Lisa Germano – Geek the Girl

ARTIST: Lisa Germano                     220px-Geekthegirl

TITLE: Geek the Girl

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Cry Wolf

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: …A Psychopath

LINEUP: Lisa Germano, Malcom Burn. Kenny Aronoff on some tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Intense, eerie, powerful album with some tracks that are harrowing.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Most of this album has instrumentation that’s ethereal and moody, but the songs by Lisa Germano take those arrangements and make them into something more emotional and wrenching.

In “Trouble”, she sings “As an act I hate myself”. “Cry Wolf” is about a rape where the victim is blamed, and “…A Psychopath”, the most famous track of them all, features a real 911 call from a stalking victim.

Not an easy listen, but compelling, and even today, rings so true. Germano captures her fears and anxiety as a woman living in this society. Her vocals, quiet, breathy, and tentative at times, are framed perfectly by the lyrics and music.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Most of this was recorded in Germano’s apartment, but they took it to the studio for mixing.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A+: Not for the faint of heart, but a record that’s important to this day.

Yo La Tengo – Fakebook

ARTIST: Yo La Tengo                                220px-Fakebook

TITLE: Fakebook

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Speeding Motorcycle

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It’s a cover record, but there’s not many you’d know besides “Here Comes My Baby” or maybe “Griselda”

LINEUP: Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, Dave Schramm, Al Greller

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A quieter folky album of some of their favorite tunes, and a few originals in the same mode.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: By this time, Yo La Tengo had already had a reputation for guitar freakouts and long songs, especially in concert. But the band also had a very diverse taste, and this is the first sense that they were more than a loud alternative rock band.

Kaplan and Hubley’s joy for singing and playing these songs are apparent, as they dive in with glee to these old songs. Old friend Dave Schramm joins the group again on lead guitar, and Al Greller plays double bass.

It’s not going to be among the essential works for the band, but it was the first to show their other sides and pretty darn good for something that seemed to be just for fun.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They covered tracks by Cat Stevens, Pete Stampfel, the Flamin’ Groovies, Daniel Johnston, Rex Garvin, Gene Clark, Ray Davies, the Escorts, John Cale, and NRBQ.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B+: A fun listen.

Blue Mountain – Home Grown

ARTIST: Blue Mountain           Blue_mountain_homegrown

TITLE: Home Grown

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION: #None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, but you should have.

LINEUP: Carey Hudson, Laurie Stirratt, Frank Couch

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A true alt-country record, with straight country songs and stomping rockers.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Carey Hudson is a country boy with rock-and-roll in his heart, and his band (with his then wife Laurie Stirratt), combined both genres in one of the purest alt-country bands going in the 90’s.

From rockers like “Generic America” (probably the best track on the album), to country ballads like “Myrna Lee”, and testimonies to dangerous two-lane roads found in the South (“Bloody 98”), Hudson and company mix and match country and rock, especially in a track like “Last Words of Midnight Clyde”.

The issue is that the album seems front-loaded, with the back half concentrating on the mellower acoustic-based songs that let a bit of the fire out of the record. The sequencing makes this just a good album, not great.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were on Roadrunner Records for this release, which is unusual since that company normally releases Heavy Metal albums.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B+: It would be an A- with better sequencing.

Beastie Boys – License to Ill

ARTIST: Beastie Boys                                   220px-Licensed_to_ill

TITLE: Licensed to Ill

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #2 R&B, #7 UK

SINGLES: Hold It Now, Hit It (#55 R&B), The New Style (#22 R&B), Paul Revere (#34 R&B), Brass Monkey (#48 US, #83 R&B), (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party) (#7 US, #11 UK), No Sleep till Brooklyn (#14 UK), Girls (#34 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: She’s Crafty

LINEUP: Ad-Rock, MCA, Mike D. Kerry King famously played guitar on No Sleep till Brooklyn

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Fun, if problematic, debut long player album from punk group turned hip hop force.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After “Cookie Puss”, the Beastie Boys went through huge changes, as they decided to turn themselves from a snotty punk band to a snotty hip hop outfit. After a couple of singles and soundtrack appearances, they and Rick Rubin released this opus, which introduced hip hop to snotty suburban bros (ok, maybe not introduced, but made it OK for them to like).

So many great samples, so many great production moments, so so many great one-liners, and yet, it’s problematic. It’s hard, now, to listen to this at times, with the many references to violence and the rampant misogyny. But, were those references tongue in cheek? Maybe so.

