Tag Archives: Exile On Main Street

New Album! Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones

New to you, anyway – it came out last Fall.

But what has hit the street is the new issue of Bucketful of Brains, the great UK pop mag that has defied the odds and the decline of print journalism. Still going strong, still published on schedule, and still a place I’m proud to hang my keyboard each issue. Click here to find out more.

That’s where you’ll find my review of Mountain Jack, the album from Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones. Any powerpop fan hearing those two names would instantly get excited; Hans has led the great band Shazam for years and Brad Jones is one of the great pop producers of our time as well as a solid artist in his own right. And while the collaboration might sound different than you would expect, it hits many of the right buttons.

Here’s my review…

Video: “A Likely Lad

Having produced four of the Shazam albums, Brad Jones knows every feint and jab that Hans Rotenberry has in his repertoire. So the pairing of bandleader and producer sounds much like you’d expect, a collaboration that draws heavily upon chunky rhythms, clever (but sometimes obtuse) lyrics and tight harmonies – not to mention song structure that draws heavily upon The Move and early Todd Rundgren. It’s a welcome return for Brad Jones, the powerpop producer who dropped the brilliant Gilt Flake on us many years ago and then dropped back out of sight like a February groundhog.

Those expecting the amp-cranking sound that the Shazam is famous for might be taken aback by the predominantly acoustic format, let alone songs like “Froggie Mountain Shakedown”. But the Americana-cum-powerpop formula suits the pair well; it’s loose and fun, and there’s enough cowbell to balance out the mouth harp. With “Count On Me”, “Likely Lad” and “It Would Not Be Uncool” they have three hit singles at my house, and hell, “Greef” is an Exile on Main Street doppelgänger as much as “Back To Bristol” recalls Alex Chilton. Take the plunge.

Mountain Jack at 50ft Records

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Rock’s Darkest Day?

July 3rd is the anniversary of the deaths of both Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. Ask rockers about Morrison and you’ll get a highly divided camp; some revere his poetic lyrics and unique artistic expression with The Doors, while others see him as a bloated, self-indulgent hipster who yammered nonsense and called it art. 

I was a Doors fan and still enjoy their music – there are a series of great singles and many of the deeper tracks on the album were pretty fascinating. I thought L.A. Woman was a tremendous album and am saddened that they never got to continue that journey. But the drunken escapades, the supposed incidents of exposure, the pretentiousness of it all…yeah, I could understand someone resisting their work because they can’t get past that. 

But I’ll wrestle you to the mat about Jones

Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones. Without him, there wouldn’t be a band, let alone a Sticky Fingers or an Exile on Main Street or a Let It Bleed. Because it was Jones the blues purist who set the course, charted the direction and marketed the band in the earliest days when everyone else was ready to fold the tent and quit

Mick Jagger would have graduated from the London School of Economics and been a prissy accountant. Charlie Watts would probably have joined a jazz band and would be famous to a whole other audience. Bill Wyman might have lived the suburban life he seemed to be drifting towards, playing in r&b bands on the weekend and still pulling birds half his age. 

And Keith Richards? He probably would have done the same damned thing – overindulge in life’s pleasures and play some of the most timeless riffs man has ever wrangled from an electric guitar. 

I remember being crushed when Jones died. I was just a kid – other iconic deaths like Buddy Holly either predated my awareness or (like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding) involved people I liked but was not fully invested in. But The Rolling Stones were my lifeblood, and this was like losing a brother.

You have to realize that at the time, lines were drawn between Beatles fans and Stones fans; peer pressure said you had to be one or the other, and you’d better choose. All the cute girls chose The Beatles, of course…and that was reason enough for me to side with the Stones

He was the first rock star in my world; looked (at the time) like a golden god, played any instrument you put into his hands, added flavor to Stones singles that other bands would later copy and seemed like the coolest guy on the planet. When I saw the Stones on Ed Sullivan I looked right past Jagger and was mesmerized by him. And I wasn’t the only one…five hundred miles north of my New York City house, Andy and Greg of The Chesterfield Kings were watching the same program and getting their minds blown as well. 

