Disciplined Breakdown by Collective Soul

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Disciplined Breakdown by Collective SoulAfter exploding onto the international rock scene in the middle of the 1990s with the success of their first two albums, Collective Soul released their much anticipated third studio album, Disciplined Breakdown, in 1997. While much of the music on this album replicates the alt/pop/rock formula and production techniques of 1993’s Hints, Allegations, & Things Left Unsaid and 1995’s Collective Soul, there are some experimental areas on Disciplined Breakdown which show a bit of musical maturity.

The triple platinum selling, self-titled second album by Collective Soul spent well over a year on the Billboard album charts, fueled by a handful of radio hits. In the wake of this success, however, the band had a falling out with with their manager which led to some cancelled tour dates and, ultimately, a year-long legal battle.

During this tumultuous time in 1996, the band retreated to a cabin near their home town of Stockbridge and began recording with whatever digital devices they could gather. Each of the songs on Disciplined Breakdown were composed and produced by lead vocalist and guitarist Ed Roland, who had founded Collective Soul along with his brother, guitarist Dean Roland, in 1992.


Disciplined Breakdown by Collective Soul
Released: March 11, 1997 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Ed Roland
Recorded: Stockbridge, GA, 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Precious Declaration
Listen
Maybe
Full Circle
Blame
Disciplined Breakdown
Forgiveness
Link
Giving
In Between
Crowded Head
Everything
Ed Roland – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Dean Roland – Guitars
Will Turpin – Bass, Vocals
Shane Evans – Drums

 
Disciplined Breakdown by Collective Soul

 

While Disciplined Breakdown is a pretty enjoyable listen from start to finish, there is no doubt that the album is a bit top-heavy, with the best material coming earlier in the album. The opening song “Precious Declaration” was also the album’s lead single and it ushers in the album with a catchy beat from the well-treated drums of Shane Evans along with the sharp guitar riffs by the Roland brothers and lead guitarist Ross Childress. “Listen”, the second single, features a cool rock/funk dance beat similar to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” a couple of decades earlier. This infectious groove throughout is accented by some strategically placed effects on vocals during bridge section and a short but stratospheric guitar lead by Childress.

Dedicated to a lost friend, “Maybe” begins with a bright acoustic intro before it settles into a steady and excellent song proper where Rolland’s vocals are particularly subdued in nice contrast to the whining electric guitar overtones and thumping bass by Will Turpin, which persists throughout this track. “Full Circle” is the first song to break the mold of the now-well-established Collective Soul formula, complete with a (faux?) horn section and a few more unique sonic passages. “Blame” is bookmarked by fine, finger-picked acoustic solo sections with the heart of the song featuring an electric groove constructed by a great mixture of guitars and counter-riffs, along with Ed Roland’s best vocal melody on the album.

Collective Soul

The title track, “Disciplined Breakdown”, features another strong rock riff and bass-driven verse sections presented in a funk, almost faux hip hop, fashion. Meanwhile, “Forgiveness” takes a turn towards the cool and jazzy, while Evans’s consistent beat is maintained throughout and Childress’s lead guitar contrasts with this effect a bit but song never loses effect or moodiness. “Link” is an almost eighties style soft rock track, complete with some rich vocal harmonies.

The album’s next two tracks follow suite and remain mellow and somewhat pleasant sonicly but not so potent in terms of composition or originality. “Crowded Head” is a bit harder rock with several strong electric guitars, a rougher, more straight-forward vocal and a creative moment late in the song when a counter-melody to the main hook is delivered through a treated, mid-ranged spoken voice rap. The album wraps up with “Everything”, a slightly interesting rocker with good beats and choppy riffs, which sounds like it could have been a hit right beside the material earlier on the record.

Disciplined Breakdown was not as commercially successful as Collective Soul’s earlier releases. However, it top the Mainstream Rock charts, sold over a million copies, and helped maintain the group’s momentum, which continued into the new century.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash

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American II by Johnny CashBuilding on the momentum of his 1994 comeback album, American Recordings, country/rock legend Johnny Cash decided to do a sequel in what would become a very successful late career series. However, where the first album was sparse, dark folk with just Cash and his acoustic guitar, American II: Unchained features much richer and brighter arrangements due in large part to the musical help of Tom Petty and (three of) The Heartbreakers.

While not a huge commercial hit, American Recordings had much critical acclaim and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. A revitalized Cash said that the reception and response was one of the highlights of his career, which at that point dated back forty years. Later in 1994, Cash recorded a solo cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and joined up with Brooks & Dunn for his own “Folsom Prison Blues” to contribute to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country. Cash also revitatlized his acting career by appearing with his wife June Carter on a number of episodes of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Along with producer and label owner Rick Rubin, Cash decided to enlist contemporary rock musicians for this follow-up album. Fresh off the success of his solo record Wildflowers, Petty was enlisted along with fellow Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein, to be the core of the backing band. Other cameos on this album included Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac and bassist Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. American II: Unchained is made mostly of cover songs with a few Cash originals sprinkled throughout the album.