I’m going with the tongue in cheek answer. It’s partly a product of the times, a parody at times of the culture of suburban white kids, and dang the rhymes are great. Even now, my best friend and I will bust out “Got six girlies in my Lincoln Continental” when we’re feeling fresh.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The move to hip hop was the impetus for Kate Schellenbach to leave the band, as there was no room for her anymore.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A: It’s got rhymes like Abe Vigoda.

Scrawl – He’s Drunk

ARTIST: Scrawl                  scrawlhesdrunk

TITLE: He’s Drunk

YEAR RELEASED: 1988

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I sincerely doubt it, but they cover Rocky Top

LINEUP: Marcy Mays, Sue Harsche, Carolyn O’Leary

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album for the Ohio trio, this time on Rough Trade, ups the key components, but still is a somewhat acquired taste.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The production is better, the songs are better, the playing is better, and they seem to have a little sense of humor (“Let It All Hang Out”). So this is an improvement for Scrawl.

While they toured constantly, their comfort in the studio still isn’t quite there, and that leaves to some tentative harmonies, and a few times where it seems they’re not quite sure of what’s to come next. Even though they were at Paisley Park for the recording, it still was a low budget affair and sometimes shows it.

Scrawl was becoming an important female voice in alternative and punk circles – which was sorely needed in 1988. It’s just not fully evident on record.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Rough Trade was going through some cash problems, and by 1990 this was out of print due to their bankruptcy.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B-: A better effort and one that points toward their reputation as the premier female band of the late 80’s.

Johnny Cash – Now There Was a Song

ARTIST: Johnny Cash                                  220px-JohnnyCashNowThereWasASong

TITLE: Now There Was a Song

YEAR RELEASED: 1960

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Seasons of My Heart (#10 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Feel Better All Over, Transfusion Blues

LINEUP: Johnny Cash, Luther Perkins, Johnny Western, Don Helms, Marshall Grant, Buddy Harman, Gordon Terry, Floyd Cramer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Johnny cuts 12 of his favorite country songs, from Hank Williams to Ernest Tubb, to George Jones, to Bob Wills

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Johnny Cash was a prolific songwriter in the early days, but he still loved to perform his favorite country songs from the era. This record showcases 12 of those, all done with Cash in fine voice and his band backing him like the pros they were.

The selections would be noticeable to country fans from the time, for the most part. There are a couple of standards (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “My Shoes Come Walking Back to You”). Cash unearths some nuggets like the George Jones B-side he took to the top 10.

He even recorded a song written by THE Kenny Rogers (“I Feel Better All Over”) (not that anyone knew who the hell Kenny Rogers was). This collection of country songs gives an insight to Cash’s taste, and as you could guess, he’s got great taste.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Transfusion Blues” is actually the infamous “Cocaine Blues”, best known from the Folsom Prison shows later in the decade. Even though there had been many versions of this known by the proper title, Cash and company decided to change it for this record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A: One of the best early Columbia albums for Cash.

Huey Lewis and the News – Huey Lewis and the News

ARTIST: Huey Lewis and the News         Huey_Lewis_&_the_News_-_Huey_Lewis_&_the_News

TITLE: Huey Lewis and the News

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #203

SINGLES: Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later), Now Here’s You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Trouble in Paradise

LINEUP: Huey Lewis, Chris Hayes, Johnny Colla, Mario Cipollina, Bill Gibson, Sean Hopper

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Unremarkable first album from the 80’s icon.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sometimes debut albums shape a band’s career. And sometimes a band’s first album is ignored, even if it establishes their sound and style. The latter is the case with Huey Lewis and the News.

There’s nothing odd, weird, or out of place here when comparing this record to the rest of their output. They had a couple of songs that could have been hits if they broke right, and a couple of other tracks that would have sounded fine on Sports or something like that. But this was only successful in that they got more gigs on the West Coast and lived to make a second album.

The issue is consistency – they are pretty tight and their later-famous harmonies are here, too. The songs, though – it’s no wonder their next record had help from the outside.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Huey Lewis and Sean Hopper were in Clover, who went to the UK in the 70’s, and, without Lewis, backed Elvis Costello early in his career. Lewis played harmonica with Thin Lizzy live.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: C+: I’m not exiling this, but sub-par Huey Lewis & the News is sub-par.

