Lovely Recordings Hosted by Daniel Emerson

I grew up in a family of classical musicians, so I was surrounded by it from my earliest memories, whether listening to it or playing it. As I grew up, I made my own explorations into other genres and lucky enough to stumble upon some great stuff over the pre-internet years.

Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light (Asylum, 1980)
A live album, also available on DVD, Shadows and Light was recorded while Joni was touring the Mingus album. I'd actually recommend the DVD, despite it having fewer tracks, as you can watch the band in action and clearly enjoying themselves. And it is one heck of a band, made up of Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Michael Brecker, Jaco Pastorius and Don Alias. A great snapshot of a performance I wished I'd experienced in person.

Available from Tidal

Judee Sill: Heart Food (Asylum, 1973)
Where Joni was heavily influenced by Jazz, Judee Sill's records incorporate Country and Classical elements, to go with the frequently spiritual slant of her lyrics. Well-crafted arrangements support, rather than swamp the songs, while Judee's voice stretches and bends notes in a more traditional American style. Her performance of "The Kiss" on the BBC programme "The Old Grey Whistle Test" really made me take notice and search for more.

Available from Tidal

The Nits: Giant Normal Dwarf (CBS, 1990)
A lesser-known one now, but Dutch pop group The Nits have been releasing albums since the 1970s. I discovered them by accident; unable to sleep one night, I put on the TV station that padded their late night schedules with a fairly random selection of bands in concert. I fell in love with the music instantly, but it took years to assemble a collection of all their albums. There's a melancholy whimsy to the words and music, as it tells tales of radio shoes (nope, no idea!), visiting Leonard Cohen's house, a man who thinks he is a fountain, a post-industrial future and subterranean dwellers. Occasionally, their use of English is a little awkward, but it somehow serves the otherworldliness of the album's atmosphere.

Available from Tidal

John Phillips: John, the Wolf King of L.A. (Varese Sarabande, 2006)
After The Mamas & the Papas, John Phillips released some strong solo material on this album. Out of print for decades, this was re-released in 2006 with eight bonus tracks, some of which are worthwhile additions. I don't play it as obsessively as I did when I first lucked upon a copy, but still love it. Although the callousness of "Let it bleed, Genevieve" is a jarring glimpse into a darker side of his life.

Available from Tidal

The Black Sorrows: Hold On to Me (CBS, 1988)
Joe Camilleri's mostly Australian band has gone through several line-up changes over the years, but the general tone of his recordings has a certain continuity, in that they are an extended love-letter to Americana, with a little Van Morrison and Gospel thrown in. Linda and Vika Bull on backing vocals joined the band for this album, and they proved to be the last piece in the classic line-up's jigsaw. An album that got me exploring more bands from Down Under.

Available from Qobuz

Dub Colossus: A Town called Addis (Real World, 2008)
A Dub Reggae performer hooks up with Ethiopian musicians, and the result is startling! The opening track "Azmari Dub" is the most memorable, but the concept works well throughout. Big beats, lots of reverb and blaring horns mesh with the less familiar melodies from the Ethiopian performers. It startled me the first time I heard it, and still does.

Available from Tidal

Burning Tree: Burning Tree (Epic, 1990)
A short-lived power trio from the late Eighties, Burning Tree released just one album. Often lumped in with the more metal bands of the era, this group is more like power-pop with a touch of Hendrix. I got this as the extra in a three-for-two promotional offer, but have completely forgotten what the other two albums were.

Available from Tidal

Half Man half Biscuit: Cammell Laird Social Club (Probe Plus, 2002)
While the title is a nod to Ry Cooder's Buena Vista recordings, this is a very different beast altogether. Back in the DHSS was the album that saw me through school, but I think this is their most accessible recording. Some of the lines even puzzle English listeners who aren't from the North West, but most people will get enough of their drift. Neither a straight parody group or writers of novelty songs, HMHB songs usually address the everyday things of life, seen through a cock-eyed filter. Very much not an audiophile record!

Available from Tidal


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COMMENTS
Steven Plaskin's picture
I have all of Judee Sill's original LPs and now her CDs. I always thought that she was very special.
PalJoey's picture

It is always a regret for me that she released so little. The 'Abracadabra' box set is the best buy for those who want a physical recording instead of a stream/download. It contains the two official albums, plus some live material.

'Dreams come true' is less essential, containing the unfinished third album, plus other tracks and, if you stick disc 2 in a computer, a short video of a live performance at USC in 1973 (video not included on all releases of this box set). The video is also available on YouTube.

Alex Halberstadt's picture

Ooo, the John Phillips record is one of my faves. Plus, "John, the Wolf King of L.A." has to be the one of the all-time great record titles.

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