This month’s theme week was Christmas in July; I also did a set of “X”-named groups. (I like keeping things fun/interesting for myself.) Prince-associated albums this month came from Martika, Ingrid Chavez, and Rosie Gaines, and I had my first listen to the first #1 album by Eagles (and didn’t hate it!).
Best records of July: Nico, the Flamingos, Polaris-nominated nêhiyawak, and Tyrone Davis. And don’t sleep on Cyrus Chestnut’s lovely holiday album.
- Martika, Martika’s Kitchen (1991): Her soph solo LP is surprisingly good, solid pop/R&B of its time, w/4 tracks co-written/prod by Prince. Title track is legit funky, “Don’t Say U Love Me” new jack swing (!), and closer “Mi Tierra” feat Celia Cruz! Kinda refreshing.
- Dinah Washington, Music for Late Hours (1956): She’s of course an impeccable vocalist, but her vocals on this album – ironic, considering its title – come off as a little, almost, shrieky. Her work with Louis Jordan, or “What a Diff’rence,” I adore. This, not as much.
- Nico, The Marble Index (1969): Now, that’s what I call art-rock! Nico and John Cale’s gorgeously damaged heroin-soaked pre-goth record still stuns, with her voice, harmonium, and heavy strings making something truly original. 50+ yrs later, no one’s caught up.
- The Black Crowes, Amorica (1994): Hard southern boogie rock, > their debut & =/> their 2nd. Argument to be made: for the 1st half of the ‘90s, Crowes may have been the best mainstream U.S. rock band. I might be the one to make it. This slays. God bless Amorica. [US flag emoji]
- Breeders, Title TK (2002): The spark of their earlier records isn’t here; this just kinda sits, inert, some basic guitar-bass-drums rock, with a largely bored-sounding Kim Deal in front. “Comeback” albums like this make me wonder why some artists even bother. (A: touring.)
- Hootie & the Blowfish, Imperfect Circle (2019): An above-average bar band w/ a stellar singer; Darius Rucker’s voice is so warm, I can listen to him sing almost anything. That said, even he can barely elevate these just-ok songs. His solo country material is much better.
- Tompall & the Glaser Brothers, Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack …tick…tick…tick… (1970): Apparently the first all-country film soundtrack ever (!), this is Glen Campbell-style pop-country. Good songs, good production, and smoooooth as anything.
- Lizzobangers (2013): Yeah, she’s clearly influenced by Missy Elliott – this is a hip hop LP – but also takes cues from late ‘90s backpacker stuff, and (here’s the key) her own off-kilter aesthetic. Long before her 2019 breakthrough, Lizzo was 100% original. Also: bars.
- La India, Dicen Que Soy (1994): 2nd salsa LP pairs house-styled vocals w/salsa rhythms hard & soft, & it all works incredibly well. She sings it distinctively, w/mostly strongly feminist lyrics. Also: a bilingual G. Benson cover, + fine duets w/Tito Nieves and Marc Anthony.
9b. India, Breaking Night (1990): Her debut is a highly overcaffeinated freestyle/pop/house album; India sings her ass off on a bunch of songs that may not deserve her. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either, which feels weird to say about a record sung by such a presence.
- Isaac Hayes, Live at the Sahara Tahoe (1973): It’s possible that during his Imperial Phase, Hayes was nearly the equal of JB and Prince as a bandleader. Rocking a lounge-soul vibe so expertly, his band kills it, and Hayes is a master interpreter of others’ songs.
- Ingrid Chavez, May 19, 1992 (1991): 1/2 spoken word (poetry) w/musical backing from Prince, 1/2 dance-pop w/backing from his lieutenants, & frankly, the co-writer of “Justify My Love” doesn’t have much to recommend her. A nothing voice, a not-much-more lyricist.
- BeBe & CeCe Winans, First Christmas (1993): The sibling gospel duo’s first holiday album is warm & lovely, w/some secular faves (“Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas”) sprinkled among a mix of religious classics & originals – & an odd cover of “Ooh Child” sung w/their parents.
- The Partridge Family Starring Shirley Jones and Featuring David Cassidy, A Partridge Family Christmas Card (1971): The thing about the Partridge Family: your enjoyment of them is directly dependent on how you feel about David Cassidy’s voice. I can’t stand it. Pure butchery.
- The Whispers, Happy Holidays to You (1979): It’s on Solar, so you know there’s some disco slip-beats and “pew pew”s, + those lovely Whispers harmony vocals. “Santa/Is Comin’” is smartly re-arranged with a samba beat, & “This Christmas” becomes a ballad. Just gorgeous.
- Barbara Mandrell, Christmas at Our House (1984): Mandrell’s a great singer, more soulful than you might expect – but not here; this LP is as white as the driven snow. The whole affair is stiff. Her “Winter Wonderland” doesn’t swing. And “Born to Die” is not an LDR cover.
