The Best of 2013

Since I’ve had the opportunity to review so many albums this year, I thought it might be fun to try and make a top ten list. This list represents the ten albums that have stuck with me the most this year––the ones that not only sound good on a first or second listen but also on a third, fourth or fifth listen. These are albums that I return to time and again, and I’ve done my best to narrow it down to ten.

 

10. Reflections by Terry Knight and the Pack –– This album is Bob Dylan meets psychedelic garage rock. Although it clearly rips of major bands of the mid-60s, Reflections is, in its own way, beautiful and innovative. [original review: January 2013]

9. Now and Then by Michael Rabon & the Five Americans –– This album is perfect for the 60s psychedelic rock enthusiast. They masterfully blend mainstream rock ‘n’ roll with the San Francisco subculture of the 60s. [original review: December 2012]

8. The Mugwumps by The Mugwumps –– A collaborative group of future rock gods including Grace Slick blends folk, pop and rock in a catchy and pleasing way. This album grows on you the more you listen to it. [original review: April 2013]

7. A Long Time Comin’ by The Electric Flag –– This albums seeps blues rock with every guitar riff. It is one of the most technically impressive albums reviewed on this blog; Mike Bloomfield may be one of the most underrated guitarists ever. [original review: July 2013]

6. The American Breed by The American Breed –– Despite their bizarre album cover, these jazz-influenced rockers bring style and surprise with every note. They even blend a bit of psychedelic rock with their jazz style. [original review: June 2013]

5. Competition Coupe by The Astronauts –– This album is the epitome of American hot rod music. Their up-tempo surf rock style is the foundation for garage rock and protopunk for years to come. [original review: December 2013]

4. Electric Comic Book by Blues Magoos –– This album is a blend of psychedelic rock and blues that could have only come from the 60s. It’s creative and smart and will leave you itching for more. [original review: December 2012]

3. Projections by The Blues Project –– As their name suggests, The Blues Project is deep with soulful blues numbers ranging from covers to originals. Either way, their sound is always fresh and always worthwhile. [original review: December 2012]

2. It Ain’t Me Babe by The Turtles –– This album is the quintessential folk pop album with covers from the great Bob Dylan and a couple originals thrown in as well. Everything is beautifully composed and leaves you aching for more. [original review: September 2013]

1. Back Door Men by The Shadows of Knight –– Everything about this album is perfect––from the song selection, to the guitars, to the tempo. This album is protopunk, garage rock and blues wrapped in the spirit of underground 60s music. [original review: March 2013]

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The Electric Flag – A Long Time Comin’

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Combining blues, rock, soul, pop, R & B, rockabilly, psychedelic, and jazz, The Electric Flag’s A Long Time Comin’ is a cross section of the middle 60s. Released on Columbia in 1968, this debut album brings musical diversity to a whole new level. Touting such future stars as Jimi Hendrix’s future drummer (Buddy Miles), Bob Dylan’s bassist (Harvey Brooks), and one of the most respected guitarists of all time (Michael Bloomfield), The Electric Flag’s short but sweet tenure laid the foundation for some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest musicians. While the band’s plethora of musical styles makes them difficult to categorize, this variety allows them the freedom genre-bending, genre-bashing, and just plain experimentation. For example, the song “Wine” is a traditional rockabilly number infused with the energy of soul music. Picture James Brown singing with Bill Haley’s Comets playing backup. And it sounds great! This sort of fearless experimentation allows each band member to bring his strength to the table without being overwhelmed by all of the others. Many of the songs start off as seemingly predictable pop rock numbers only to become suddenly infused with a few blues guitar licks or a psychedelic sounding keyboard. Although the band’s experimentation is not always successful and can even be less than satisfactory on some tracks, overall the members show a willingness to grow with each and learn from each other’s strength. The band’s experimental nature comes to a pinnacle with the 9-minute epic, “Another Country.” This song comprises the band’s variety of styles segueing from psychedelic ambiance to smooth jazz to blues guitar and into depths than can only be described as unclassifiable. Perhaps the best way of defining the band’s sound is a quote on the subject from the man behind the phenomenal guitar riffs, Michael Bloomfield. “I think of it as the music in the air, on the air, in the streets; blues, soul, country, rock, religious music, traffic, crowds, street sounds and field sounds, the sound of people and silence.” But wait! for those of you who may be feeling turned off by all the talk of genre-crossing, there is still a gem here for you. “Texas” is a blues number that can only be described as godlike. This is the track that would give The Electric Flag credibility with even the highest of blues masters. It is pure Texas blues as only Texas blues can be. Whether you prefer the pure blues sound or the 60s experimental blues and soul rock, there’s no denying that these musicians are talented. From here, many of them would go on to play with the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll history. In 2003, Bloomfield was listed as the 22nd greatest guitarist of all time in Rolling Stone magazine. After hearing this album you’ll understand why.  B+

The Blues Project – Projections

ImageFor my next album review, I’ve decided to go with Projections from the Greenwich Village band The Blues Project. Released by Verve in 1966, this is the band’s first studio album after releasing a live cut titled Live at The Cafe Au Go Go. This would end up being the band’s only studio album with this original lineup, though a few more were released with varying lineups. Interestingly, two of the members would later go on to found Blood, Sweat & Tears, but please don’t let that influence your opinion of The Blues Project, because they have quite different sounds. As the name implies, The Blues Project has a strong blues base, but they are also heavily invested in psychedelic rock. The first track, “I Can’t Keep from Crying,” comes out swinging with a wild psychedelic blues rock sound sure to get your heart racing. After the bluesy power of the first track, “Steve’s Song” brings you back down with a light psychedelic tune with a heavy flute. Fans of The Moody Blues will love this song due to its similar progressive psychedelic sound. A cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” harkens back to that early rock ‘n’ roll sound for the album’s third track. This number is my personal favorite: it takes that raw electric sound of Chuck Berry and gives it a hardened 60s edge. The final track of side one is a cover of Muddy Waters’s “Two Trains Running.” This lengthy cover is entrenched in the rhythmic blues sound of the Deep South’s earliest blues masters. This 11-and-a-half minute song shows off the band’s improvisational skills and demonstrates why they are considered one of the earliest jam bands. Fans of southern blues and/or jam bands will love this tribute, but those who aren’t may want to go ahead and flip the record. The first track of side two, “Wake Me, Shake Me,” is the band’s attempt to move towards a more radio friendly garage rock style. It’s a very solid tune. “Cheryl’s Going Home” follows as another psychedelically influenced blues rock song. For the third track, “Flute Thing” is an instrumental number similar in style to “Steve’s Song” except with even more flute. Lovers of that pure psychedelic sound will have their hearts melted. “Caress Me Baby” is a cover of another Mississippi blues master, Jimmy Reed (who is also coincidentally covered on the previously reviewed Blues Magoos album Electric Comic Book). This song runs with that same rhythmic blues sound as “Two Trains Running.” It’s a beautiful blues love song with a great harmonica solo. To wrap up the album, The Blues Project goes with a radio friendly “Fly Away” that could easily be mistaken as a tune from The Beatles’s middle years (Rubber Soul-Revolver). It’s a spectacular song that should have brought them more fame than it did. For the blues rock or psychedelic rock fan this album is an absolute must. It’s an incredible adventure into the very heart of 60s underground music and well worth going out of your way to find it.  A