current listening 04/24/10

+ R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985) – When its extraordinary third album was released, R.E.M. was a band of wonder – and not just because you couldn’t understand a blessed word Michael Stipe was singing. With veteran British folk-rock champion Joe Boyd producing, the Georgia rockers created a neo-psychedelic dreamscape album full of murky hooks and melodies where you can practically hear the rain, fog and shadows.

+ Jeff Beck: Blow By Blow (1975) – Released 35 years ago this spring, Blow by Blow remains Jeff Beck’s masterpiece – an instrumental album cut at the heart of the fusion era with George Martin as producer. From the elegant blues of Steve Wonder’s Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers to Martin’s majestic orchestration on Diamond Dust to Beck’s own ferocity on Scatterbrain, this career-defining triumph still sounds like a million bucks.

+ Various artists: California Concert (1972) – Out-of-print CD edition of a 1971 live album featuring jazz artists signed to the then-booming CTI label, including George Benson, Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine. The music makes nods to fusion without being overtly poppish. Asking price for a new copy on $177. Found a clean-as-a-whistle used copy at CD Central last week for 7 bucks. Mercy.

+ Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: Live in Skowhegan (2010) – Borrowing from vintage girl group pop and muscular, organic ‘70s rock, Vermont songstress Potter has rightly earned high marks as a live act – hence, this seven-song concert EP from a June 2008 show at a Maine opera house. Available as a limited edition release for Record Store Day, Skowhegan nicely fills the gap until Potter’s next studio album hits stores in June.

+ Various artists: Broadcasts Vol. 17, KGSR Radio Austin (2009) – Every year at holiday time, a friend in Austin, Tx. sends a copy of the newest Broadcasts disc. With proceeds benefiting mental health and addiction services for the central Texas music community, Broadcasts is limited to single pressings of fine acoustic radio performances. Then they’re gone for good. Vol.17 boasts Steve Earle, Alejandro Escovedo, Gillian Welch and a lot more.

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