The Marshall Mathers LP2
Since I am the first one weighing in on Eminem’s MMLP2 I’m going to have to do some preemptive work to dispel the strong feelings against the album I’m sure Wes (and to a lesser extent Todd) are going to have against it. Wes doesn’t like Eminem for who he is. Eminem is unapologetically crass, emotionally raw to a terrifying degree, and cares much more about getting as many thoughts onto a record in word form than flashy production techniques. MMLP2 sticks to these tenets, and much like his previous record, Recovery, this all comes across with varying levels of success.
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Jay-Z, aka H.O.V.A., aka Jigga, aka Sean Carter, aka Mr. Beyonce, is coming off a universally lambasted and a commercial flop in Magna Carta…Holy Grail, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t love Jay. Jay-Z may have lost his King of Hip Hop throne to his Watch the Throne co-star and his former disciple/producer Kanye West (who we also gave top ten treatment recently), but Jay still owns the stage as well as any rapper and has wrangled up a whole slew of hits over his 17 year career. We spoke on Magna Carta…Holy Grail , Monday, now here is our Ten Favorite Songs from Jigga.
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No, that picture above is not Ernest Hemingway and Steve Earle’s love child. It is in fact uber-producer Rick Rubin, the man who has successfully navigated alt-rock, hip-hop, country, and just about every other genre in music with startling success. Currently on Rubin’s radar is helping Kanye fine-tune Yeezus, easily the most eagerly awaited hip-hop album of 2013. This is interesting, because Kanye has always been a bit of a “do-it-your-selfer” which has served him very very well. It makes sense though to bring in the man who produced some Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Run D.MC. when Kanye is aiming for a more minimalist experience (explained more fully in the New York Times interview). This minimalism Ye is going for highlights an overriding theme for the albums on our list: Strip down artists to their most raw and basic qualities and build the album up from there. Rubin may not have one musical style he can be attached to, but there does seem to be a way of making music that is very clear.
We tried to limit this list to albums Rubin had a large hand in producing, leaving off the likes of Jay-Z’s Black Album and JT’s FutureSex/LoveSounds where he only produced one track each. We also left off sure top-5 Lucinda Williams album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road because Rubin only handled the mixing of the album. The only other major qualm people might have with this list is the lack of a Slayer album. Well, I personally just don’t like metal, and so even if Slayer is the cream of the crop, I’m not gonna listen to it. Enjoy the list, and as always feel free to comment on albums you think we missed or erroneously included.
10. The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker
Interestingly, I read Rick Rubin wouldn’t allow his name to be put on as producer of Shake Your Money Maker until it sold one million copies. Was he not happy with the outcome? Did he think it was destined for commercial and/or critical failure? I don’t know, but I do know The Black Crowes in 1990 did The Stones better than The Stones were doing themselves. With the alternative scene blowing up at the time, Shake Your Money Maker was a nice respite from the uniformity of most everything else out there.
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The Avett Brothers
Few bands these days truly earn their stripes. When it comes to breaking it big commercially, it’s usually one hit single or a spot in a cutesy ad that gets a band to blow up. Think fun., Carly Rae Jepsen, Gotye, and Alex Clare. Not to say that it’s wrong to break big with one hit or that those songs are inherently bad – since actually most are actually good – but its way more rewarding and refreshing to see a band earn it the hard way. I already spoke of My Morning Jacket being a band that fits that bill, but another industrious, hard-working band that fits the mold is Carolina folk trio, the Avett Brothers. Over the last ten years, the Brothers have been evolving their irreverent yet reflective brand of alt-country on the stage and on record, finally breaking out with the help of a high profile producer, Rick Rubin, for their brilliant fifth album I and Love and You. On their latest, The Carpenter, the Avett Brothers again get aid from Rubin and stick in the pocket of their signature sound, sounding as confident as ever while crafting some of the best folk pop around.
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After the painful experience of reviewing Neil Young’s new cover album, Americana, we decided to go back to some of our old favorites, and create a list of the top ten cover albums. It was surprisingly difficult to find a comprehensive list of cover albums that have even been released, so I am certain we are missing a couple of classics, but also was very happy with strength of the list we came up with. Another couple items of note is that the album needed to be 75% covers to be considered and a lot of 1950’s and 60’s albums were not considered. A lot of early Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc. albums were comprised mostly of covers because that’s just the way the music business was run back then. Somebody would have a minor hit, then ten artists would cover it to bandwagon and try to copy its success.
So what makes a great cover album? There are a lot of opinions on that, but we firmly believe it is not enough to simply mimic already great songs. What we like to see is an artist keep the feeling of the original but substantially change the arrangement. Also great is when an artist manages to rescue a song from obscurity and make it completely their own. There is not absolute formula to a great cover song or album, but as with most of our list the following selections hit us the hardest. On to the list.
10. David Bowie – Pin Ups
Bowie’s lat album with The Spiders from Mars was a tribute album to some of his favorite tracks from the 60’s. Pin Ups contains classic songs from The Who, a lesser known track from Pink Floyd’s most underrated era, a Kinks track for the ages, and some lesser-known bands that I probably would have never been turned onto otherwise such as The Pretty Things and The Easy Beats. All of these things fused with the Bowie twist means it is a sure-fire instant eargasm.
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