct from loud. Closes strong with "Then We Kiss." B+(*)

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: Unvarnished (2013, Blackheart): Journeyman rocker, still insists on crediting her band on her seven-year-hiatus-ending thirteenth album. The beat's basic, the songs pro forma, but "Bad as We Can Be" is her baseline and it's hard to fault that. B+(**)

Jonwayne: Oodles of Doodles (2012, Stones Throw, 2CD): Hip-hop MC from Los Angeles, came out with an album in 2011, has a bunch of mixtapes since, and this "instrumental" set -- does have a few vocals on it adding to the rhythmic chunkiness but they don't make much difference one way or another. "Oodles" means a lot -- not sure if Rhapsody has everything Discogs lists for two discs, but it has a lot; "doodles" are sketchy rhythm tracks, often just squiggles of keyb run long enough to sink in. B+(*)

The Julie Ruin: Run Fast (2013, Dischord): Kathleen Hanna, formerly of riot grrrl groups Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, returns after nearly a decade, recycling a 1998 side project name. Some of it is typically punky but it also bounces around a lot, and occasionally you get a male voice -- don't know who but the songs are co-credited to a Kenny Mellman -- as a foil. A-

John Paul Keith: Memphis Circa 3AM (2013, Big Legal Mess): Singer-songwriter from Memphis, calls his band the One Four Fives, third album -- bet that's not his real name, but at least it's more plausible than the more accurately aspirational Johnny Jerry Lee Elvis. Actually, he sounds a lot more like Marshall Crenshaw than Richard X. Heyman does, and the songs are up a notch too -- too bad Johnny Cash never got the chance to sing "There's a Heartache Going 'Round." B+(***)

Kelela: Cut 4 Me (2013, Fade to Mind): Another first name R&B singer, last name Mizanekristos, raised in Maryland and based in Los Angeles. B+(*)

King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (2013, True Panther Sounds/XL): Brit singer-songwriter, Archy Marshall, age 19 although he's got a deep old voice that doesn't need much support to be arresting. Strikes me as an effort to forge a new blues far removed from the tradition -- similar to trip hop, but harder to do with guitar than electronics. Could grow on you if you give it a chance. B+(**)

Jessy Lanza: Pull My Hair Back (2013, Hyperdub): Canadian singer/electronica producer, previously worked with Junior Boys, does a sketchy downtempo thing that works most of the way through, haunting and alluring. B+(**)

Lorde: Pure Heroine (2013, Lava/Republic): From New Zealand, where this 16-year-old's debut album topped the charts and spawned two number one singles, and has done nearly as well in the US; stage name for Ella Yellich-O'Connor. Wrote or (mostly) co-wrote ten songs with producer Joel Little. Mostly mid-tempo, doesn't sound like teen pop, but nicely finished, accessible, unpretentious. B+(**)

Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet: In a World of Mallets (2012 [2013], Basin Street): Youngest son of the Marsalis clan, started on drums, moved on to vibes (not sure when; at least by 2009), plays some xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel here, backed by piano-bass-drums. Nothing particularly interesting, the waltzes least of all. C+

Moby: Innocents (2013, Little Idiot): After 20 years this seems like the perfect median of his sound, with its built-up synth layers and the occasional gospel whoop. Which is to say it dredges up the old more than it ushers in the new, but I can imagine it subbing admirably well. B+(**)

Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (2013, Bad Boy): Second album after the critically acclaimed The Archandroid, draws "feats" from artists who've been there and done that (Prince, Erykah Badu) and others aimed that way (Miguel, Esperanza Spalding). Humorous dj skits about gay android sex, one leading into the album's standout track ("Apocalyptic Dance"), before which this rates as a pretty good funk album, after which even the ballads come crystal clear. A-

Elizabeth Morris: Optimism (2013, self-released, EP): Australian singer-songwriter, better known as the singer for pop group Allo Darlin', turns in a 4-cut, 13:20 EP, two over skeletal piano, the others a basic guitar strum, nothing fancy, poignant nonetheless. B+(***) [bc]

Ted Nash Big Band: Chakra (2013, Plastic Sax): Alto saxophonist, second big band album, the commission coming from a man whose life had evidently been saved by a Chinese chakra healer, the task to write seven movements corresponding to the points in the symbolism. Powerful piece, lots of movement, not a lot of solo definition although the 16-piece band doesn't lack for star power. B+(*)

Nelly: M.O. (2013, Republic): St. Louis rapper with a great fondness for catchy choruses, so much so that twelve years past his breakout there's hardly a rap left on his new record. Not much here, but the basic vibe remains, and I've found it so enjoyable for so long I'm not about to throw it out yet. B

Willie Nelson: To All the Girls . . . (2013, Legacy): A singer so pliable he can handle anything you throw at him -- well, maybe not Black Sabbath or Matchbox 20 -- but he's able to knock out an infinite series of new product. Here the concept is to pair him with female duettists, who probably picked their own songs given how scattered they are. Eighteen women signed up: when product is so easy, why skimp? B+(*)

