Friday, March 11, 2005

Top 5: More Highway Miles

More travel for me this week, which means more miles logged with the CD player rolling. Here are five albums that made the trip this time:

Tupelo Honey/Van Morrison. From start to finish, one track to the next, this is not my favorite Van Morrison album, and it's probably not even in the top five. But it does feature two tunes that would be on my list of top five Van Morrison songs: "Wild Night" and "Tupelo Honey," which might be the most beautiful song ever written by anybody, anytime.

Me and Mr. Johnson/Eric Clapton. In which Clapton updates and electrifies Robert Johnson's acoustic blues tunes. It's Clapton's tribute to his guiding inspiration. It's probably a better album if you know Johnson's original tunes--if you don't, it's likely to be less compelling, and sound like more of what you've heard Clapton do before. Key track: "Come on in My Kitchen."

Mighty Love (expanded edition)/Spinners. This album, released in 1974, is what the group's 1975 masterpiece Pick of the Litter sounded like in the test tube. Key tracks: "Mighty Love" (in which Phillippe Wynne scats unbelievably for two minutes) and the gorgeous long version of "Love Don't Love Nobody." The expanded edition also features four early tracks recorded just after the Spinners left Motown, which are notable mostly for lacking the sweetness of the group's later work.

Best of Bowie/David Bowie. A compilation from Bowie's heyday, "Space Oddity" through 1985's "This Is Not America," many of them presented as shorter 45 versions. Also features a 1997 song called "I'm Afraid of Americans," which, it turns out, was a few years ahead of its time.

The Philly Sound: Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and the Story of Brotherly Love/various artists. OK, I'm only one disc into this three-volume set, but what a disc and what a set. It covers Gamble and Huff's career from independent producers of records like the Soul Survivors' "Expressway to Your Heart" and Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive," through their 70s heyday as the moguls of Philadelphia International. This was originally supposed to be a four-disc set taking Gamble and Huff right up to the set's late-90s release (and you can see the blank space in the package where the fourth disc was supposed to be), but last-minute legal disputes kept any post-1976 recordings from being included. Nevertheless, what's there is as good as 70s music ever got.

I've still got the trip home to come, so it's a good thing the CD case is full.


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