Bo Diddley – The Chess Masters 1955-1958

RTIST: Bo Diddley                                                                     R-4114170-1355710021-1595.jpeg

TITLE: I’m a Man: The Chess Masters 1955-1958

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Bo Diddley (#1 R&B), Diddley Daddy (#11 R&B), Pretty Thing (#4 R&B, #34 UK), Diddy Wah Diddy, Who Do You Love, Cops and Robbers, Hey! Bo Diddley, Say! Boss Man, Hush Your Mouth, Willie and Lillie, I’m Sorry (#17 R&B), Crackin’ Up (#62 US, #14 R&B), Say Man (#20 US, #3 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I’m A Man, Before You Accuse Me

LINEUP: Bo Diddley, Jerome Green, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Lafayette Leake, Frank Kirkland, Clifton James, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold, Lester Davenport, Jody Williams, Little Willie Smith, the Moonglows, Peggy Jones, the Flamingos.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: BO DIDDLEY!

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: While this collection has alternate versions (which are just as fine as the released versions) that may cause one to skip on occasion, this…this is Bo Diddley.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Chuck Berry, blah, blah. Bo Diddley’s the man. A great songwriter, performer, guitarist, comedian (no, really, he’s funny – you can’t have done “Say Man” without being a comedian) you name it. If nothing else, you know the rhythm – the African rhythm that’s ubiquitous in rock-and-roll to this day.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: His first few album covers had him playing a regular-shaped Gibson, not his cigar box guitar which was his trademark.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A+: HEY! BO DIDDLEY!

Fatboy Slim – Greatest Hits – Why Try Harder

ARTIST: Fatboy Slim                                                         220px-Whytryharder

TITLE: Greatest Hits – Why Try Harder

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #6 US Dance, #2 UK

SINGLES: Top 30: Going Out of My Head (#28 Alternative, #57 UK), The Rockafeller Skank (#76 US, #39 Modern Rock, #21 Mainstream, #2 Dance, #6 UK), Gangster Trippin (#3 UK), Praise You (#36 US, #2 Alternative, #22 Mainstream, #1 UK), Right Here, Right Now (#2 UK), Sunset (#9 UK), Demons (#16 UK), Slash Dot Dash (#12 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not here – UK of course.

LINEUP: Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook) and his arsenal of samples and production tricks

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The casual fan’s best bet for a Fatboy Slim collection.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Full albums of Fatboy Slim could be a tiring ordeal for a non-devotee of electronica, thus this collection is probably the best way to grab what you want from him. WhyTryHarder-AmericanVersion

For the most part, this collection uses the single versions of the songs, which condense the tracks towards a radio length and not a dance-floor length, and while Cook is a skilled innovator, 60-70 minutes of electronics, samples, and production whiz-bangs can get boring especially if it seems the same ideas are being offered.

His choice of samples is great and obscure, as you really have to dig for the sources – that’s great. This highlights his strengths and allows the listener to focus, and shuffle, as they see fit.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He was the bass player in the great Housemartins.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but there are re-mix collections around.

GRADE: A-: Fantastic, but small doses for me, please.

Pavement – Wowee Zowee

ARTIST: Pavement                      220px-WoweeZowee

TITLE: Wowee Zowee

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: #117 US, #18 UK

SINGLES: Father to a Sister of Thought (#148 UK), Rattled by the Rush (#91 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you love Pavement

LINEUP: Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, Bob Nastanovich, Steve West, Mark Ibold

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The one where Pavement sheds their casual fans, for better or worse.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Those listeners expecting an album full of the more pop-oriented and tuneful songs of Pavement’s ‘hit’ singles were in for a surprise when this came out in 1995.

“Rattled by the Rush” is a song in that mode, with a catchy chorus, but the song itself sounds cobbled together from several left turns (doesn’t mean it’s not great), and the rest of the album defied pop expectations. It’s a quieter album for the most part; one where Stephen Malkmus sounds like he just woke up from a THC-induced nap to record his vocals.

I didn’t get this a bit at first, but time and distance have helped me embrace this a little more. The melodies are there, just hidden a bit. It did shed the fans that weren’t along for Pavement’s eclectic ride, and that may have been the intent.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title is a homage to the first Mothers of Invention album, which had a cut called “Wowie Zowie”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a huge expansion with live cuts, B-sides, and other outtakes.

GRADE: B+: I was all set to give this a “C” before I listened to this again. It’s a good listen if you know it’s going to be a little off and a little mellower at times.