Updated Wed, Dec 19, 2012 11:38 pm
While there is plenty of current music I love, the sound that has been near and dear to my heart in the last year is the sound of the 1970s, namely the singer-songwriters of that era.
The common denominator here is the individual’s character coming through loud and clear on these records.
In today's musical environment, full of monikers and album covers that very rarely feature a picture of the artist, the '70s stand in stark contrast in its approach to record-making.
However, it’s that personality of each artist that shines through in these records and makes them come alive.
Perhaps the growing egos of the '70s inevitably needed to have a backlash (by way of the punk movement), but it’s a shame some of this aesthetic has been lost because these types of records are all too rare today.
I am not attempting any sort of definitive list; I am just sharing 10 records I grew to really love over the last year.
Judee Sill, Judee Sill (1971) and Heart Food (1973): These are spiritual folk/pop/rock records with a sacred quality from a true unsung hero. These records could come out today and be all the rage amongst fans of the freak-folk genre. Instead, they’ve been flying under the radar for decades with a slowly growing appreciation.
Warren Zevon, Warren Zevon (1976): Warren Zevon’s self-titled record is a journey out west to the edge of Los Angeles until you’re faced with the state of California sliding into the ocean. This is Laurel Canyon at its darkest, funniest and most brilliant. I’m not sure Zevon ever made another record as good as this.
Jackson Brown, Late for the Sky (1974): Like a Magritte painting that the album cover models itself after, this record has multiple levels. First is the slow-burning music taking its time over the course of each long song. The music is subtle and nuanced; it would be easy to miss its brilliance, but repeated listens reward you. The next layer is the brilliance of the introspective and meditative lyrics. Combined, the lyrics and music create a singular vibe and world inside this record that cannot be overrated. Whatever you do, don’t scoff at its softness because it's actually one of the heaviest records out there.
David Bromberg, Devil in Disguise (1972): I recently discovered Bromberg. I love his strange sort of tenor voice, and "Diamond Lil" is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I love artists that aren’t afraid to throw covers and traditional songs into the mix alongside original material. Somehow it all hangs together.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Kate & Anna McGarrigle (1975): I have listened to this record over and over. I stumbled upon it without any recommendations and was so glad I found it. Kate McGarrigle’s voice has a certain timbre or accent to it that is impossible to replicate. As sisters, they harmonize and complement each other in a way only siblings can, and the songwriting is absolutely classic. I was not surprised to learn that Kate McGarrigle is actually the mother of the talented Rufus and Martha Wainwright.
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass (1970): I would say this is the best post-Beatles solo album. Why? Simply because it has more good songs than any of the Lennon or McCartney solo records and the Phil Spector production, along with the performances, are truly otherworldly. Harrison had matched Lennon and McCartney in terms of writing ability by the end of the group, and this stockpile of songs is the proof. I highly recommend last year's Scorcese documentary as well.
Little Feat, Little Feat (1971): I like a lot of Little Feat’s subsequent work, but it’s their first record that really does it for me. The playing is really off-kilter for these New Orleans-inspired rock songs and Lowell George’s personality really shines through as a truly original voice. Conjuring the spirit of truck drivers and societal outcasts, he delivers these songs with such unique character and charm that I find myself going back again and again. Not to mention the drumming, piano and guitars are really funky and unique as well. "Charm" is the operative word for this record.
Kris Kristofferson, The Silver Tongued Devil and I (1971): Kris Kristofferson often gets lumped in with classic country artists like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but I hear as much Leonard Cohen when I listen to Kristofferson as I do any country artist. His songwriting ability deserves to recognized at the same level as someone like Cohen as well.
Chris Smither, I’m a Stranger Too (1970) and Don’t It Drag On (1972): Chris Smither still tours all around and has made some good records in recent years, but the records he made in the '70s really stand up to the test of time. Smither is a highly skilled acoustic guitar player and his best songs revolve around his unique fingerpicking patterns and baritone voice. These records deserve to be up there with the works of Townes Van Zandt and Nick Drake.
Gerry Rafferty, Can I Have My Money Back? (1971): Gerry Rafferty was in Steeler’s Wheel and wrote "Stuck in the Middle with You," a good song. He later went on to create the abominable "Baker Street," which has been the subject of much parody. I came across this record for cheap in a used bin, not knowing what it was, and bought it based on its cover. I fell in love with side A. It’s full of Beatlesesque melodies and arrangements, with some truly fun and beautiful pop songs.
Adam Remnant is the singer, guitar player and songwriter for the group Southeast Engine. He lives in Athens, Ohio, and gives guitar lessons.