American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash
Released: November 5, 1996 (American)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: Sound City & Ocean Way Studios, Los Angeles and The Cowboy Arms And Recording Spa, Nashville, TN, 1995-1996
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rowboat
Sea of Heartbreak
Rusty Cage
The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)
Country Boy
Memories Are Made of This
Spiritual
The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea
Southern Accents
Mean Eyed Cat
Meet Me in Heaven
I Never Picked Cotton
Unchained
I’ve Been Everywhere
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Tom Petty – Guitars, bass, Vocals
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Marty Stuart – Guitars, Bass
Steve Ferroneh – Drums, PercussionAmerican II by Johnny Cash

With a fantastic array of acoustic and electric guitars above a moderate classic country beat, the album begins with a cover of Beck’s “Rowboat”. Here, the guitars are delivered in various country and rock styles with Cash’s simple and somber vocals making this an overall sonic treat. “Sea of Heartbreak” is a brighter and more upbeat cover with fine chorus harmonies by Petty. The song was originally a Country hit for Don Gibson and features acoustic guitar by Buckingham and percussion by Fleetwood. Cash’s cover of “Rusty Cage” is the most striking and unique song on American II: Unchained. Originally written and recorded on Soundgarden’s Badmotofinger, Cash’s vocals follow the droning acoustic riff through the first two verses before breaking into an unabashed rock arrangement for the latter half of the song. This hip and timely track ultimately won a Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

Cash returns to form on the pure, classic country of “The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)”, which features a fine slide guitar lead by Campbell throughout. “Country Boy” and “Mean Eyed Cat” are two remakes of Sun Studio recordings from the late 1950s and each provide a nice slice of sonic nostalgia to add to the album’s diversity. “Memories Are Made of This” is presented as a bright folk song with upbeat, brushed drums, later joined by fine piano and distant whistle organ by Tench in a very good recording. Next come a couple of spiritual songs, the first of which is simply called “Spiritual”, a somber track which is a little drawn out and melodramatic. Written by several in-laws, The Carters, “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” is a more upbeat cry for redemption as told by a third party observer.

Johnny Cash 1996

The later third of the album features more diverse songs. The inversion “Southern Accents” is presented as a soft acoustic ballad, where the Heartbreakers back Cash on their own song from their album of the same name a decade earlier. “Meet Me in Heaven” is a Cash original and presented brilliantly with a bright acoustic by Petty mixed along with Campbell’s softly picked electric and Tench’s piercing keys. Originally a hit by Roy Clark, “I Never Picked Cotton” is a fun Country classic which changes keys frequently during the two and a half minute duration and features some backing vocals by Petty. The title track “Unchained” is a soft acoustic ballad cover by Jude Johnstone and features some cool Chamberlin strings by Petty and Tench. Wrapping it all up is the fun jaunt “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which completes the album with upbeat rockabilly music and impressive, breathless rap by Cash as he lists the cascade of locations in each of the four main verses.

Although it had much crossover appeal, American II: Unchained was a much bigger commercial success on the Country charts than the Pop Charts. This recipe for success continued with more albums in the “American” series by Cash and Ruben, extending into the early part of the next century.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Collective Soul

1995 Album of the Year

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Collective Soul 1995 albumCollective Soul reached its full musical promise and commercial success with their 1995 self-titled second album, sometimes referred to as their “blue album”. Here, the rock quintet from Georgia struck a nice blend of 1980s-style hard rock and early 1990s-style grunge rock to forge a distinctive sound which resonated well with rock fans in the mid nineties. Although far from ground breaking in originality and compositional quality, Collective Soul is solid from end to end and may be the most interesting overall release of 1995, hence making it our Album of the Year.

Although it was quite successful, group leader Ed Roland did not feel that Collective Soul’s 1993 debut album, Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid rose above the level of a professional demo. He even went so far as to refer to Collective Soul as the group’s “first record, flat out”. Still, with the phenomenal success of the song “Shine”, Roland put together a proper band, starting with fellow guitarists Ross Childress and Ed’s younger brother Dean Roland. The debut album eventually went double-platinum and the group immediately landed on major tours through 1994, including an appearance at the Woodstock ’94 Festival.

Later in the year, the group headed to Miami to record Collective Soul along with co-producer Matt Serletic. Although Ed Roland remained the predominant songwriter, with fifteen of his tracks recorded in the studio, Childress also contributed some help with a few compositions. Due to the group’s rising popularity and demand for live performances, the album was recorded, mixed and mastered rather quickly, but still achieved optimal sonic results.


Collective Soul by Collective Soul
Released: March 14, 1995 (Atlantc)
Produced by: Ed Roland and Matt Serletic
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, October-December 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Simple
“Untitled”
The World I Know
Smashing Young Man
December
Where the River Flows
Gel
She Gathers Rain
When the Water Falls
Collection of Goods
Bleed
Reunion
Ed Roland – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Dean Roland – Guitars
Will Turpin – Bass, Vocals
Shane Evans – Drums

 
Collective Soul album

The album starts with the distant funky rap of “Simple” before the full song kicks in and remains strong and upbeat throughout, setting up the simple yet effective tone of the album. The second track falls into the same type of approach as the opener but with much more melody and other sonic intricacies. This untitled track is kind of unique (albeit a bit unprofessional), falling second in the running order, as opposed to the typical “hidden track” at the end of many 1990s albums.

Cowritten by Roland and Childress, the moody, acoustic folk ballad “The World I Know” is rich with orchestral elements to complement the somber lyrics and vocal delivery. There is good melodramatic motion throughout, especially when moving between distinct parts of the song which, as a whole, is a clever bit of melancholy which feels neither forced nor drab. The song peaked at #19 on the pop charts and spent several weeks at the #1 spot on the Mainstream Rock chart. An over-the-top sharp riff with slightly hip-hop rhythms drive the track “Smashing Young Man”. This song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics were written in response to Smashing Pumpkins’ lead vocalist Billy Corgan, who earlier accused Collective Soul of plagiarizing music, with some poetic responses;

Beggar’s description of what I’ve been missing / Exploit your position, don’t think I didn’t listen…Success is so tragic, pain is your gadget / Your tongue’s just lashing, just bitching by habit / Hey I hope you’re feeling a little purer now…”

The most grunge-influenced track with its fantastic fits and starts, “December” brilliantly displays the band’s ability to write songs that are at once totally unique but radio friendly. The intro and verse guitar is finger-picked and accompanied by deeply harmonized vocals through the verses. Drummer Shane Evans provides some hand percussion in the second verse and well timed lead-ins before the choruses. The song was another hit for the group, peaking in the Top 20 on the pop charts. “Where the River Flows” follows with a heavy rock riff and gaited drums throughout, leading to “Gel”, another rock gem from this album. On many levels the musical heart of Collective Soul, “Gel” opens with a stripped down section that perfectly sets up the energy of the song proper. Later comes a good bluesy guitar by Childress with riff rudiments in the mid-section, while the brief, simple but highly effective lyric which gets the song’s point across in a brevity to match its title.

