CDs on a grainy sand beach background

Staff Picks CDs for December…

To round off the year, here are some Staff Picks of new & old CDs from the Library collection that out Staff have been enjoying.

Martin’s Picks:

Guts / Rodrigo, Olivia
Not a CD that needs much boosting from WCL, of course, but it surprised me by just how good a mainstream album created by a 20 year old can be. Wise and sharply witty, Rodrigo takes a wry look at her teen years, with droll lyrics and a musical nod to the pop/rock sounds of the 90s. Try ‘Bad Idea Right?‘ ‘Get Him Back!’ or the opener, ‘All American Bitch’.

The Leo Kottke anthology / Kottke, Leo
Born the same year that WW2 ended, Kottke released his first album in 1969 and his most recent in 2020. A master of the 12-string guitar as well as a self-effacing vocalist (who described his own voice as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day”), this selection of instrumental and vocal tracks covers the first 15 years of his career. It has some of the best of his instrumental offerings, including ‘Mona Ray’ ‘Vaseline Machine Gun’ and ‘Airproofing’, all of which amply justify his place in the 12-string pantheon.

Begin to hope / Spektor, Regina
This 2006 album is a great introduction to the work of the idiosyncratic Russian/American songsmith. Her sideways view of the world and flawless ear for a hook are on display throughout. Check out ‘Fidelity’, ‘Better’ or ‘On the Radio’.

Bring it on / Gomez
My vote for ‘Greatest Band That Everyone’s Forgotten About’ goes to this lot from Southport in England. Blessed with four songwriters and three distinctive vocalists, there was almost too much talent for one band. This is their debut, and it won the Mercury Prize in 1998, beating out Massive Attack, Pulp and The Verve. Sadly – and despite a couple of equally excellent follow-ups – the band slowly slid from view over the following couple of decades. Check out the video for album single Whippin’ Piccadily to see legendary screen and TV actor Toby Jones fooling around on an escalator.

Mark’s Picks:

Stand back / Nicks, Stevie
This is one of those somewhat disingenuous releases that major labels do sometimes. This was a 2019 compilation released simultaneously as a 50 track 3CD set (covering the years 1981-2017), a 40 track digital edition, and a single-disc 18 track CD. However, unless you dug into the fine print, you may not have realised that none of the tracks on the single CD are replicated on the other 2 versions of this compilation. The reason being that a majority of these are the 7-inch Single versions of these tracks, rather than the album versions, which are the versions found on the other 2 versions of this compilation. None of these have been on CD before, and indeed a few have only ever appeared on promo Radio CD singles & Remixes. As to the music it’s a worthwhile attempt to capture the highpoints of her long career, full of some now iconic pop music. A worthy companion to the recently acquired Complete studio albums & rarities 10 CD set.

Chet Baker sings / Baker, Chet [VINYL]
This 1956 album from iconic Jazz trumpet player Chet Baker was the first to focus exclusively on his vocals, and has just been re-released on Vinyl as part of the Blue Note Tone Poet reissue campaign. A polarizing album upon it’s release, half of the listeners found it charming while his limited range and singing ability led to the other half (which included all the music critics of the time) to dismiss his vocals has weak and unworthy of any serious consideration. Yet over time the album would be hugely successful commercially, become a Jazz classic in its own right, an acknowledged influence on the laid-back vocal stylings of the Astrud Gilberto’s Bossa Nova of the 60’s, an album that bridged the gap between Jazz and ‘Pop’ music fans, and an influence on modern singers from Elvis Costello to Amos Lee, Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, Chet Faker, Thom Yorke, and more recently the latest Jazz sensation Icelandic-Chinse singer Laufey. Baker’s soft, innocent, wistful voice sounded more like female singers Julie London or Chris Connor, and was essentially the antithesis of 50s male vocal jazz. However the late-night vibes of the album, and changing social and gender attitudes would find it an ongoing fan base across the decades. This is the 2nd pressing (it originally came out in 2020 and soon sold out), and the fact that it was repressed this year due to high demand, is just another illustration of it’s enduring popularity.

Sam’s Pick:

Laughing stock / Talk Talk
Laughing Stock was Talk Talk’s fifth and final album released in 1991. Following the acrimonious split from EMI after embracing an experimental approach with their fourth album Spirit of Eden in 1988, the band signed to Polydor Records, who released Laughing Stock in 1991 via their jazz-based subsidiary Verve Records. Where Spirit of Eden had been a pretty radical shift into compositionally and sonically more experimental stylings, Laughing Stock took things much further, into artistically more rich yet even less commercially viable territory. Musically, the album is sparse and meandering in nature, with much of the formation of the material drawing from improvisation and chance. Studio sessions were conducted over a long period of time and featured around fifty session musicians – though only 18 appeared on the final album – in which countless hours of recordings and overdubs were painstakingly edited and crafted into the final songs. Critically, the album initially received mixed reviews, with much of the mainstream music press seemingly unsure what to make of it , with NME describing it as ‘unutterably pretentious’. However, the album’s eclectic and organic stylings would go on to become an influence on various subsequent bands, play a major role in the development of the post-rock sound, garner retrospective praise from critics and feature on many ‘best of’ album lists by major publications. A work of true enigmatic beauty, taking influence from a wide range of areas (such as jazz and modern classical music), whilst effortlessly sounding new and quite unlike anything that came before.

