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  • Writer's pictureNeil Rajala

TTPB: In Case You Missed It...

When I started Earworm City, I had two things in mind as the focus. One, to try and convince music-lovers from my peer group that popular music didn’t die in 1980. And, two, to persuade younger music fans that there’s a whole galaxy of fantastic music that happened before they ever started listening. One of the ways I was going to do that was by highlighting lesser-known records I love across all of my music listening decades that are absolutely worth seeking out and spending some time with. I made a couple of different templates and formats to do just that, but didn't use ‘em enough. So my resolution for EC2024 is to toss out more titles that may have gotten lost in the avalanche of new music released every year, but still claim a solid spot on my life’s playlist.


So what’s going to show up in TTPB posts? There’ll be artists the casual music fan knows, no doubt, but a record that slipped through the commercial cracks. Critical and die-hard fan favorites that never sullied the consciousness of the general music-consuming public. Some truly obscure records that I found, somehow, that were likely never expected to be a success in the marketplace. Albums that sold just enough to keep the record label interested in the artist, allowing them to grow and create their eventual masterworks, and albums that tanked so badly they killed promising careers. What they’ll all have in common is that elusive magic – a sound, a vision, a point of view, a unique creative spark – that drew me in when I first listened and never let go. If you know some of these, or if you give some a chance after reading, let me know what you think.

Ronnie Wood, Now Look (1975) – 1974-5 were a couple of turbulent years for Mr. Wood. The Faces were dissolving due to Rod Stewart's blooming solo career, Mick and Keith were in the market for another Stones guitarist, Ronnie had released a very fine first solo album in '74, I've Got My Own Album to Do, that got more attention than sales when Mick, Keith, Rod, and Beatle George showed up to play and sing on it, and his invitation to join the Rolling Stones' Tour of the Americas '75 sewed up the band audition for him. When the Stones were done for '75, Ronnie joined Rod and the Faces for their last tour later in the year. If all that wasn't enough to keep a young guitarist busy, the basement studio in The Wick, his 1770s-era London house, became the epicenter for the partying, and sporadic recording, of the U.K.'s musical elite.

By the time Ronnie released his second, and my favorite, solo album, Now Look, the Stones were mid-tour and all of the promotional oxygen was sucked out of the record's release. It arrived, hovered for a short while around #120 on the Billboard charts, then sank without a trace. Written and recorded at The Wick over several months from '74 to '75 (in his spare time?), Now Look was a collaboration between Ronnie, Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen, and one of Ronnie's heroes, soul and R&B singer/songwriter Bobby Womack. Instead of the rock and roll liquid goofiness of the first solo album, what you get instead are slinkier, more subtle, slyly hooky songs directly reflecting the R&B influence of Mr. Womack, co-songwriter and guitarist for a big chunk of it. "I Got Lost When I Found You," "Big Bayou," "I Can Say She's Alright," a killer cover of Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain," and the weird, drifting ballad "Breathe On Me" are all on my list of favorites songs from (the) Wood. Now Look was sunk by the weight of everything else Ronnie was up to in those two years, but it really deserves a salvage operation. An essential 70s rock album? Nah. A damn good one? Without a doubt.

EARWORM: "I Can't Stand the Rain" - An R&B classic, with tasty guitar licks from guest and amiable drinking partner Keith Richards.

 Beth Orton, Trailer Park (1996) – Technically, this is Ms. Orton's second album, but she pretty much disavows her first one these days, for good reason. Her actual first record, SuperPinkyMandy, was pretty much a vanity project for hot-at-the-time electronica producer William Orbit, released only in Japan, and in very small quantities. On Trailer Park, she got to apply what she learned in William's orbit to her own, British folk-influenced, songwriting. Looking back, Ms. Orton was creating a new genre - a folky, electronic mashup - out of whole cloth, the type of ripple in the musicverse that's been known to grab my attention. It would take a few years for imitators and influencers to carry the sound into a more commercial future, but the brilliance of Trailer Park and its more successful follow-up, Central Reservation, gave the new genre an undeniable opening spark.

All the songs are Beth's, with one notable exception. They're folk-based and arranged in a compelling blend of acoustic guitars and a warm, comforting electronica pulse. The definition of what would later be called chill. "She Cries Your Name" opens the album with an impossible to ignore chorus, the obvious first single. The only cover is a spectacular, downbeat version of the Ronette's "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine," that Ms. Orton redefines for more modern sensibilities. If you want to know where the sound of trip-hop started, check out the closing 10 minute-plus "Galaxy of Emptiness." It's hard to imagine Portishead without it. Trailer Park is one of those essential albums with far more influence than sales.

EARWORM: "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine" - Worlds apart from the uber-dramatic 1966 Phil Spector version, so pretty it almost negates the bluesy sadness of the lyrics.

• Joseph Arthur, The Ballad of Boogie Christ (2013) – Because of side one. I like the songs on the flip side well enough, but the five songs that make up the first vinyl side are brilliant slices of left-field pop/rock that I never get tired of hearing. Side two gets a bit artier, a little less melodic, a touch more self-indulgent. I'm always happy to hear that last batch of songs, but they're not burned into my cerebral cortex like the fab five.

The Ballad of Boogie Christ was actually crowd-funded, back when that wasn't really a thing, and he somehow got Ben Harper, Jim Keltner, and Garth Hudson on board. The fact that it was Joseph's tenth album tells you how adept he had been at avoiding the appearance of success to that point. Quirky, mercurial, shape-shifting - descriptions that work for both the NYC artist and his art. He even kept his small core of devoted fans in a state of constant confusion with frequent, radical changes in sound from record to record. Truthfully, I give the nine albums that preceded this one, and most of the ones that followed, no attention to speak of. My love of Mr. Joseph's music lives right here.

So, what's on side one? Opening with a string section fanfare, "Currency of Love" opens the record on a loping, sweeping, romantic note. "Saint of Impossible Causes" pushes a little harder and breaks into an instantly memorable, deceptively simple, chorus. Then the magic ramps up. The title song is an acoustic rocker, linear and driving, sounding like a young Dylan if the word slacker had meaning back in the mid-60s. Absurdist, almost psychedelic lyrics describe the groovy, chill personality Jesus would have if he returned in modern times. A catchy, funny folk/pop song, but the laughter is likely to be the nervous kind for a true believer. "I Used to Know How to Walk on Water" follows, a truly lovely modern heartbreak ballad, with a curiously affecting dismantled ending. "Wait for Your Lights" sticks with the big melodies of the rest of the side one, but starts to point at the more introspective, less straightforward direction of the flip side, a kind of natural segue-way to a slightly different experience.

EARWORM: "I Used to Know How to Walk On Water" - A beautiful and sad ballad with a melodic hook that will absolutely live in your brain rent-free.

That's it for this dive. As always, if you know any of these (or don't) or you have records you think deserve some of the love they didn't get at the time, now's the time for a shout-out.

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