Friday, October 19, 2012

All Time Favorite Albums

Here's a break from my usual alcoholic ramblings.  A list of my top ten favorite albums.  As I am not a music snob or expert, I did not set out to make a "Best" list.  These are simply my personal favorites.  I applied a few simple principles.  I didn't choose artists that I primarily know through Greatest Hits compilations (Guns and Roses, Sublime), and only chose albums that were solid from top to bottom, rather than vehicles for singles.  For example, as much as I love Billy Joel (shut up all haters), he's a singles hitter.  Also, I tried to have a diverse list that reflects my musical taste.  Here they are from 10 to 1:

10.  Talking Book, Stevie Wonder-This is regarded as Stevie's transition from Motown wunderkind to legit artist.  The funk tracks are fun, "Superstition" is one of the greatest songs ever, and there are some strong social themes.  The ballad "You and I" is a poweful love song of the type that you will rarely hear from modern artists. 

9. Summertime Mixtatpe, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie-I might put this higher on the list except I already feel like I am cheating bc/ it's not really an album, per say (it was a free download a couple of years back).  But nothing captures the feeling of summer better than this mash up of hip hop and pop songs.

8.  Kind of Blue, Miles Davis-Jazz afficionados would probably roll their eyes at my weak effort to get some jazz on this list, but cannot deny the lasting power of this record, the best selling jazz album ever. 

7.  Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid, Collective Soul-At at time when grunge bands were singing about--and committing--suicide, and "gangsta rap" was having a moment*, Collective Soul wrote catchy hooks and lyrics about peace, love, and the power of forgiveness.  Their self titled follow up album got better reviews and had more hits, but I'll always have a soft spot for their debut.  Their career hasn't lived up to the promise of their early albums, but I still loved seeing them live a few years back and consider myself a lifelong fan. (*Disclaimer-grunge, rage, and hardcore rap have their places and reason for being, too).

6.  Abbey Road, The Beatles-Rubber Soul may have been their first artistic entry, and Revolver and Sgt. Pepper their masterpieces, but I'd rather walk down Abbey Road.  I know it sounds disjointed, almost like two different albums, but in a way it encapsulates the Beatles whole career--a few great singles followed by a great concept album.

5. Parachutes, Coldplay-It's popular to make fun of Coldplay these days, but it doesn't diminish their greatness.  Parachutes was mind blowing when I first heard it.  My college roommate was studying minimalist piano at the time, and Parachutes' simple, repetitious melodies certainly fit that bill.  The first song, "Don't Panic," is haunting and beautiful, and sets the stage for a fantastic album and legendary career.

4.  Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest-Tribe is the greatest.  Early conscious hip hop.  Midnight Marauders is hip hop's answer to the concept album.  Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali Shaheed Muhammed at their pinnacle, taking you on a lush journey through beats, rhymes, and life.  Check out the documentary about the group for an education in true hip hop.

3.  Graceland, Paul Simon-I am forever indebted to my wife for introducing me to this album.  Prior to meeting her I only knew the song "You can call me Al" by way of the music video with Chevy Chase.  There's a documentary that came out last spring about the controversy surrounding this recording, as Simon "appropriated" many of the sounds on a trip to South Africa at a time when the UN had imposed a cultural ban on the country during apartheid.  The title track is one of my all time favorite songs, "Losing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you're blown apart, everybody feels the wind blow."  I've seen Rhymin' Simon perform twice, and he's still got it.

2.  Ok Computer, Radiohead-I enjoy a lot of Radiohead's envelop pushing stuff, but this record is the perfect storm of their progressive rock sensibility, technological prowess, and poetry.  Beautiful melodies and challenging themes in a perfect lineup of songs.