Cyril Neville: Magic Honey (2013, Ruf): The fourth and youngest Neville Brother, now 65, turns out a straightforward blues album with a lot of muscle tone -- he was, after all, the drummer. B+(***)

Gary Numan: Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) (2013, Machine Music): How odd: I recall Numan's first three albums (1979-80), especially liking the debut (Replicas), but had no conscious sense of any of his 37 albums until this one popped out. Mostly he got heavier, with more sludge, although something like "Love Hurt Bleed" still shows some knack. B-

Lindi Ortega: Tin Star (2013, Last Gang): Canadian singer-songwriter transplanted to Nashville; third album, progressing, a nice twist on the Linda Ronstadt voice. B+(**)

Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (2013, Constellation): Alto saxophonist, newcomber to Chicago's AACM tradition, still in pursuit of "great black music" -- this with its share of history lessons and a dicey, shifty abstractness to the jazz, at odds with Jeremiah Ablah's stiff, operatic "tenor vocals"; Roberts' own vocals are fine (cf. "Thanks Be You"). B+(**)

Serengeti: Saal (2013, Graveface, EP): Chicago underground rapper goes nine cuts, 27:53, a near-album that earns its EP status by seeming cheap, tossed off with random noises and sing-song lyrics. B

Bryan Shaw and the Hot Shots: The Bluebird of Happiness (2013, Arbors): Trumpet player, not to be confused with the Brian Shaw who teaches baroque trumpet at LSU; this one has led a sheltered career in California, occasionally appearing in trad jazz outfits like High Sierra Jazz Band or South Frisco Jazz Band, or appearing with trombonist Dan Barrett, who brokered Shaw's 2000 debut and this belated sequel, a septet with Barrett, Evan Amtzen on clarinet and sax, Ehud Asherie on piano, and Brad Roth on guitar and banjo. Old-fashioned swing ably done. B+(**)

Eddie Spaghetti: The Value of Nothing (2013, Bloodshot): Original surname Daly, bassist-singer for Supersuckers since 1988, fourth solo album since 2004. Good econ joke-line in the title cut, nothing fancy to the music, and the lyrics have a disarming coarseness -- "Waste of Time," "People Are Shit," "Fuckin' with My Head," "When I Go, I'm Gone." Tempted to overrate it to show off the cheesecake cover. B+(***)

Rossano Sportiello/Nicki Parrott/Eddie Metz: Live at Jazz Corner (2012, Arbors): Piano-bass-drums trio, also known as the Eddie Metz Jr. Trio or the Ed Metz Jr. Trio -- the drummer may be coming out on his own since Ed Metz Sr. (a notable pianist) died in 2009, but also Sportiello and Parrott have a couple of fine duo albums and at this point are probably better known. Parrott sings two tunes, "Besame Mucho" and "Fever," and goes for smoldering. The pianist goes for fast ones, except for that Chopin thing he learned back in the old country. B+(**)

Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa (2013, Nonesuch): Singer-songwriter from Mali via Paris, fifth album, enchanting as ever in her native language, and I would add the French I can barely follow, but I'm less assured by her English -- suggests the music doesn't have enough juice to render such concerns superfluous. B+(***)

Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Border-Free (2013, Jazz Village): Cuban pianist, for speed and flair one of the few you might ever be tempted to compare to Art Tatum, at his best with bass, drums, and extra percussion, but can get tripped up on the cuts where he brings in a horn or two -- Reinaldo Meilan on trumpet and/or Branford Marsalis on tenor and soprano sax. Maybe "tripped up" isn't the right verb -- more like he ducks for cover. B+(*)

Bob Wilber: Bob Wilber and the Three Amigos (2012, Arbors): The leader is closing in on 85 here, playing soprano sax and clarinet, as are amigos Pieter Meijers and Antti Sarpila, backed by a fine group of early jazz afficionados -- Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi (vibes), Nicki Parrott, and Eddie Metz Jr. They play three Ellington tunes from the 1920s, Bechet, Jolson, Waller, "The Best Things in Life Are Free." B+(***)

Missing

Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • Ry Cooder: Live at the Great American Music Hall San Francisco Aug 31-Sept 1 2011 (2013, Nonesuch/Perro Verde)
  • Four Tet: Beautiful Rewind (2013, Temporary Residence)
  • Jonwayne: Cassette 3: The Marion Morrison Mixtape (2013, Stones Throw)
  • Myron & E: Broadway (2013, Stones Throw)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO: Occupy the World (2013, TUM)
  • Sidi Toure: Alafia (2013, Thrill Jockey)
  • Zola Jesus: Versions (2013, Sacred Bones)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:


The Association: And Then . . . Along Comes the Association (1966, Valiant): Had some hits including "Along Comes Mary" and "Cherish" here but they don't hold up very well, either as nostalgia or as cheap thrills; basically a folkie group with choral harmonies, a varnish they applied to everything they touched. B-

The Beach Boys: Surfin' Safari (1962, Capitol): "Surfin'," their first single in October 1961, was pure whitewashed doo-wop, a formula they repeated for their next three hit singles, including the title track here; nothing over 2:15 here, 12 songs in 24:53, including a "Summertime Blues" cover, an instrumental, and the first hint that Brian Wilson was going to turn out a little weird ("Cuckoo Clock"). B+(**)