And then he died – murdered, I still believe – and what had been this picture perfect vision of music and peace and utopia started to crumble. Soon it would be Jimi, and Janis and Jimoddly connected…and finally the nail in the coffin,  Altamont

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mick Taylor era of the band, and although he’s been underutilized in his tenure, Ronnie Wood is one of my all time favorite guitar players. But the London singles the early Stones cut? Pure magic

Listen to the magic!

Had the Stones broken up after Exile, they would have that same unfinished legacy that Buddy Holly, The Beatles and James Dean have – a permanent snapshot of genius in its prime.  No chance to stumble and fall, or go ages between artistic releases, or climb on stage long past their prime and sing about want and boredom and being unsatisfied…right before pocketing millions per gig and taking a private plane home. 

What would Brian Jones have done after he got over the heartbreak of being squeezed out of his own band? I can only wonder. But I can also revel in what he left behind, which is a brilliant anthology of classic music that is as powerful to me now as it was as the impressionable boy with a transistor radio and a dream. 

What a drag...it is getting old.

And Happy Birthday to (among others) Kurtwood Smith, Fontella Bass, Franz Kafka, George Sanders, Dave Barry, and the late, great Ken Ober.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Top Titles From 2005

It’s Memorial Day Weekend – time for pints, people and pleasure!

But since I have to account for our society’s short-term memory and McNugget lifestyle, today I’m only dropping back five years! And this weekend I’ll stay on topic and plunge back into the past for a couple of items – one a forty-year old classic and the other a five-year-old failed (but interesting) experiment from two of the biggest pop artists of the 70s.

But for now, a visit to my ten top titles from 2005…and what the artists are up to in 2010. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

01  Marah –  If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry…The no-brainer #1 record of the year. Marah finally captures some of the onstage magic that makes them the best rock and roll band on the planet on most nights. Screw the preparation, plug in, ciggies in the tuning pegs and let’s rock and roll, dammit! (2010: Marah has a new album about to drop called Life Is A Problem and just started their tour)

02  Nada Surf –  The Weight is a Gift…There can’t still be people not listening them because of the first album, are there? Their debut is like child scribbles compared to the majestic artwork over their last three albums. (2010: Nada Surf’s album of covers called If I Had A Hi-Fi is out this month!)

03  Graham ParkerSongs Of No Consequence…Of course, Captain Irony is wrong – Geep always writes about matters of consequence. I’d hate to see The Figgs give up their career, but they fit Parker as good or better than the Rumour. He’s having fun! (2010: Graham’s newest album Imaginary Television is one of my favorites so far this year. Missed his Boston show w/ The Figgs by two hours!)

04  The 88Over And Over…Criminally unknown band – well, okay, they could have picked a better name. But they’ve taken all those Jellyfish, Kinks, T rex and XTC references and put them to good use. Two albums so far, both great. (2010: The band continues to place music in film and TV – that’s them doing the theme from “Community” – and more new music is on the way!)

05  RedwallsDe Nova…Chicago pop band makes good. Maybe a little Beatle-heavy at times, but hey, if you’re going to emulate someone, why not? You’ve probably heard their tracks on the WB, and…oh…right…wrong crowd. (2010: Hmmm…not much that I can find since the follow-up album.)

06  Rolling StonesA Bigger Bang…Really – who would have expected this! Easily their best record in twenty years, although that’s a backhanded compliment. Lively, rocking and credible…if there’s a perfect time to quit, it’s now. (2010: Far from quitting; they’ve released anniversary editions of Exile on Main Street and have a documentary DVD out about the making of the record. Tour? If they’re breathing, probably!)

07  Terry Anderson – Olympic Ass Kicking Team…Why the White Chuck Berry has to toil in semi-obscurity is beyond me, but since he has no problem calling up Roscoe, Dan Baird and fellow rockers and cranks these puppies out, I’ll keep touting him. (2010: Terry and crew landed on my best of list last year with National Champions! Always recording more, so stay tuned!)

08  StereophonicsSex Violence Other…Oasis without the fistfights and the Beatles fixation. No, there’s still something left. Good inventive Britpop with enough snarl, sass and sonics to keep me interested album after album. (2010: What is it about this year? Yes, a new album from these guys too called Keep Calm and Carry On.)

