AKIRA TAKASAKI – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982, 2009 Columbia CD reissue)
In 1982, Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki and a Japanese keyboardist named Masanori Sasaji teamed up to record an album of music that was different from the usual Loudness rock. Though the cover art and title Tusk of Jaguar screams “pure metal”, this is actually a combination of rock, pop and jazz fusion among other influences. The cool thing about the album is that Loudness play on almost all of it, including singer Minoru Niihara on a couple of vocal tracks. Some songs are all but considered part of the Loudness discography.
Certainly the opening title track sounds like Loudness. That speed metal pace can only have been set by Munetaka Higuchi on drums and Masayoshi Yamashita on bass. “Tusk of Jaguar” is a strange amalgam of shredding metal and jazz-rock interludes. It sounds a bit like the Ian Gillan Band but with Eddie Van Malmsteen on lead guitar instead of Berne Torme. Tremendously enjoyable, but way over the heads of most of the masses.
Minoru makes his first appearance on “Steal Away”, a song difficult to describe. It’s Styx-like and has a big organ sounds like Dennis DeYoung. Cinematic, progressive pop dance rock? Then it goes pure Burn-era Deep Purple! I don’t know what it is, and even with Minoru it sounds little like Loudness. It’s also one of only a few songs without Higuchi and Yamashita.
“Macula (Far from Mother Land)” is based on synthesizer until it transforms into a more traditional guitar instrumental, with clear Brian May influences. The way Akira Takasaki stacks his guitar harmonies can only be described as Queen-like. For that reason, this song is the most accessible to rock fanatics, who will eat up every note that Akira celeverly lays down. For those curious to know more about the critically acclaimed guitarist, check out “Ebony Eyes”, a serious hard rocker on which he takes lead vocals himself! His voice is higher in timbre than Minoru’s, and while he is not an amazing vocalist, he does have some pretty incredible guitar solos on this track.
“Wild Boogie Run” is an interesting tune, sounding almost exactly like Dixie Dregs. The violins, the acoustic & electric guitars, and slight western leanings make this a track that will make your friends wonder what Dregs album it was from. This could be the track worth buying the album for. Rock returns on “Gunshots” but even when Akira is just riffing, the rhythms beneath are complex and jazzy. Hard to describe, but heavy! A jazzy funk opens “Mid-Day Hunter”. Takasaki is nothing if not diverse on Tusk of Jaguar, but even if the rhythms throw you for a loop, you can surely dig into his always memorable lead work. In their early pre-Steve Perry days, Journey wrote songs like this.
Minoru Niihara returns on a song that is basically a Loudness track: “Show Me Something Good”. Though it also has Masanori Sasaji on keyboards, it is the entire Loudness lineup otherwise. A pop rock track like this could have sat on an album like Lightning Strikes if it was produced with heavier intent. The album closer is called “Say What?” which you might in fact be saying by the end of it. Blazing tempos and synth solos adorn a track that is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.
This is a challenging album, no word of a lie. It’s certainly not immediate, and though parts of it sound familiar, it takes a bit of listening to really start to penetrate. Loudness fans, and anybody into challenging progressive rock should give it a go.
Jeff Beck’s first solo album, Blow By Blow, was co-produced by George Martin. The talents of both need no elaboration. A guitar god and “the” producer’s producer were bound to make something special together. With an ace quartet (Max Middleton on keyboards, Phil Chen on bass and drummer Richard Bailey), there were no weak links.
Blow By Blow spans many musical genres, all augmented with Jeff’s sharp and slippery fingerwork. Funk, jazz, blues, Carribean and progressive rock all collide in the grooves. The songs are instrumental hybrids of styles, but Jeff keeps it consistent. His guitar speaks. There really isn’t a better way to describe what he does with tone, technique and technology. There is even an uncredited Stevie Wonder cameo on “Thelonius”. If you can’t get enough funky clavinet, you’ll love Blow By Blow.
This albums is tops in almost every conceivable measure. The drum rhythms and bass grooves are hard hitting and relentless. Musicianship like this is rare and valuable. Without Jeff Beck there could be no Steve Vai — this, I firmly believe.
Play Blow By Blow, and then play it again. Thanks to George Martin’s fine musical sensibilities, it reveals new nuances each time. A complete triumph.
Dedicated to my dear friend Uncle Meat. This CD was purchased off Joe “Big Nose” at the Waterloo branch of the Record Store at which I used to work.