The Beach Boys: Surfin' U.S.A. (1963, Capitol): Hard up for another surfin' song, Brian slapped some new lyrics on Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and got a hit but also sued; the writing slump only let up for one car song ("Shut Down") and the album was filled out (if you call 24:15 full) with five surf instrumentals (Bill Doggett, Dick Dale, Carl? -- by the way, who's really playing that guitar?). B-

The Beach Boys: Surfer Girl (1963, Capitol): No lawsuits this time: the pilfered melodies came from Trad. (twice) and Stephen Foster, but this is also where Brian started to come to the fore, both writing and singing the title ballad and the deeply personal "In My Room"; Mike Love, on the other hand, stuck to formula, at best "Catch a Wave" and "Little Deuce Coupe." B+(***)

The Beach Boys: Little Deuce Coupe (1962-63 [1963], Capitol): The car album, quickly cobbled together after the label compiled Shut Down with two Beach Boys songs padded out with tunes by Robert Mitchum, the Cheers, and the Super Stocks; this recycles three songs from previous albums, adds their latest hit ("Be True to Your School") and some more/less inspired hackwork -- "Spirit of America," named after Craig Breedlove's jet-powered world speed car, later became the title of their first "odds and sods" collection. B+(**)

The Beach Boys: Shut Down Volume 2 (1964, Capitol): After three surf albums, a second wheels outing, starting with an audacious Chuck Berry rip ("Fun Fun Fun") followed by one of their greatest trademark harmony songs ("Don't Worry Baby"); so should we blame the law of averages for their 3:30 "spoken word" spat, or that Carl tried to justify the title by writing an instrumental called "Shut Down, Part II," or that they wound up covering "Louie Louie," or that they followed that with "Denny's Drums"? B+(*)

The Beach Boys: All Summer Long (1964, Capitol): Four winners lead off, the second side is bracketed by "Wendy" and "Don't Back Down," yet they still find a way to insert a cut of session patter and keep the length down to 25:10, perpetuating the era of intrinsically flawed albums for what might otherwise be the best pop band in America; maybe the Beatles will prod them to get their act together? or maybe drugs will break it apart? B+(***)

The Beach Boys: The Beach Boys Today! (1965, Capitol): Still just 28:54 including yet another session patter track, "Bull Session with the 'Big Daddy'"; side one is bracketed with "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Dance, Dance, Dance," with "When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)" and "Help Me, Ronda" along the way -- the latter the first Beach Boys song ever to break three minutes, and it's anything but bloated; but the second side is all filler. B+(***)

The Beach Boys: Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (1965, Capitol): Reprises "Help Me, Rhonda" with its longer title and shorter time (it's the single version), ending side one while "California Girls" starts side two, so the peaks are in the middle, the first side winding up and the second down, but there are fine songs on both slopes, and the odd stuff on the ends is earned, for once -- especially "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man." A-

The Beach Boys: Beach Boys' Party! (1965, Capitol): Supposedly the label was crying for new product -- the previous one came out way back in July and Brian was working on the big artistic statement that became Pet Sounds, so they compromised and cut this cache of unplugged sing-along covers, songs like "Hully Gully" and "Alley Oop" and "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" plus a Dylan for the aesthetes, three Beatles songs for the bean counters, and a hillbilly medley of "I Get Around" and "Little Deuce Coupe"; got a single, too, when Dean dropped in to teach the Boys how to sing "Barbara Ann"; it's trash, but no other group in the 1960s trashed itself so gleefully. A-

Paul Bley Quintet: Barrage (1964 [1965], ESP-Disk): Pianist, had a famous quintet c. 1958 until Ornette Coleman decided to go pianoless; here the horns belong to Marshall Allen (of Sun Ra fame) and Dewey Johnson (of no fame that I'm aware of), with Eddie Gomez on bass and Milford Graves hitting things; the result is a stand-off, although both Allen and Bley do interesting things when the other lays out. B+(**)

The Ornette Coleman Quartet: This Is Our Music (1960 [1961], Atlantic): Fifth album, third on Atlantic with Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums making the edgy interplay between the leader's alto sax and Don Cherry's trumpet seem like child's play -- which in a sense it is, not that anyone else can do it. A-

Ornette Coleman: Ornette on Tenor (1961 [1962], Atlantic): The last of the Atlantics, with the leader on tenor instead of his usual alto sax, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Ed Blackwell on drums; the larger sax slows Coleman a bit, gives him less glide and more growl, making him sound more like John Coltrane -- cf. The Avant Garde with Coltrane and Cherry -- or Dewey Redman, who replaced Cherry and later rejoined Cherry in place of Coleman in Old and New Dreams. B+(***)

Ornette Coleman: Love Call (1968, Blue Note): Second album from the two New York Is Now sessions, with Dewey Redman, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, and Coleman playing trumpet as well as alto sax; I can't dismiss these as leftovers, but there are spots that don't quite cohere, as well as blasts of the usual brilliance. B+(**)