Collective Soul

The latter part of the album contains some lesser known but equally fine tracks to nicely round off this album. “She Gathers Rain” is a bit over the top with interplay between the opening guitar riff and strong drum beat but, as song settles into a groove, it is quite entertaining. “When the Water Falls” features nice bass work by Will Turpin, who provides the glue between the two complementing guitar riffs in the intro, with a later sweet musical arrangement and acoustic added to the mix along with complex lead and backing vocal arrangements. “Collection of Goods” features nice sonic effects throughout with a crisp guitar riff, worthy of earliest-era Rush, while “Bleed” moves towards more mechanical passages of guitar textures, with each section in turn, like passing through an assembly line. The album concludes with “Reunion”, a song which fully shows off the group’s Southern roots. This fine closer includes soulful vocals by Roland as well as a chorus of Gospel-like backing vocalists and a slide acoustic guitar to accentuate this simple but excellent song which concludes this simple but excellent album.

Collective Soul became the band’s highest selling album and spent well over a year on the Billboard album charts. Following its release, the group spent little free time, embarking on an extended national tour the next day, followed by an immediate commencement of writing and recording material for their next album.

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1995 page images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Otis Blue by Otis Redding

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Otis Blue by Otis ReddingOtis Redding‘s third studio album, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, (most commonly known as simply, Otis Blue) was a commercial success and has been critically acclaimed for the half century since its 1965 release. Despite consisting mainly of covers of recently released songs from contemporary artists, the album features much musical innovation and originality to accompany Redding’s distinct and emotive vocals and its influence rippled through rock, blues, and soul for decades to follow. The album also spawned three Top 40 singles for Redding, vastly boosting his notability.

Redding began his musical career as a member of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, which toured mainly in the South (USA) during the early 1960s. One day in 1962, Redding drove group guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Jenkins to a session at Stax Records and, when the session ended early, Redding was granted time to perform two songs backed by the studio group Booker T. & the MG’s. This impromptu session resulted in the single, “These Arms of Mine”, which sold more than 800,000 copies and led to the recording of Redding’s 1963 debut album, Pain in My Heart. After more than a year of touring America and the release of several more singles, Redding released his second studio album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, in early 1965.

In July, Redding and the studio crew worked on writing and arranging songs for a third album, producing most of the material over a 24 hour period. The album was then recorded with the Booker T band, along with The Memphis Horns and pianist Isaac Hayes.


Otis Blue by Otis Redding
Released: September 15, 1965 (Atco)
Produced by: Jim Stewart, Isaac Hayes, & David Porter
Recorded: Stax Recording Studios, April-July, 1965
Side One Side Two
Ole Man Trouble
Respect
Change Gonna Come
Down in the Valley
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
Shake
My Girl
Wonderful World
Rock Me Baby
Satisfaction
You Don’t Miss Your Water
Primary Musicians
Otis Redding – Lead Vocals
Booker T. Jones – Piano, Keyboards
Isaac Hayes – Piano, Keyboards
Steve Cropper – Guitars
Donald Dunn – Bass
Al Jackson, Jr. – Drums

Although predominated by cover songs, Otis Blue begins with two originals by Redding. “Ole Man Trouble” is exquisitely produced and performed, as Redding wails out a weeping lead vocal between the squeezed out guitar chords by Steve Cropper, with a few brass interludes between the vocal lines. The only real flaw here is that the song is too short, a reccurring issue throughout this all-too-short album. This is followed by the song “Respect”, which reached #35 on the pop chart and #4 on the R&B chart. Reflecting back through the decades, it is clear why Aretha Franklin’s version is the better known, as it is far superior in delivery and musical arrangement. That being said, this original version is a fantastic rendition, totally funky and groovy, just lacking the strong feminine perspective and advanced arrangement that the latter version so aptly possesses.

After the opening two originals, the album delves into the first of three covers by Sam Cooke, who had been shot to death in 1964. “Change Gonna Come” is a slow, soul classic and a timely anthem where Redding makes you feel every syllable of this classic anthem on struggle, while the musical arrangement offers a few caveats in intensity. Cooke wrote the song after he and his entourage were denied entry to a motel in Louisiana and both versions of the song became anthems for the Civil Rights movement. The cover “Down in the Valley” is a more upbeat track but not as potent as the opening two original tracks, with the best part being the intense outro section. The first side finishes with “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, a collaboration between Redding and Jerry Butler that is a simple but effective refrain of desperation with ever-intense horns and piano to match the growing intensity of Redding’s lead vocals. The song also became Redding’s highest charting single to date.

Otis Redding in 1965The second side is full of cover’s, starting with Cooke’s “Shake”, one of the more upbeat tracks driven heavily by the bass and drums rhythm of Donald Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr.. The next two songs are similar in that they both lack the background vocals and countermelodies of their more famous versions, The Temptations’ “My Girl” and Cooke’s “Wonderful World”. “Rock Me Baby” is a more effective cover, expertly converting a B.B. King blues classic into a brilliant soul arrangement while also featuring the first and only rock-style guitar solo by Cropper. Next comes a couragous attempt at converting the nearly brand new, “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones with a distinctive spin including original instrumental interludes. The album concludes with a rendition of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” as a moderate soul ballad, which starts to get pretty intense near the end, but fades out way too soon.

