My Favorite Top 3 Recordings of 2008 – #2

If you have never paid attention to Ry Cooder it is well past time you did. A quick browse on YouTube will show you evidence of his pure artistry. One of the greatest perveyors of slide guitar that has ever walk the face of the earth. He’s the hidden man. He’s the seminal figure in roots rock music. Follow this link on Ry Cooder and read up on his exploits in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and beyond. He has been a pioneer recording one of the first all digital recordings “Bop Till You Drop”. That recording demonstrated his deep gospel influences. On Mavis Staples’ 2007 recording “We’ll Never Turn Back”, Ry produced the record and again showed his deep understanding of earthy black gospel music. Ry’s playing has always had a roughness about it. Like hands that have worked a hoe. This deep connection with nuance and regional music has always drawn me to his playing. It’s never about flash. It’s always about substance…and humour. He plays all styles of music with an heir of respect.

And so I come to my #2 favorite recording of 2008. Ry Cooder’s, “I, Flathead”. This is the third in Ry’s California Trilogy of concept records. Ry uses the backstory of drag racing culture on the salt flats of California to explore Bakersfield influences, Bob Wills and the Texas Cowboys,

The hilarious tune, “Spayed Kooley”, is about a dog that will attack you if you sing out of tune. This is a not so subtle reference to Spade Cooley the notorious (for good reason, read his wiki profile) fiddle playing band leader. Steel Guitar Heaven harkens back to Bob Wills and the Texas Cowboys. Interestly, Spade Cooley didn’t make it to Steel Guitar Heaven. It is easy to think about music as fitting into clear catagories, such as Rock, Country, Blues, Jazz, and Bluegrass. This is not how music evolved in North America. This is a oversimplification designed to help marketing. It has nothing to do with how musicians play music or how the music of today has evolved. North America is a melting pot of influences. Musicians play all styles. Check out the jazz influences on “My Dwarf is Getting Tired”. In fact, just check out this whole recording. It is my #2 pick for 2008.

My Favorite Top 3 Recordings of 2008 – #3

Being in a retrospective mood I thought I might share my top 3 favorite recordings of 2008. These are albums that I’ve found hard to take off of my MP3 player and keep going back to for inspiration. The choices may surprise you.

#3 Al Green – Lay It Down

The Reverend brings it on this album. Sure his instrument isn’t what it used to be but true artistry is about getting the most out of what you’ve got. The mellow thick guitar tones bring to mind Eric Gale’s guitar work in the late 70’s and early 80’s when he held court in New York’s session scene (check out Paul Simon’s One-Trick Pony). Rich grooving bass lines throughout. The drum sounds are played with nothing but feel, then run through outboard analog compressors, amp farm (on the hats believe it or not), and then compressed again. This combination forms a subtle backdrop keeping your focus on one of the greatest voices in R&B. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson produced this great example of how an album can take on  distinctive analog sound in this modern age of pristine recording techniques. Recorded direct off the floor with the song writers, band, and vocalists all in the room together give this record a vibe somewhere between Memphis and Motown.

Many guitar players listen to guitar players for inspiration. For me its Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Al Green. If you can capture just a bit of that soul in your playing you’ve got something worth listening to.