Sam Cooke: Hits of the 50's (1960, RCA): "Mona Lisa," "The Great Pretender," "Unchained Melody," "The Wayward Wind," "The Song From Moulin Rouge," "Cry," "Venus," five more -- perhaps the label's last effort to cast him as yet another Nat Cole wannabe, or Johnny Mathis -- not sure the arrangers know the difference. B-

Sam Cooke: My Kind of Blues (1961, RCA): Crisp big band arrangements and songs that fit them -- "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out," "Exactly Like You," "Since I Met You Baby," "Trouble in Mind," "You're Always on My Mind," like that -- and the voice is one of the great ones, albeit a little creamy for the blues. B+(*)

Sam Cooke: Twistin' the Night Away (1962, RCA): Seems like he's cashing in on the dance fad, as 5 of 12 songs have "twist" in the title, but his preternaturally young voice -- he was, after all, 28 when he sang "Only Sixteen" -- and fluid movement pushed his hit to the top of the twist pile; the band would rather swing than rock but they defined his hit sound and he manages to make even the most obvious filler sound like an essential part of his oeuvre -- aside from the title, the only other song I know well here is "Soothe Me," but all are instantly pegged. A-

Sam Cooke: Night Beat (1963, RCA): All twisted out, a suddenly mature soul man focuses on ballads, blues, and mid-tempo fare with an unassuming but perfectly functional combo; only "Little Red Rooster" made the singles charts at a time when he was still hitting regularly, but this is as coherent an album as he ever released. A-

Sam Cooke: Ain't That Good News (1964, RCA): And this is where RCA rolled up his late singles -- three charted 10-11 ("Another Saturday Night," "(Ain't That) Good News," and "Good Times"), two more 31-35 ("Tennessee Waltz" and the one that soon became his epitaph, "A Change Is Gonna Come"); second side slumps a little with some less-than-immortal ballads. A-

Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger (1960, Checker): The rhythm box never wears out, which makes me wonder why they resort to doo-wop or "Sixteen Tons" for filler when they can always rip out something like the instrumental "Diddling"; "Gunslinger," "Cadillac," and "Ride On Josephine" are what you expect. B+(**)

Fairport Convention: Fairport Convention (1968, Polydor): A pioneering effort at British folk-rock, with Richard Thompson the driving force on guitar, Ian Matthews and Judy Dyble trading vocals, and occasional bits of mandolin, Jew's harp, jug, and fiddle; rocks harder than you'd expect, until it doesn't. B+(***)

Four Tops: On Top (1966, Motown): The label's starchiest vocal group, not that their few great singles don't move even them, but even with their compilations shorter is better -- e.g., look for 1967's Greatest Hits over 1974's Anthology and 1997's The Ultimate Collection; this is the only one of their nine 1960s LPs on Rhapsody, with one side of Holland-Dozier-Holland magic and another of covers that would be funny if anyone involved had a sense of humor. B

Jackson C. Frank: Jackson C. Frank (1965, EMI Columbia): Singer-songwriter from Buffalo, was burned and scarred at age 11 when a furnace exploded at his school, killing 15 fellow students. He got an insurance check when he turned 21 and caught a boat to England, where he was befriended by a not-yet-famous folksinger named of Paul Simon, who produced Frank's one-and-only album. Just voice and guitar, songs seem strong at first but you gradually notice the cracks, the flaws that quickly undid him, and that's part of the interest although I haven't spent the time to figure it out. He had more tragedy. Had a son who died of cystic fibrosis. Spent time in institutions and on the street. A random shot from a pellet gun blinded him. He died at age 56. B+(**)

Marvin Gaye: The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye (1961, Tamla): First album, crooning standards backed by piano trio, what sounds to me like a failed Charles Brown move except he was probably aiming for Nat King Cole; ballads like "My Funny Valentine" are just awful, "Witchcraft" and "Love for Sale" little better, the exception the upbeat "Never Let You Go," which might have promised a way forward except Little Richard got there years ago. C

Marvin Gaye: That Stubborn Kinda Fellow (1962, Tamla): For once, the band sounds like the outfits backing the Marvelettes at the time, and Gaye soars on their rhythm, especially on the three front-loaded singles -- "Pride and Joy" was his first top-ten hit -- all with Gaye co-credits; "Soldier's Plea" irritates me, but even the filler is near-miraculous compared to Gaye's other early albums. B+(***)

Marvin Gaye: Hello Broadway (1964, Tamla): Fourth album, more show tunes -- "On the Street Where You Live," "My Kind of Town," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Hello Dolly" -- a little more grit in his voice but Jerry Long's string arrangements will make you seasick, and his Barbra Streisand impression on "People" is so far over the top I can imagine building a Marvin's Greatest Shit compilation around it. C-

Marvin Gaye: How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You (1965, Tamla): Named for Gaye's second top-ten single, a confection penned by Motown's A-Team (Holland-Dozier-Holland); nothing else that fine here, and his integration into the burgeoning hit factory isn't complete, but he sure can sing, and he's started to write a little. B+(***)