While Otis Blue did not chart well in the US, it reached number 6 on the UK Albums Chart, and topped the Billboard R&B chart. In the years that followed, Redding scored continued success with some of his most famous hits such as “Try a Little Tenderness” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, along with an indelible performance at the famed Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Tragically, Redding lost his life in a plane crash in December 1967, cutting short a brilliant career on the rise.

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1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.

 

Southern Accents by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Southern Accents by Tom PettyTom Petty & the Heartbreakers found a nice blend of mid-eighties pop and their traditional rock sound on 1985’s Southern Accents. This sixth album by the group (and first new release in nearly three years) was put together by a vast number personnel. Along with Heartbreakers’ members Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, three other producers were involved in the production and beyond the five band members, over thirty session players and singers were used in recording this album.

Petty and the Heartbreakers entered the 1980s on a high streak, following the success of their 1979 album, Damn the Torpedoes. However, the follow-up album, Hard Promises in 1981, saw some friction between the band and the record company over pricing policy. Their 1982 album, Long After Dark saw the arrival of bass player Howie Epstein, who had been a member of Del Shannon’s backing band.

Southern Accents was originally conceived as a concept album about the “modern South”. This mission was ultimately abandoned when Eurhythmics founder Dave Stewart contributed some compositions and production techniques which contrasted with the overall concept. Tensions arose among the band members, who each had distinct visions of the album’s musical direction. These frustrations culminated with Petty breaking his left hand after punching a wall during a mixing session.


Southern Accents by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: March 26, 1985 (MCA)
Produced by: Tom Petty, Jimmy Iovine, Mike Campbell, David A. Stewart, & Robbie Robertson
Recorded: Sound City, Village Recorder, & Sunset Sound, Los Angeles and Church Studio, London, 1983–85
Side One Side Two
Rebels
It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me
Don’t Come Around Here No More
Southern Accents
Make It Better (Forget About Me)
Spike
Dogs On the Run
Mary’s New Car
The Best of Everything
Group Musicians
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards, Dobro
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Howie Epstein – Bass, Vocals
Stan Lynch – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with “Rebels”, which features a traditional Tom Petty-style, musical approach with the additional elements of brass and rich backing vocals. Thematically, this track perfectly fits the “Southern Accents” theme and the song also found mainstream appeal by reaching #5 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me” is the first Petty/Stewart collaboration and migrates more towards, mid-eighties slick production, But with a funk bass by Epstein and call and response vocals between Petty and a backing chorus, the song is still interesting, especially with
Benmont Tench‘s cool new-wave/jazz piano during the long outro.

The album’s biggest hit, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” employs Indian-style sitar by Stewart and repetitive but effective track percussion. The song proper is pleasant and melodic throughout and it breaks out into a full rock jam at the end with a wailing guitar lead by Campbell, thumping bass by Epstein and some “real” drums by Stan Lynch. The song was allegedly inspired by Stevie Nicks break up with Joe Walsh, but is best known for its Alice in Wonderland themed music video.

“Southern Accents” is a Jackson Browne-like piano tune, which is unique for the group, albeit a little bit dragged out and mundane, Still, the track works as a graceful title track which hits on the original theme of the album. “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” is the third and final collaboration between Petty and Stewart and employs a full-fledged, upbeat Motown vibe which is executed finely. Oft forgotten in the Petty catalog, this song reached the Top 20 of the Modern Rock charts.

The rest of the second side features an eclectic mix of lesser-known songs. “Spike” is down-home country with cool, chanting lyrics, brush drums and Tench’s electric piano to carry the day. “Dogs On the Run” was co-written by Campbell and returns to old Heartbreakers-style rock for the final time on the album. “Mary’s New Car” has a late-seventies funk/pop vibe (almost disco), along with interesting sounding lead vocals and a subtle, reverb-drenched sax lead. Like the first side, the second side ends with a piano ballad. “The Best of Everything” contains better melodies and good brass to close out the album with style.

Southern Accents reached the Top 10 in the US and the Top 40 in several other countries. The subsequent concert tour spawned the live album Pack Up the Plantation in late 1985 before the band toured with Bob Dylan through the next couple years.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
by Derek & the Dominos

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Layla by Derek and the DominosLayla and Other Assorted Love Songs was the sole studio album by super group Derek & the Dominos. A double length LP, the fourteen tracks on the album included a few traditional blues jams along with original compositions written mainly by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock. Although the album was originally panned by critics and record buyers alike, it has deservedly grown in stature over the decades as a bonafide classic rock gem. In Fact, it may be the best overall effort of Clapton’s long career.

Clapton’s 1969 super group, Blind Faith, lasted less than a calendar year. Late in that year, the legendary guitarist joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends because he desired the relative anonymity of this group. However, Clapton soon discovered that three of his fellow bandmates had planned to leave Delaney & Bonnie and, after an extended tour into 1970, guitarist Clapton, keyboardist Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon formed the core of Derek & the Dominos.

The first project by the quartet was actually Clapton’s self-titled debut album, released in August 1970. Whitlock and Clapton began jamming and composing as early as April 1970 and, starting in May, all four members did session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. The group then toured, with the band’s name being spontaneously conjured backstage before their first gig in June. That same month, band members along with Harrison and Dave Mason recorded a single produced by Phil Spector. However, the group was not thrilled with Spector’s method and decided to pursue other recording arrangements.

The band flew to Miami to record with producer Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios. Dowd, who was also producing the Allman Brothers Band’s album Idlewild South, took the Dominos to an Allman Brothers concert and Clapton and Duane Allman formed an instant bond that resulted in Allman contributing to the majority of the album as a second lead guitarist. Although Allman declined to join the group outright, he played a few gigs with the band while they were in Florida.


Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos
Released: November 9, 1970 (Atco)
Produced by: Tom Dowd, Derek & the Dominos
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, August-October 1970
Side One Side Two
I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues
Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
I Am Yours
Anyday
Key to the Highway
Side Three Side Four
Tell the Truth
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
Have You Ever Loved a Woman
Little Wing
It’s Too Late
Layla
Thorn Tree in the Garden
Group Musicians
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Bobby Whitlock – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Duane Allman – Guitars
Carl Radle – Bass, Percussion
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion, Piano

Although the song that gives the album its name is on side four, near the end of the running order, the heart and soul of the album may very well be right up front on side one. “I Looked Away” is a melodic song built on a potpourri of guitar riffs and a distinct southern rock aesthetic. Both Clapton and Whitlock trade lead vocal lines on the song which is the first of several to reflect of Clapton’s obsession with Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd. In fact, it may be the case that every song on Layla illustrates all the different sides of love, with Boyd being the consistent protagonist. Without a doubt, “Bell Bottom Blues” is the best and most emotional of these, as authentic, bluesy, and soulful, the song’s post-chorus has an extraordinarily brilliant progression that, when played over and over creates a recursion of emotion that never dulls nor wares. It also sounds like the perfect culmination of everything Clapton did to that point in his career and his finest vocal performance with its melancholy desperation of unrequited love;

Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?
Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?
I’d gladly do it because I don’t want to fade away…”

“Keep On Growing” has more traditional blues riffing but with a touch of harder edge rock and upbeat rhythms. The vocals are harmonized by Clapton and Whitlock with about four or five distinct guitar tracks, making for a carnival of sound. Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is the first traditional blues cover, as well as the first track on the album where Clapton and Allman have room for their blues chops, with great slide techniques being employed throughout this song. Side two begins with “I Am Yours”, a changeup in feel and style with acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, hand percussion and just the slightest touch of electric lead guitar. Clapton gave co-writing credit to Nizami Gəncəvi, a 12th century Persian poet whose story of Layla and Majnun gave this album its title track and whose poem was used for the lyrics of this track.

“Anyday” returns to the core style of Clapton and Whitlock, with each trading lead vocals and joining together for the melodramatically exciting choruses. Musically, this song contains frenzied guitars and fantastic rhythms with drummer Gordon adding frenzied energetic fills during the more excited parts of the song and Radle adding his share of funky bass. “Key to the Highway” is a nine-plus minute impromptu jam of a song by Big Bill Broonzy that was not intended for the album but recorded on the fly by Dowd (hence, the fade-in). “Tell the Truth” sounds like a pure pop/soul/funk compositional approach but with lead guitars giving it all an edge that makes it unique to this group, while “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” is a showcase for bassist Radle as it has the most upbeat rhythm of any song on the album. It also features a souped-up jam with melodic hook and fantastic energy, making it, perhaps closest to an Allman Brothers track than any other on the album.

Derek and the Dominos-We swing back to the classic blues jam on “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, where Clapton gets to showcase his skills both instrumentally and vocally. Then comes the fantastic rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Little Wing”. The arrangement here makes it almost a completely different song than the original featured on Axis: Bold as Love, as this one has vocals up front and extended jam in middle, with dual vocals and dual lead guitars throughout by Clapton and Allman. In a tragic coincidence, Hendrix died just days after Derek and the Dominos recorded this song.

Of course, the climax of the album comes with its title song and classic rock radio staple, “Layla”. Inspired by the tragic poem by Nizami, the song is a funk/rock rendition of Clapton’s growing friendship and infatuation by the wife of his friend and musical collaborator, George Harrison, who turned to Clapton when Harrison all but abandoned her for Indian religion. Originally written as a ballad, Allman brought it into the hard rock realm with the signature riff, while the rest of the group plays tighter and more focused during the song proper than on any other part of the album. The ending was developed independently by drummer Jim Gordon, who Clapton heard playing a piano piece before one of the sessions and convinced him to allow it to be used as part of the song. The second movement of Layla was recorded a week after the first and concatenated to the end of the track, making its total length of seven minutes. This turned out to be a brilliant move, as a crescendo ending, constantly building with the dual whining guitars simulating the wailing emotion that underlines the song’s theme. The album concludes with “Thorn Tree in the Garden”, a short and sad acoustic ballad by Whitlock (and only track where he performs sole lead vocals), which serves as a final ode to lost romance.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs originally peaked in the Top 20 of the Pop Albums chart and made reoccuring appearances in the Billboard 200 in 1974, 1977, and 2011. Although Derek and the Dominos were poised to record a follow-up album in 1971, because of tensions and drug abuse among the band members, along with the tragic death of Duane Allman later that year. In the end, this was a unique snapshot of serendipitous music that still sounds brilliant 45 years later.

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Shake Your Money Maker
by The Black Crowes

Album of the Year, 1990

Buy Shake Your Money Maker

Shake Your Money Maker by Black CrowesThe Black Crowes’ impressive debut brought old-school, blues-flavored rock to the forefront in 1990. A quarter century after its release, Shake Your Money Maker is still the group’s best-selling album and its timeless qualities and genuine song-craft have helped it to maintain its sonic potency. With a blend of classic British blues and American Southern music elements, The Black Crowes released an authentic and original record, which Classic Rock Review has chosen as our Album of the Year for 1990.

In the mid-eighties, vocalist Chris Robinson and guitarist Rich Robinson formed the original incarnation of the group called Mr. Crowe’s Garden. Based in
Marietta, Georgia the group played pop and classic southern rock before eventually turning towards 1970s-era blues rock. Through the late eighties, the brothers Robinson remained at the core of the band which had several revolving supporting members, including rhythm guitarist Jeff Cease.