DIXIE DREGS – Night of the Living Dregs (1979 Polydor)
If they could bottle genius, distill it down to its essence, sell it and serve it at a party…then the Dixie Dregs are the music that should be played at that party.
The Dregs are undefinable. Just when you think you have them nailed down to a progressive jazz-rock hybrid, they go classical on you, or full-bluegrass mode. Their instrumental chops are incomparable, while still managing to deliver such basic song pleasures such as “melody”, “hooks” and “grooves”. These melodies are usually delivered at the hands of Steve Morse (guitar) or Allen Sloan (violin). Listeners familiar with with the guitar stylings of Morse will have an idea of the kind of songs and arrangements he writes: challenging, but rewarding.
Night of the Living Dregs is half studio, half live. The first side, from the cleverly-titled “Punk Sandwich” to the ballad “Long Slow Distance” are carefully crafted studio recordings, each different from the last. While each track is unique and showcases different sides of the band, it is “Long Slow Distance” that really shines. This soft work captures so much of what Morse does well. There are jazzy licks embedded within melodies, and so many different textures of guitar.
The live side is recorded nice and clean without a lot of crowd noise. “Night of the Living Dregs” is an upbeat little number, featuring some absolutely jaw-dropping melodic bass playing from Andy West. This is also where drummer extraordinaire Rod Morgenstein comes up to the plate. His playing is so multifaceted and you can hear it on this track. The most fun can be found on “The Bash”, a full-on bluegrass ho-down, chicken-pickin’ full steam ahead. Any jaws left on the floor are hopefully picked up so they don’t miss “Leprechaun Promenade”. There are celtic flavours thanks to the violin, and the song is comparable to Jethro Tull. Then suddenly it turns into Frankenstein’s monster with some eerie keyboards (Mark Parrish). This is complex stuff, not for the timid!
The whole experience ends on “Patchwork”, which works as a description of the album at large. It is a patchwork of style and feels, which create the whole. The Dixie Dregs are a challenging listen, but ultimately rewarding. There is plenty of joy in the grooves. The band does not play anything simple or easy. Everything is a little bit of smarty-pants music, but for the listening, this is a delight.
MILES DAVIS – A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971)
Bear with me, because as much as I love this record and jazz in general, I know very little (technically) about the music. I just know what sounds good to my ears. As far as jazz albums go, this one will be very palatable to rock fans because of the predominance of the electric guitar, especially on the first side, “Right Off”. John McLaughlin plays plenty of cool riffs and funky licks before Miles kicks in with his one-of-a-kind trumpet. Honestly, by the time you get to the end of the track, you will hardly believe that 27 minutes have gone by. It’s that good. And it grooves, solidly. Being in a room with this guys must have been a mindblowing experience. It truly is an awe-inspiring groove that they lay down.
Side two, “Yesternow”, is a slow paced atmospheric piece, over 25 minutes long. But by the end, it transforms into another one of those surreal grooves. On this one, McLaughlin plays jagged, mournful and distorted bits over a slow groove. It’s not as immediate as “Right Off”, but some of the playing here (by everybody) is incredible. I love McLaughlin’s wah-wah.
That’s Herbie Hancock on organ, and Billy Cobham on drums. Incredible. They are accompanied by Michael Henderson (bass) and Steve Grossman (soprano sax).
As a movie geek, it was a special treat for me to have the late great actor Brock Peters do a cameo at the end, playing legendary boxer Jack Johnson:
“I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world! I’m black! They never let me forget it. I’m black alright, I’ll never let them forget it!”
The album was the soundtrack to a Jack Johnson documentary film directed by William Cayton. I can’t really go into a deeper analysis of the music (sorry) but there’s a decent Wikipedia article that can do it better than me.
This is a great, accessible album and I strongly recommend this 2005 remastered Sony edition.
Here’s part 2 of 3 – 30 albums essential to Meat’s being, that should be essential to yours, too! So, without anymore preamble, I’ll leave you with Uncle Meat, as he discusses 10 more albums, in alphabetical order by title, that you need to visit (or re-visit).
