Desert Island Discs

Picking a “Desert Island” list of 10 CD’s is pretty much a near impossibility for me. With over 2000 albums in my personal collection, I have a rather large cross-section to choose from. And given that my moods swing more frequently than Big Papi during batting practice, you can guess how difficult it would be to find something that I like for more than a few minutes. But I will endeavor to try, if for no other reason than that I *really* don’t want to deal with the pile of problems currently sitting on the left-hand edge of my desk.

But first, some rules. As an album purist, I’ve never been a big fan of compilations or soundtracks or other forms where they bastardize the artist’s initial vision and steal the songs for some unholy purpose. Picking which songs to use and in what order they appear on a record are fundamental parts of the whole music-making process. I’ll make an exception for live albums because while the songs may have been plucked from a long career, at least in a live setting they will have mutated into a new form so that there’s a common link (assuming the album in question was all recorded on the same show/tour). Like with the earlier movie list, I’m not taking into consideration any bonus editions and reissues that may include fancy packaging or whatnot. For sanity’s sake I’m also staying away from any stand-up comedy CD’s. This is strictly a music thing.

All of which, while narrowing the field, doesn’t make my life all that much easier because I still have to try and pick just 10 albums from a vast sea of possibilities, and try and cover my many moods while I’m at it.

This may hurt.


Again, in no particular order, although I’ll start with the only two “slam dunks” on the list, those being my favorite two albums of all time.

1) Jeffrey Gaines – Jeffrey Gaines

Well DUH! Of course The Man was going to be represented. That was a given. The problem then became, “which album to pick”. With only 10 slots open, I had to limit myself to just one. It actually becomes a pretty easy choice at that point. Jeffrey Gaines’ debut album is by FAR my favorite record of all time. During that heart wrenching stretch of my life when I was futily trying become one with My Blonde Nemesis, I would quite literally play the cassette tape on a loop during the long drives to and from Framingham, often at some ungodly hour in the morning. Singing at the top of my lungs to those songs kept me awake on many a night when I might otherwise have drifted into the wrong lane. Since then, it has been my defacto warm-up disc for show nights, when I really need to get my pipes loose and ready to go.

All of which doesn’t tell you much about the music itself. Suffice to say, it is a brilliant slice of singer-songwriter fare. Mostly acoustic with some other instrumentation thrown in for mood and fun, it has some of the most personal and thought-provoking lyrics I’ve ever heard. Plus, his voice is spun from raspy gold. I remember buying my first copy (yes, I actually wore out the first CD, if that can be believed) based on hearing his amazing live acoustic version of “In Your Eyes” and wanting to see what he could do with his own material. I was blown away instantly. Seeing him live years later only made me appreciate him all the more, and I have been an unyielding fanboy ever since. If you’ve never heard the man, well… shame on you. But there’s still time. Pick up a copy of this record and you can’t go wrong.

2) Journey – Arrival

A curious choice to most, particularly those who like Journey but can’t recall the album title, it has nonetheless found it’s way into my heart as my second all-time favorite record. Arriving in the spring of 2001, it was actually the first Journey album following Steve Perry’s departure, and while I don’t want to get into a debate over the vocal merits of Perry versus his successor (Steve Augeri), I will say that it is the most perfect Journey record ever made. The production quality is INSANELY good. Simply the best I’ve ever heard. It sounds so tight and clean and crisp and so *meticulous*, which is exactly the way a band like that should sound. Augeri’s voice is perfect for the songs, and while he may not have Perry’s signature sound exactly, it’s close enough. Plus, I think he does the tender stuff better, as Perry had a tendency to belt EVERYTHING. The thing I love the most about the record is the way every song stands out to me. They each have their own hook, and they each invoke something specific in me. Now while this may be common for a more introspective or politically charged performer, it’s kind of hard to do when damn near every song is about love. And yet it happens.

I can’t really explain why I love this album as much as I do. Most Journey fans are kind of “blah” about it (as evidence by it’s weak sales), and it came out at a time when the musical climate had long since left that kind of classy adult rock behind, but nonetheless, it works for me. Call it a “not quite” guilty pleasure.

3) Radney Foster – Del Rio, Texas, 1959

In order to cover *all* my moods, I need at least one country music record. This is the one. It’s almost a slam dunk because it serves as 1-A on my “warm up” list, which means I tend to play it a LOT. Of course most people — even country fans — don’t know the guy. This was his debut album (1992) and it had a number of good sized country hits, but he veered more and more into adult contemporary in his later years and never really got a stronghold in the country charts. I also think it had a lot to do with the fact that he kind of looks like a slightly cooler Buddy Holly, which in a genre perpetuated by guys who have mastered the “polished cowboy” look, wasn’t about to net him many screaming female fans. Oh well, their loss. As country music goes, this albums kicks ass. Lots of bright, bouncy honky-tonk, a couple of real slick ballads, and just enough steel guitar to keep the purists in line. It really is rather old school, but with a 90’s country-pop sheen. PLUS… unlike most of his contemporaries, he writes all his own stuff. So he’s legit, not just some marketing experiment gone awry. Really good album that I just never get tired of.

4) 3 Doors Down – Away From The Sun

Okay, this is actually getting easier, believe it or not. At this is yet ANOTHER album that gets frequent airplay in my car thanks to it’s immense singability. I actually got into this band thanks to my friend Steve dragging my out to see them live without ever having heard them. I was an instant fan and damn near wore their debut album out. But when record #2 hit my CD player, I knew I had a new classic. This was one of those “first listen” albums that really grabbed me on the initial spin. I ended up playing it every night in my headphones while backstage doing “Escape From Happiness”. A great album for when I want to rock out in an intense way. The lyrics are total downers, with most of the songs being about futility and inner-struggle, and the music matches the mood without necessarily being dreary. Contradictory? Perhaps. But it rocks. Give it a spin.

5) Arc Angels – Arc Angels

Straight outta Austin, Texas, baby! Take Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rhythm section and put them behind two of Austin’s hottest young blues guitarist/singers/songwriters, and you’ve got a DREAM album. The band only existed for this one shot before splintering off, but whenever I need some soulful, goodtime swinging blues rock, this is the album I reach for. There are a couple of tracks you could throw on the turntable at a dance club, and after the initial “what the FUCK?” subsided, people would be moving around in spite of themselves going, “dang, Jethro, now that’s a GROOVE”. On the flip side, the unflinching pain found in the ode to the fallen brother Stevie Ray couldn’t be any clearer than it is in “See What Tomorrow Brings”, completely with a painfully, that’s right *painfully* explosive guitar solo. Gives me chills every time. Then there’s personal fave “Sent By Angels”, which is the kind of loose, groovy shuffle that the Allman Brothers and Skynyrd loved to write. Just good rock n’ roll all the way through. Beautiful, baby.

Okay, so that’s five down and five to go. Let’s see what I come up with next time.


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