- Destiny’s Child, 8 Days of Christmas (2001): Obnoxiously bad. Originals are embarrassing (title track makes ‘em sound like gold diggers), traditionals feature copious oversinging. “Platinum Bells” attempts to turn “Silver Bells” into “Jumpin’ Jumpin’,” good God.
- Cyrus Chestnut, Blessed Quietness: A Collection of Hymns, Spirituals and Carols (1996): If you need a largely contemplative, jazz holiday album, Chestnut’s solo piano is just the antidote to a myriad of overproduced Christmas records. Title = truth in advertising, too.
- Mitch Miller & the Gang, Christmas Sing-Along with Mitch (1958): Miller’s 2nd #1 LP of ‘58 is more of the same: big chorus singing trad arrs of classics. This was the formula that made him famous, & he stuck w/it – & for what it is, it works. Classy, albeit unexciting.
- Joan Baez, Noel (1966): Expected Greenwich Village folk, instead got extremely high Anglican church. Baez sings the entire album in her highest falsetto, and takes on very old school hymns and carols (“Coventry Carol,” “Bring a Torch,” even “Ave Maria”). Not really my thing.
19b. Josh Groban, Noel (2008): A wee bit more contemporary than I expected; sure, he busts his lungs on stuff like “Silent Night” and (of course) “Ave Maria,” but also welcomes in Brian McKnight and Faith Hill. But also the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, cuz Groban gonna Groban.
- MC Lyte, Lyte As A Rock (1988): Her debut album is incredibly sharp. The rhymes & flow are so on point it’s absurd, and the prod (mostly Audio Two, but also Prince Paul, Alliance, and King of Chill) matches Lyte, beat-for-flow. She should’ve been a superstar.
- nêhiyawak, nipiy (2019): This Canadian First Nations “moccasingaze” trio use interesting textures and mix in Native samples and instruments (and Cree singing) on their stellar debut LP; this is no paint-by-numbers indie rock. Cocteaus refs but also Slint, early Pumpkins.
- The Flamingos, Flamingo Serenade (1959): “I Only Have Eyes” still sounds as if beamed in from another planet, 60+ yrs later. This is doo-wop (a genre of which I’m not generally fond) at its most elegant and haunting. The songs! The production! The voices! I swoon.
- Rosie Gaines, Closer Than Close (1995): An interesting R&B album, w/reggae (incl. a Marley cover), some acoustic soul, a few dancier things. Most songs do a solid job showcasing Gaines’ strong voice. Not great, but good – but CD-era bloat(™) is real.
- Eagles, One of These Nights (1975): You can hear them moving from country-rock to more str8fwd rock on this solid set of songs, even w/”Lyin’ Eyes” and the banjo-rooted “Journey of the Sorcerer.” Title track is one of their better singles, too (w/a soulful Henley vocal).
- August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill, A Holiday Album (2012): How about this: an almost entirely instrumental Christmas offering from a Christian metalcore band. They mix it up, incorporating punk, and even some jazz influences, and keep it v entertaining.
- Madame X (1987): Remember Elecktrik Red, the fem R&B 4some presented by The-Dream in 2008? Well, 30 years prior, there was this trio, presented by Klymaxx’s Bernadette Cooper: avant-garde, edgy R&B that no one knew what to do with. Too bad – they were good.
- Spirea X, Fireblade Skies (1991): Solid, swirling dreampop that gets a bit samey, with much more acoustic guitar than I’d like. “Speed Reaction” and “Chlorine Dream” are both more Madchester than shoegazey, while “Confusion in My Soul” sounds like mellow Hendrix.
- X, Wild Gift (1981): Punk? I don’t really hear punk here, more ‘50s-era rock’n’roll, lots of Eddie Cochran-type licks. Exene’s voice – I’ve gotta say it – is nails on a chalkboard; she mostly sounds like she’s tired, and whining. None of this does anything for me.
- The xx, Coexist (2012): A starkly minimalist sophomore LP that is so fucking good. This is the record where I hypothesize that Jamie xx is the 2010s answer, sound-wise, to Tricky (with Romy as his Martina Topley-Bird). This creeps up on you. This is a mood.
- Les Nubians, One Step Forward (2003): French sisters’ 2nd album rides a similar groove to their debut, bumping easygoing turn-of-the-century R&B (call it neo-soul if you want), occasionally slipping from French into English. They sound more confident in their native tongue, TBH.
- In the Mood with Tyrone Davis (1979): Smooooth Chicago soul from one of its titans. This being a ‘79 album, there’s a few disco-ish rhythms, but this is mostly straight ahead soul music, romantic in nature & expertly written, sung, arranged. Title track is a masterpiece.