HIGH TENSION WIRES – STEVE MORSE (1989)
Simply put, Steve Morse is my favorite musician of all time. I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Morse a total of 6 times when you combine The Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple and The Steve Morse Band. Unlike the releases of some of his contemporaries, High Tension Wires is not your typical shredder album. Oh it shreds alright, but Steve Morse is much more than a trickster. There are beautiful compositions, unforgettable solos and some just plain ol’ rocking too. Included is the link to a live version of a track perfectly named “Tumeni Notes”. For more examples of the greatness of Steve Morse, introduce some Dixie Dregs into your collection. You can thank me later.
HOT HOUSE – BRUCE HORNSBY (1995)
When Bruce Hornsby said goodbye to The Range, he immediately said hello with Harbor Lights, a heavily jazz-infused turn that completely changed the music world’s perception of him. Hot House sees Hornsby taking that one step further. The album’s cover speaks a thousand words. It is a painting of an imagined band session between Bluegrass legend Bill Munroe and Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Nuff’ said there. This recording contains many musical giants including Pat Metheny, Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck and Chaka Khan. Hot House is very addictive. I know most of the words off by heart on this record. Hopefully someday you will too.
JEFF BECK GROUP – JEFF BECK GROUP (1972)
This album definitely falls under the underappreciated category. Sometimes known as The Orange Album, Beck’s playing has never been better on this collection of original compositions and covers. I would call this more of a Soul album than anything. The incredible vocals of Bobby Tench seem to highlight this record at times, as you will see on the live performance of “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You” I have included for this entry. Also worth noting, this album is one of the first recordings of the late Cozy Powell’s career. The guitar work alone on “Definitely, Maybe” is enough reason itself to seek this record out. Perhaps a rock n’ roll legend’s best work.
JOHN PRINE – JOHN PRINE (1971)
I actually discovered the music of John Prine while working at the same record store chain that Mr. Ladano speaks of in this blog. There is no one quite like John Prine. Some artists write great songs. Some artists write great lyrics. Only a select few truly do both this well. There is no doubt that John Prine’s self-titled album contains some of the best lyrics ever written. “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes. Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose?” That is just brilliant shit. “You may see me tonight with an Illegal Smile. It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while”. I have said this many times and I am still saying it now. John Prine is THE best lyric writer …. Ever. Fuck Bob Dylan. Yeah, I said it.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON – KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (1970)
For the sake of alphabetical order by album, this Kristofferson follows the John Prine album on this list. Really it should be the other way around. While I stand by my earlier praise of Prine lyrics, I would certainly listen to the argument that there wouldn’t be a John Prine without Kris Kristofferson. The songs on this album show a huge diversity and a sense of patience that just makes him so cool. “Best Of All Possible Worlds” is just insanely-good storytelling and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a mega-smash for Janis Joplin. Of all the great concerts I have seen, watching Kris Kristofferson and a guitar for two hours in 2006 will always be one of the best concerts I will ever see. The true greats just need to show up.
LEGALIZE IT – PETER TOSH (1976)
After being a key member of Bob Marley & The Wailers for years, Peter Tosh embarked on a solo career. On his first solo release, Legalize It, I personally believe Tosh recorded the greatest Reggae album of all time. Fuck Bob Marley. Yeah, I said it. (Wait why am I so hostile? Ha.) Remember that one of Marley’s biggest hits “Get Up Stand Up” was co-written with Peter Tosh. I love this album from beginning to end, and the album’s cover remains a visual anthem for Marijuana activists everywhere. Sadly, Peter Tosh was taken from us when he was shot in the head during a home robbery. Rastafarian music at its finest.
LITTLE EARTHQUAKES – TORI AMOS (1992)
There is only one way to put it. During the spring of 1994 I became a literal disciple of Tori Amos. By the end of 1996 I had seen her live 7 times. Several of them in 2nd or 3rd row center seats, since this was back when you could actually wait all night for tickets and be rewarded for it. This album spoke to me in a way no other album has, or really could. Frustration with women, with Christianity and with life, I didn’t want to hear about hope in the horizon. I obviously needed to experience the frustration of someone who understood. I still have a red-head obsession because of Tori. This is in my ten favorite albums of all time and always will be. Little Earthquakes is full of intense and pretty compositions. The humor of “Happy Phantom” contrasts the pain of “Me and a Gun”. And the included track here is “Precious Things”, which sees Tori Amos exposing herself as the angry and sexual piano player she truly is. Myra Ellen Amos is quite simply a beast.
