I spent a lot of time this past weekend working on my new album "Held Momentarily". My allergies are in full effect, so I can't record vocals. Instead, I focused on getting the guitar and keyboard parts down, tweaking the production to a few of the tracks. I'm having the album mixed by a friend in Israel, doing the whole process remotely. I email a link to files of all of the individual tracks, ready to mix, along with a reference rough mix.
From there, it's a definite lesson in letting go to wait and see what will happen with the first mix. With my first two albums, I was in the (appropriately named) control-room during the mix process and had input on every minute detail. Doing it remotely, with such a huge time difference, really requires patience and openness. It also demands a directness in feedback, which is something I've always found a challenge.
The final mix is in for Homesick, and he's working on Vulnerary Love now. I can't wait to share this all with you. As I finish more tracks, and can afford the next mix, we slowly make our way to what will be the finished album.
Working on my own album in part inspired me to begin this project of listening to the 100 Greatest Albums of ALL TIME. So far it has really helped me clarify what I like in music--what is vital, and what I can do without. It's also made me look at what makes a great album.
To many, albums are a relic anyway. It's more important to have a few hits that can stand on their own. To them, albums are more of a vehicle for singles. I have always been a devotee of the album--I just chose not to focus on the greatest albums, for some reason. When we shifted from CD's to MP3's, I fell in love with shuffle--sometimes seeing God himself in the beauty of a "random" transition from a song from one artist to another track from an (until that moment) unrelated artist. But when I think of favorites now--it's albums that I think of way more than songs.
74: Neil Young -- After The Gold Rush (1970)
I had heard this album before. According to iTunes, I haven't listened to it since 2009. I didn't really have a strong impression of this album before this week. Perhaps I downloaded it, knowing it was one of the albums I should like, but never gave it its proper attention.
As I listen to it now, I am convinced that this truly is a masterpiece. What is interesting to me though is that it doesn't have the strong tracks like Harvest did with "Old Man" and "Heart Of Gold". In spite of that, as an album, After The Gold Rush to my ears stands as a better full-length. It creates a sonic and emotional space, and spends 34 minutes filling it and deepening it. Building a place I would want to come back to again and again.
None of the single tracks here are as strong as those 2 I mention from Harvest...yet ALL of the tracks here are of a higher level on average than those on Harvest. In other words, say "Old Man" and "Heart of Gold" are 10's--classic tracks. The rest of Harvest is full of 6's or 7's--which is more than most of us could hope for. In After The Gold Rush, all of the tracks are, to me, 9's--OK, maybe Cripple Creek Ferry is a 7.
73: Led Zeppelin -- Physical Graffiti (1975)
I really want to love Led Zeppelin.
I watched the documentary below, again hoping to "get it". While it did give me more context and interested anecdotes, maybe I have to accept that I'm not going to become a fan. Interesting anecdotes: Down By The Seaside was a song inspired by Neil Young's Down By The River (and is my favorite track here); 7 of the 15 tracks here were out-takes from their previous 3 albums; Trampled Under Foot was a "driving funk" track inspired by Stevie Wonder's Talking Book.
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Songs like In My Time of Dying are supposed to be great because they show the band's range. To me, 11:06 is too long for this traditional blues song (compared to the 2:39 version from Bob Dylan, In My Time Of Dyin', which inspired the Led Zeppelin cut).
Without a doubt Kashmir is an amazing song, on every level. OK, it's a long track too. Too long (8:28). Then it's followed by the 8:47 In The Light. Cool stuff there too--but either I have a much shorter attention span than I thought, or I'm not nearly high enough.
Editor's Note: Jesse was not high at all while writing this blog.
Physical Graffiti has shown me the value I place on a song that is concise and well-crafted. A lot of those tracks feel like they were a studio exploration. Yes, it's at a masterful level, played by true artists at the height of their game...I'm just saying that I wouldn't count this as expert songwriting.
One thing I have taken from what I've learned about Neil Young is to be less precious about the recording process. His approach is all about capturing authentic takes, even if at the "expense" of perfection. For instance, on this record he brought in Nils Lofgren to play piano--not his primary instrument by a long shot. The difference here is that Neil has the perfectly crafted songs--and takes liberties with their presentation. Certainly something to aspire to.
72: Curtis Mayfield -- Superfly (1972) 71: Paul Simon -- Graceland (1986)