Andrew came up with the idea that I should have a recommended album section. So here it is. I like the idea. But it is no use me just putting up my own views. That would be pointless. It would be great if we were to share our best albums. So if everyone put forward a view of what they love. I’ll put them up here for everyone to same.
Now it just so happens that I’ve already done this with my book 537 Essential albums. It was also a bit of synchronicity that Andrew suggested Stormcock as Stormcock is also my number one album of all time.
So that is a good place to start (This is an extract from my book 537 Essential Albums). This is my number one recommended album.
- Roy Harper – Stormcock
Roy Harper is the greatest British song-writer and poet. There is no one who even gets close. His acerbic lyrics and social commentary are unsurpassed. He rivals Bob Dylan as the greatest songwriter of all time and is greatly undervalued. This is not surprising as he has constantly shot himself in the foot and sabotaged his own career. He remains the foremost British dissident and commentator on the human condition. His epic songs are legendary and the music sublime.
Stormcock is arguably his best album but is strongly pushed by both HQ and Lifemask. I would place at least ten of Roy’s albums in my top 400 albums. He’s that important to me.
The Stormcock album features only four tracks but the album is one of his masterpieces. It consists of brilliant songs with poetic imagery and wide canvasses that challenge your imagination. The music and musicianship was innovative and of an excellence that puts this album top of my top ten thousand. It is one of four Harper albums that would make it into my top ten albums of all time. I have a penchant for great meaningful lyrics put to brilliant music and this hits the spot. I never tire of hearing these songs and simply cannot understand why Roy has not been lauded from on high. I love the depth and insight he brings to bear and the risks he takes in developing his ideas through epic songs. Few people can match it. Roy’s shorter songs are also great but these four songs show how Roy has matured and taken his art to another level. ‘Me and my woman’ is one of the very best tracks ever recorded. The scope is immense and Roy was at the top of his game. I am fully aware that not everybody shares my opinion. I can see that it is never going to be commercial. Roy’s work is thought-provoking, intelligent and musically intricate. You have to concentrate. It’s not your catchy pop song – fortunately! But it is well worth the effort. For me Roy is the James Joyce of music as opposed to Simon Cowell’s Barbara Cartland.
Catch ‘Me and My Woman’ on You Tube:
This is ‘Same Old Rock’
Rock Album Recommendations – Michael Smith – Mi Cy-aan Believe It
This was number 37 in my book.
Michael Smith – Mi Cy-aan Believe It
It is a great injustice that this album is not available on CD. It is one of the best reggae albums ever made.
Michael was an outspoken, political Dub-poet from the early seventies. He was an inspiration for the likes of Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Legend has it that Michael was stoned to death by an angry mob after speaking out at a political rally. Jamaica was a scary place.
Michael had the most amazingly rich voice which was highly emotive and his poetry was so original. There are poems and songs. It starts with the short poem ‘Black ‘n’ White’ which melds into ‘Mi feel it’ with its hypnotic and highly original bass line. The Reggae music is heavy and dense with rhythm and power and would be incredible on its own. When married to words of this quality it goes up another notch. It was truly outstanding.
This album has the fabulous poem that is the title track but it also has amazing tracks like ‘Long time me no have no fun’, ‘Picture or no picture’ and ‘It-a come’. It was brilliant reggae with great poetry and political sentiments.
How can something of this quality remain unreleased?
Recommended Albums – Son House – Death Letter Blues
This was number 20 in my book.
Son House – Death Letter Blues
Son House started it all. He taught Robert Johnson how to play. He was king back in the early thirties. That Mississippi bottleneck country blues played on that old beat up steel guitar created a sound that was going to beat its way all down the years to infuse Rock ‘n’ Roll and start up a revolution.
Son House was a leading exponent of the style. His playing was raw, sloppy and incredibly powerful. His anguished singing was equal to it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform even though he was an old man. As soon as he started playing it was as if someone had plugged him in to the mains. The energy shot through him and cauterised us. I have never experienced such a transformation and so much ferocity. The opening chords to ‘Death Letter Blues’ were like a thunder-clap!
This album was made after his rediscovery in 1964. He was already old and had to relearn the guitar and his own songs. You’d think it would be an insipid shadow of his old power but it wasn’t. It was awesome. The playing was crystal clear and startling. ‘Death Letter Blues’ is enough to send the hair standing up to the ceiling. He still had it in Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.
