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Date: 1972
Release: POLYGRAM #810314
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Laid-back, Southern-tinged, white-boy groove music from the early 70s. Cale is best known for having penned a string of hits covered by Eric Clapton, including “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.” His own recordings have largely been overlooked and forgotten. This album captures Cale in his most creative period, and reveals why his obscure sound is so often imitated by those in the know.

Really flows like an album should, with its own distinctly mellow vibe. This is music perfect for creaky old porches, rocking chairs, and hound dogs. The band shuffles along with a grooving country-blues edge that defines Cale’s unmistakable sound. His nimble guitar playing and mumbled singing style blend soulfully together on such songs as “I’ll Kiss the World Goodbye” and “Right Down Here.”

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Date: October 21, 1970
Release: COLUMBIA CK 30290
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A finely crafted album of diverse and heartfelt songs. With New Morning, Dylan discards obscure and impenetrable lyrics for emotionally accessible songs about love and life. The title track sounds like a blueprint of what would become Van Morrison’s trademark semi-acoustic soul sound of the early 70s. In “Sign on the Window,” Dylan sings about the virtues of settling down and starting a family, which is exactly what he tried to do around this time with the birth of his now famous son, Jakob. “The Man In Me” reveals an openly self-critical side to Dylan, who admits that “it takes a woman like you/to get through to the man in me.” Backed by a soulful chorus of female singers, this song is an absolute classic, and was used to great effect in the Coen brother’s “The Big Lebowski.” Other highlights include the spare “Three Angels,” with its atmospheric organ and gospel-tinged chorus, the comic jazz-blues of “If Dogs Run Free,” and the classic Dylan cynicism of “Went to See the Gypsy.”

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Date: October 7, 1997
Release: MCA #11684
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Following the release of First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, the Hendrix estate knew that they had to do something different on the follow up. First Rays was the completion of Jimi’s music up until the time of his death, the final songs that would have been on his next album. Janie, Eddie, John McDermott knew that now was the time to bring forward a new offering for long time Hendrix fans–unreleased music. Thus was born South Saturn Delta. Made up of tracks originally found on the long deleted War Heroes, Loose Ends, Rainbow Bridge, as well as some that had appeared on Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning (original tracks were used though, not the Alan Douglas tampered ones). Plus some unreleased songs, studio ideas, etc. Some really good music, “Pali Gap” from Rainbow Bridge is a great late night tune; “Drifter’s Escape,” the Bob Dylan song is a great rocker.

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Date: 1958
Release: Columbia #53629
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The 1958 Newport Jazz Festival has taken on mythic status. Over those four days in July Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington, Gerry Mulligan, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Anita O’Day, George Shearing, Sonny Stitt, Chico Hamilton, and others played. That’s quite extraordinary, as is the fact that the event was so well documented. There were hundreds of feet of film shot, and filmmaker Bert Stern edited all of that down to 84 minutes of performances punctuated by the America’s Cup yacht race, which took place off the coast of Rhode Island at that same time. Plus, we have great CDs from the festival, especially Miles Davis‘s Live at Newport 1958.

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Date: 1956-1958
Release: Varese Sarabande #061077
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Stevie Ray Vaughan named his band after one of his songs. Michael Bloomfield was so moved by his music that he produced him. Eric Clapton imitated his vocal style. Led Zeppelin covered his music. For what he managed to achieve throughout his long illustrious career, Otis Rush is perhaps the most underrated bluesman in the history of the genre. For decades he was one of the great movers and shakers of the blues. It was he, along with fellow singer/guitarists Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, who in the 1950s invented what was coined the “West Side” blues sound. Each musician had his own distinct style that set him apart from his peers and recorded music that influenced a generation of bluesmen. But song for song it is arguably Otis Rush who has made the biggest impact of the three.

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Date: November, 1968
Release: Warner Brothers WS-1768
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When Astral Weeks was released in 1969, very few people got it. When I bought the record from a friend 13 years ago, I didn’t really get it either. In fact I wanted my money back. My friend promised that the album would grow on me if I’d just give it a few more spins. By the third listen, Astral Weeks had completely overwhelmed me with its raw emotional beauty. It has since ingrained itself deeply into my musical identity.

There really isn’t anything else quite like Astral Weeks — it was unprecedented when it came out and nothing has compared to it since. Even Van Morrison, for all his creative powers, never topped this early peak (although 1974′s Veedon Fleece comes close). Nothing written on Astral Weeks can ever truly capture its essence — the music speaks for itself. That said, writing about the album feels like one of the hardest things I could possibly do. Rather than try to rally my best adjectives and sing the album’s praises, I will avoid the standard drivel and, as Van sings, “venture in the slipstream.”

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Date: September 1963 – April 1964 (recording)
Release: MCA #112940
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It’s no secret, the music of Muddy Waters attacks the senses like a vibrator that runs on a Caterpillar engine.

In 1940, Allan Lomax recorded a small time farm hand McKinley Morganfield; later that decade McKinley moved to Chicago, changed his name to Muddy and ‘plugged’ in; everything changed. Elvis might have stolen his hip shake, but no-one could steal Muddy’s ‘mojo’.

So what happened in 1963? Muddy went back to his roots, unplugged, and recorded a stinging ‘voodoo romp’ through the dark Delta entitled Folk Singer. Timeless, nothing plays ‘cooler’ on a hot night or ‘hotter’ on a cold night; you can’t help but transport back in time and feel that the Devil’s just one step behind you.

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