Happy Trails – Quicksilver Messenger Service
Basically two side-long, brain-frying versions of Bo Diddley songs, this 1969 record still sounds timeless. I generally don’t like this sort of jam-band exercise, but this one is exceptional, with real improvisational structure, unusual time signatures and fantastic guitar playing, most notably by whammy-bar ace John Cippolina, who shows a lot of classical and jazz influences. Jerry Garcia, FWIW, called this the most psychedelic album ever.
Ukulele Songs – Eddie Vedder
Like most purists/snobs I have issues with Pearl Jam, who always seem more mainstream arena-rock than grunge, although they do get off a good one from time-to-time and Vedder does have impressive lungpower. This set (which, as advertised, is just Vedder and his uke) is more likeable than anything the band has done, mainly because he leaves behind all the melodrama and histrionics and just sings these pretty, unembellished songs. Very good late night music.
The Street Press Years – Even
Undeservedly obscure Aussie trio working somewhere between the thwack of early Kinks and the sweet melodicism of Badfinger, though they throw in some grungy parts as well. The principal, one Ashley Naylor, plays really inventive, economical guitar and writes great, immediately catchy tunes (“24 Hour Cynic,” “Sunshine Comes”). This is music made to shout along to.
Just Roll Tape – Stephen Stills
Recorded during his tenure with Buffalo Springfield, these are solo acoustic demos of some of his better songs (“Helplessly Hoping”, Judy Blue Eyes, etc.”), most of which would show up in some re-worked form on his later projects. His singing is pretty ragged herem but he’s at his creative peak as a writer and his guitar playing is often jaw-dropping. I like this much better than his Mannassas and solo works, which often veered schizophrenically from style to style.
Colors – Beck
He’s a real smart guy and his records are always immaculately arranged and produced, but (like Madonna) Beck has also struck me as a bit of a fake, with more savvy and style than inspiration, although “Sea Change” had some genuine moments. This latest seems less ambitious and more lightweight than his usual—sort of bouncy, New-Wavish pop with hiphoppy seasoning—it’s well presented but doesn’t really stick with you.