At the record store with…
Wess is an editor of the Nu Romantics and American contributing editor of London’s The 405 . Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
“At the record store with…” is a new interview-type feature where an author (or in this case, editor and photographer) answers one question: name five albums (in no particular order) which have profoundly influenced you and why? Catch our similar features, “At the movies with…” , “At the art gallery with…” , and “At the bookstore with…” coming soon.
- Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” (1959)
This was in a big way my introduction to jazz — a genre I have loved ever since. I bought the record at a gas station in Pennsylvania on the way to Washington DC when I was 14 and was mesmerized by the whole thing, but particularly the first track, ‘So What?’ as it played on my walk-man.
The creative freedom of great jazz has really stuck with me and I believe firmly that it rewires one’s neural pathways in new, exciting and downright mystical ways that just aren’t possible through other forms of music. I find I get more and better work done when I have it on my headphones at the same time.
2. Epica “The Phantom Agony” (2003)
This record served as my introduction to the Neo-Classical Metal genre: heavy metal with powerful and potent classical touches like full, real orchestras and live choirs.
Epica is led by the Viennese-trained mezzo-soprano Simone Simons, who has a voice to topple the walls of Jericho yet as silken as the finest fashions. She is one of the few vocalists I’ve ever heard who’s voice does literally make my hairs stand up. The album version of ‘Feint’ particularly emphasizes this.
Neo-Classical is my go-to genre when I want to feel and be transported. Metal and classical may seem like genres that wouldn’t fit together at first blush but I think composers like Mahler (especially as he believed in packing the orchestra to get his huge sound), Bach, or Liszt— if they were alive today — would really appreciate how the two complement each other (Epica also uses a real orchestra).
3. Led Zeppelin “IV (ZOSO)” (1971)
What else really can be said about this immortal album? I think Zeppelin does that blues-on-your-sleeve rock influence better than most anyone. Isn’t it interesting how the Brits in essence perfected a quintessentially American art form?
“When the Levee Breaks” is hands down my favorite on the record. How Zeppelin changed the more cursory characteristics of this delta blues standard while preserving its soul is amazing. Their version is just as much a primal scream as the 1920’s original by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy about the very real Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. Of course the bombastic, fun “Black Dog” and “Rock And Roll” always get the blood flowing.
4. Brian Setzer Orchestra “The Dirty Boogie” (1998)
A shot of pure, fun rockabilly and swing — The Stray Cat Setzer’s re-imagining of Glenn Miller’s post-WWII big band hit ‘Jump, Jive, and Wail’ is pretty cool, and the sound of the big bass walkin’ on songs like ‘The Dirty Boogie’ will get your feet tapping at the very least.
From the first beats of ‘This Cats on a Hot Tin Roof’ to the ‘As Long as I’m Singin’’ send off, this album is a shot of solid and infectious Americana. If it doesn’t get you movin’, check your pulse. You’re likely dead.
It was Setzer who began my love affair with rockabilly. I have it on whenever I need my brain kicked into higher gear and get stuff done.
5. The Grateful Dead “The Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses)” (1971)
Some people love nothing better then bagging on those “stony” jam bands like The Grateful Dead. But this misses so much of what this incomparable band had to offer, especially on their second live album “Skull & Roses.”
While yes some of the Dead’s live music is long, it’s also incredibly joyful. The Grateful Dead is the only band that ALWAYS puts a smile on my face when I hear their work because the pure joy of performing bleeds through and colors most everything they recorded.
The criticisms also ignore the huge breadth of musical influence that the band had and exemplified in a huge way on this album. From blues (the old Jimmy Reed standard ‘Big Boss Man’) to more rustic roots music (‘Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad’), to country (the Dead take on Merle Haggard’s ‘Mama Tried’ too) the Dead do it and they do it pretty damn well because it gave them great joy.