Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Albums of the Month for Octember

As is my ritual, I post about an album that dominated my ears during a stretch of time, maybe provide a little video, have a little talk, we nosh, we laugh, everyone has fun. With the site down, I missed a chance to discuss October, so I'm just going to mash October and November into one.


After wandering into the Blues Brothers' "Briefcase Full of Blues," I got an urge to listen to, what else, the blues. The album I listened to the most was John Mayall and the Blues Breakers' "Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton," traditionally known as the Beano album because of the comic Clapton is reading on the cover of the record (or because Clapton had serious farting problems in the mid-60's). The blues was popular in England in the 60's, and by 1966 Eric Clapton was known as a virtuoso. While he wasn't quite "king of the slide guitar" (as Elmore James was), Clapton was considered a god by at least one grafiti artist, which is higher up on the royalty scale anyway. Clapton and fellow blues players helped usher in heavy metal, with Clapton forming Cream and other blues performers developing bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. So if you want to blame heavy metal on anyone, you can blame American blacks, who brought us the blues to begin with.

Anyway, between the Yardbirds and Cream, Clapton played with the Blues Breakers, the record displayed his ability to sear solos across various types of blues, from rockin' tracks to more traditional pieces. For some reason, there are some who don't approve much of blues by white musicians the same way we dismiss white rappers, but Mayall, Clapton and company combined reverence for the source material with exquisite musicianship and creativity to create a collection of originals and covers that could stand with any other album in the genre. Mayall himself was a master of the art, and his band was a training ground for many famous musicians, including Mick Taylor of the Stones.

If you watch this little documentary on Clapton, it's amazing to think what a fantastic decade he had during the 60's. He played with four great bands before tanking and making numerous mediocre records for the next thirty years.


Savatage's 1987 release "Hall of the Mountain King" would be one of my guilty pleasures if I could feel guilt over enjoying entertainment products. Since I listen to things for enjoyment rather than status, I don't care what people think. Besides, if people can listen to the entire indie genre and not feel shame, why should I?

"Hall" is chock full of delicious solos, catchy riffs, and energetic vocals. "Price You Pay" and "Strange Wings" are some of the most enjoyable songs Savatage has ever recorded, and in fact this might be their best album. The songs are addictive, not overly syrupy like technical power metal or too cheesy like pop metal, but just right. Goldilocks would have approved, had she not been viciously mauled by three angry bears.

This was Paul O'Neill's (not the baseball player or White House guy) first collaboration with the band, and you could see the hints of future concept albums in "Prelude to Madness" and the title track. Also of note, and perhaps appropriately due to the season, O'Neill and Savatage went on to form the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Here's the music video for the title track.

I guess sometimes all you need is a midget and a topless old man to make a video work.

If that floated your boated, then you may also enjoy the video for 24 Hours Ago off the same record.

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