My dad does not have that many country records. Only the essentials - Cash, Haggard, Williams and the like. So I was a bit surprised when I found a couple Bobby Bare albums stuck together among the B's. Bare is not as famous as those I just mentioned, but is a country music icon; his songs deceptively complex, his voice clear and true. Bare was probably country's first 'cross-over' artist, penning songs that appealed to lovers of both Waylon Jennings and Bobby Darin. He championed traditional country songwriters, like Ian Tyson and Billy Barton, but also incorporated sixties rock'n'roll into his songs. One of his biggest hits, Shame On Me, is the perfect example - a country tune with a horn section!

[ mp3 ]: Bobby Bare - Shame On Me

Bare sounds a bit like Johnny Cash to me - an apt comparison since Cash was also popular outside of the country circuit. But Bare is a little more sunny than Cash. I feel like if you gave them each a handle of bourbon, Bare would end up being the life of the party, and Cash would go all dark. Like Deer Hunter dark. Ugh. If you watched that, here, take a soul shower:

[ mp3 ]: Bobby Bare - Miller's Cave
[ mp3 ]
: Bobby Bare - Four Strong Winds

Okay. So the stories Bare is telling aren't necessarily the sunniest. Miller's Cave is a vengeful murder story, and the singer of Four Strong Winds is abandoning a lover. It's not Kid's Bop. But it's clean, straight-forward, story-based country music. To me, listening to Bobby Bare is like reading a Kazuo Ishiguro novel after wading through Infinite Jest. It just feels nice.

Supposedly, Bobby Bare collaborated with Shel Silverstein quite a bit later in his career, and had a few hits geared towards children. My dad doesn't have any of these records, but if you do, let me know what they're like. I think I'm interested.

- N.W.
Okay, it's time for me to come clean about my relationship with Tom Waits. Yes, he is a cool dude. Yes, he has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him popular with the literati. Yes, he toes the line of self parody on occasion. And yes, the first time I heard a Tom Waits song was when I saw Shrek.

Now before you get all judgmental about how I could be in my twenties and not have heard a Tom Waits song, remember: There was a time when you didn't know things either. There was a time before we all loved Du Champ and his toilet. There was a time before we all knew Kurosawa directed films, and instead confused his name with a popular Japanese method of suicide. And there was a time when Hari Kiri wasn't eviscerating yourself with a sword, but instead was the Chicago Cubs play-by-play guy that Will Ferrel impersonated from time to time. Now he's dead (Harry Caray, not Will Ferrell), we're all well-cultured, and hopefully you've forgotten about how I came across Tom Waits.

But by the time my dad pulled out this Tom Waits album from 1974 and handed it to me for the site, not only had I heard plenty of Tom Waits, I had become a big fan. Strangely enough, the first album I fell in love with was Swordfishtrombones, perhaps his least-accessible record. His voice on that record was what got me. He took the snarl of Captain Beefheart and deepened it into a bluesy growl, the perfect choice for the malcontents he sang about.

So The Heart of Saturday Night was somewhat surprising. It's still Tom Waits, but was only his second record, and the ten year patina of cigarettes and bourbon hadn't yet accumulated. So the songs sound a little less aggressive, and some are downright beautiful. My favorite is Shiver Me Timbers, a gorgeous gem in which Waits sounds as commercial as Bob Carlisle singing "Christmas Shoes." (I know that disgusts you, and it should, but listen.) The piano playing on Shiver Me Timbers cannot go unnoticed either.

Sure, there are a few misses here (Diamonds On My Windshield seems like it's making fun of itself) but this album's title says it all. You throw this record on this weekend, have some erudite buddies over, and smoke a thousand cigarettes. Eventually, you'll find it - The Heart of Saturday Night.

[ mp3 ]: Tom Waits - Shiver Me Timbers
[ mp3 ]: Tom Waits - The Heart of Saturday Night

This is one of the first records my dad selected for me as part of this project. This and David Ackles, I think. So I've had it on my computer, ready to go for quite some time. Thing is, I don't really know what to say about it.