Marvin Gaye: A Tribute to the Great Nat King Cole (1965, Tamla): Seems out of sequence, an early influence no doubt but not a necessary or even useful step in a career that had just started to find its footing; Wikipedia credits Gaye with all vocals and the Funk Brothers with all instrumentation but that's plainly wrong given the ripe orchestral treatments and choruses, more dreck than even Cole could have overcome. C+

Marvin Gaye: Moods of Marvin Gaye (1966, Tamla): Bagged his first two number one singles (on the r&b list, any way) -- "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar" -- but nothing very exciting, and some of the filler (like Willie Nelson's "Night Life") is downright moody. B+(**)

Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston: Take Two (1964-66 [1966], Tamla): Gaye's second duet pairing after 1964's Together with Mary Wells; Weston was married to Motown A&R head/songwriter Mickey Stevenson, had a couple minor hits, and with Stevenson left the fold in 1967; the singers make a nice pair, and Stevenson in particular feeds them good songs, with "It Takes Two" a great one. B+(***)

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell: United (1967, Tamla): Gaye's third duet partner, the only one who would return for two more albums although her career was cut short by a brain tumor that killed her at age 24 (in 1970); nothing much stands out here, not so much due to any one fault but more likely just because Motown's magic had faded a bit, and its young stars weren't ready to pick up the slack. B+(*)

Marvin Gaye: In the Groove (1968, Tamla): Soon reissued as I Heard It Through the Grapevine in honor of Gaye's first pop chart-topping single (he would wind up with three) -- that song soon got abducted by Creedence Clearwater Revival, but Gaye's cover of Goffin-King's "Some Kind of Wonderful" remains nonpareil; everything else is solid, but as a single he can't quite compete on songs you know from Motown's groups. B+(***)

Marvin Gaye: M.P.G. (1969, Tamla): Front-loaded with singles although only "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" is the only one that belongs on his career tape; everything else is first rate but he didn't write any of it and you keep hearing echoes of Motown's golden age, just enough glitz to tarnish his development as a future star. B+(***)

Etta James: At Last! (1961, Argo): First LP, after a dozen 1955-59 singles on Modern Records worth checking out; first thing you notice in her Chess debut is the strings but it midway her singing overwhelms the lameness, both on her fierce "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and on the sublime title ballad. B+(***)

Etta James: The Second Time Around (1961, Argo): Still mostly strings but there's never any doubt who's boss, and she's authoritative on standards like "One for My Baby" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and all the more convincing on "Plum Nuts." A-

Etta James: Etta James Rocks the House (1963 [1964], Argo): Live, picked from two nights at the New Era Club in Nashville backed by sax, organ, guitar, bass, drums; she establishes herself as a formidable blues shouter and maintains a pace where "What'd I Say" is the norm; later CD reissue adds more, which is more. A-

Jan & Dean: Jan & Dean's Golden Hits (1959-62 [1962], Liberty): Half of this can be traced to singles, no other songs to their only previous LP (1960, on Dore), so this is a fake, and not just because none of the songs were hits (not for J&D, anyhow); a bit of doo wop, an occasional hint of their future comedy, a rough draft of "Barbara Ann" -- strictly prehistory. C+

Jan & Dean: Jan & Dean Take Linda Surfin' (1962, Liberty): Not much more to the surfing theme than two songs borrowed from the Beach Boys -- "Linda" is basic dop wop rhyming with "Let's Turkey Trot"; some covers are note perfect ("Walk Like a Man," some unfortunately so ("Walk Right In"), but sonically they were already ahead of the curve. B+(*)

Jan & Dean: Surf City and Other Swingin' Cities (1963, Liberty): Memphis, Detroit, Kansas City, Philadelphia, "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "Talahassie Lassie," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" with surf guitar, -- one hit, the only other song they're clearly awake for is "Honolulu Lulu" (another surfer). B-

Jan & Dean: Drag City (1963, Liberty): This time the filler concept is cars, usually hot rods and drag strips but there's also a "Surfin' Hearse" and a "Popsicle Truck" and the immortal "Schlock Rod" -- a rare case where I'd recommend buying an album just for the gunk in the oil pan, although you also get the prophetic "Dead Man's Curve"; note that Rhapsody's version is re-ordered from the original, and that two hit songs later got their own (inferior) albums. A-

Jan & Dean: Dead Man's Curve/The New Girl in School (1964, Liberty): Moves the hit operetta up to the lead spot, recovers "Linda," and tacks on more car songs -- "My Mighty GTO," "Three Window Coupe," "Rockin' Little Roadster," best of all "Bucket 'T'" -- and a couple school anthems; shameless profit taking and even more schlock. B

Jan & Dean: The Little Old Lady From Pasadena (1964, Liberty): Surf and car fetishists with doo wop chops and Chuck Berry/Dick Dale licks, lately turned comics even if their big joke here concerns the hot rods and one-piece topless bathing suits of the Southern California grandmother set. A-