In 1989, The Black Crowes successfully auditioned with Def American records and began recording their debut with producer George Drakoulias. The group recorded original compositions which the Robinsons’ had written during the previous half decade, including a few tracks that were omitted from the album, such as “Don’t Wake Me”. Drakoulias brought in veteran musician Chuck Leavell, formally of the Allman Brothers Band, to add session piano and keyboards to the album.


Lawn Boy by Phish
Released: January 24, 1990 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Soundscape Studios, Atlanta & several studios in Los Angeles, 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
Twice As Hard
Jealous Again
Sister Luck
Could I’ve Been So Blind
Seeing Things
Hard to Handle
Thick n’ Thin
She Talks to Angels
Struttin’ Blues
Stare It Cold
Live Too Fast Blues
Chris Robinson
Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson
Guitars
Jeff Cease
Guitars
Johnny Colt
Bass
Steve Gorman
Drums

Rich Robinson’s big guitar riff sets the album’s tone from the top with “Twice As Hard”. The slow, bluesy riffs are complemented by a slight touch of slide guitar by Cease through this excellent and entertaining pure rocker. “Jealous Again” is a more pop-oriented, in the Rolling Stones-vein, and presents a more dominant presence for vocalist Chris Robinson. Critics of the time tended to typecast The Black Crowes, were immediately typecast as descendants of the Stones and other British rockers, such as the Faces.

That critique was certainly merited as “Sister Luck” returns to the Stones’ vibe, this time as a ballad. In fact, this track comes dangerously close in title and temperament to the Stones’ classic “Sister Morphine” from Sticky Fingers. in contrast, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” is definitely a more modern, straight-forward rock track with good rhythmic rudiments by bassist Johnny Colt and drummer Steve Gorman. This particular song dates all the way back to the Mr. Crowe’s Garden era. “Seeing Things” is an impossibly slow Southern blues ballad, with a strong piano and keyboard presence by Leavell to complement the core rock elements. Chris Robinson vocals are exceptional on this track and he is joined by a background Gospel chorus, forecasting arrangements of future Black Crowes’ albums.

 
While the cover song “Hard to Handle” is driven by the rock drumming of Gorman, this song’s underlying structure is classic funk. Although originally recorded by of Otis Redding, its inclusion is an implicit shout out to Grateful Dead fans, as that group made the track a live mainstay a couple of decades earlier. In any case, The Black Crowe’s version is masterful and was a hit, reaching number 26 on the Billboard pop charts. “Thick n’ Thin” follows as a frenzied, upbeat blues rocker with heavy guitar chorus riffs and a very entertaining mid-section pushed along by the groovy bass of Colt. Written by Rich Robinson when he was a teenager, the solo intro to “She Talks to Angels” is an intricate acoustic guitar part. Chris Robinson wrote the lyrics about a “goth girl” in Atlanta who was “into heroin” and it contains some profoundly sad lines;

She keeps a lock of hair in her pocket, she wears a cross around her neck, the hair is from the little boy and the cross is someone she has not met, not yet…”

After this dramatic high point, the album does lose some momentum down the stretch. “Struttin’ Blues” seems to bring the album back up too quickly and feels really frivolous in comparison to the previous track. “Stare It Cold” is in much the same Stones-vein as “Jealous Again” but with plenty of room for short guitar licks in between the verses. It all concludes in the tradition of hidden tracks on nineties albums, with a distant rehearsal-like bluesy track with slight arrangement that fades in and out quickly in less than a minute and a half.

Shake Your Money Maker peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 5 million copies. It launched The Black Crowes into top-tier status with national tours and further successful albums throughout the 1990s.

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Second Helping by Lynard Skynard

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Second Helping by Lynard SkynardAfter their acclaimed, classic 1973 debut album, Lynard Skynard returned with the equally impressive Second Helping, where they continued to forge the emerging genre of Southern-fried rock. Like the first album, this record was produced by Al Kooper, who followed the same basic formula but with a little more leanings toward the geographic roots music which influenced the young band. For this album, the group grew to seven members as original bassist Leon Wilkeson returned to the lineup and Ed King moved from bass to become the third guitarist, giving the group a nearly unprecedented mixture and chorus of rock textures.

Kooper got his start in the music business as a fourteen-year-old guitarist for The Royal Teens in 1958. As a low level session man seven years later, he improvised the famous organ riff that marked that classic song. Kooper later started many groups, including Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and eventually started the Sounds of the South label in affiliation with MCA. In 1972, Kooper signed Lynyrd Skynyrd after catching a club gig in Atlanta and personally took the reins in producing their first few albums, starting in 1973.

Led by the direct, storytelling lyrics of composer and front man Ronnie Van Zant, the group entered the studio in early 1974 determined to avoid the “sophomore slump” after their stellar debut. Musically, the tracks were composed by King along with original guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, who each used remarkable restraint in avoiding competition for the limited space in the mostly standard-length tracks on this eight song LP.


Second Helping by Lynard Skynard
Released: April 15, 1974 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, January 1974
Side One Side Two
Sweet Home Alabama
I Need You
Don’t Ask Me No Questions
Workin’ for MCA
The Ballad of Curtis Loew
Swamp Music
The Needle and the Spoon
Call Me the Breeze
Group Musicians
Ronnie Van Zant – Vocals
Allen Collins – Guitars
Ed King – Guitars, Bass
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Billy Powell – Piano, Keyboards
Leon Wilkeson – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

 

The album kicks off with “Sweet Home Alabama”, a simple song has become indelible over its 40 years of existence. Unlike everything else on the album, this track was recorded in Georgia in late 1973 with just King, Wilkeson, and drummer Bob Burns laying down the basic backing track (with full band overdubs to follow later). The famous opening riff was one of the first King developed after switching from bass to guitar. With a great locked-in bass line, fantastic dual guitars, and plenty of other sonic candy, Van Zant’s vocals tell stories of contemporary and historical importance, including both tributes and scorns. One of the more famous comes at the beginning of the second verse with a literal calling out of Neil Young in response to his songs “Alabama” and “Southern Man”, which Van Zant (a close friend of Young’s) felt unfairly indicted a whole culture and region.