09  The 22-20s –  The 22-20s…Another band that picked a bad name for success (see #4 above), these guys mix early Stones and Small Faces to alternately rock and groove. Great vocals and energy – keep an eye on them. (2010: Pumped!! I was about to write that they’ve been defunct since 2006 but found that they got back together in 2008 and Shake Shiver Moan will come out in June!)

10  FoxymoronsHesitation Eyes…Knocked my socks off. Two writers mailing song fragments back and forth and completing each other’s thoughts. Only a couple of tracks didn’t make the record, so the success ratio was impressive. (2010: Sadly, just the sound of crickets…)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten…Things

As you know, I’m usually thematic on Fridays with the TGIF feature. Ten comedy clips, ten classic bands, ten awesome artists…whatever. Mental alliteration. Synergy. Symbiosis.

But today my brain is a mess. I’m juggling three people’s worth of work, I’m already sinfully behind on a couple of projects for this site and my weekend is already overloaded so badly that only Red Bull and Deus ex Machina can save me. (That’s right – not one, but both.)

Remember that frog in the blender game? This week, I’m the frog.

So here are ten…things…that I’m excited about right now.

* Alternative Press Turns 25! It’s damn hard to keep a magazine afloat twenty-five weeks let alone twenty-five years, so this is a major milestone. Congratulations! (Full disclosure – never wrote for them, never was asked, never asked them if I could.)

* Rod Stewart: Sessions. I was supposed to get a copy of this last Fall for review and it never arrived. I waited and waited – didn’t want to drop $50+ if I didn’t have to – but it never arrived. Finally plunked the scratch to buy a copy and it is magnificent – how great he once was. (Please Rod, no more smooth rock!)

* Goodbye, Jack Bauer. What an incredible run 24 has had. Yes, Jack, I wanted to see Kim eaten by that mountain lion, and Tony had more lives than Patchy on Lost, but you can have my back anytime. Congratulations on a great saga – see you on the big screen!

* There’s a new Marah album! June 22 sees the release of Life Is A Problem, which should prove to be a highly unusual album from success-avoiding Marah, recorded in rustic settings with odd instruments and released on download, vinyl and cassette – no CD! The almost all new band lineup will hit the road in June. And how will they conspire to bollocks it up this time? We wait with baited breath.

* Thriller is coming to DVD! No, not that dance pop disc by Captain Plastic Surgery…the classic TV series hosted by Boris Karloff! Finally!! Boomers will plotz when they see this!

* Lost: The End. Yep, six seasons later, the saga of the plane crash survivors comes to an end in what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest television events of the decade. Don’t call me Sunday night.

* The World According To Sawyer. Okay, that’s two Lost references, but Sawyer’s many nicknames were a hilarious part of the show.

* The Exile On Main Street documentary is coming! “The wild nights, the orgies, the drug-taking. I remember it well,” reflects Mick Jagger. (Well, if you can remember it, how good could it have been?)

* Kevin Costner is going to save the world! Well, actually it’s his smarter brother who had the oil spill idea. (But how smart can he be if he let Kevin make Waterworld?)

* Mark Bacino has a new album! One of my favorite power-poppers; great singer, songwriter and performer. Check out Queen’s English at his website. Can’t wait for mine to arrive!

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No Stoned (Page) Unturned

EXILE ON MAIN ST. – A SEASON IN HELL WITH THE ROLLING STONES

Robert Greenfield, © 2006 DeCapo Press

 

Someday, someone will write the definitive book about The Rolling Stones – factual, insightful, revealing and objective. This is not that day. This is not that book.

Some of the central stories in Exile emanate from recent interviews with insiders like Marshall Chess, Andy Johns and Mick Taylor’s then wife Rose. Not exactly the every day inner circle, although each has perspective. Then again, two were hardcore smack addicts at the time and a dusty haze of thirty-five plus years stands in-between their current brain cells and the facts at hand. Of course, what they said about the sixties was also true in 1970 and 1971 – “if you can remember it, you weren’t there”. Greenfield also pulls tidbits of information from an extensive list of websites and print titles – in one case, even sourcing his own book – to construct a rambling, lazy, sordid tale about the famous, not-so-famous and hangers-on of the day. Not that you should be surprised by the lack of factual revelations, as Camp Stones closed that door a long time ago. Perhaps one of Greenfield’s quotes best tells the tale…”a great story always trumps the truth”. In other words, you’ll need an entire salt lick to get through this one, a grain just won’t do.