Jan & Dean: Ride the Wild Surf (1964, Liberty): Aside from some skateboarding (aka "Sidewalk Surfin'"), all surf songs this time, ostensibly tied into a soundtrack (cover sez: "sing the original soundtrack recording of the title song from"), but it has the feel of a quickie commissioned by the bean counters and assembled from outtakes: was Chuck Berry too embarrassed to sue them for credit to "Down at Malibu Beach"? "The Submarine Races," in their best Smothers Brothers impression, is the odd song out. B

Jan & Dean: Jan & Dean's Pop Symphony No. 1 (1966, Liberty): Their "12 hit movements," from "Baby Talk" to "Dead Man's Curve" and beyond (but no "Popsicle"), performed by the Bel-Aire Pops Orchestra, conducted by Jan Berry and George Tipton; no vocals, an extended joke without a single punch line -- unless you're the sort who thrills to the rush of piccolos on "Surf City." B-

Jan & Dean: Folk 'n Roll (1966, Liberty): The times they are a changing, and if you can't beat 'em join 'em, and all the other clichés -- at least their old chum P.F. Sloan adapted well enough to churn out "Eve of Destruction," which towers over the Beatles and Dylan and Pete Seeger covers; still when Jan tried to write his own folk song, the best he could come up with was "Folk City" ("two girls for every body") -- at least better than the snarky, obnoxious "Universal Coward." C-

Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul (1966 [1967], Liberty): "This was supposed to be a comedy album; the record company executives didn't get the humor . . . so they re-edited the album by taking off all the comedy"; didn't help that Jan had crashed his Corvette, spent two months in a coma, and emerged brain damaged and partially paralyzed; mostly live, the applause track reminiscent of the Beatles behind songs like "I Found a Girl" is sort of funny anyway. B-

The Kinks: Kinks (1964, Pye): First album, the US version shorter and renamed for the one hit single, the grinding guitar of "You Really Got Me" -- one of five Ray Davies originals; the covers emphasize blues roots and rock and roll, with two Chuck Berry songs, one from Bo Diddley. A-

The Kinks: Kinda Kinks (1965, Pye): Second UK album, rejiggered for the US after "Tired of Waiting for You" and "Come On" were rushed out on the US-only Kinks-Size -- much beloved by myself at the time, but looking back to their original sound rather than the daintier tunes Ray Davies started writing, this offering bits of both; the reissues, by the way, are annoying: the UK label didn't bother rolling singles up into albums, while CD reissues grab up everything in the neighborhood, so instead of integrating songs like "Who'll Be the Next in Line" and "A Well Respected Man" they wind up slapped in with the demos and outtakes. B+(**)

The Kinks: The Kink Kontroversy (1965, Pye): Third UK album, jumping over Kinda Kinks -- and Kinks-Size in the US, much beloved by myself at the time -- with "Milk Cow Blues" and a batch of originals, where the raw blues guitar grind of the early albums gives way to Ray Davies' distinctly English accent and sensibility -- a resignation that produced one of the year's great songs ("Where Have All the Good Times Gone") and little more. B+(**)

The Left Banke: Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina (1967, Smash): Named for their two hit singles, dubbed "baroque pop" for Michael Brown's harpsichord, his father's guest violin, and Steve Martin-Caro's angelic vocals, although the banjo-driven "What Do You Know" (with Brown's vocal twang) suggests they could have gone into country rock, and then there's "Evening Gown" with its garage-boogie beat. B+(***)

The Left Banke: The Left Banke Too (1968, Smash): Second (and last) album, stitched together from singles as the band personnel was churning -- Michael Brown split after two cuts, including the single "Desirée" which peaked at 98; the result is more consistent, the veneer more prog, and less interesting for that. B+(*)

Love: Love (1966, Elektra): First album, Los Angeles band led by singer Arthur Lee; first impression is a hard-edged garage band, one reinforced with a ferocious "Hey Joe" on the backside, but they could also get artier (as in "Softly to Me") without getting wimpier; a remarkable debut. A-

The Miracles: Cookin' With the Miracles (1961, Tamla): Second album for the Smokey Robinson vocal group, not under his name yet, perhaps because Berry Gordy, Jr. keeps a tight reign; Gordy gives them an old-fashioned R&B edge especially in the sax breaks, but Robinson's whoops and wails will astonish fans who discovered him later -- no big singles here (although "Shop Around" was on their debut), and this suffers when they slow it down at the end, but songs like "Mama" are eye-opening. B+(***)

Joni Mitchell: Song to a Seagull (1968, Reprise): Singer-songwriter from Canada, came down to LA about the same time as Neil Young and hooked up with his pal David Crosby -- small world -- to produce this debut with its dense and intricate songs, nothing folkie or rockish about it -- sui generis, really. A-

Joni Mitchell: Clouds (1969, Reprise): Second album, paving the way to her pop future by simplifying, and establishing herself as a songwriter with a few songs that can be done profitably by others -- "Both Sides Now" will become a genuine standard -- but at this point the payoffs are still meager. B+(**)

