Resonate in Tones of Saving Grace

For almost a year now, some of my friends and I have been sharing an album with one another, partly for exposure to new music and partly to give us something to listen to while we work, etc. We’re supposed to review it, rate it, and share those reviews/ratings with one another as well, but that doesn’t always happen.

Richard and Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)

I didn’t catch on until I looked this album up to start listening to it that Spencer had shared an album from the ’70s. When he emailed us this suggestion, I thought it was a modern duo, like The Civil Wars or The Weepies. I was wrong.

First let me say that I didn’t feel like it was “a ’70s” album. I feel like it has help up well over the past 40 years.

As far as the vocals go, the title track was the strongest, although The Little Beggar Girl grew on me as the track went on. These guys are very British. Maybe they just have different accents than I’m used to hearing, but it took a little acclimation.

The instrumental portions of the album were the real highlight for me. I love what Richard comes up with to play, and the way he plays it. I had expected more acoustic guitar and banjo, but I was pleasantly surprised with folk inspired rock, instead of the other way around.

The one low light for me was The Great Valerio. It wasn’t that interesting of a song to me to begin with, and then it just went on too long.

But for the most part, this is why I like sharing music with friends. There are bound to be more little gems like this that I feel like I should have heard years ago, but have gotten lost in the flood of modern music. 3/5

I also want to say that while I liked The Calvary Cross (it may be my second favorite track on the album), the live version on the remaster edition of the album that Spotify has is absolutely terrific.

Collective Soul – Collective Soul (1995)

I liked music from the ’90s, but I’ve never listened to most of this album. And while I recognized The World I Know, I’m sure I’ve never heard the whole song. In fact, I’m pretty sure I used to think it was a Goo Goo Dolls song, which explains why I could never find it.

This is the kind of ’90s music that doesn’t feel dated to me. You don’t feel like you’re going back in a time machine when you listen to it, but at the same time it has all the hallmarks of a lot of music I was listening to in Junior High. Gel was the only song that seemed like one of those kind of ’90s songs.

I have listened to some Collective Soul before, but not much. December and Where the River Flows are (two very different) songs I remember hearing on the radio and putting on a mix tape.

Overall, I was really pleased with the solid alt. rock (with some funk grooves) I got. Aside from the three previously mentioned songs, Collection of Goods really hit me as a great tune and I can’t really justify why. I just like it. I like the groove and the overall feel. And Reunion actually has some (brace yourself for a pun) collective soul.

The whole album is great. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Richard and Linda Thompson, but this made me want to get up and make some music of my own. And that’s one of the best standards for determining good music. 4/5

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet (1986)

I can always count on Tim to share a Bon Jovi album. And this is the best of the three he’s shared in the last year or so.

This is a solid ’80s hard rock album. it has squealing guitars and driving beats. I can’t ask for much more than that from this kind of music.

It opens strong and closes strong. I was really surprised how much I liked Wild in the Streets. I hadn’t heard anything from this album other than the three radio singles. Wild in the Streets is probably my favorite song on the album. As soon as it was over, I wanted to listen to it again. As corny as Wanted Dead or Alive is, it works. And You Give Love a Bad Name is just classic.

There were a couple of low lights, though.

Back when we created mixtapes, Tim shared Livin’ on a Prayer as part of his. I had though that was the only Bon Jovi song anyone really wanted to hear. I gave it a 4/5. I take it back now. Yes, the chorus is awesome, but I don’t really love the talking bass. I’ve never really liked that effect. On any song. Maybe that makes this a medium light….

I could have done without Without Love. It was like it was supposed to be a sappy soft rock/country song, but somehow some rockers got ahold of it and decided it would go well on this otherwise rockin’ album. Never Say Goodbye was a similarly out-of-place ballad to me, although not quite as bad.

As little as I think of their other albums, some songs on here easily get a 4/5 and the album as a whole gets a 3/5.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (1990)

First, let’s just take a moment to relish in how late ’80s/early ’90s that cover is.

Obviously the front guy for this band is Béla, banjo player extraordinaire. And I mean that literally. Backing him up are bassist Vic Wooten (remember him from a couple of weeks ago?), Vic’s brother Roy on “drums,” and Howard Levy on harmonica and keys. Sunset Road has an uncredited guest vocalist as well – Camille Harrison – although there are no lyrics and she’s just ahh-ing, perhaps explaining why they forgot her.

This is a fusion of jazz and bluegrass. And as inaccessible as those genres can be, I feel like these guys do a great job of being real musicians without making everyone else feel inferior. They didn’t make a record because they wanted to show how awesome they are (because they really are), but because they have fun playing and wanted to share that with everyone.

Sometimes it’s a real ride. Hurricane Camille and Tell It to the Gov’nor especially. The real highlight of the album for me though is Sinister Minister, which somehow won a Grammy in 1997. It highlights Vic’s bass playing more than Béla’s banjo, although I guess the main voice for most of it is Howard’s harmonica.

I know not every track is awesome. Half Moon Bay is good. I like the change in pace. But being a mostly instrumental album, the slower pace makes the song feel just long. I mean, it’s not short, but it feels longer than it is. Space is a Lonely Place kind of suffers from the same thing, but at least I feel like I’m in the lonely black of space while I listen to it. It feels more “on purpose,” while Half Moon Bay just feels like a b-side. I also don’t love the arrangement of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Sinister Minister got me introduced to this album and these guys, but I keep listening to them because they are amazing musicians. I’ve already told you how Vic has influenced me as a bass player (even though I never really play like that). Béla is just as influential on my banjo playing. Flogging Molly, Led Zeppelin and Steve Martin have also influenced me as a banjo player, but not as much as Béla. Maybe the only other person who gets close is John McEuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Here’s what some other people had to say about Béla Fleck and the Flecktones:

“I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff at work precisely because it doesn’t typically distract from the task at hand. I also play a little banjo so I always approach Bela Fleck thinking “I should LOVE this!” The album was great, solid music, with a fair bit of breadth between songs. I had to stop and look what track was playing during “Sinister Minister” so I could listen again later, and I really liked the “Mars Needs Women” songs. I liked the album but I didn’t really love it. I think it deserves more listens (and more careful ones) than I could give it this week, but for now I’ll go with 3/5.” -Spencer

“So, oddly enough, my first thought listening to opener “Sea Brazil” was of this little diddy from OutRun. I think its the bass line that connects the two, but it’s a groove that reoccurs throughout Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. I found that pretty enjoyable.

I’m sort of in the same camp as Spencer in that with what I’ve known about Bela and company I’m of the mind to think “I should LOVE this!” I probably would have absolutely loved it about 5 or 6 years ago, and maybe it’s just where my head is at these days, but listening to it this last week didn’t really do a ton for me. I respect the hell out of their virtuosity, and that element alone was worth the listen. But beyond that it was simply worthy back ground music. Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing, just didn’t find myself jumping out of my seat or wanting to go back to any one track. “Sinister Minister” had some extra oomph I appreciated though.

Overall, a solid collection of instrumentals. I can’t fault my lack of interest on them really, because they completely nail what they’re going for here. So I’m giving them higher marks than my comments might suggest. Perhaps on another day I’d appreciate it more.” 6.5/10 – Chris

Tell me what you thought of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, or any of the other albums, in the comments below.

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