Lovely Recordings Hosted by "P"

Picking which albums to recommend was too difficult, so I made it easier for myself by thinking in terms of categories. I love electric guitar, so I started there, and then considered recommendable albums that also might be less well known.

Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages (Axiom Records, 1991)
If I were to rank guitarists based on how much I like them combined with how few people know about them, Sonny Sharrock would be at the top, roughly alongside Shawn Lane (mentioned below). Sonny's playing is like his tone—at times "out," fierce and overdriven, at times bluesy, pure, and tender, often in the same song. Sonny was lucky to have Charnett Moffet and Elvin Jones on this record, but especially Pharoah Sanders, one of my favorite saxophonists. I'd never thought about it until I started writing this, but Pharoah's a good analog to Sonny—his playing and tone can be described the same way. He and Sonny were both inspired in this session. I especially love their intense solos against the slow, repetitive supporting phrases on "Many Mansions." I'm excited to recommend this album because so few people know it, and it's SO GOOD! We should build monuments to this album — and tear them down.

Miles Davis: Agharta (CBS/Sony, 1975)
I realize the risk of including a Miles Davis album, but this one's unknown or unfamiliar to too many people. I think of it as a guitar album, too, and guitarist Pete Cosey, the star of this show, is criminally overlooked. Plus, Miles is my favorite artist, and after Kind of Blue, this is my next favorite of his albums, so here it is. I love the grooves from Al Foster's drums, Michael Henderson's bass, and Reggie Lucas' wah-wah rhythm guitar. They're thick, sometimes languid but usually propulsive, and consistently trance-inducing.

Sonny Fortune on sax and Miles (with his trumpet often played through a wah wah) play beautiful, extended solos over those grooves, but Pete Cosey's the star. Long, distorted, droning, soaring guitar solos. A friend told me about an article where Pete said he didn't record much after that because he thought his playing with Miles said enough. It's a shame we didn't get more records from him, but I can't disagree with him. I love this era of Miles' music. I'm amazed to think that this adventurous, intense music came from a 48-year-old man—who was supposedly strung out! And he'd already changed music how many times? Yet here he was, making music that sounded like nothing else and absolutely kicked ass. If you like this, also check out Pangaea, recorded the same day, and Dark Magus, recorded a year earlier.

Grant Green: Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note, 1972)
Grant Green isn't obscure, but he isn't well known, and this album even less so. I got to know him through his jazz recordings, and have always loved his rhythm and his tone. I had no idea he made music like this, so I was blown away the the first time I heard it. The funkiness of "Windjammer" got me first, but then I noticed the pace—of the rhythm and of Green's solo. And after about eight minutes I realized how relentless it was. The intensity just kept going. I didn't know if I wanted to dance or thrash my head around! And "Jan Jan" is maybe even more intense. The album would be worth having for just those two, but the other songs are all fun, except for one. That's a good description for this album: Fun.

Praxis: Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Island Records, 1992)
Talk about not knowing whether to dance or thrash! This was another mind-blower when I heard it 1992. I wasn't a fan of thrash metal, but when I heard it alongside the funk, hip-hop, ambient and other styles—and then all mixed together—I was hooked. It was also my introduction to Buckethead. At first I was just amazed by his speed, but I've since learned there's much more to his playing than shredding, and you can hear some of that here, like his soulful, atmospheric solos on "Animal Behavior." Buckethead's bluesy, rocky, soulful playing—nfluenced by Eddie Hazel—has come to be my favorite. But damn, he can shred like nobody's business! This is an ensemble album, by the way. Buckethead's the star, but there's a lot to love from Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Brain, and Bill Laswell. I'd heard Bootsy with James Brown, but I didn't know what a badass he was. I became a big fan of Laswell after this, too. A good friend has said this was the best album of the 1990s, and he might be right.

