Saturday, March 7, 2009

Underrated, Underappreciated (#2 in a Series)

Willie Nelson's Me & The Drummer (AKA Tales Out of Luck)
and Me & Paul

The Willie Nelson albums that get noticed are the ones with big-name collaborators or attention-grabbing concepts. As a result, some of Willie's finest work flies under the radar or gets lost in his constant stream of releases.
As much as I liked Daniel Lanois' work on Teatro, Willie is his own best producer, and these two albums prove it.

Me & Paul (1985) is just Willie and his usual band going about their business. That business: kicking ass, Willie-style. "Pretend I Never Happened" has one of my all-time favorite Willie solos, and putting a Billy Joe Shaver song at the beginning, middle, and end of an album is never a bad idea.

Me & The Drummer (2000) reunites Willie with some members of his pre-outlaw '60s band, billed here as The Offenders. I don't think there's anything here that he hasn't recorded before (he's probably getting close to triple digits for "Rainy Day Blues"), but the fiddle-and-steel-driven, classic country sound is a perfect match for this batch of songs. Hearing "What a Way to Live" on KDHX in St. Louis is what made me seek this album out, and I'm still amazed at how great it is - a model of how the best country always seems so simple.

The all-instrumental Night & Day (1999) is worth mentioning here, too. I picked it up for next to nothing, having no idea what it was, and of course it was great.

Jamaican Patties with Coco Bread

They did get a feature in the NY Times
and are no secret in Caribbean neighborhoods, but I still think this spicy-and-sweet, extremely filling "snack that eats like a meal" is underappreciated. And getting the patty without the coco bread is like getting a hot dog without a bun. Why would you do it (unless you were on the Atkins diet, in which case you wouldn't be going near a Jamaican patty in the first place)? This place has some of the best.

Matthew Sweet's Altered Beast

The dark sequel to Girlfriend. Judging by the ubiquity of this CD in used bins for several years after it's release, a lot of fans of Sweet's breakthrough album must've been very disappointed in the follow-up. What soured Matt's worldview? A breakup? His first taste of fame? As Alex Chilton descended into darkness, the sounds on his albums got weirder, sloppier. Altered Beast is relatively slick and full of great guitar sounds - speaking of underrated, Sweet's pairing of Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine was one of the great studio one-two punches - which somehow has the effect of throwing the bitterness at the heart of many of these songs into sharper relief and making it harder to look away. Matthew Sweet will never make an album with the heft of a Big Star's Third or even an XO, but he has a gift for a particular strain of power pop, and it was fascinating to see what happened when he used that gift to show us his dark places. Good music is never really depressing. Trouser Press
calls it "disappointing", "puzzling", and "a mess". I call it one of the best albums of the '90s.

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