The moody “I Need You” is like a continuation of the “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man” tracks from the 1973 debut album. This long and slow blues ballad contains screaming and whining guitar leads by the trio of guitarists. “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” is direct rocker with a crisp, blended guitar riff, composed by Rossington. Kooper added some horns for effect on this popular track with a great and direct hook that is easily catchy. The original first side winds down with “Workin’ for MCA”, which seems at once to be a tribute and indictment of the group’s record label. This jam-based rocker literally tells story of group’s signing two years earlier and features a great electric piano lead by Billy Powell, followed by trade-off leads by each of the three guitarists.

The original second side of Second Helping starts with one of the best tracks on the album, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”. This touching tribute to an unsung bluesman contains calm and moody country guitars by Collins and, although the song gradually builds with more rock-oriented arrangement, it maintains its pure vibe all the way along until the slowing slide guitar in the outro. While the song is based on a composite of people, it paints a vivid picture of Van Zants’ original neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida and the inspiration to play music. “Swamp Music” is pure Southern blues, with an upbeat, underlying rhythm, This song never really deviates from its basic structure and contains good, short jams with vocals mocking the guitar licks. “The Needle and the Spoon” may be the weakest song on the album, as it sounds like a shallow knock-off of “Sweet Home Alabama” in riff, rhythm, and melody but probably could have developed into something better if it had been given the time to grow. The only cover on the album is J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze”, which worked out to be a really good fit for Lynard Skynard. Powerful double riffs, the return of the horns, an upbeat rhythm by Wilkeson and Burns, blues-based jamming by all three guitarists, and a honky-tonk piano Powell all shine on this upbeat album closer.

Second Helping reached #12 on the Billboard album charts and was certified Gold within a few months of its release, eventually reaching Platinum status. This turned out to be the high-water mark of Lynard Skynard’s commercial success. Subsequent years were marked with lineup shifts and personal tragedy, making these few years of the band’s original existence all the more precious and important.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Amorica by The Black Crowes

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Amorica by The Black CrowesAlthough not a particularly strong seller, The Black Crowes may have reached the quality peak of their career with their third album, Amorica. After two commercial blockbusters in the early nineties, the band was not able to sustain their commercial momentum. However, they may have strongly elevated their artistic credibility as they completed their evolution towards quasi-improvised, groove-constructed tracks that improve with each listen. Produced by Jack Joseph Puig, the album is also a sonic masterpiece, has just enough rock elements are strategically placed in the cracks between the funk and blues inspired structures.

The group’s 1992 album, The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, saw them expand their sound with a chorus of backup singers and two new permanent band members. On this album, the six-piece band went “old school”, finding plenty of space for each musician to exercise their respective chops, while guitarists Rich Robinson and Marc Ford stayed firmly above the fray. Lyrically, vocalist Chris Robinson wrote highly introspective lyrics.

On the popular music front, Amorica is noted for the controversy over its racy original album cover (taken from a 1976 cover of Hustler magazine). As a result, early pressings were banned from many retail outlets and an alternative cover (pictured above) was put together for later releases.


Amorica by The Black Crowes
Released: November 1, 1994 (American)
Produced by: Jack Joseph Puig
Recorded: May-June 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Gone
A Conspiracy
High Head Blues
Cursed Diamond
Nonfiction
She Gave Good Sunflower
P.25 London
Ballad In Urgency
Wiser Time
Downtown Money Waster
Descending
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman – Drums, Percussion

Amorica by The Black Crowes

 

A percussive start by drummer Steve Gorman leads into the opening track “Gone”, a raw, slightly out of tune guitar jam that sounds rough and unrehearsed track, but still carries cool charm. “A Conspiracy” is similar but a bit more refined, after starting very choppy with the illusion of being highly unfocused. The guitar arrangement between Ford and Robinson provides the thrust behind lyrics laced with a sense of dread. “High Head Blues” is really the first really accessible song on the album, as an upbeat and entertaining track reminiscent of Eric Burden and War. The percussion is provided by guest Eric Bobo and drives the long verse sections before the driving rock of the refrain.

“Cursed Diamond” is the first of several ballads, although this includes some loose and wild instrumentation which really picks up in intensity as it goes along. “Nonfiction” has a country feel and features picked acoustic with sweet overtones of slide guitar, accordion, bass, and fine keyboards by Eddie Harsch. Harsch starts “She Gave Good Sunflower” with a cool, 70’s-inspired distorted electric piano before meandering into a more standard Black Crowes-style rock and soul arrangement, although most of the remainder of the song is a simple, upbeat jam with flailing wah-wah guitars. “Ballad in Urgency” is another completely unique track on the album, with calm but potent guitar tones and phrasing and decidedly downtrodden lyrics. The song dissolves into a piano section with fine bass added by Johnny Colt.

The highlight of the latter part of the album, “Wiser Time” is driven by the excellent beat by Gorman, slide guitars by Rich Robinson, and duo lead vocals. The extended verses are carried by this fine three chord repetitive sequence, with sparse rock chorus sections breaking up the song. Later on the track there is a great four-part lead section, starting with a bluesy acoustic, followed by electric piano, then a single wailing electric guitar, and finally soaring harmonized guitars, giving this song buckets of variety. “Downtown Money Waster” contains ragtime piano and slide acoustic with scat percussive effects, while Chris Robinson does a great Delta blues impression vocally. The closer, “Descending” is a long ballad with more great slide guitars. The thumping bass riff of Colt picks things up a bit in the middle section before a true piano solo brings song and album to a calm ending.

Amorica eventually reached Gold status by selling 500,000 copies and the band enjoyed a successful tour the following year. In 1996, the group followed up with Three Snakes and One Charm, the final album with this lineup before several members parted ways in subsequent years.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.


1994 Images

 

American Recordings by Johnny Cash

Buy American Recordings

American Recordings by Johnny CashReleased in Spring 1994, American Recordings was (incredibly) the 81st overall album by Johnny Cash and was the ignition point for the second great comeback of his long career. Like the first great comeback, which initiated with the live , At Folsum Prison in 1968, Cash made a radical pivot to spark this new musical chapter. This time, he stripped bare any external production and recorded songs “old school” with a simple acoustic guitar and vocal arrangement. With this core arrangement, Cash shines brightest and the listener is struck by how one man and one guitar can still fill the sonic universe at that moment with utter beauty and creativity.

After a successful stretch through the 1970s where he expanded beyond recording and into television and film, Johnny Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame‘s youngest living inductee (at age 48) in 1980. However, the 1980s were a less than stellar decade for Cash where his multiple records failed to make any impact on the charts and Cash himself admitted that a lot of the “magic” was missing from the music and he was just going through the motions. Cash also relapsed into a painkiller addiction as he suffered with several health-related issues. Cash’s relationship with the Nashville establishment and his label Columbia records were also strained during this era and in 1988, after three decades with the label, Columbia dropped Cash from his recording contract.

Enter producer Rick Rubin, who sought out Cash to work on a project for his brand new label American Recordings. Rubin recorded Cash in his living room, with Cash selecting from a long list of originals and covers that he had long desired to record. In fact, Cash stated that he had wanted to do an album in this fashion for “about 20 years”, but the producers he was working with always wanted to forge his sound in this direction or that and Cash ended up frustrated the the general overproduction of his releases. The result was the beginning of another strong stretch of accolades and commercial success for Cash (who also found a whole new generation of audience), as well as a revival of the Americana genre which continues to this day.


American Recordings by Johnny Cash
Released: April 26, 1994 (American)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: May 17, 1993–December 7, 1993
Track Listing Primary Musician
Delia’s Gone
Let the Train Blow the Whistle
The Beast in Me
Drive On
Why Me Lord
Thirteen
Oh, Bury Me Not (Introduction: A Cowboy’s Prayer)
Bird On a Wire
Tennessee Stud
Down There by the Train
Redemption
Like a Soldier
The Man Who Couldn’t Cry
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitars

American Recordings by Johnny Cash

 

The songs on American Recordings can be categorized in one of three categories – cover songs, new originals, and revamped versions of older Johnny Cash songs. The opener “Delia’s Gone” fits into the latter category, as a roots County/Western song that was originally recorded by Cash in 1962. It nicely fits his well-forged “man in black” outlaw image as a light and entertaining song on the surface that is really dark in the core. Another remake of earlier material on this album is “Oh, Bury Me Not”, originally recorded by Cash in 1965 as a Western spiritual.

The newly recorded cover songs really spotlight Cash’s talent and diversity as a performer. “The Beast in Me” was written by his ex-son-in-law Nick Lowe, as a song about internal rage, the unextinguished fire, which can be used for good or for ill if not kept in check. “Why Me Lord” is a country waltz by Kris Kristofferson that is a song of thanks and a prayer as well as one of regret and wasted opportunities. Cash met heavy metal artist Glenn Danzig in Rubin’s living room and recorded his song, “Thirteen” ,that very day. Of all the covers, Leonard Cohen‘s “Bird On a Wire” is the one which really doesn’t work with Cash’s style, while the Tom Waits track “Down There by the Train” is done masterfully as Cash steps out of his signature style and performs like a true folk artist. This latter song starts very mellow but quietly builds in intensity throughout as the lyrics speak of some of history’s villains boarding a slow train to Hell.

Two of the covers on American Recordings were recorded live during a historic performance at the Viper Room in Los Angeles. Jimmy Driftwood‘s “Tennessee Stud” is moderate Americana, a perfect fit for Cash, and offers a direct passage to Cash’s core beginnings in the 1950s. Composed by Loudon Wainwright, “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” closes the album almost like a spoof of the “traditional” country song with just about everything going wrong, but with the protagonist eventually getting to Heaven and getting it all back, along with slight tinge of revenge on all who did him wrong.

Still, the best songs on this album are the four new original compositions by Cash, which doubtlessly prove that 40 years into his career,
Johnny Cash could still reach a whole new level of artistic genius. “Redemption” is a poetic and quasi-religious masterpiece that harkens back to the best of Bob Dylan’s classic early work. While maintaining a a deep and ethereal vibe sonically, this track really strikes the soul lyrically;

And the blood gave life to the branches of the tree and the blood was the price that set the captives free, and the numbers that came through the fire and flood, clung to the tree and were redeemed by the blood…”

“Like a Soldier” is another retrospective original and comes closest to being the “theme song for this album (and overall, multi-album “American Recordings” project). Cash’s vocals are particularly excellent on this track, making it an instant classic. The two other originals are similar in tone and vibe, with “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” being a spiritual song of remembrance and “Drive On” examining the “turning away” from life’s horrors and tragedies and continuing on your individual path.

American Recordings did not chart well after its release, failing to reach the Top 100 on the album charts, but it was recognized with a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album of the Year and was a major critical success. Cash and Rubin successfully repeated this formula with five more “American” albums through the remainder Johnny Cash’s life, with the final one being released posthumously in 2003.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.