7 Albums You Shouldn't Miss

7 Albums You Shouldn't Miss

I realize my column lately has been pretty focused on Summer Camp. While that is a great weekend and you should definitely go, it turns out the music doesn’t stop there! With that in mind, here are some albums that have been on repeat for me lately, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do (this might stretch out a bit).

1. The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin

Back in 1969, the Summer of Love had come and gone, and the world was familiar with the likes of the Beatles, Hendrix, and the Dead. Psychedelia was all the rage, and everyone was adding a little bit of color to their music. Gram Parsons, formerly of the Byrds, was the tragic mastermind behind The Gilded Palace of Sin, which could arguably be called the first psychedelic country rock record. Despondent lyrics mixed with hauntingly beautiful two-part vocal harmonies, shimmering, sun-drenched acoustic and electric guitars, and incredible lap steel playing by “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow (he basically improvises over the course of the entire album) make this an unforgettable record that will get stuck in your head for days.

2. White Denim – Stiff

I think I’ve listened to this album at least once a day for the last two weeks. At just nine songs long, it’s a brief yet thrilling ride into Austin, TX-based White Denim’s blues-and-soul-oriented psychedelic jazzfest. I’ve enjoyed their previous work, but Stiff really shows them coming into their own, brimming with confidence. The guitars are angular, sharp, and precise, while the bass and drums somehow manage to keep the songs from falling all over themselves (dual lead guitars snake in and out of each other’s melodies with dazzling precision). The crown jewel of this album, however, is lead vocalist James Petralli’s ragingly powerful soul vocals. At times Marvin Gaye, at others James Brown (but always himself), his performance on Stiff ties the perfect knot on the spastic electric assault that is White Denim.

3. Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit – Mirrors of Embarrassment

The enigmatic Bruce Hampton has been a fixture in the avant-garde and jam music scene since the ‘60s with the Hampton Grease Band, performing in Georgia alongside the likes of the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead. Hampton went on to form many other musical ventures, the most well-known being the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Featuring Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers), Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic), Jeff Sipe, Matt Mundy, and Count M’Butu, the Aquarium Rescue Unit was one of the templates for the bands of the jam scene today; their out-of-this-world blend of jazz, funk, bluegrass, Latin, blues, swing, and straightforward rock led to them being featured alongside Phish, Blues Traveler, and others when Hampton helped start the H.O.R.D.E. tour in 1992. Hampton himself is a confusing yet incendiary mixture of Captain Beefheart, Jerry Garcia, and Frank Zappa. If that sentence didn’t get you excited to listen, I can no longer help you with music.

4. Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart – Bongo Fury

Speaking of Zappa and Beefheart, let’s discuss their collaborative album Bongo Fury (a mishmash of studio recordings and live performances from the summer of ’75). As the only time Beefheart toured with Zappa’s band (and incidentally, one of the last performances with Zappa’s late ‘70s Mothers group), it immediately became a must-have for fans of bizarre music. Songs like “Poofter’s Froth Wyoming”, the stretched-out “Advance Romance”, and Beefheart’s two prose readings make this a unique entry in the catalogue of both artists and showcase their unflinching devotion to being themselves. As with most of their music, this is a difficult record to categorize, but well worth your time.

5. Phish – Amsterdam

With Phish’s summer tour looming ever nearer (and with the band also announcing their return to Riviera Maya in Mexico next year), I would be remiss if I didn’t include this box set of music from their 1997 shows in Amsterdam. Featuring top-notch versions of songs like “Ghost”, “Rocky Top”, “Timber”, “Down With Disease”, and a cornucopia of other notable jams (including the very first “Carini”, in its unfinished form as a menacing, 21-minute monster), this is an excellent look at Phish at one of the peaks of their career: furious, swirling psychedelia grounded in the legendary Cow Funk of the late ‘90s. If you’re a fan of Phish or of jam band music at all, this collection of shows is an absolute must-listen for you.

6. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

I was first introduced to Louisville, KY-based My Morning Jacket through the cartoon American Dad, of all things. However, what started as a gag turned into one of my newest musical obsessions. With a string of amazing albums (Z, Evil Urges, Circuital, and The Waterfall) and another one coming out this year, My Morning Jacket really ensnared me with their towering riffs, pounding drums, outer-space vocal harmonies, soaring solos and can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head hooks and breakdowns. The most recent album, The Waterfall¸ is so peaceful and melodic; psychedelic country meets big, bold, crunchy riffs while frontman Jim James’ voice soars like the wind over the mountains. Lush, vibrant, and uplifting. Definitely check this out.

7. Circles Around the Sun – Interludes for the Dead

This project didn’t start out as an album. For the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” shows last year, Justin Kreutzmann, son of Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann asked Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood guitarist) to compose some music for the set breaks of the shows. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall (also of CRB, and like Casal a friend/occasional band member of Phil Lesh), bassist Dan Horne (Beachwoods Sparks), and drummer Mark Levy (the Congress) lent their talents to what would ultimately become one of the most exciting aspects of the Fare Thee Well events. The set break music went over so well that a few choice “songs” were released on vinyl and CD afterwards. What makes the music so unique to the spirit of the Dead was its totally unrehearsed, zero-preparation format. Not one note was prepared ahead of time, and it came out sounding like Pink Floyd was channeling Jerry Garcia. Fluid, melting guitars and organs meander patiently over the rock-solid drums and bass, never getting ahead of themselves, riding it out to the end. Good for meditation, long drives, working at the office, or practicing along to improve your own jamming chops.

I apologize if that got a little long-winded, but I really wanted to talk about those albums, and I sincerely hope that you can find something in there that delights you the way it does for me. Keep listening, everybody.

  

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