Why Don’t You Take Another Little Piece of My Soul

For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends (1968)

This is one of those albums I listened to on vinyl. Not that it really makes a difference, but there’s just something about laying on the floor at the end of a long day, listening to the quiet static of a needle as the record starts.

I tend to think of this as two separate EPs. The A side (Bookends to Bookends) as a one concept EP and the B side as just a collection of other songs.

I know it’s one of “the arts,” but like dance, I don’t always think of music (especially “popular” music) that way. Simon and Garfunkel are one of the few groups who make me remember music really is art. And this album specifically does so.

I don’t know that I’ve ever appreciated the guitar work on Overs. The chord progression and the execution of the finger-style picking is actually pretty jazzy – something I don’t normally associate with Simon and Garfunkel.

As good and classic as America or Mrs. Robinson may be, neither one is my favorite song off this record. Old Friends/Bookends (Reprise) (which in some places is one track and in others is separated) is more poetic and more hauntingly beautiful. I really like when the orchestra gets a little chaotic, then resolves itself back to the main melodic line, which then blends back into Bookends. A close contender is A Hazy Shade of WinterFakin’ It and At the Zoo are also pretty good.

Voices of Old People is kind of a throwaway. It’s not a “song” first of all. Maybe I’m missing the message, but I don’t really care. If I were listening to this digitally, I would have skipped that track.

Otherwise, this album is one that always makes me want to be a better musician. 4/5

Queen – Made in Heaven (1995)

In case you didn’t know, this record was made 4 years after Freddy Mercury, the lead singer, died. He knew the end was coming, so he wrote as many songs – and laid down and laid down the vocal tracks – as he could. Then the other three guys went back and added their parts to the songs Freddy had started. Made in Heaven is a fitting name.

I feel like a lot of the lyrics are telling of what Freddy had on his mind. They all seem more personal and reflective – and that’s how he sings them, too. Not that he didn’t earlier in his career, but I feel it on every song here.

I think my favorite track is I was Born to Love You, partly because it’s more reminiscent of my favorite Queen material – the more bombastic rockin’ stuff. Actually, it may be my favorite song from any album shared this week. You can hear it in Freddy’s voice that he’s not feeling very strong. It’s easier to him the more mellow songs. But while the whole album feels like a tribute to Freddy Mercury, I Was Born to Love You really feels like a celebration. Same with It’s a Beautiful Day (Reprise) – which, by the way, is a perfect ending to the album and the band. It really helps that celebratory feeling when they throw snippets of other Queen songs in throughout the album.

I think the closest thing to a lowlight is Let Me Live, but only because of Roger Taylor’s vocals. I wasn’t really impressed with them. But the rest of the song is so good, it’s kind of just a wash. This is a little more mellow than most Queen you’re used to hearing, but it’s a great record. 4/5

And if any of you care, I have a picture of me by that statue on the front cover, although from the other side. At the time, I only knew Montreux as the city that Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water was about. I thought it was odd that there was a statue of Freddy Mercury there, but now having learned they recorded there for more than 10 years – and that’s the last place they recorded – it makes more sense.

U2 – Songs of Innocence (2014)

I have listened to this album exactly once – when it showed up in my iTunes.

Historically, I haven’t been a huge U2 fan. Part of it is a lot of Adam Clayton’s bass lines are boring. I would rather have boring bass lines than a metal bassist who’s playing a third lead guitar two octaves down, but there are plenty of ways to support the melody and still be musically interesting.

There’s other stuff to it, too, but I could quickly get derailed from a review of this album. I may never understand all the praise they seem to get, but I think they’re more deserving of what they get than, say, The Rolling Stones. Anyway, there are U2 songs here and there that stand out, but for the most part, they’re just alright. And this album is no exception.

The only song I don’t like on the album is The Troubles. I wasn’t a huge fan of Volcano either. Something about the vocals on the chorus just kinda annoyed me.

I really like California (There is No End to Love). I’m not sure what it was, but something kinda connected with me. Raised by Wolves was pretty good, too. Except the looped noises of someone trying not to sneeze (or whatever that was). The chorus and the simple piano vamp before the second verse started made up for that, though. Cedarwood Road rounds out the top three songs on the album for me.

