Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind
Unlike a lot of other latter-day Dylan albums (mainly Love and Theft and Modern Times) this one never really hit me until recently. Many of my favorite songs have superior takes found on Tell-Tale Signs. Even though the album was written before Dylan’s 97 heart problem, it’s hard not to contextualize as such – a majority of the songs are depressing. Death surrounds the album just as Daniel Lanois’ production surrounds Dylan’s songs with a murky, muddy sound. Dylan seems kind of beaten on Time Out Of Mind but this is what gives songs like “Trying to Get to Heaven” and “Not Dark Yet” their power. It’s no surprise his next album Love and Theft would be looser and funnier than anything he put out in years.
Lou Reed – Transformer
It’s hard to not to prefer the Velvet Underground to Lou Reed’s solo work. While I do love the Velvet Underground, I find myself listening to Transformer more than VU. Maybe because Transformer’s performances are lively and well, fun. (Not so much the lyrics though. “Perfect Day” is about coming down from heroin, and “Satellite of Love” is a brutal song.) Sometimes it’s easy to accuse Lou Reed of career self-destruction, but Transformer is where he created the perfect blend of weird and accessible.
Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club
James Brown’s Live at the Apollo is often viewed as the greatest live soul album of all time. And really, you can’t dispute that. That being said though, I feel that a great deal of Brown’s performances were based on the visuals. The same can’t be said for Sam Cooke. Where most of Cooke’s studio recordings border on easy listening (and that’s not a criticism) this album just lays it down. “Cupid”, “Chain Gang” and “It’s Alright/Sentimental Reasons” are played with such force and power you can almost feel the heat from the sweat from both the band and the audience. Put this album on, and I guarantee an instant party.