Hearing him play was a revelation. The album had other great tracks like ‘Pearline’ and ‘John the Revelator’ but who needed more. This was plugged straight back into those steamy Mississippi nights.
This is a glimpse of where it all began. Heaven knows what he would have been like to hear as a young man! It must have been frightening!
Rock album Recommendations – James Varda – Hunger
This was number 39 on my essential albums list.
James Varda – Hunger
James was championed by Roy Harper and I was fortunate to catch this incredibly original singer/songwriter supporting Roy on one of his eighties tours. He seemed a little self-conscious but his playing was brilliant and the songs very different and interesting. I love lyrics that are complex and thought-provoking.
Hunger was recorded for Andy Ware’s Awareness label and has not been heard by a lot of people. This is a great shame because it is a set of intelligent, thoughtful and distinctive songs delivered in an entirely original manner. The production is excellent and does justice to James’ songs.
‘Just a beginning’ is a brilliant start to the album. It sets the tone. You know this is going to be one of those great experiences. ‘Whatever you’ve got I don’t want it’ James snarls. You get the impression that he is not impressed with the way this society is run. It is an album that doesn’t stop. ‘From the Bellevue Hotel’ continues with that same wafting voice and ominous chords. Seemingly there are a lot of bastards out there and it’s cold too. Then there’s ‘Sunday before the war’. There is no end to this vision, dream, – nightmare. Yet it is compelling. ‘This train is lost’ is a metaphor for all that’s wrong with this establishment nightmare. Not only are the lyrics brilliant but the music is equal to it.
What a shame James decided to leave music at this stage. This album should have been huge. It is one that I go back to again and again. It deserved to be followed up straight away with something of a similar standard.
James’ later work is very good but doesn’t compare with the power of this. His last album the superb Chance and Time was his masterpiece!
Rock Album Recommendations – North Mississippi Allstars – Shake Hands With Shorty
This was 47th on my list of essential albums
North Mississippi Allstars – Shake hands with Shorty
Just when you think that Rock is truly dead and buried in a coffin of sanitised overproduction overseen by the major labels in their relentless drive to make more money from ‘product’ that does not offend the ears of the ‘middle of the road’ punter and can consequence reach the largest audience; just when you think Simon Cowell and ‘The Voice’, ‘Britain’s got talent’ and other sanitised shit has stolen the minds of all the world and you’ve given up hope; along comes a bunch of vibrant uninhibited musicians whose approach is rowdy, raw and ‘we don’t give a shit’ we’re going for it.
The North Mississippi Allstars was introduced to me by Lester Jones and I was bowled over again. They tapped into the blues from the Mississippi Hill County with the genius of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and they did it with panache and exuberance. Their first album ‘Shake hands with Shorty’ was a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic fem-fresh atmosphere of manufactured contrived garbage. It’s all one great dive down to the most popular common denominator – garbage for the garbage collectors.
They were real.
‘Shake ‘em on down’ really did shake the place. Luther and Cody Dickinson sure knew how to keep it real.
Rock Album Recommendations – Nick Harper – Light At The End Of the Kennel
This was number 38 on my list of essential albums.
Nick Harper – Light at the End of the Kennel
Nick is Roy’s son but he is his own man. As a musician, songwriter and singer he is totally different.
Nick is probably the best acoustic guitarist I have ever seen. This was his first album and it is a beauty. It is sparse and cut back just the way I like it. It shows off Nick’s skill, the beauty of the songs and the great lyrics to perfection.
There is intelligence and humour built into these songs.
Nick is a remarkable performer and deserves to be much more greatly recognised than he is. His day will come and this album will be recognised for the genius that went into producing it.
Just listen to ‘A hundred things’ it sings itself. The message is so positive. That guitar with its bending strings. Or ‘Is this really me?’ with its delicate beauty. It all sounds so effortless. ‘Shadowlands’ is another gem. The voice soars, guitar with those crisp chords, delicate runs, chasing around and augmenting the delicacy. This is a rare choux pastry to savour. Then there is ‘Flying dog’ with its incredible finger picking and optimism; ‘Headless’ – a beautiful song of love, a love that puts everything in perspective. The album ends with ‘Riverside’ a haunting instrumental.
The skill of the playing is breath-taking; the song-writing masterly and the end result as beautiful an album as you would ever wish to listen to.