There are some songs which pulled me in two different directions. I really liked where This is Where You Can Reach Me Now started out, and actually everywhere it went musically – eery organ, wah guitar, and all. I didn’t really love the vocals. I’m not sure if it was the lyrics or the melody line or both. If it weren’t plagiarism, I’d take a karaoke version of that song and write my own vocals. Also, I’m just not sure how I feel about Sleep Like a Baby Tonight. Something about the synths, the heavy guitar, and the falsetto…. The rest of the songs on the album are just alright. 3/5

311 – 311 (1995)

I have this love hate relationship with this and other early 311. I either love their stuff or….  It’s just that I’m not a fan of the super ’90s rap rock stuff. It’s really not my thing. There are great songs like All Mixed Up and then songs I want to skip like Hive. There are very few just fine songs in the middle; Jack-o-Lantern’s Weather and Loco are the exceptions. Sweet was also pretty good. I don’t know that I care for the background groove, but the guitar solo made up for it.

One highlight (mostly) for me is Down. I like everything about the song – except the guitar effects. It’s too much distortion and maybe something else. Maybe Tim Mahoney is just sliding into the chords, or SA’s turntables are blending with the guitar or something. It’s a sound they’ve got going on throughout most of the album, but it was at its worst on Down. Too bad, since the song and the album opens with “that.”

Another highlight was Don’t Stay Home. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this album, but for some reason Don’t Stay Home has never stood out to me until now. It’s got an almost reggae groove to it, and then they switch to some Latin funk at the end. It’s great.

I have all of their stuff (except Evolver, for some reason), including some remixes they had available on their website. This isn’t my favorite 311 album. Not by a long shot. It’s not their worst, either. Grassroots, the album they put out a year before this one, is my least favorite (not counting their early demo tapes). Mostly this album feels like five kids from Omaha who are trying to prove something in the early ’90s – which is exactly who they were. I just don’t think all of it has aged well. Half of these songs I don’t listen to – almost ever. I don’t like giving out decimals and fractions – this album gets a 36/70 – so I’ll round-up to 3/5.

The Aggrolites – Reggae Hit L.A. (2007)

This is some dirty white boy reggae. Well, white boy and latino, I think.

I haven’t heard their newest album, their fifth. But the second, third and fourth albums are all good, so it’s hard to choose one to share. Their first is good, too, but it’s very much a “first album.” I went with their third because it has my favorite track of theirs, Let’s Pack Our Bags. The title track is pretty good, too.

They started as a back-up band for other, already famous vocalists. So while their vocals are alright, they’re really great at setting up a groove. Which is one of the most important things in reggae. They’re not just straight Bob Marley reggae; they’ve also got a healthy serving of late ’60s/early ’70s soul and even a little funk.

Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below. Here’s what some of my friends thought:

“I don’t think my two-star review is a surprise to Paul here. I’m not a fan of Ska, and by extension, not a fan of Reggae. Although I think Reggae is better than Ska. This album for me wasn’t a good experience. Like 311 above, I feel like it is more of a collection of songs than an album. But like most Reggae, after about 3 songs the music becomes very repetitive. For me, this album would be more fun in doses than in a single sit through listen (which is how I like to listen to music). So I guess listening to the album at work, in a single listen, hurt the album for me. I think if I would have been driving around town, and had only a song or two between stops I would like (but not love) the album. But it just doesn’t sit well with me as a whole piece.” 2/5 -Tim

“I’ve never listened to these guys before, but I’m honestly not that into reggae. So much of it is so so-so that I pretty much stick with Bob Marley, and a few others and don’t look for much new in the genre.

These guys are good. Solid riddym. They’re almost too good though. Its like they’re so adept at backing others that they kinda just disappear. I was waiting for something to happen but it never came. No ear catching leads or moments. I like the instrumentation of the wah-effected clavinet and some of the synths were nice in there. Overall, good, but not really engaging.” 3.5/5 -Spencer


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