By Joel Francis
If you wondered how long Noah and his family were aboard the ark while the hard rain fell continuously, we’ve reached that point. Forty days (and nights). I don’t see any doves in the sky.
Paul Simon – self-titled (1972) Paul Simon’s solo debut (for all intents and purposes) arrived two years after the landmark Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s a very different album from Bridge, but it is also established Simon as an artist who could operate completely independently of Art Garfunkel. If you’ve heard the album think about it for a moment. Where would you put Garfunkel? He certainly doesn’t fit on the big singles, “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Maybe on “Duncan” but not really anywhere else. Meanwhile, Simon’s dabbling in reggae, folk, blues, gospel, even hot jazz on the wonderful instrumental “Hobo’s Blues” with Stephane Grappelli. Simon would quickly eclipse this excellent album with his two subsequent releases, but really the blueprints for everything he would do next, even Graceland, can be found here.
Husker Du – Alternate Land Speed Record (1982) When the producers of the excellent Husker Du box set Savage Young Du were denied use of any material the hardcore punk trio recorded for SST, they did the next best thing and compiled an alternate version of the band’s debut live album Land Speed Record. Nearly the same songs, same order, same venue, different performances. I haven’t compared the two versions but I don’t find anything lacking on the numbers offered here. The 13 songs (there were 17 on the original edition) blast past like you are on the business end of a leaf blower. The second side features the In a Free Land single and a bevy of b-sides. Individually, each song rips and kicks like a chainsaw about to throw a part. Together, they flow like a violent sea of free jazz or an industrial raga. Either way, you won’t need to curl your hair or brush your teeth by the time it’s over.
Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’ (2011) The mastermind behind Tony! Toni! Tone! came up in a big way on his third solo album, the Motown-inspired The Way I See It. Stone Rollin’ was his follow up release and if anything it builds on and improves the sound established before. Opening number “Heart Attack” sounds like a lost Sly and the Family Stone track, while Ray Charles was definitely in the house on “Day Dreams.” Another stand-out track, “Go To Hell,” opens with a big organ and tympani straight out of the ‘70s. And in a delightful twist the song is about someone trying to avoid the eternal fires, not send an enemy there. Hidden near the end, “Good Man” is the best album. Taura Stinson sings a hooky chorus that would work well on a hip hop track a la Mary J. Blige. Instead, Saadiq keeps it old school and paints a story of a blue collar man doing everything and still falling short, especially in love. The lush orchestration and horns add another layer of drama to the story. Stone Rollin’ is a stone classic that fans of the revival sound coming from Daptone and Colemine should definitely check out. Everyone else should hear it as well.
Bunny Wailer – Blackheart Man (1976) The third Wailers-related album to come out in 1976. Although all albums touch on each of these areas, the shorthand is that Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration is the political album, Peter Tosh’s Legalize It the playful one. Blackheart Man is definitely the most spiritual of the three releases. The title song opens the album and warns against going near the devil and how Jah will one day defeat the Blackheart Man. The album ends with a lengthy – and excellent – version of the classic gospel song “This Train.” Between these bookends, Wailer addresses reparations on “Dreamland,” draws a vivid portrait of poverty and imprisonment in “Fighting Against Conviction” and offers another warning about the end times on “Amagideon.” Blackheart Man is easily lesser-known of the three releases I’ve discussed over the past three days, but it is every bit the equal of the other two. It is a must-own for all reggae fans.