MELISSA – MERCYFUL FATE (1983)
Mercyful Fate’s first two albums are among the best Metal albums of all time. When you realize that this album came out a full year before Kill ‘Em All did you can start to see just how important this band truly were. Mercyful Fate are the High Priestesses of underappreciation. Yes King Diamond looks kinda ridiculous. And yes their lyrics are nothing short of evil incarnate. Lines such as “Drinking the blood of a new born child” and “I’ll be the first to watch your funeral, and I’ll be the last to leave” sometimes are so over the top that I guess it is understandable how an album this good could be ignored. If Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to nothing but Black Sabbath, the end result would have to look and sound something like Mercyful Fate. It’s no coincidence that the best thing Metallica has recorded since …And Justice For All is their medley-cover simply-titled “Mercyful Fate”. One of the greatest Metal albums of all time hands down. Click on the YouTube link and hear the start of “Curse of the Pharaohs”. If you don’t immediately recognize “2 Minutes to Midnight” you are lying to yourself.
NEVER, NEVERLAND – ANNIHILATOR (1990)
After Annihilator’s first album, Alice in Hell, it was time for a new lead singer. Out was the awful singing of the ridiculously-named Randy Rampage, and in was ex-Omen singer Coburn Pharr. The second album of this Ottawa, Ontario band was a vast improvement over the first album in every way. Without question the guitar playing of Jeff Waters alone makes this an absolute must-have recording for fans of thrash guitar or just guitar in general. If you can think of a better Metal album to come out of Canada then I would love to hear it. If you have never heard this album, and you consider yourself a “Metal guy” then you are missing out huge. I am having a hard time trying to pick a song to post here for listening purposes. That is how truly great this record is from beginning to end.
OPUS EPONYMOUS – GHOST (2011)
I know, I cannot believe it either. Only the second of twenty (so far) albums to be released after 1999 that appear on this list. This album by Swedish band Ghost is nothing but special. Before I heard this album I was told that it sounded like a cross between thrash metal and Blue Oyster Cult. As it turned out that description really was right on the money. Melodic background vocals nestled in between heavy riffing. I have to say that this album is my favorite Metal album in probably the last twenty years. The PERFECT blend of melody and heaviness. This is the only album that since I have got my iPod, every time I switch the music on it I leave this whole album on there. Every minute of this album is pure genius and I am super-stoked for their upcoming 2nd album titled Infestissumam that will be released this spring. Hail Satan!!!!
That’s it for now, stay tuned for part 3, coming soon…
Music fans love lists. Maybe it’s the Ten Best Bass Lines of the 1990’s or a list of the songs you wish you lost your virginity to. I have always been a lists guy as the whole Sausagefest Top 100 thing would attest to. So here is yet another list. The albums listed below are not my favorite albums of all time, even though many of my favorites are included. The point of this list is to possibly introduce to, or maybe even remind, this blog’s readers of 30 albums that I think need to be heard. Maybe an album that in my opinion was under-appreciated. Perhaps even an album that inspired me in some way. Anyways, here are 30 albums that Uncle Meat wants you to visit … or re-visit. They are in alphabetical by album title. Enjoy
A EULOGY FOR THE DAMNED – ORANGE GOBLIN (2012)
I could have easily listed several other Orange Goblin albums here, but their latest album is an absolutely killer album. Almost fusing some Black Crowes into their brand of Metal, these British stoner-rockers put out maybe the best Metal album of 2012. And considering that there are only 3 albums on this whole list that were released before the year 2000, it feels good to actually get some new content in here. The album ends with the title track, which almost plays out like its own Rock N’ Roll Western. The band finally tours Canada for the first time coming up in spring of 2013. As the late Billy Red Lyons used to say, “Don’t ya dare miss it!”
ACT III – DEATH ANGEL (1990)
Death Angel’s first two albums are pretty sloppy, sound-wise and in song structure. Some very heavy moments, but at times it just sounds annoying. On their third release, Max Norman (Megadeth) got his hands on them and it resulted in a polished sound and the best album of their career. Gone were the high-pitched shrieks of singer Mark Osegueda that littered their first two records. It really does seem that the band simply matured. One of the best Metal albums of the 90’s indeed. Definitely among the most progressive metal albums I can think of. A must-have album for every true Metal fan.