I'm not a big fan of Traffic. I do respect their greatness, but they're just not my shizz. I can't explain it. But I think you know what I mean. That's not to say this Dave Mason album is exactly like Traffic, which he joined and then left  before starting his solo career. It's something a bit different, and I think more interesting; imagine Traffic singing John Barleycorn, but with the touchstone being more blues, country, and modern Americana, rather than British folk.

The highlight is definitely Only You and I Know, the only certifiable chart-topper of Mason's solo career. It's easy to hear why - it starts with an insanely catchy riff, has a great chorus, and the pre-verse stanzas could even be described as 'groovy.' And the rest of the songs, while not big hits, are all expertly crafted. My dad used the word masterpiece when he showed me this record, and it's hard to argue with. It seemed like everything went right for Dave Mason on this one.

Also, he's rocking the Mad Hatter look on the cover, which you've got to respect.


[ mp3 ]: Dave Mason - Only You and I Know
[ mp3 ]: Dave Mason - Just a Song

And the rest of the album:
Randy Newman is one of those guys you've heard before, but you just don't know it. Seen Toy Story? Ever caught an episode of Monk? Heard this Three Dog Night song a thousand times?
Guess what? You're listening to Randy Newman. Born in New Orleans, but raised in LA, Randy has a fairly impressive musical pedigree. He can count David, Thomas, and Alfred Newman as relatives, all of whom have IMDB pages long enough to keep you from reading them. The Newmans are a family of composers for film and television, and Randy is no exception. Although, he also releases pop records.

This is his second full length record, and while his self-titled debut was by no means a bad album, this is widely considered his first classic. The big 'hit' of the album is Mama Told Me (Not To Come), covered by many, perhaps most famously by Three Dog Night (see above). Here's the Newman version:

[ mp3 ]: Randy Newman - Mama Told Me (Not To Come)


Remember the Cherry Poppin' Daddies? How about the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? Well, if you were around in the late nineties (which I imagine most of you were, since teenagers haven't been told yet what vinyl records were, or how they worked) you'll remember these bands as part of the inexplicable Swing music revival. For a short while, swing music was suddenly part of the pop culture lexicon, prompting a spike in sales for Glenn Miller CDs, convincing film-goers that Swingers was anything more than mediocre, and briefly rekindling the career of Brian Setzer.

Well, in the late sixties, there was a similar movement. The Sopwith Camel, along with Harpers Bizarre and a myriad of others had America flashing back decades before swing - all the way back to Vaudeville. (These bands are often lumped in as second-rate Lovin' Spoonfulls, but I find their sound much more stylized.) For a band out of California in the late sixties, Vaudeville theater may be an odd touchstone, but what I love about Sopwith is how much they embraced the style; from album cover to spoken word in their songs, they really delved into that slice of Americana. 

Here's their big hit, Hello, Hello:

[ mp3 ]: The Sopwith Camel - Hello, Hello


It's been a while since I've been floored by a song, but when I was home for Christmas and my dad played me "Evil Woman" from Spooky Tooth's masterpiece, Spooky Two, I was completely and utterly blown away. This song rocked so hard, it made me sad. Sad that this song wasn't a part of my life sooner.

If you've never heard of Spooky Tooth, count yourself among the millions. They were a blues rock band based out of England in the late sixties through the seventies. Most all of their members found greater success elsewhere. Bassist Greg Ridley left the group to join Humble Pie, guitarist Luther Grosvenor left to join Stealer's Wheel (while changing his name to Ariel Bender), and lead singer/keyboardist Gary Wright is probably most famous for penning "Dream Weaver" in 1976.

But in 1969 they released Spooky Two, their sophomore album, and their masterpiece. My dad picked this one out for me, and I was pretty sure he hadn't listened to this record in at least twenty years. It had that clean vinyl sheen. We threw on Evil Woman, and wow. Just wow.

[ mp3 ]: Spooky Tooth - Evil Woman