Vaughan’s Picks:

Seven psalms / Simon, Paul
On his fifteenth solo release Paul Simon, now 81, takes inspiration from the Book of Psalms for this striking meditation on faith and mortality. Devoid of the sonic experimentation that has marked his last several albums this is an intimate stripped-down release that with its entirely acoustic sound and haunting, poetic lyrics harks back to Simons folk music past and reaffirms his standing as one of the great songwriters of the rock era.

Peace at last [bonus disc] / Blue Nile
The third album (of only four in total during their 23-year existence) by Scottish trio The Blue Nile found frontman Paul Buchanan in an upbeat mood by their standards, seemingly celebrating a newfound domestic contentment with a hint of fear that it could all crash down. Reflecting a more organic sound than earlier albums this still boasts the same high level of song writing and mastery of mood.

The dark side of the moon redux / Waters, Roger
Revisiting Pink Floyds classic on it’s 50th anniversary, Waters drops much of the lush soundscapes of the original in favour of minimalist (compared to the original) arrangements, with the instrumental tracks complimented by spoken word sections. This puts the focus squarely on the lyrics, which have always been Waters greatest strength. The end result probably isn’t going to displace the original in anyone’s affection, but it’s still a very interesting companion piece.

Patrick’s Pick:

Common one / Morrison, Van
Van Morrison’s 1980 release Common One is an album sorely in need of reappraisal, a triumphant fusion of the British visionary tradition with free jazz and stream of consciousness techniques. The album is a deliberate departure from R&B wheelhouse of Morrison’s earlier career and, perhaps more than any of his other albums, a vehicle for his voice as an instrument, relying on timbre, tone and modulation rather than necessarily lyrical content to get across all his meaning. The album has an esoteric, stream of consciousness feel to it, with the plaintive muted trumpet lines, Fender Rhodes piano, lush string arrangements responding to his vocal lines, choral backing vocals, innovative use of bass harmonics, African inflected electric guitar playing and Pee Wee Ellis’ prominent saxophone all combining into the ultimate late afternoon/evening relaxation album, supremely evocative of a summer evening in the countryside in England. ‘Summertime in England’ clocking in at 15:35 is the standout track for me – an apotheosis of Morrison’s alchemy of music and his understanding of the nature poets, with references to Wordsworth, Coleridge et all. Critics thought this flight into the spiritual realm to be conceited and hollow, but Common One was obviously a deliberate musical departure into the world of jazz instrumentation, and avant-garde song structure, an attempt at evolution and progression, and is still regarded by Morrison himself as his greatest musical achievement, despite the bad press it received at time of release.

Greg’s Pick:

Guts / Rodrigo, Olivia
This is the second release for the ex-Disney star. Her 2021 debut broke the record for the most streamed female debut in a single week but she’s new to me. This apparently is a bit more playful than her first CD. Rolling Stone calls the songs punk pop Ragers and aching pensive Burners. I hear suggestions of Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne and Lorde in her songs and sound. Great songwriter, lovely voice.

Yani’s Pick:

Ceremony / Tiny Ruins
My top album pick this year is Ceremony by Tiny Ruins. This album is beautifully arranged and produced, giving a fuller, more explorative sound compared to Tiny Ruins previous work. Invoking feelings of sand swept summers, bush walks and afternoons with friends, this album disguises its more complex themes of loss, confusion and the passing of time within its playful lyricism. Tracks to look out for: ‘Seafoam Green’, ‘Daylight Savings’.

Alison’s Pick:

Gentle confrontation / James, Loraine
For fans of experimental electronic music with the occasional melody. Loraine James is a London-based producer/musician with a deft hand for unique arrangements and emotive storytelling. Gentle Confrontation is somehow both sensorially stimulating and minimalistic, and it is great for both atmospheric background or active listening depending on your mood. Definitely in my top records of 2023, I have listened to it over and over, and feel the great care that has gone into making the record.

Gus’s Picks:

Seeds by TV On the RadioThe Courtneys II, by the CourtneysStop making sense : special new edition, by Talking HeadsDavid Byrne's American utopia : on Broadway original cast recordingMidnight marauders, by A Tribe Called QuestBlondshell, by Blondshell

Shinji’s Picks:

João, by Bebel GilbertoEleven by SaultThe omnichord real book, by Meshell NdegeocelloRain before seven.. by Penguin CafeTop boy : soundtrack from the Netflix series (Brian Eno)The endless coloured ways : the songs of Nick DrakeMessy, by Olivia DeanCalling, by Cherise