In Greenfield’s defense, he admits that he has no interest in scribing a track-by-track analysis of Exile, nor a detailed re-enactment of the recording sessions in journal format. Fair enough. But what at first appears to be an insider’s peek into the mental squalor and drug-addled debauchery of the recording sessions at the Nellcote mansion quickly dissolves into the same third-hand gossip we’ve read a thousand times before. The mansion was a former Nazi headquarters, the south of France has some pretty creepy people, cops can be bought, and drugs and money cause more problems than they solve. Keith was a mess, Mick was a jerk, and somehow the band was able to cobble together enough riffs (and borrow enough leftovers from previous sessions) to issue what is arguably one of the ten best rock records ever made. Keith is the centerpiece of the story, somehow heroic and pathetic at the same time, a description even Keef would probably own up to today with a wrinkled grin and a cackling laugh.

The major flaw in Greenfield’s book is the smarmy, know-it-all attitude taken by the author. Making the reader feel like an unwanted eavesdropper rather than an invited voyeur is counterproductive. Oddball references and bad puns are more frequent and annoying that rock lyrics in a Stephen King novel, but Greenfield’s bizarre metaphors pale in comparison to the maneuver he pulls while recalling an anecdote about a certain musician being ousted from the inner circle. Stopping the chapter’s progress on a dime, he mockingly calls out not one but two fellow Stones authors, claiming the first got a fact wrong and simply insulting the work of the second. Meow! I can’t recall ever seeing a more sophomoric, unprofessional move in a published book.

But hey, when all is said and done, it’s only rock’n’roll (journalism). If you’re a Stones fan and have an afternoon with nothing to do, keep your wallet in your pants and borrow it from the library. That way you know you’ll get your money’s worth.

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2008 Countdown: 3, 2, 1

The countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 concludes today with the three best albums of 2008…

 

3. The New Odds:  Cheerleader

cheerleader

With three of the four Odds back in the fold (Godspeed, Steven Drake) it would have been easy enough to omit the word “new” from the band name. I mean, hell…New Cars didn’t work, did it? New Coke? And wasn’t the failure to cash in for the big bucks from their now-housewife fans totally because that 80s phenomenon didn’t call themselves The Old Kids On The Block? But I trust Craig Northey’s instincts, and if he felt it was time for reinventing the band name, at least he retained the songwriting chops that made Odds (no “The”, thanks) one of the best and most cruelly ignored bands of the past twenty years.

The humor is much more sardonic than the early days. While I’ll never tire of “Heterosexual Man”, it’s songs like “Mercy To Go” and “I Would Be Your Man” and “Suppertime” that resonated far deeper. I could list thirty songs that are musically infectious but lyrically beautiful, and wrapping that up with pitch-perfect harmony and gigantic hooks was just icing on the cake. If I was stunned, album by album, by the lack of success the band found in the States, can you imagine what they felt? And of course, just as they finally looked to have a hit single (“Someone Who’s Cool”), radio formats changed and the band drifted apart…although Northey, drummer Pat Steward and bassist Doug Elliott continued to play together under various names as well as backing up several other artists. So when it came time to “put the band hat back on”, jam pal (and Odds fan) Murray Atkinson was drafted to fill the other guitar slot, and it’s as if they never left.

I sheepishly admit that the song I play the loudest, “My Happy Place”, is just a big, fun dumb rock song, which even Northey admits has “no tangerine trees and marmalade skies”, offering “I saw your chicken dance / Mr. Smartypants” instead. But I can forgive that when the very next track can toss “Vandalism is the voice of the people / when they’ve got nothing good to say” on the table as the opening bid. As with any Odds album, there are several great turns of phrase, wonderfully inventive chord structures and bridges, but mostly a collection of tracks that are as pleasing to play dashboard drummer to as they are to sit and ponder and appreciate as short stories. In fact, many of the songs sequester some pretty dark subject matter behind happy, hook-filled tunes that recall any number of classic upbeat pop bands like The Who, Badfinger and Squeeze.