1.  What's Goin' On-Marvin Gaye-Motown wanted Marvin to crank out more hits a la "I Heard it through the Grapevine."  But Marvin wanted to sing about drug addiction, racial injustice, and the Vietnam war.  He also gave credit to the Motown studio band, the Funk Brothers for the first time (according to the Wikipedia page).  The title track became known as the black national anthem, and Marvin's mold breaking album is now a consistent top 10 choice in almost any list of greatest albums out there (number 6 on Rolling Stone's top 500).  "Mercy Mercy Me," his song about the Mother Earth, sounds as fresh and relevant today as the day it was penned.  Marvin's vocal range is remarkable.  His lush, soothing voice is in stark contrast with the sounds and subject manner.  Yet it all comes together wonderfully.  His songwriting and producing abilities were finally able to shine on this record.  If you haven't listened to this album, you need to.

Honorable Mentions-Blueprint Vol. 3 (Jay Z), John Legend Live in Philadelphia, On in Five (One Nine Crew), The Score (The Fugees),  Losing Streak (Less than Jake), Chicago III (Chicago), Thriller (Michael Jackson), Upbeats and Beatdowns (Five Iron Frenzy), Viva La Vida (Coldplay), Various Albums (U2), Homecoming (Craig's Brother), Skafunkrastapunk (Skankin Pickle), Diary of Alicia Keys (Alicia Keys)

I reserve the right to modify this list.  I imagine I have made some oversights.  Please feel free to chime in with some of your own favorites.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jim Beam

Jim Beam is the best selling bourbon on the planet.  I figure it's about time I addressed it on these pages.  I've been watching the FX show Justified for the past month or so, and the main character, Raylan, drinks Jim Beam in almost every episode.  It's funny, when he's drinking with his boss they go with Blanton's, but in his dive hotel room he sticks with good old Jim Beam.  Or "Jim Bean," as he seems to pronounce it with his drawl.  I had already been craving some cheap bourbon, so I picked up a handle of Jim Beam for 30 bucks to pair with an evening (hopefully several evenings) of Justified.  The white label Jim Beam is their basic entry, 4 years old and 80 proof.  Let's give it a go.


Nose-caramel corn

Taste-A lot of young corn.  Very very smooth.  The classic bourbon flavors (vanilla, wood spice, caramel, burn) are there but faintly.  It makes you go for another sip to try to get some more flavor, which I guess is their whole strategy.  It's like the Miller Lite of bourbon.  Jason Pyle says the palate is "flat as a pancake."  It's just a bit young for my liking.

Finish-I actually quite enjoyed the finish.  It fills the mouth in a surprsingly pleasant way for such cheap stuff.  I felt validated in my tasting abilities when I read Jim Murray's review after writing my own, and he said the finish is complex after a sluggish start, describing it as "playful brown sugar stirring things up."

Value-I'd say this is well priced for what it is.  I'd rather save a few bucks and grab Evan Williams Black Label, though.  I think that one tastes just a bit better, too.  Or maybe spend 2-3 more bucks for Four Roses yellow label.

Intangible-For me, what's in the bottle is what counts, but I have to admit I would never want my favorite bourbon to be the best selling one.  I feel like I need some individuality.  Ditto with Jack Daniels and Tennessee whisky.  The white label is just too boring for me, especially after tasting it.

Overall/Final Comments-The thing about Jim Beam is almost all their products are the same recipe.  Jim Beam, Jim Beam Choice, Jim Beam 7 year, Black 8 year, Knob, Baker's, Booker's.  There are pros and cons to this.  The pro is that their flavor is so distinctive and provides a brand identitiy.  The con is, well, it all tastes similar.  That said, obviously the Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 9 year will have a ton more interest in terms of flavor than white label.  I think my favorite Beam product would be Old Grand Dad BIB.  It's the Basil Hayden recipe.  But I do enjoy Booker's, as well.  But I digress.  Jim Beam white is okay in a pinch, and at least you know every bar will have it.  I'm not sure that's a compliment but it's not a criticism, either.  As far as Raylan from the show, it suits him just fine.  He is a simple kind of character who wants a simple kind of drink.