Buckethead: Population Override (ION Records, 2017)
This has been one of my favorite Buckethead albums since its initial release in 2004. There's even more of the soulful playing and Eddie Hazel influence mentioned above, and he gets better support here from the keyboard and drums than he does on many of his solo recordings. A special plus is the 1:30 of blues at the end that sounds like nothing I've heard from him before. I didn't buy this CD in 2004, and I've been listening to a 128kbps file for years. ION re-released it on vinyl in 2015, but I don't have a turntable. I thought I wouldn't be able to include it here, but I just found the CD and digital download on Bandcamp. It was only because I was writing this list that I thought to look for it again, so thanks to Michael and Lovely Recordings for that! If you'd prefer to stream Buckethead's music, Tidal has lots — including almost 50 from 2013 to 2015 alone. I recommend Polar Trench and Frankensteins Monsters Blinds from that bunch.

Eddie Hazel: Game, Dames, and Guitar Thangs (Warner Bros. Records, 1977)
Eddie Hazel would also rank high based on how much I like him combined with how many people know him. Lots of people have heard his playing in Funkadelic and Parliament, but most don't know who he is. I love his pace and tone, and the way he sustains notes. Of course I recommend the P-Funk albums he played on, but they're fairly well known, and Michael featured Free Your Mind... And Your Ass Will Follow some time ago, so this hidden gem is good to share. It might have been in print over the years, but I don't remember ever seeing it on CD in a store, so it was like finding treasure on Tidal. It's mostly jams, even the two excellent covers, which is just fine with me. His P-Funk bandmates help keep the music interesting, but they mostly stay out of the spotlight, making all but one song a showcase for Eddie's playing. Play on, Eddie...

Neil Young: Live at the Fillmore East (Silver Bow Productions, 2006)
The gritty, skronky tone Neil Young gets when he lets go makes him one of my favorite guitarists. This album is on the list because I was so excited to find it a couple years ago. I couldn't believe it had been out for ten years before I learned about it. (Thanks again, Tidal!) It has my two favorite Neil Young guitar songs, "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand," and these are great versions, especially "Cowgirl." This album is recommended solely on the strength of those songs, because I really don't like the others, except "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown."

B.B. King: Indianola Mississippi Seeds (ABC Records, 1970)
There are three Kings of the Blues, not just one. B.B., Albert, and Freddie are each royalty, and I love them all, but I have a soft spot for B.B. He was the first bluesman I really got into, and I've always been drawn to his bell-like tone and his incredible voice. How could one person get such sounds from both his guitar and his voice? It wasn't fair to everyone else! But as much as I loved his music, I always had a hard time finding albums I liked—until I heard this one. It's much more consistent than any other album of his that I've heard, without a single weak song—except maybe "Hummingbird," which will probably be some other people's favorite. There are great solos here, great singing, and great songs, but to me its strength is as a whole. It also has one of my favorite album covers.

Doc & Merle Watson: Ballads from Deep Gap (Vanguard Records, 1971)
I think I was in fourth or fifth grade when my sister came home from college with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." I didn't yet like bluegrass, but I loved "Tennessee Stud." It wasn't until many years later that I heard Doc Watson and realized he sang and played guitar on "Tennessee Stud." I often don't enjoy vocals in this type of music, but I love Doc's, and of course he's a great guitarist. I went to college near his home, and now that I've moved to another part of the country, praising Doc helps me feel connected to North Carolina, like arguing about barbecue. The recent Never the Same Way Once live release from the Owsley Stanley Foundation is even better, but Robert Baird already profiled that one in Stereophile, and this one's sentimental for me. It was the first album of his that I heard, borrowed from a friend. And having Doc's son, Merle, is a big bonus. Merle was a seriously good guitar and banjo player, and they make a great pair, especially on "Texas Gales," which just blew me away when I first heard it. I remember adding that song to a few mixed tapes I made for friends while I still had the CD from my buddy. Several other good songs on here, too. Makes me want some collard greens and barbecue—with tomato-based sauce, of course.

Note: I wrote about two other albums before I realized I couldn't find them for download or streaming. Buddy Guy's Stone Crazy! on Alligator Records is maybe my all-time favorite guitar album. Tidal has an album by the same name, but it's different. I also wanted to include Temporal Analogues of Paradise by the Jonas Hellborg Trio, because Shawn Lane is the perfect guitarist to profile here. If anyone knows sources for these, please post in the comments.

lestes's picture

Thank you!

jond's picture

I've never heard of Sonny Sharrock Ask The Ages is up next in my Tidal queue thanks!

GarkM's picture

Readers can preview the Buddy Guy album on Spotify.