“Breakthrough” is bouncy powerpop but about a mid-life crisis; while the finger-popping “Jumper” details the last thoughts of a suicidal man with a broken heart. Likewise “I Can’t Get You Off” might at first seem an optimistic “getting past you” tale; you’ll find yourself singing along with the chorus like it’s a bubblegum song. But the hooks aren’t the only think about the song that kills…the singer has just witnessed a fatal car crash and can’t escape the image that’s burned into his head.

I probably would have left a song or two off if I were the producer; “Leaders Of The Undersea World” doesn’t mesh as well and “Come To LA” isn’t the best way to end the album. Maybe that would bring better focus to absolute gems like “Always Breaking Heart”. The songwriting is group-attributed, although one song was from a Northey solo album, and I love the musical diversity and the production. But when Craig Northey’s voice soars over a swelling chorus with three pitch-perfect voices supporting it – like the last thirty seconds of “Feel Like This All The Time” – then I am in my happy place.

 

2. Marah:  Angels Of Destruction

marah-angels

Just when you think the Bielanko Brothers have found the perfect band to grow with, and into, the rhythm section is jettisoned and a new Marah starts to incubate on the road. But those results will be dealt with next time around; Angels Of Destruction benefits from the tight bond established with their former band mates (Adam Garbinski and Dave Petersen on guitar and drums, respectively) and especially their wild card instrumentalist and engineer Kirk Henderson. Coming off an album that most critics raved about as a major comeback the challenge was now to maintain the rediscovered momentum. As they have been prone to do recently, Marah whittled down a few dozen possibilities into a circular musical and spiritual theme, where aural and lyrical cues are repeated and cross-pollinated to reward those who use the repeat button instead of shuffle play.

The first few seconds of “Coughing Up Blood”, with its strange vocal snippet and tune-challenged guitar, probably caused even the hardcore fans to cock an eyebrow. But then the stew kicks in, throbbing bass, muffled chants in the background like someone gargling down the hallway, a truckload of instruments – literally bells and whistles – making cameo appearances as the train keeps chugging down the tracks. Segue, of course, right into the pounding “Time Ticking Away”, whose walking Philly Soul bass line steams alongside chugging guitar until it ramps up into a “Suffragette City” starburst and ends with a pop. That second of silence cleverly cleanses the aural palate for what is the heart of the album.

How else to classify “Angels On A Passing Train” except to say that Marah starts out like they’re doing a cover of Fastball’s “The Way” and then rocks the tango? “Wild West Love Song” is a hyperactive skiffle with mile-a-minute lyrics, breathlessly propelled by horns and a repetitive guitar loop (if Dave wasn’t singing I imagine he’d be tap dancing across the stage, with straw hat and cane, winking at the pit band). And then “Blue But Cool” just floors me, from the piano that’s just off the beat and just a microbe out of tune (but perfect), to the way the background response answers the call the third time the chorus comes slithering around. And like many of his beer-on-the-fire-escape reflections, it’s a poignant look at a relationship in transition where hope is there for the taking – or not (“now that we are home darling / how come we keep starin’ out the front door?”). I think Christine Smith’s influence (judging from her solo work) has helped strengthen these small introspective tales as well as add new color to their Big Mummer Moments like “Can’t Take It With You” (which now reveals that the line quoted prior to “Coughing” had a home after all. Perhaps flipping positions with “Wilderness” in the track order would have made the ending of the album stronger?).

I could lose “Songbirds” without complaint; it’s a decent enough song but the weakest vocal on the album and separates the joyous “Santos De Madera” from the anthemic title track. “Santos” throws in the kitchen sink – phasing, accordion, breathless background vocals and fiddle, a cumulative effect that echoes early Band, Bruce and Rod. “Angels Of Destruction” cannily borrows the same backbeat as “Santos” but layers something completely new on top; like stripping a car down to the chassis and rebuilding with other parts. Where the vocal and chorus of “la las” punctuate the former, it’s a fat power chord and handclaps driving the latter, a sneaky but effective way of making you seem familiar with the song the first time through. It would be a weak move if both songs weren’t instantly likeable; if there were such things as Marah hit singles both would qualify.

Yes, the beer and shots are gone, and the album is about seeing the world through new-found sobriety, which makes it personal (cue hidden bonus track “Tippecanoe”). But Angels of Destruction is an album about hope and redemption and choice. How ironic for an album released in January of 2008; do any of those themes ring a bell one year later?  I don’t know what Marah has up their sleeve for their next move, nor do I have the faintest idea when it will happen or who Serge and Dave will rope in to help create it. But seven albums down the road, I do know two things: (1) It won’t be boring, and (2) I can’t wait to hear it.

 

1. The Black Crowes:  Warpaint

crowes-warpaint1

The title Warpaint might be the perfect metaphor for a band that has regrouped figuratively and literally and is once again ready to take no prisoners. With yet another personnel shuffle and a recommitment between the Robinson brothers (leveraging the trust forged with Birds Of A Feather), The Black Crowes have not just climbed back in the ring, they’ve pounded lethargy and confusion into submission and regained the title.

“Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” is quintessential Crowes, each instrument layering in and warming up, then Chris Robinson’s soulful rasp jumping in the saddle (“put a little grease on my axle …nowwww”) and riding it home. The pairing of Luther Dickinson with Rich Robinson energizes an Allman-esque guitar interplay that seems to lift the entire band to another level of commitment, and Chris Robinson’s expressively raspy voice has only gotten fuller and richer with time. As a kick-off track, it’s as immediate a validation of an album as you’ll ever hear. And while the next track is also forceful, it’s the gorgeously mid-tempo “Oh Josephine” that’s the key to the sound of these “new” Crowes. They’ve struck gold with similar tempos before, but the stellar production on this album gives even the subtlest nuances a swagger that you can’t help be overwhelmed by.

“Locust Street” is a delicate country blues, utilizing mandolin, dobro and subtle piano flavorings winningly. “Movin On Down The Line” has a haunting opening that could be effortlessly slotted anywhere on Exile On Main Street; perhaps ideally book ending “Let It Loose”. But slowly, it transitions into a bluesy country shuffle that percolates into a full jam. “Wounded Bird” might bridge the past and present best – a filthy, fuzzy bong anthem. Slide guitar paces the Leslie-fueled organ and hop-skipping drums until finally settling into the final groove featuring Robinson extending syllables to coast to a stop. And speaking of Exile and muddy, filthy guitar, the foot-stomping gospel cover “Gods Got It” is infectious enough to lead a conga line into that church and raise the roof. While the band’s love of black gospel and blues might be well-documented (as is Jagger’s, for that matter), rarely did either find a vehicle as soulful and joyous as this.

The band heard criticism for the slow ballad “There’s Gold In Them Hills”, but I found it to be a beautiful, sprawling song that is begging for a Western worthy enough to showcase it. I suppose I could then bundle “Whoa Mule” along for the ride, although it’s the bottleneck slide I savor the most. Like an after dinner cocktail, the song itself is a gentle landing after the journey, intimate and quiet, like slipping into the shadows.

The first time the Black Crowes were on the David Letterman show they burned the place to the ground with “Jealous Again”, their impeccable Faces/Stones hybrid track from their debut album. Frankly, they were jaw-dropping breath of fresh air, especially after a decade and a half or noodly synth-crap passing as hit radio. Letterman, a bonafide rock fan, was floored… leading him to offer perhaps my favorite one-sentence review of all time…“that was just turn-the-dump-over, go-home-with-the-waitress rock and roll!” (As as a former bartender I know exactly what he meant!) Too bad that clip cuts off just before Letterman talks, but (1) when have you seen Paul have that much genuine fun, and (2) Letterman called the band “kids”. My god, we’re all getting old.

But honest, uncompromised rock’n’roll is timeless, and so are The Black Crowes. Who would have known at the time how much depth and tenacity and soulful spirit they would continue to have fifteen-plus years down the road? Even familiar with Warpaint after several dozen spins, I popped it in the player on a winding mountain drive and it spoke to me as vividly and religiously as it did on first focused listen. This is one for the ages; the best album of 2008.

And there you have it…Countdown 2008!

Thanks for reading…please stop back daily.

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