I’m a big music fan. And if I make my list of my favorite albums of all time, many would be some of the same things many people would list. “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan and the like. But there are some that might be on that list that are minor gems. Some sold in reasonable numbers, some didn’t and some didn’t really sell at all. I’d like to throw a few out there and hear what you think. Genre-wise, I’m all over the map but I could throw any of these on my virtual turntable any minute of any day and be very content. I’ve got quite a list of these but I’ll start with these three:
1. Mule Variations by Tom Waits. It’s odd to consider this a hidden gem or under-appreciated since it was Waits’ highest charting album ever when it reached #30 for a short time in the US and was #1 in Norway. Tom being Tom, did promote this album a bit with a performace of “Chocolate Jesus” on Letterman that might have been a little too quirky for middle America but it’s more than the reclusive Waits had done previously. It did get a couple of Grammy nominations. The fact that it won a Grammy for “Best Contemporary Folk Album” and was nominated for “Best Male Rock Vocal” (For the astoundingly great “Hold On“) tells you that critics and record buyers didn’t to know what to do with Waits’ incredibly nuanced, diverse work. Some critics found it to be a rehash for Waits, I think it’s a great summation of his career up to that point. From romps like “I’m Big in Japan” to the poignant “The House Where Nobody Lives” make this a very rewarding listen.
2.The Mona Lisa’s Sister by Graham Parker. Parker burst on the scene in the late ’70s with the punk movement and was a contemporary of Elvis Costello and a harder edged version of Joe Jackson. After some commercial success in the early 80s, Parker’s bombastic personality caused him to change labels a few times. He got to RCA and made this album which contains lyrics that have stood the test of time, well for me they have. From the reggae-tinged “The Girl Isn’t Ready” to “Get Started, Start a Fire” where the album’s title comes from, his sly humor, insight and ability to not give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks all came together in a more stripped down approach that has stood the test of time. Sadly, it may be out of print in CD format but will live forever on iTunes.
3. Valley So Deep by The Texas Sapphires. This is straight ahead country. I bought a version of this CD for $10 from the band in the Austin airport. From a music perspective, Austin, Texas is my North Star. This band was playing in the airport. Free. Just playing their hearts out and sounding fantastic. I’ve never been so disappointed that a flight left on time. I talked with Billy Brent Malkus for a few minutes, took my CD and boarded. When I got home, I played the thing ragged. The CD I bought isn’t the one that’s for sale now. The band re-cut the songs with legendary Austin producer Lloyd Maines for a slightly crisper sound. Whether they’re doing songs written by Billy or covers of solid country songs, the musicianship and commitment to the music is unmistakable. One of my favorites, written by Billy and Arty Hill, is “Bring Out the Bible (We Ain’t Got a Prayer)” which explains that “There’s peace in the valley but we never made it down there.”