Van Morrison: Blowin' Your Mind (1967, Bang): First post-Them LP, eight cuts I know best from the 1973 reissue (T.B. Sheets -- they were probably trying to relaunch the 9:44 title blues on FM) and again from the 18-cut 1991 CD Bang Masters, or you can go for the 1998 Epic/Legacy reissue with five alternate takes repeating the second side, just that much more of one of the heaviest records ever by one of rock's most indelible singers; starts with "Brown Eyed Girl" -- as perfect a single as was ever released. A

Laura Nyro: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968, Columbia): Second album, shows how when she oversings they call it gospel; barely cracked Billboard's 200, but spawned two top-10 hits for relatively insipid groups, giving her a sort of backlash cred but the album's such an overarching mess it's hard to find any genius to it. B

Laura Nyro: New York Tendaberry (1969, Columbia): Third album, sold well, widely considered her masterpiece, but the over-singing is complemented by over-everything -- not that I don't hear a faint echo of Joni Mitchell, but she's basically a sponge, soaking up influences, spitting them out amplified, like the clichés in "Save the Country." C+

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Going to a Go-Go (1965, Tamla): The Miracles go back to 1961, but this was the first album to credit Robinson as the leader, and is one of the few 1960s Motown albums to enjoy a reputation as an album; of course, it got there by leading with its singles -- four straight went top-20, led by "The Tracks of My Tears" -- but they leave you craving more and Robinson's falsetto and the band's easy groove never lets you down. A-

Sonny Rollins: What's New? (1962, RCA): Second album, after The Bridge, after the tenor sax great's 3-year hiatus, two tracks with Candido for extra percussion, three with guitarist Jim Hall (eventually reissued on CD as The Quartets); not sure who sings on the closing calypso, "Brown Skin Girl," but when the sax takes over there can be no doubt. A-

Sonny Rollins: Our Man in Jazz (1962, RCA): Original album had three tracks, with "Dearly Beloved" bracketed by a 25:26 "Oleo" and a 15:17 "Doxy" -- basically a blowing session, with Don Cherry's cornet squaring off a quartet with Bob Cranshaw and Billy Higgins; the cornet adds a little dissonance to the sax, but mostly gives way to Rollins' titanic improvisations. A-

Sonny Rollins: Now's the Time (1964, RCA): A set of familiar bebop standards from Parker, Gillespie, Golson, Monk (twice), Lewis, Davis, and Rollins (3:53 of "St. Thomas"), with Herbie Hancock on three tracks, Thad Jones on one, otherwise just bass and drums. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: The Standard Sonny Rollins (1964, RCA): Ten standards, things like "Night and Day" and "Trav'lin' Light" and "Long Ago (and Far Away)," backed by various bassists and drummers, often with Jim Hall on guitar or Herbie Hancock on piano, played with consummate authority but Rollins never breaks loose to astonish you, which by now is the least we expect. B+(**)

The Ronettes: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (1964, Philles): Girl group, led by Veronica (aka Ronnie) Bennett but overshadowed by producer Phil Spector and his "wall of sound"; only album, 9 of 12 songs on their 18-track 2011 best-of (includes later singles but not earlier ones for Colpix); one of the era's greatest singles ("Be My Baby"), several credible echoes (titles like "Baby, I Love You" and "You, Baby"), down to filler like a "Chapel of Love" that could sub for the hit and a live "What'd I Say" that couldn't. B+(***)

The Shangri-Las: The Leader of the Pack (1965, Red Bird): Girl group from Queens, originally two pairs of sisters, with singer Mary Weiss and producer Shadow Morton inspiring future bands from the New York Dolls to the Oblivians; leads off with two classics, "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" and the title song, adds a couple minor hits, and for filler goes with ravers ("Shout," "Twist and Shout," "You Can't Sit Down") and classics ("Maybe"). B+(***)

Simon & Garfunkel: Wednesday Morning, 3AM (1964, Columbia): Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, initially a folkie duo fond of the Everly Brothers, only four originals for the writer (Simon) here, compared to three songs by trad. (like "Go Tell It on the Mountain") and one by Bob Dylan ("The Times They Are a-Changin'"); their breakthrough hit "The Sound of Silence" retains its charm, but lesser fare was starting to annoy. B

Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence (1966, Columbia): Repeats last album's hit, the rest of the album Simon originals, ending with a second hit, "I Am a Rock," bookends that planted the seed in my mind that Simon was an antisocial nerd -- a trait that I shared at the time but as I struggled to put my own life back together I became ever more resentful of him; Garfunkel, as usual, just pretties the harmonies up. B

Simon & Garfunkel: Bookends (1968, Columbia): "Voices of Old People" is an unsettling effect, as disruptive as the Beach Boys' studio hi-jinks cuts minus the humor, and leading in to "Old Friends" -- so awful I find myself wishing Simon were a rock; baited with middling singles like "Fakin' It" and "A Hazy Shade of Winter," and a big hit ("Mrs. Robinson"). C+

