Wade Picks the Top CDs

Friends, Romans, Countrypeople.

Lend me your eyes. Or whatever.

If you look at the publish date from my previous article on this lovely site, you can tell that I have been fairly negligent about writing. However, this is all about to change, me boy. Ironically, being a business analyst for an investment bank website leaves me with creative juices left to "weeze" (kudos to Pauly Shore).

So. Let's pretend that I'm going to be stranded on a desert island, and I am only able to have a limited amount of music with me. Nevermind that I should be more concerned with an adequate water and food supply; or if I should require entertainment from a volleyball named Wilson. This exercise should be familiar to everyone.

To this end, I'm going to list the five CDs I couldn't live without. Three reasons for this:

  1. You and I are probably still in the "touchy-feely" stage of reader and author, and Id like to show you a little bit more about who I am.
  2. It may prompt you to try listening to some bands you haven't heard before.
  3. It's a pretty damn easy piece to write. Considering my ED (editorial dysfunction) issues, I think I need a cheesecake piece to get my motor running.

So, sans further adieu, in no particular order:

Gear Daddies, Billy's Live Bait

The Daddies represent, to me, all that is basic and good about bar rock. You won't find any groups of backup singers, horns, or overproduced songs. (Heck, you rarely find any songs that stray from the G-C-D chord progression.) What you will find, though, are clever small-town lyrics, a lead singer with a remarkably powerful voice, and songs that you can't help singing along to after a couple of spins through the disc.

Yes, this is the disc with that "Zamboni" song on it-- which, for a time, made the Gear Daddies feel like the members of R.E.M. felt about "Shiny Happy People"; happy with the popularity of the song but not thrilled that people associated the groups with their more quirky numbers. Other highlights of this disc include "Color of Her Eyes," an up-tempo song outlining the dangers of hooking up, and "Sonic Boom," a lament of the perceived boredom of small-town life. The first track, arguably the best, is the popular "Stupid Boy," which has found some airplay among local radio and sports bars.

All of their songs could be accurately described as "country-fied," especially the slower ones. As simplistic as they may be, though-- where is it written that complexity is required for a great song? The guitar riffs and harmonies from Billy's Live Bait stick in your head for longer than you'd imagine. For me, the sound of the Gear Daddies is the sound of coming home.

Counting Crows, August and Everything After

There needed to be a Crows album on my list-- 1993's August beat its follower, 1996's Recovering the Satellites by a nose. Songwriter and lead singer Adam Duritz is the one constant between the two; Duritz is an amazing storyteller who has no peers in the contemporary songwriting world. Fortunately, he also puts as much passion into singing as he does writing. The music on the two albums could not be more different; while August is primarily acoustically driven featuring mandolins, understated drum lines and mellow melodies (with "Rain King" being the outlier.) Satellites relies more heavily on electric guitars and screeching solos-- which works very well, but the pictures Duritz paints are captured better with the more toned-down stylings of their first album.

The album begins with a ten-second buildup of sound climaxing in the familiar guitar riff for "Round Here," a fitting introduction to the Crows' lyrical tapestries and neo-folk stylings. What follows is my favorite four-song bridge ever: "Omaha," "Mr. Jones," "Perfect Blue Buildings," and "Anna Begins." The leadoff hitter of this quartet, "Omaha" is driven by the sounds of the accordion into a dulcet mix of acoustic guitar, bass, and the harmonies of Duritz and guitarist Dave Bryson. The commercially-successful "Mr. Jones" comes next; it's easy to see why this song sparked the Crows' rocket to the top. Its sing-song la-la's and the tempo make it a definite feel-good song. (Note to owners of Across a Wire, the Crows' '98 live release-- the song loses a lot when slowed down, similar to most of their music.) The haunting "Perfect Blue Buildings" follows, with its minor-chorded, organ step-down chorus which leads gracefully into the more upbeat chorus. The crown jewel comes last in "Anna Begins," quite truthfully the most beautiful song I've ever heard. Drums and bass with a few spatterings of distorted guitar are all that back up the verse; the pre-chorus is defiant and the chorus drives the entire piece, especially at the end when the backup singers begin to harmonize with Duritz.

There are other strong parts ("Rain King" and its bouncy optimism, "A Murder of One" and its driving drumbeat) to this disc as well, making it the most listenable mellow album on my list. Some songs aren't as strong, but the disc is put together so nicely that you dont mind sitting through them. Arguably one of the best tunes slated for the album "Einstein on the Beach" didnt even make the cut, although it was put on the Geffen Rarities CD.

A caveat: don't see these guys live. Don't even buy any of their live music. I had the best concert seats ever to see them play at Northrup Auditorium in 1997-- sucked. They were admittedly tired, and it showed: Duritz's vocals were strained, and the band tried hokey (slower) reworks of many of the songs, making them downright unlistenable. (Not all people share this view with me however-- see Alex's take.)

But these guys are hard to beat in the studio.

Wow. I'm a lot more chatty than I thought about this. Best break 'er into two parts.

-WA

 


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