We're rounding out our first ever "List Week" here at Exile with a rundown of 10 of my all-time favorite desert island albums you should own in your record collection. My actual list would be much longer, but here's a start. Also, these are in no particular order.
1) Thelonious Monk: Live at the It Club Complete: This is one I played over and over again during my college jazz days. Monk's music is rightly labeled as 'disjointed' and 'playful' by many listeners, but people forget how much his music joyfully swings. Check out this album's great take on classics like "Straight, No Chaser," "Well You Needn't," "'Round Midnight," "Blue Monk" and one of my personal favorites, "Bemsha Swing."
2) Willie Nelson: Teatro: This Willie album stands out among so many of his great ones for several reasons. One, it was recorded in an old Mexican movie theater turned recording studio. Two, it's got the amazing Emmylou Harris adding harmonies on most of the album's tracks. And most importantly to my ears, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois, widely respected for the atmospheres and textures he brings to sessions.
3) B.B. King: Indianola Mississippi Seeds: This is one of the records that made me pick up a guitar in the first place. I listened to the cassette version of this over and over and must've learned every lick on this record. In addition to B.B.'s inimitable vocals and guitar, guests like Joe Walsh, Carole King, and Leon Russell fill out the guitar work nicely. Also on this album is one of my all-time favorite lyrics: "Nobody loves me but my mother (and she could be jiving too)."
4) Bill Frisell: East-West: Frisell is hands down my favorite guitarist. On this two disc live album he demonstrates a deft use of loops and effects on the West disc, which features originals alongside covers of "Shenandoah," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," and an emotional reading of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." The East disc features more group improvisation in the jazz vein, with versions of "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Goodnight Irene" as standouts.
5) Gillian Welch: Revival: Welch and collaborator David Rawlings have always found interesting ways of taking two voices and two guitars and making them sound much bigger than the sum of their parts. This mid-'90's album was produced by T-bone Burnett fits the mold of traditional music with poignant folk/bluegrass/gospel songs like "By the Mark," "Barroom Girls," and "Tear My Stillhouse Down."
6) Brian Eno: Before and After Science: I nearly added "Another Green World" instead of this one, but chose not too since this is the lesser known of the two. What I love about this album is that it does an admirable job of mixing Eno's various musical realms in one coherent package. There's pop in songs like "Backwater" and "Here He Comes," driving pieces like "King's Lead Hat," and the open ambient energy of songs like "Julie with. . .," "By this River," and "Spider and I." This one really gives you an idea of the many different facets of Eno's craft, maybe even more than some of his other albums.
7) Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang: The Wonder Show of the World: An album released last year is already among my favorites? While mega-bearded bard Will Oldham has released plenty of great albums over the years, this one stands out for the way it balances the sacred and profane, and joyousness with reflection. Not to mention, this band put on one of the most memorable concerts I saw in 2010.
8) The Band: Greatest Hits: Few artists can quite be summed up by a greatest hits collection quite like The Band can. It's worth checking out some of their individual albums (particularly their self titled second album masterpiece), but this is one of the rare 'best of' collections that really features all the best parts of this group. From pianist Richard Manuel's haunted falsettos to the ebullient three part harmonies of Manuel, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko. And while you expect songs like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to be here, for me it's songs like "It Makes No Difference," "Ophelia," and "The Shape I'm In" that really illustrate why this group was and remains a true original in the history of rock and roll.
9) Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos: You might not know his name, but you've likely encountered the guitar work of Marc Ribot before. He's been a respected studio musician for years beside artists like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and most recently on many recent T-bone Burnett-produced offerings. When he's recorded on his own he tends to focus more on things closer to jazz, which is fitting since he's long been associated with NYC jazz composer John Zorn. This particular record features Ribot covering many songs by Cuban composer Arsenio Rodriguez. While there is an undeniable energy present, Ribot still manages to add his jagged jazz and punk sensibilities to the proceedings.
10) The Meters: Funkify Your Life Anthology: If your knowledge of funk music starts and ends with James Brown, you owe it to yourself to find the music of the Meters. Coming out of the rich traditions of New Orleans in the late '60's and '70's, the Meters feature largely instrumental compositions that borrow from various traditions like soul, jazz, and blues. What sets them apart, however, is the telepathic way in which the four musicians work together. While organist Art Neville and guitarist Leo Nocentelli are legends in their own right, the main draw of this music for me has always been the rhythm section of bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste: syncopation and groove at its' most pure.