ARGUS – WISHBONE ASH (1972)
It is fair to say that Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy would never have the musical identity they have, if it wasn’t for Wishbone Ash. Innovators in twin- lead guitar harmonization, this band never really got its due. Interestingly enough, the sound engineer on this record is none other than Martin Birch. Coincidence? Meat thinks not. I remember this album sitting in front of my Dad’s stereo for years when I was very young, and then seeing Star Wars and thinking that Darth Vader looked a lot like the guy on the cover of Argus. Check this album out and discover a part of where it all came from. When you listen to the beginning of the song-clip included here, “Throw Down the Sword”, think “To Live is to Die” by Metallica. Sounds like Lars and the boys were paying attention as well.
ARGYBARGY – SQUEEZE (1980)
Think The Beatles meets The Clash. The first two songs on this album are both stellar pop moments. The melodies are McArtney-esque, and that is truly saying something. “Pulling Mussels From a Shell” is pure song-writing genius. “Another Nail in my Heart” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Check out the incredible guitar solo in this song. Funny enough, like the 2 previous albums listed, this was the band’s third album. Maybe a trend is happening here.
BIG WORLD – JOE JACKSON (1986)
For Joe Jackson’s 8th release, he decided to go all out. An original studio album, recorded live in front of a New York City audience who were told to be silent throughout. Capturing the excitement and spontaneity of a live performance, in which absolutely no post-recording mixing or overdubbing was done, this record is ambitious as it sounds. It is all here. You get Jazz, Pop, Punk and everything in between. Jackson possesses one of the classic all-time voices. When this double-album was released, it contained three sides of music, leaving the fourth side blank. A landmark recording.
BLUE – JONI MITCHELL (1971)
This album came in at Number 30 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All-Time chart, the highest placing for any female artist. So why is this album on this list? Honestly because I still believe this album is truly under-appreciated. Too many people do not realize how great this album is. Simply, some of the best lyrics of all time are here. If this album was any more personal it would contain a video of Joni Mitchell going to the bathroom. Listen to this front to back when you want to feel like someone understands your pain. A truly cathartic experience, when she played this album originally to Kris Kristofferson he was reported to respond, “Joni… You really should keep some of that to yourself”. I am glad she didn’t take heed of his advice.
DOGMAN – KING’S X (1994)
It seems as soon as Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam/STP/Black Crowes) got his hands on King’s X, the band’s sound fattened up. Thick, lush and pounding would be a good overall description of the sound on this album. The songs are great too. I saw King’s X at the legendary El Mocambo in Toronto and was standing literally beside Dimebag Darrell and the rest of Pantera. While I love almost every song on this album, the title track is an absolute killer. When the first Woodstock concert in 25 years began, it was King’s X who took the stage to kick it all off. Check out this live performance from the old Jon Stewart show from back in the day and crank it. One of my favorite youtube videos ever.
DUKE ELLINGTON & JOHN COLTRANE – DUKE ELLINGTON & JOHN COLTRANE (1962)
This might be my favorite jazz album of all time. Duke was 63 and Trane was 36 when this album was recorded. With a running time of 35:05 this album is short and oh so very sweet. Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” starts this album off and it never lets up. “Big Nick” is just a wonderfully happy shuffle. True story: I once got so fed up with Metal that I became a Jazzatarian for a few months, listening to nothing but old school Jazz. I started with John Coltrane and went from there. I never did find a jazz artist after him that I enjoy more.
EL CORAZON – STEVE EARLE (1997)
Simply put, this album is easily in my Top 3 albums of all time, of any genre. True storytelling at its finest, El Corazon is a complete masterpiece. It seems that sobriety allowed Steve Earle to realize how great of a songwriter he really is and on this album he branches out and removes any constraints of style. Of all the 30 records included on this list, this is the one I am not asking you to check out, but I am TELLING you to check out. Comparing the laid-back intensity of “Christmas in Washington” to the sheer power of “Here I Am” truly makes you appreciate the diversity of this record. Steve Earle is THE man. A lifetime Bro-mance going on here.
HEAD HUNTERS – HERBIE HANCOCK (1973)
Quite possibly the greatest jazz fusion record ever recorded. This record is a funk buffet. Only 4 songs and all of them are great. The YouTube clip here of “Watermelon Man” is the shortest song on the album, and is as original as it is velvety-smooth. I find it hard not to do some sort of jig when this I hear this song. “Chameleon”, “Sly” and “Vein Melter”complete one of the most influential jazz albums of all time. Half of this album made 2012’s SausageFest countdown. I suspect the other half will not be far behind.