Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another. So here are the four albums that were suggested to me this week.
A note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.
Sting – The Soul Cages (1991)
Sting’s dad died in 1989, and this was him coming to terms with his father’s death. Apparently it’s a concept album that focuses on death, burial, and reconciliation.
I’ve always been a moderate Police/Sting fan, but even objectively this album was pretty darn good. There were two songs that really stood out to me as highlights.
I really liked Mad About You. This song is easily my favourite of anything else that’s been shared with me this week. I’ve had friends and family members die. Maybe it’s my faith in an afterlife, but I’ve never been super broken up about death. Really, I’ve been more sad for those who (for whatever reason) didn’t have the same faith I did and were taking the death really hard (for example, my uncle who had to take some time out from his mother’s funeral to snort some coke) or the deceased who died alone and unhappy–like my aunt who ran away from home when she was 18 and never came back. My grandparents hired a PI who tracked her down, and I think they ended up talking to her on the phone once, but in the end she was all alone. Her two brothers, my mother, two guys from the mortuary and I (even though I had never met her and I’m not sure I could tell you her name) were her pallbearers. The only way anyone knew she died was because she didn’t show up for work for a few days. Anyway, this song is exactly how I imagine people like my aunt and my uncle felt.
St. Agnes and the Burning Train has some seriously great guitar work. This is one case where less is definitely more. I felt that even without words, this one song was able to tell a story about death, burial, and reconciliation. Absolutely great.
And there really weren’t any lowlights, so I’m giving this album 4/5.
Garth Brooks – Fresh Horses (1995)
For the first time, this is Garth Brooks writing most of the album himself. There was one Aerosmith song (I didn’t recognize it, so maybe I need to listen to more Aerosmith) and one song that was written for him about the Oklahoma City bombings. So for the first time, this is a real reflection of him; this is him singing about what he wants to sing about.
Now I haven’t actually listened to Garth Brooks before this. Actually, this might be the first modern straight country album I think I’ve ever listened to. Aside from Johnny Cash-era country, I’ve mostly listened more bluegrass or folk.
And I was pleasantly surprised. The biggest surprise was Ireland. I mean, what’s this doing on a country album? I really liked this, and not just because I never would have expected it. I have no words. I also really liked The Old Stuff, which is pretty much exactly what I expected this album would sound like (except it was live).
Once I knew The Fever was an Aerosmith cover, I could hear it. I went back and listened to the original. I think Aerosmith did it better.
It’s Midnight Cinderella was definitely country-swing and I didn’t like it (I’d rather just listen to actual swing). But Rollin’ had a bit of that swing feel to it as well, and I liked that, so maybe I’m sold on the theory of country-swing (yes, I know it’s already an actual thing, I just haven’t really listened to any before), maybe it’s just the execution of It’s Midnight Cinderella I didn’t like.
She’s Every Woman was also a decent song. This really sounded like something James Taylor would do. I expected James Taylor to pipe in, at any moment, with “I’m going to Carolina in my mind.” Someone who is more talented than I am should do a mash-up of those two songs.
The rest of the album was okay. Maybe more twangy or schmaltzy that I’d like, but on the whole a decent album. I will also say this might be my favourite album cover. It’s kinda creepy, and I’m not sure it fits the feel of the album, but I really like it. I like how you can see his reflection in … his own eye! 3/5
Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
This is Radiohead’s seventh studio album. For those of you perhaps not in the know, this release had a lot of hype surrounding it; it had been four years since their last album, they abandoned their record label and produced it on their own, and nobody knew it existed until the week before they released it. When they finally did unleash it, the price was simply “pay what you want.” It was kind of a big deal.
I first got into Radiohead in 2003 when they released Hail to the Thief, and I didn’t pick this album up until a year–maybe a year and a half–after it came out. And even then, I only ever got a few tracks from one of my coworkers.
For me the highlights of this album was Jigsaws Falling into Place and House of Cards. They were just solid. Faust Arp was also pretty good.
The album as a whole, though, was just weird. Most of the songs didn’t engage me and they were just background noise. I’m not sure what happened. I used to be a Radiohead fan and now … I don’t know. Not so much. So while this album probably deserves at least a three, I’m only giving it a two because I remember liking Radiohead more than I liked this album.
Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now (2012)
Guys. This is a great album. I’ve listened to the Punch Brothers before, and I knew they were talented. Just because they can play, it doesn’t mean they can put together an album. Although, as it turns out, they really can. This is an easy 4/5 and the best thing that has been recommended to me in quite a while.
I’ve said before that often less is more. I think the real difference between an amateur-sounding band and a professional-sounding one is that the professionals understand their place. Or at least how their instrument fits in with the mix of the band. When recording, you often play with the levels to make sure the blend of sound is good; that everything is as loud or quiet as you want it. These guys really take that a step further. If something is supposed to be heard, other stuff makes room for it and doesn’t distract from it.
I think people harp on Ringo like he’s not a good drummer. He’s a great drummer. He could do more than he does, but because he knows his role, he doesn’t over-do it. I know I give U2 a hard time for having boring bass lines, but I think I’d rather take boring bass lines than a bassist who is trying to compete with the lead guitarist.
The songs Punch Brothers wrote for this album let everyone shine, without crowding anyone else. And that is real song-writing talent.
In an interview, Gabe Witcher, their fiddle player, said their producer told them to “focus in on two or three things that make this song this song, focus in on those and let those be the elements.”
Chris Thile, their mandolin player and frontman, talked about looking at some of their songs and how “each guy has a fairly significant idea expressed — and those fourth and fifth ideas are not actually imperative. They don’t have to be there. And it served to obscure the ones that do have to be where they were.”
He talked about simplifying some of their songs down to the melody, harmony and bass lines, then reinforcing those lines with the other voices.
Matisyahu – Light (2009)
I’m not sure this is his best album, but I like it. Really, I shared this because of the drums on We Will Walk. I don’t really play the drums. I filled in once at a wedding. I can keep time, and that’s about it. And while I wish I could play better, until I get a kit I can play, I’ll be stuck wishing I could do what they do on the chorus section of We Will Walk. Once I can play that, I may be satisfied with my drumming skills. 4/5
Here’s what my coworkers thought of it:
“I feel like I am apologizing a lot today for my feelings. I didn’t like this one Paul. The first two tracks were almost enough to make me give this a one star, but the middle of the album pulled it up to a three-star, and the last two/three tracks pulled it back down to a one. So I feel two stars is a good average. I just didn’t feel any connection to the music or lyrics. It seemed so foreign to me at times that I couldn’t even tell if it was good for its genre. That said, rap/hip hop is not my thing and there is rarely stuff I enjoy in that genre.” -Tim
“Hmmm. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting such a raging hip-hop dance party album. I was expecting Yiddish reggae funkadelic wonderfulness, but this was just bad hip hop — way over-produced and almost like he was just a prop in the songs. His lyrics were…I don’t know, they didn’t feel legit. It didn’t work. This album got very boring and very grating very quickly, so I went back in time, and found some AMAZING music. His album “Youth” was what I was expecting, maybe because this is probably the album that launched him and the one I have heard about. Reggae is a mood thing for me, but this album was really good. I also did some digging around on Youtube and found an amazing cover of “Message in the Bottle” by the Police. Which is neither here nor there, but I guess what I am saying is, I love the artist, but not the album so much. It just didn’t fit, and maybe he’s trying to expand and move into other areas musically, but it didn’t work for me.
Matisyahu: 8 out of 10. This album: 3 out of 10″ -Phil
“I don’t think I disliked it as much as Phil and Tim, but I sort of agree with what Phil said about it. I remember liking Matisyahu’s Youth album ok, but I wasn’t too impressed with Light. I do like “One Day” and it’s also the only song I’d heard before. And I found myself nodding to “We Will Walk.” That one had a good feel and I liked the lyrics. In fact, his lyrics are generally enjoyable, if not a tad cheesy at times. I enjoy the positivity. But there wasn’t anything else that really jumped out at me. I’m going to also admit I was in the wrong frame of mind while listening to this, and it does seem like an album you have to take in a certain mood. Plus, I think I don’t like reggae as much as I used to. At least aside from the stuff I already enjoy. Actually, it’s mostly the reggae singing/rapping. It’s just not what gets my engines going these days. Any way, all that aside, I still do respect Matisyahu and his talent. This album just didn’t do much for me.” 5/10 -Chris
“I actually really liked this one. I know I’m pretty much the only one – but I really did like it. A long with my obsession of bluegrass music, I am a fan of reggae and rap – and these guys were a great combo. I will probably buy this album at some point. Not much to say because I really liked all of it! Escape was cool, and I had no idea that these guys were the artists behind One Day. I just assumed it was all Akon with some kind of background band.” 8/10 -Kari