Sonny & Cher: Look at Us (1965, Atco): Salvatore Bono, previously known as Phil Spector's percussion man, and Cherilyn Sarkisian, 11 years younger, a backup singer on Spector hits like "Be My Baby." They broke out with a huge hit here, "I Got You Babe" -- Reprise tried to cash in with an "and Friends" compilation combining their previous single, "Baby Don't Go," with cuts by others -- and this was their best-selling album, with filler drawn mostly from Spector, but also Smokey Robinson, Bo Diddley, a magnificent Bono original ("Just You"), and an offhand Bono rap ("It's Gonna Rain"). And while his homey voice is always a joke, all those triangles and chimes never fail to dazzle. I don't recall even knowing about the Spector connection when this was new, but looking back it's not only obvious -- the whole album is sort of an oblique tribute, and given the history a last hurrah. A-

Sonny & Cher: The Wondrous World of Sonny & Cher (1966, Atco): Bono wrote 3 of 12 songs, including his solo debut "Laugh at Me" -- the top single here, peaking at 10 -- but covers like "Summer Time" and "Bring It On Home to Me" mark them as hardened show biz pros, the Spectorisms more muted but production is still king, and with Sonny singing more you have to figure he thinks he is too. B+(**)

Sonny & Cher: In Case You're in Love (1967, Atco): A second huge hit, "The Beat Goes On," and a wide range of, uh, stuff: a Spectorized "Stand by Me" and a Spector original, a cover of "A Groovy Kind of Love" that shames the original, singles that misfire, spurious fiddle on the dreadful "Living for You," a vaudeville shtick called "Podunk." B+(*)

Booker T. & the M.G.s: Green Onions (1962, Stax): The Memphis label's house band, with Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Lewis Steinberg (in 1965 replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn) on bass, and Al Jackson on drums; no vocals, just funk tracks a little straighter than the organ-driven soul jazz of the period, but catchy enough to turn the title cut into a freak hit B+(***)

Traffic: Mr. Fantasy (1967, Island): British group with Stevie Winwood (ex-Spencer Davis Group), Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood; UK release, 8 track retained and 4 ordered for the US debut Heaven Is in Your Mind; aims between psychedelia and prog, with sitar as the bridge from blues to nowhere, and flute -- which I suppose is charming if you're a snake. B

Traffic: Last Exit (1969, Island): Third album, a bit of a hash with one studio side and one live side after Dave Mason split, making Stevie Winwood the dominant figure; his songwriting has clarified from the murk of the first album, so this is catchier, but also less interesting. B

The Yardbirds: Five Live Yardbirds (1964, Columbia): First album, not released in the US until 1972 when it was attributed to "Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds," although their second US album, Rave-Up, constructed its second side from the best cuts here -- covers of Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and the Isley Brothers -- hard to express what a turn-on those then-unfamiliar songs were when I bought the album as a teenager; they're still impressive, even knowing the originals, but the remainder, less so. B+(***)

The Yardbirds: For Your Love (1965, Epic): Like most British Invasion bands, they started out playing American blues and rock and roll standards in UK clubs, and even with Jeff Beck replacing Eric Clapton they had few peers, but they needed something original to crack the charts, and got their first big hit here with the Graham Gouldman-penned title track; only problem is the back side flails on "Sweet Music" and never recovers. B+(**)

The Yardbirds: Yardbirds/Roger the Engineer (1966, Columbia): US version, with minor changes, was renamed for the group's last hit, Over Under Sideways Down; UK version was informally known as Roger the Engineer, and eventually reissued under that title; all group originals (Jeff Beck was the guitarist), seems like a move to formalize the group's sound but not much sticks. B+(*)

The Yardbirds: Little Games (1967, Epic): The group's fourth (and last) studio album, introducing the third of their serial guitar legends, Jimmy Page; offers some amusing psychedelic touches, but the best thing here is an old jug band blues they've turned into a stoned singalong. B+(*)

Neil Young: Neil Young (1968, Reprise): Folkie singer-songwriter from Canada, moved to California and became the most striking figure in Buffalo Springfield and the only one in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; first solo album, starts with an instrumental ("The Emperor of Wyoming"), ends in tragedy after trekking across a psychic wilderness. B+(**)

The Young Rascals: The Young Rascals (1966, Warner Brothers): New Jersey band trying to figure out what works, with a pretty good garage take on Larry Williams' "Slow Down," a clownish "Like a Rolling Stone," and a tepid "In the Midnight Hour," but their exuberant pop remake of "Good Lovin'" -- an old doo-wop tune from the Olympics -- was the one that hit. B+(*)

The Young Rascals: Collections (1967, Warner Brothers): Half originals this time, half covers, a mix where the dance novelties ("Mickey's Monkey," "Land of a Thousand Dances") complement their garage sound better than the ballads ("Since I Fell for You," "Turn On Your Love Light") illustrate "blue-eyed soul" -- I'd figure them for brown eyes, at least. B+(**)

The Young Rascals: Groovin' (1967, Warner Brothers): More originals, the two covers (especially "A Place in the Sun") do more than show off their record collections, "A Girl Like You" hits Motown's sweet spot (with horns, no less), "Find Somebody" adds a unique guitar twist, and the title cut floats effortlessly to the top of the charts. A-

Notes

Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal