American Recordings by Johnny Cash

American Recordings by Johnny Cash

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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 1994 albums.

Superunknown by Soundgarden

Superunknown by Soundgarden

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Superunknown by SoundgardenAlthough it was the group’s fourth overall release, Superunknown was the real breakthrough album for Soundgarden in 1994. This release was a critical and commercial success and the 15 track album, which clocks in over 70 minutes in length and pushes the capacity limits of CDs, would have easily been a double album a decade earlier. Musically and compositionally, Superunknown blended the group’s core metal style with elements of punk, rock, pop, and psychedelia, along with some songs of Middle-Eastern or Indian influence. The band also experimented with different drum and guitar sounds, as well as layering techniques to create a more expansive sonic output.

After the group’s extensive touring following the 1991 album Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden began work on this album with producer Michael Beinhorn in 1993. The four band members worked on material independently and then brought demos to the collective sessions. Ultimately, front man Chris Cornell composed the lion’s share of the material but points out that the recording process was far more important than on previous albums.

Lyrically, the album is a bit dark, with themes dealing with seclusion, fear, revenge, substance abuse and depression. Cornell said that the album’s closing song “Like Suicide” is literal and the album’s cover art includes a black and white image of an upside-down burning forest. The inspiration for the album’s title came from the misreading of a video entitled “Superclown”.


Superunknown by Soundgarden
Released: March 8, 1994 (A&M)
Produced by: Michael Beinhorn & Soundgarden
Recorded: Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, July–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Let Me Drown
My Wave
Fell on Black Days
Mailman
Superunknown
Head Down
Black Hole Sun
Spoonman
Limo Wreck
The Day I Tried to Live
Kickstand
Fresh Tendrils
4th of July
Half
Like Suicide
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kim Thayil – Guitars
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Vocals
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Superunknown by Soundgarden

 

The crisp, rhythm-driven rocker “Let Me Drown” opens the album on an upbeat note but doesn’t contain much variation or movement beyond that. “My Wave” is much better, albeit with the same basic vibe. Guitarist Kim Thayil provides a rotating trance during song proper with odd timings during the chorus hooks and an ending with partially psychedelic section. “My Wave” was released as a single and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

Soundgarden in 1994

“Fell on Black Days” is the gem of the early part of the album. It is at once an illustration of the better part of 90s grunge rock and the greater overall post-Beatles hard rock sound. Written by Cornell, it contains a riff in the time signature of 6/4 while the drums of Matt Cameron are straight 4/4, giving it an unsettling but adventurous feel. Cameron wrote “Mailman”, which contains extraordinarily slow riffing during the verses in a kind of droning, but seems to fall short of reaching its intended effect. The title song “Superunknown” changes thing up quite a bit with a more like upbeat, blues rock and anthemic feel. Written by bassist Ben Shepherd, “Head Down” begins with a calm acoustic that is soon joined by doomy arrangement, making for a very interesting and rewarding start. The song latter dissolves into odd drum section by guest Gregg Keplinger, which ends the song awkwardly.

“Black Hole Sun” is the quintessential Soundgarden song, due to the masterful guitar phrases by Thayil and the exquisite composition by Cornell. The effect is a totally unique and cool sound as Cameron holds the song together while Thayil and Shepherd play the slow riffs of the verses. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and stayed there for a total of seven weeks. “Spoonman” is a great riff-driven rocker, with fantastic, soaring vocals by Cornell and plenty of percussive candy throughout. The song was named for Artis the Spoonman, a street performer from Seattle who also performed on the recording, and is the last really great song on the album.

The latter part of the album is less impressive than the earlier part, with a few odd tracks standing out. “Limo Wreck” is an odd yet entertaining waltz rocker with riffing by Thayil and Cameron during the intro and great soulful singing by Cornell, which only gets better as the song grows in intensity. “The Day I Tried to Live” has an intense bass riff, which matched in intensity by all other band members except for drummer Cameron, who kind of stays slow and steady throughout. “Kickstand” is a very short and frantic rocker with not much substance, while “Fresh Tendrils” is built on open riffing and trance-like sounds and features Natasha Shneider on clavinet. This is followed by a couple of weird, de-tuned tracks, the acid-influenced “4th of July”, and the calm but measured “Half”, which features Shepherd on lead vocals along with a viola and cello.

Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold over a quarter million copies in its opening week. “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun” won Grammy Awards in 1995 and the album ultimately sold over 9 million copies worldwide.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Monster by REM

Monster by R.E.M.

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Monster by REMR.E.M. found great commercial success with their two early nineties releases, Out of Time and Automatic For the People. Still, the group made a concerted effort to rapidly evolve their sound on 1994’s Monster, which is drenched with distorted guitars, high energy arrangements, and minimal overdubs. on this front, the album is distinct in the long and impressive R.E.M. collections and marks the point where they finally realized a full-fledged rock and roll record. Powered by Peter Buck‘s layered guitars and sonic proficiency along with more simple and direct compositions and melodies, Monster was the last high-water mark for the group.

The members of R.E.M. vacation in Acapulco, Mexico early in 1993 to map out a strategy for the next few years. At that point, the group had not toured at all during the decade and drummer Bill Berry was eager to tour and implored that the group produce a more “rock” oriented album for the tour to support. On the past two relatively slow-paced albums (which the band did not tour to support) the band had been using more acoustic instruments, pianos and mandolins, and often “switching” instruments to keep things interesting, but now that would put together something made for live, raw rock shows.

With about 45 songs originally written for the album, the group started pre production at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans to sort out the best material. Co-producer Scott Litt next brought the band to Crossover Soundstage in Atlanta where most of the album’s basic tracks were recorded live. Production later moved to Criteria Studios in Miami Litt’s home studio in Los Angeles, but was delayed due to health issues with lead vocalist and lyricist Michael Stipe and internal tensions which actually broke up the band for a few tense days in early 1994. However, the group reconciled and finished the album which was met with great commercial and critical success.


Monster by R.E.M.
Released: September 26, 1994 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: in New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, & Los Angeles, April–May 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
Crush with Eyeliner
King of Comedy
I Don’t Sleep, I Dream
Star 69
Strange Currencies
Tongue
Bang and Blame
I Took Your Name
Let Me In
Circus Envy
You
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals
Peter Buck – Guitars, Organ
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Monster by REM

 

The original, non-CD release of the album was separated into the “Head” and “Tail” sides. The first side starts with the sonic saturation of the lead single “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, where Buck’s guitar presence through the whole track carries it to the heights along with slight effects and riffs enhancing the song. The song’s title was was inspired by an incident in 1986, where news anchor Dan Rather was the victim of an assault by an assailant who, between beatings, would ask, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”. Inspired by the group New York Dolls, “Crush with Eyeliner” is total new-wave glam with quasi-shock lyrics and potent music throughout. “King of Comedy” takes another turn in genre, towards alternative rock complete with vocal effects and a steady drum beat which makes it somewhat  of a rave dance song.

The sizzle and snarling distortion of Buck’s over-driven amps and cut by Berry;s rolling drumbeat on “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream”. Like the group’s earliest material, Stipe’s vocals, are buried deep in the mix and difficult to decipher due the greater presence of the musicians. “Star 69” is a direct garage rocker with rapid-fire vocals which became a minor radio hit, while “Strange Currencies” finished off the “head” side as a slight tribute to Stipe’s friend River Phoenix, who had recently died of a drug overdose.

The “Tail” side starts with the soulful and unique “Tongue”, which Stipe performs in falsetto throughout. While it is doubtless that Monster is guitarist Buck’s finest hour the melodic bass of Mike Mills is also integral to many tracks along with his piano and organ textures, which are prevalent on “Tongue”. The most traditional sounding R.E.M. song on the album, “Bang and Blame” is steady and hypnotizing and another a real showcase for Mills. Also potent are melodies of Stipe, who restrains the flourishes in favor of lyrical potency, and the fine, strategically placement of background vocals of Rain Phoenix.

The remainder of the album is less than spectacular with further songs dealing with the overall theme of identity problems in the face of growing fame. The highlights here include “Let Me In” where guitars fill the atmosphere throughout the song and “Circus Envy”, which has extra buzzy guitars, pretty melodic hooks and methodical drums that don’t quite match the underlying frenzy of the rest of the arrangement.

Upon its release, Monster debuted at number one on both sides of the Atlantic and R.E.M. set out in January 1995 on their first tour in six years. On the strength of this third consecutive blockbuster album, the group re-signed with Warner Bros. for what was rumored to be the largest recording contract in history to that point. However, fortunes soon turned with further member health problems, trouble with management, and eventual cooling of the band’s popularity.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

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Vitalogy by Pearl JamReleased in late 1994, Vitalogy is the raw, aggressive, experimental and somewhat bizarre third album by Pearl Jam. The album was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who also worked on the group’s 1993 album Vs. However, this recording has a much more stripped-down, lean, and slightly improvised sound, which received mixed reactions from critics and fans. Further, the album is very uneven, with some of the most potent material being sandwiched between complete filler or incomplete compositions. All that being said, Vitalogy is certainly original, diverse, and uncompromising and an essential cornerstone of the group’s collection.

Most of the tracks were written and recorded while Pearl Jam toured to support Vs. during 1993 and 1994. Three main studios in cities at opposite corners of the U.S. were used during this time, with the finishing touches and mixing done at Heart’s Bad Animals in Seattle. The album was originally titled “Life”, but was changed when a new packaging scheme and concept were designed by lead vocalist and lyricist Eddie Vedder, who also contributed some guitar playing for the first time on a Pearl Jam record.

There were also increased tensions among the group members, which stemmed from substance abuse and personal feuds among band members and ultimately led to the group’s firing of drummer Dave Abbruzzese once recording had completed. Lead guitarist Mike McCready, who entered rehab during the album’s production, has noted the album’s shortage of solos and the tunes being of a more rhythmic nature.


Vitalogy by Pearl Jam
Released: November 22, 1994 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: in Seattle, Atlanta, & New Orleans, November 1993–October 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Last Exit
Spin the Black Circle
Not for You
Tremor Christ
Nothingman
Whipping
Pry, To
Corduroy
Bugs
Satan’s Bed
Better Man
Aye Davanita
Immortality
Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Accordion
Mike McCready – Guitars, Vocals
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Ament – Bass, Vocals
Dave Abbruzzese – Drums
 
Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

 

Vitalogy starts with a couple of aggressive and high energy tunes. After a jazz improve-like intro, the opener “Last Exit” breaks into frenzy of upbeat drums, and includes a quirky backwards-masked guitar lead. “Spin the Black Circle” is another ripping number with an almost-punk guitar by Stone Gossard. Written as a tribute to vinyl records, the song was released as the lead single from the album. It peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and won the band its first Grammy Award, receiving the award for Best Hard Rock Performance.

“Not for You” is a bit calmer with a steady beat and, with the exception of Vedder’s angst-ridden, strained and out-of-tune vocals, this may have passed as a straight up rock song from the 1980s. In fact, on this track McCready played a 12-string Rickenbacker given to him by Tom Petty. The most melodic song thus far on the album with interesting counter-riffs by the duo guitarists who co-wrote the music, “Tremor Christ” is a slow musical rotation of guitar chops and bass riffs by Jeff Ament. The song was recorded in one night in New Orleans and it managed to reach number 16 on both the Mainstream Rock chart, despite not officially being released as a single. Ament wrote the almost-Americana-like-waltz of “Nothingman”, a searching and melancholy tune which offers a sonic break to the early part of the album.

The first couple of gratuitous fillers come next with Vedder’s volatile and frenzied, four-chord rocker “Whipping” and what sounds like a studio jam of an aborted song called “Pry, To”. Then comes the best overall track on the album, “Corduroy”, which captures much of the same lightning as the better tracks on their debut album Ten. The song begins with McCready’s tense guitar arpeggio and finishes with Ament’s late song bass riff (which is very reminiscent of a similar section in Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”). In between, is desperate yet melodic screed on the pressures of fame and the absurdity that the same brown corduroy jacket Vedder once bought for $12 was being sold for about 50 times that price, because it was suddenly “hip”.

The album falls to its nadir with “Bugs”, a nearly solo track by Vedder, where he spouts absurd lyrics over a simple two-chord accordion riff – a joke song which is much more annoying than entertaining. More prime album real estate is wasted on “Satan’s Bed”, although this is much more listenable than previous song and with a decent sixties-influenced riff by Gossard. The drums on “Satan’s Bed” were performed by drum tech Jimmy Shoaf, as Abbruzzese was hospitalized with tonsillitis.

The highlight of the latter part of the album is “Better Man”, a song Vedder wrote while in high school. After an interesting feedback-laden intro section, the song proper contains emotional and melodic vocals above picked chords with a slight organ played by O’Brien in the distance. This haunting intro takes up nearly half the song before it kicks in with the full band arrangement. The bridge/outro part is best part of song as “Better man” completes strongly as a minor masterpiece which reached the top of the Mainstream Rock chart. After another long fade-in to join a piece mid jam, the instrumental “Aye Davanita” has a slightly interesting groove. The acoustic and strummed electric driven “Immortality” is steady throughout but with not much movement, while the long, sound collage closer “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” is really a cheap knock-off of “Revolution #9” (which we’re no fans of to begin with) and this monstrous filler tends to cheapen the album as a whole.

In its first week of exclusively vinyl release, Vitalogy sold 35,000 copies and was the first vinyl album to chart due to exclusively vinyl sales in nearly a decade. The album has gone on to be certified five times platinum and was nominated for two Grammys in 1996. With new drummer Jack Irons, Pearl Jam promoted the album with worldwide tours which were continually complicated by their ongoing boycott of Ticketmaster outlets.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

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Jar of Flies by Alice In ChainsOne of the biggest debates about Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains is how exactly to refer to it. Wikipedia refers to it as “the first EP in music history to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 Chart”. However, that same site’s definition of an EP sets the maximum time at 25 minutes, so at 30:49 Jar of Flies is a proper LP album. Whatever may ultimately be the case, this short 1994 collection of songs is edgy, diverse, and entertaining and captures the short-lived group in their prime and exploring new avenues of rock music adventure. The result is a collection which is highly reflective lyrically while moody and methodical musically.

Following the success of their 1992 album Dirt, Alice in Chains went on an extensive world tour with new bassist Mike Inez, who replaced Mike Starr after he left the group. Upon returning to Seattle in September 1993, the band went to London Bridge Studio and spent an entire week writing and recording. While this was originally done purely for cathartic reasons and the group never originally intended this material for public release, the record label insisted and Jar of Flies debuted at number one on the American album charts.

The material on the album employs rich musical scope and a healthy variation of instrumentation. While most of the songs were built on Jerry Cantrell‘s acoustic guitar and Layne Staley‘s lyrics, the group tactfully used overdubs and session musicians to enrich the sonic quality of this record.


Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains
Released: January 25, 1994 (Columbia)
Produced by: Alice In Chains
Recorded: London Bridge, Seattle & Scream, Studio City, CA, September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rotten Apple
Nutshell
I Stay Away
No Excuses
Whale and Wasp
Don’t Follow
Swing on This
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Inez – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums, Percussion

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

 

The opener “Rotten Apple” starts with the slow bass riff by newbie Inez coupled by the furious talk-box riffing by Cantrell. The song feels its way around for a while before fully kicking in with drums and vocals, but it then, unfortunately, becomes repetitive and mundane through the remainder of its seven minute duration. A gently strummed bright acoustic starts “Nutshell” which, while still dark and foreboding, is overall more melodic than the opener. Cantrell’s crunchy outro lead guitar is the real reward in this sad piece of music.

Jar of Flies really starts to pick up with “I Stay Away” and remains top notch through the rest of the album. Starting light and melodic, the song eventually builds in intensity with swarming guitars during the pre-choruses and a soaring ethereal surge during the hooks. The song reached number ten on the Mainstream Rock charts and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance . Starting with an interesting rock drum beat by Sean Kinney, “No Excuses” contains harmonized vocals throughout and steady, hypnotizing guitar/bass riff. The song was the most popular radio hit from the album as its easygoing pace and catchy chorus struck a chord with listeners.

A rare instrumental in the group’s collection, “Whale & Wasp” starts with a long, reverb-drenched droning electric guitar note by note above a gently picked acoustic piece. Later on, a nicely harmonized lead keeps the moody feeling going as does the subtle string quartet which accompanies the band during this piece. “Don’t Follow” leans more towards a traditional folk acoustic piece, very laid back and deliberate. The second half of song picks it up a bit with slight rhythm by Inez and Kinney and a frantic harmonica by guest David Atkinson. There’s no deception in the title of the album’s closer, as “Swing on This” is built on a jazz swing, provided mainly by Inez’s bass and nicely complimented by Kinney’s drums and Cantrell’s push chords. The song’s refrain is more alt-rock-oriented, almost in an awkward way, building up tension until the swing returns and Kinney’s drums carry through the final stages of the song and album.

Alice In Chains in 1994

Jar of Flies has been certified triple-platinum and landed at or near the top of the charts in countries across the globe. However, this accomplishment was bittersweet. After the album’s release, Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction and the band had to eventually cancel their scheduled tour dates to support the album.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

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Definitely Maybe by OasisA tremendous commercial success, Definitely Maybe is the 1994 debut album by Oasis. This album was instrumental in revitalizing the bright and optimistic “Britpop” movement in the midst of an era dominated by the deeper and darker grunge sound. Although portrayed at the time as a collection of largely spontaneous tracks, many of the songs were actually composed years earlier by guitarist Noel Gallagher, some predating his 1991 arrival joining up with the band. In any case, the themes of things said plainly and for the very first time really struck a chord in Britain and beyond as Definitely Maybe provided the fuel for Oasis’s rocket dominance of the mid 1990s.

In the early 1990s, guitarist Paul Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan, and drummer Tony McCarroll formed a group called The Rain. Unhappy with their original vocalist, the group auditioned Liam Gallagher as front man, who in turn suggested the name Oasis for the band. When the band started playing live in 1991, Liam invited his older brother Noel to see the band. Noel decided his brother’s group would be a good vehicle for the songs he had written and joined Oasis as a fifth member.

The group began recording the album at Monnow Valley Studio. The Stone Roses were about a mile down the road, recording Second Coming, the follow-up their own brilliant debut, and the two groups bonded. However, the sessions proved unsatisfactory, as the group found the sound to be “thin, weak, and too clean”, despite the high cost of these sessions. In February 1994, the group began re-recording the album at Sawmills Studio with producer Mark Coyle and replicated their live sound by recording together without soundproofing between individual instruments.

The long recording process delayed the release of the album. In the interim, between April and August 1994, Oasis released three singles ahead of Definitely Maybe. This actually helped build anticipation for the debut and it shot straight to the top of the U.K. charts upon its release and went on to be certified eight times Platinum.


Definitely Maybe by Oasis
Released: August 30, 1994 (Creation)
Produced by: Mark Coyle, Owen Morris, Dave Batchelor & Oasis
Recorded: December 1993–April 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rock n’ Roll Star
Shakermaker
Live Forever
Up In the Sky
Columbia
Supersonic
Bring It On Down
Cigarettes & Alcohol
Digsy’s Dinner
Slide Away
Married with Children
Liam Gallagher – Lead Vocals
Noel Gallagher – Guitars, Piano Vocals
Paul Arthurs – Guitars, Piano
Paul McGuigan – Bass, Vocals
Tony McCarroll – Drums, Percussion

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

 

The short, slow, droning guitar breaks out into the more upbeat song proper of the opener “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Released as a single, the song became a radio and concert favorite, as did the album’s second song, “Shakermaker”. Dominated by a slow jam with Liam Gallagher’s extra long, whiny vocals, the song starts somewhat interesting but gets annoying after a short while. Further, the song borrowed its melody from a 1970s Coca-Cola commercial and the band eventually had to pay $500,000 in damages.

The compositionally excellent “Live Forever” follows as the most indelible song on the album. Noel Gallagher wrote the song in 1991, and it contains a great chorus, overtone, and melody that was inspired by The Rolling Stones song “Shine a Light”, and was the first Oasis song to enter the Top Ten. “Up In the Sky” is a heavier track with interesting riff variations, almost sixties psychedelic, while “Columbia” has chanting lyrics and a rotating drone of three chords throughout its six and a half minutes, never really relenting but still the band’s favorite song to play live.

McCarroll’s drum intro with a long guitar pick scratch above the melodic riff introduces another radio single, “Supersonic”. The beat never deviates one bit, while overdubbed guitars make it all entertaining. This song was the band’s first single to chart in the United States, where it peaked at number 11. “Bring It On Down” is a more intense, almost punk song where the music overtakes Liam Gallagher’s voice for one of the rare times. McCarroll couldn’t quite get the beat, so a session drummer was brought in to show him how, and McCarroll was promptly discharged from the band once recording was complete, sparking lawsuits for years to come.

Oasis 1994

“Cigarettes & Alcohol” contains a more traditional, bluesy rock arrangement, almost like a cross between The Rolling Stones and T-Rex (which sparked the second accusation of plagiarism on this album). The vocal hook is also more traditional (and catchy) and lyrics more legible than most songs on the album. “Digsy’s Dinner” is like a short radio hit of the early sixties, except with heavy guitars and distant vocals, while “Slide Away” is a long track with little variation in guitars, souring vocals and complex, methodical choruses. The closer “Married with Children” is a rather refreshing change from the over-production of the rest of the album. Recorded partially on a hotel bed, the song contains a strummed acoustic with slightly overdubbed electric and low-key vocals, that warm down the album to a formidable end.

The critical and commercial success of Definitely Maybe carried over strongly to their follow-up in 1995, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, which kept Oasis on top of the pop world for years to come.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews Band

Under the Table and Dreaming
by Dave Matthews Band

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Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews BandIn 1994 the Dave Matthews Band released and impressive debut album with Under the Table and Dreaming, a record where Matthews developed a unique method of composing and a distinct sound. This sound had been developed over several years of playing live, while thematically the album’s lyrics deal with the topics covering topics concerning everyday life, personal choice and freedom.

A native of South Africa, Matthews was working as a bartender in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1990 when he recorded a demo of songs he had written. In the hopes of forming a band, he contacted jazz drummer Carter Beauford as well as saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Through 1991, the trio worked on Matthews’ original songs and playing live. However, they decided to pursue a fuller sound and turned to the conductor of the University of Virginia orchestra who suggested then 15-year-old bassist Stefan Lessard, who originally signed on as a session player but later joined the group. Violinist Boyd Tinsley was the last member to join the band in 1992. The band released the five-song live EP, Recently, in early 1994.

Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the core tracks on Under the Table and Dreaming were built on the acoustic guitars of Dave Matthews and guitarist Tim Reynolds to get a thick rhythmic track upon which the rest of the arrangements were built. During these recording sessions, several tracks were recorded but omitted from the final album. Among these is the popular live song “Granny”, which was added to later special editions of the album.


Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews Band
Released: September 27, 1994 (RCA)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, New York, May 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Best of What’s Around
What Would You Say
Satellite
Rhyme & Reason
Typical Situation
Dancing Nancies
Ants Marching
Lover Lay Down
Jimi Thing
Warehouse
Pay for What You Get
#34
Dave Matthews – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Boyd Tinsley – Violin, Vocals
LeRoi Moore – Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Stefan Lessard – Bass
Carter Beauford – Drums, Percussion, VocalsDave Matthews Band album

 

The bright and bouncy track “The Best of What’s Around” bursts in with no real intro and Lessard’s bass right up front. Moore provides a slight sax solo which is interrupted too quickly before he is given room to soar with a proper lead later on. “What Would You Say” was the album’s lead single and it eventually reached the Top 10 on the pop charts. Built on a nice slide acoustic riff, a cohesive melody and a fine harmonica solo by guest John Popper this track is a quintessential nineties pop song.

The most interesting overall song on the album, “Satellite” features an odd-timed acoustic and violin riff which meshes beautifully with the vocal melodies. Beyond this, song is completely original and complex yet somehow accessible enough to make it popular as it reached the Top 20 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Lyrically, this song was an early observation on how communication was becoming more electronic than in-person. “Rhyme and Reason” follows as another oddly-timed piece with slight Afro rhythms during the verses and a more straight-ahead rock approach during the choruses, while “Typical Situation” starts with a soft and dark finger-picked acoustic but works its way into a stronger and more melodic song of non-conformity. “Dancing Nancies” is a multi-part, quasi-jazz song with fine bursts of sax and violin through unexpected parts within its structure, sounding like it could have some mid seventies Joni Mitchell influence. A definite highlight for Tinsey throughout, “Ants Marching” features a distinct violin riff as well as a few mini solos. A strong radio hit and concert favorite, this song sees Matthews’ vocal range stretched throughout the verse sections.

Dave Matthews Band

After the climax of “Ants Marching”, the album seems to lose a little steam through its latter part with solid but partially baked tracks. “Lover Lay Down” is a mellow, soft rock ballad built on a shuffling acoustic along with a persistent saxophone throughout, while “Jimi Thing” features unexpected musical twists and flourishes and has a kind of regal vibe to it throughout. “Warehouse” is an early jam song for the band but doesn’t seem to work cohesively, albeit still interesting and slightly entertaining. “Pay for What You Get” features subtle and soft jazz song with minimal arrangement beyond Matthews’ vocal and acoustic, while the instrumental closer, “#34”, is almost an afterthought track as really loose and slow jazz with plenty of mood and vibe.

By the end of the century, Under the Table and Dreaming was certified 6× platinum and had propelled the band to international fame and helped build a dedicated following. Through the late nineties and into the present day Dave Matthews Band found continued success and accolades.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

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The Division Bell by Pink FloydPink Floyd completed their extraordinary recording career with 1994’s The Division Bell, the longest single album the group had ever recorded (there were a few double albums along the way). More importantly, both compositionally and musically, this album was a true collaboration among the three remaining members of the group, something that had now truly happened in over twenty years (since The Dark Side of the Moon). This was, in part, due to the full return of founding member and keyboardist Richard Wright, who had only performed with the band as a hired player over the course of 15 years. The end result was the most complete Pink Floyd album since The Wall in 1979.

After Roger Waters left the band in the mid 1980s, guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason recorded A Momentary Lapse of Reason as the next Pink Floyd album. This sparked lawsuits by Waters, who also attempted to subvert the subsequent tour by threatening promoters who used the Pink Floyd name. Eventually, the parties reached a legal agreement that gave Mason and Gilmour the right to use the Pink Floyd name. In early 1993, Wright joined the duo, working collaboratively and jamming on material for a new album.

Bob Ezrin returned to co-produce the album, with much of the recording taking place on Gilmour’s houseboat Astoria. Starting with about twenty-five tracks, the group chose eleven cuts with themes of communication as well as many references to former members Waters and Syd Barrett. Joining the three core members is bassist Guy Pratt, who played on the previous album and tour and had since married Wright’s daughter.


The Division Bell by Pink Floyd
Released: March 28, 1994 (EMI)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour
Recorded: Astoria, London, January—September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Cluster One
What Do You Want from Me
Poles Apart
Marooned
A Great Day for Freedom
Wearing the Inside Out
Take It Back
Coming Back to Life
Keep Talkin’
Lost for Words
High Hopes
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion
Guy Pratt – Bass, Vocals

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

 

Fittingly, only the three band members perform the opening soundscape, “Cluster One”, which is also the first Pink Floyd song credited to Wright/Gilmour since “Mudmen” on the 1972 album Obscured By Clouds. After a two minute swell for the intro, the piece goes through another four minutes of new-agey notes from Wright’s piano and Gilmour’s guitar, with Mason joining in much later to add some light percussion. “What Do You Want from Me” is the first of many tracks on this album co-written by Gilmour’s soon-to-be-wife Polly Samson. Musically, the slow, bluesy groove held together by Pratt’s deliberate bass countered by Gilmour’s frantic riffing. The timing on this track is quite impressive because it works well while being so incredibly slow, especially during the extended outro part which masterfully employs rock riffs and vocal harmonies.

The most underrated song on the album is “Poles Apart”, which fades in with a quality and moody acoustic phrase and never loses its charm which brings Floyd right back to its heart in the late 60s and early 70s. Gilmour’s vocals are at their brightest and most inspiring and even the odd, synth-driven, carnival-like mid-section works well in maintaining the nostalgic and slightly melancholy mood of the song. This all culminates with the strong final verse, laden with philosophical lyrics;

“the rain fell slow down on all the roofs of uncertainty, I thought of you and the years and all the sadness fell away from me…”

Although it was highly lauded to the point of where it won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, “Marooned” really doesn’t quite fit into this part of the album’s journey, as a follow-up to the impressive “Poles Apart”. Here better attention to concept details and sonic flow might have worked better. “A Great Day for Freedom” has a duality of moods with the piano being melancholy while the melody and lyrics are more optimistic and hopeful. Gilmour provides an impressive lead during the outro, reminiscent of “On the Turning Away” from their previous album, seven years earlier. The song celebrates the great hopes following the fall of the Berlin Wall, but many interpreted it as a reflection on Gilmour’s estranged relationship with Waters. Wright performs lead vocals on “Wearing the Inside Out”, another first in over two decades. The saxophone solo right at the jump by Dick Parry sets a great mood, but overall the six and a half minute song is pretty slow moving, save for Wright’s slight synth lead in the middle. The real highlight comes in the third verse when Gilmour provides a reflective vocal with rich chorus accompaniment;

“look at him now, he’s paler somehow but he’s coming around, he’s starting to choke it’s been so long since he spoke but he could have the words right from my mouth…”

“Take It Back” may be Gilmour’s most impressive musical performance, between the melodic vocals and various guitar textures. With a genius use of an e-bow, and a great lead during the moody, sound-laden middle section, this song ranks right up there with Pink Floyd’s best guitar songs (and there have been many). “Coming Back to Life” starts with a gentle, bluesy guitar intro and is overall not a bad listen. However, Gilmour seems to have an annoying habit of projecting his own guilt back at the audience and the lyrics on this song illustrate that fact.

Pink Floyd in 1994

The album finishes strong with three solid tracks composed by Gilmour and Samson. While the song itself is really not that interesting, “Keep Talking” has a masterful arrangement starting with the vocal interludes by Stephen Hawking to the extensive use of a “talk box” and the call and response of the verses between Gilmour and the female chorus. The first single released from the album, the song topped the Album Rock Tracks chart in the U.S. for six weeks. “Lost for Words” fades in masterfully with deep organ drone before it finally gets to the folkish, acoustic heart of the song, complete with slight accordion and honky piano and a fine acoustic lead in the outro of the song. “High Hopes” is the final song of the final album and Pink Floyd’s long recording career. Starting with joyous bells in the distance of a rural scene, the lyrics speak of the things one may have gained and lost in life. Fittingly, the song concludes with a fine, bluesy guitar lead by Gilmour.

Despite lukewarm reviews by the mainstream press, The Division Bell topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and in several nations across the globe. The group toured throughout much of 1994, playing their final full concert on October 29th of that year. Over a decade later, Waters, Gilmour, Mason, and Wright performed a handful of songs as Pink Floyd at the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2005, the last ever performance by Pink Floyd.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Dookie by Green Day

Dookie by Green Day

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Dookie by Green Day Produced by Rob Cavallo, Dookie is the third overall album by Green Day and their major label debut. The album became a commercial success worldwide, driven by five hit singles, an unprecedented feat for any pure punk rock group. This was due to the accessibility of the compositions by composer, guitarist, and lead vocalist Billy Joe Armstrong, who used potent melodies to deliver brutally honest lyrics and unambiguous rock music. The end result is a highly influential and critically acclaimed album that echoed and cascaded through the decade of the nineties and launched a very successful career for Green Day that persists to this day.

While still in high school in 1987, Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt formed a band called Sweet Children. The next year, the group signed with the independent Lookout! Records and prepared to record their initial EP. They decided to change their name to Green Day (a marijuana reference) in order to avoid confusion. In 1990, they released their debut studio album, 39/Smooth, and brought on Tré Cool as their permanent drummer. Meanwhile, the band’s popularity began to reach unprecedented levels for an independent punk group and they went on tour through the States and in Europe. Released in 1992, the second LP Kerplunk sold well and led to a number of major record labels being interested in Green Day.

Cavallo had done work with the band The Muffs, which impressed the members of Green Day and helped him connect with them and “speak their language”. Dookie was recorded in three weeks in late 1993 and was mixed and remixed twice to perfectly capture the confluence of a raw underground group hitting its stride with the backing of a big budget production.


Dookie by Green Day
Released: February 1, 1994 (Reprise)
Produced by: Rob Cavallo & Green Day
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, September–October 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Burnout
Having a Blast
Chump
Longview
Welcome to Paradise
Pulling Teeth
Basket Case
She
Sassafras Roots
When I Come Around
Coming Clean
Emenius Sleepus
In the End
F.O.D.
Billie Joe Armstrong – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Dirnt – Bass, Vocals
Tré Cool – Drums, Vocals

Dookie by Green Day

 

The opening song and album thunders in with “Burnout”, a classic-sounding punk screed with updated sonic qualities which exits nearly as fast as it begins. Written while the group was on their first national tour in 1992, “Having a Blast” is another upbeat and driving tune, distinguished by the rudimentary stops late in the song. The third song at the top which comes in at less than three minutes is “Chump”, which distinguishes itself with a long instrumental section that concentrates mainly on the bass and drums of Dirnt and Cool. This leads into a frantic outro which dissolves nicely into the bass intro of “Longview”.

The first song of real importance on the album, “Longview” is a breakthrough on many levels. Dirnt is given the breadth to really shine during the verses with his bass pattern before the full band explosion of the chorus. Written while on tour, the song got its title from the city of Longview, Washington, where it was first performed in 1992. It was the band’s first single from the album and climbed to the top of the Modern Rock chart.

“Welcome to Paradise” was originally released on Green Day’s second album Kerplunk but was re-recorded for Dookie. Here, the group goes back to the basic punk formula but with rich vocal harmonies and another unique instrumental bridge, which builds on a bass line and gets ever more frantic to the end of the song. The lyrics are based on the band’s experience of moving into an abandoned house in Oakland while trying to make it on the punk scene. On “Pulling Teeth”, the band almost leaves the punk genre altogether for the first and only time on the album. This song has an almost outlaw country vibe with twangy (albeit heavy) guitars and duet vocals throughout.

“Basket Case” has the strongest musical performance by Armstrong and the band, especially Cool’s timely and rapid-fire tom fills. This very melodic and cross-over song was written about Armstrong’s struggle with anxiety, later diagnosed as a panic disorder. Starting with a naked bass and drums through opening verse, “She” is another short, accessible and melodic tune that keeps the album rolling along at a hundred miles an hour, while “Sassafras Roots” is a rather weak song where the sound starts to sound repetitive and stale.

“When I Come Around” revitalizes the sound with a break from the driving riffs to something more choppy and hard rock oriented. Armstrong’s vocals and guitars really carry this song like no other, even bordering on an actual guitar lead after the second verse and chorus. Green Day’s most popular radio single, the song peaked at number 6 on the pop charts. Next, follows the three shortest tracks on the album, each less than two minutes. “Coming Clean” is almost a theatrical quality in the simplest of songs, while Dirnt’s “Emenius Sleepus” is almost a continuation of the previous, again relying on the duo chord phasing in the verses. Armstrong wrote the song “In the End” about his mother and her husband, while “F.O.D.” starts with the first verse and chorus played by Armstrong on an “unplugged” electric with distant vocals to give the “live demo” effect (which, I presume it actually was). Finally, full band, production, and electricity kick in to drive the listener to the official conclusion of the album – but, of course, this was the nineties and a hidden track was there for anyone patient enough to wait the minute and a half before the frivolous “All By Myself” commences.

Dookie peaked at number two on the U.S. album charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1995. That same year Green Day followed this up with their fourth studio album, Insomniac, an album which leans a bit more hardcore than their melodic 1994 breakthrough.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish

Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish

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Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the BlowfishCracked Rear View was a debut album that found phenomenal commercial success for Hootie & the Blowfish. Released in 1994, it went on to be the highest selling album of 1995 and tallied over ten million total copies sold over the next two decades. While the material isn’t all that innovative, the simple and direct songs with memorable hooks and easy, bright melodies struck a chord with the garden variety audience of the mid nineties. Almost as a backlash to the grunge and neo-punk movements, the group found a “common man’s” niche. As a review in AMG stated, “At their core, Hootie & the Blowfish are a bar band, but they managed to convince listeners that they were the local bar band…”

Eight years prior to the release of Cracked Rear View, Hootie & the Blowfish was formed in South Carolina after guitarist Mark Bryan heard his freshman dorm-mate Darius Rucker singing in the shower and invited him to start a group. They began playing cover tunes and eventually bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim Sonefeld signed on. After independently releasing two cassette demos in the early 1990s along with a self-released EP, Kootchypop, the group gained interest from major labels.

After signing with Atlantic Records, the group teamed up with producer Don Gehman and headed to Southern California to record their full-length debut.


Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish
Released: July 5, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Don Gehman
Recorded: N.R.G. Recording Services, North Hollywood, CA, 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Hannah Jane
Hold My Hand
Let Her Cry
Only Wanna Be With You
Running From an Angel
I’m Goin’ Home
Drowning
Time
Look Away
Not Even the Trees
Goodbye
Darius Rucker – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mark Bryan – Guitars, Mandolin
Dean Felber – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Jim Sonefeld – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish

 

The album starts strong with the driving and upbeat “Hannah Jane”, highlighted by vocal variations, musical rudiments, and well-placed bass phrases by Felber. This is followed by the album’s first single and the group’s first Top Ten single, “Hold My Hand”,a song which starts off very melodic and catchy but quickly gets repetitive. Written in 1990 and originally released on the group’s first cassette demo, this song features David Crosby.

The second single from the album was “Let Her Cry”, which nearly topped the charts, peaking at #2. This ballad also went on to win the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Completing the trifecta of Top Ten hits is “Only Wanna Be with You”, a song which got the band an all-star sports cast for their MTV video as well as a lawsuit by Bob Dylan for quoting his lyrics. As for the song itself, this acoustic driven tune is not a terrible listen, but the corny video takes away any musical dignity that may have existed.

Getting beyond the radio-saturated tracks, Cracked Rear View contains a handful of decent tracks. “Running from an Angel” is a sonic treat, with a violin riff by guest Lili Haydn and great percussion by Sonefeld. There is also more natural drama in Rucker’s voice than the overly melodramatic tracks that precede this track. “I’m Goin’ Home” starts with a jazzy acoustic accented by fine electric riffs from Bryan, and some soaring Hammond organ by session man John Nau, who also later contributes some piano to the track. “Drowning” has an interesting time signature in the rhythm and a quasi-rap rhythm in the melody, all with strong rock guitars, while “Time” contains a dramatic intro with slowly picked electric riff during the first verse, giving way to a full band arrangement starting with the second. Later in this song is a short but pretty interesting lead by Bryan and alternating call and return vocals by Rucker and the other group members.

Unfortunately, the album closes with three less than inspiring songs. After Haydn returns for the short track “Look Away”, the basic ballad “Not Even the Trees” does include some interesting sonic elements provided by the acoustic and bass guitars. The closer “Goodbye” is a melancholy piano ballad which never really goes anywhere sonically, save for the short hidden rendition of “Motherless Child” at the very end of the album.

The success of Cracked Rear View won Hootie & the Blowfish the “Best New Artist” Grammy and gave them enough momentum that their second album, 1996’s Fairweather Johnson, quicky topped the charts. However, sales of that album soon waned and the group’s next three releases hardly made a ripple at all, making this debut a true shooting star situation.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.