Album of the Week: Diana Hubbard’s LifeTimes (1979)

“music you have felt but not heard” – “Rose Coloured Lights” single cover.

This is one of those “elephant in the room” albums – Diana is L. Ron Hubbard’s daughter. I discovered this album 3 or 4 years ago after reading Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, a superb deep-dive on the scandolous history of Scientology. When, amongst detailing the Scientology clan’s bizarre adventure as a self-governing ship (literally) in the Mediterranean, it was mentioned that daughter Diana recorded a jazz album with legendary pianist and avowed Scientologist Chick Corea, my interest was piqued.

LifeTimes was released on the small Minneapolis label Waterhouse in 1979, who seem to have released mostly blues rock records, as well as a comedy album, Henny Youngman’s Take My Album, Please! (track #5: “What, No Jewish Jokes?”). The sheltered life of Scientology progeny Diana Hubbard, who went to music conservatory in London before studying Scientology and spending years on the group’s Mediterranean yacht, lends her music the feeling of an alien’s idea of classical or new age music. “Russian Roulette” (ominous track title, no?) is pretty, yet uneasy, with Hubbard’s piano playing sounding both sustained and clunky. The liner notes to LifteTimes contain penned notes describing each song, with this bizarre entry for “Russian Roulette”: “An arch-duke of Russia travelling [sic] across the plains of Siberia, came to a forest. He had known love, wealth, power, pain and the Napoleon Wars. He had done and experienced everything of his day. He plays Russian Roulette and dies in the forest.”

“Bewitched” features some bugged-out synthesizer work from the aforementioned Chick Corea, who just 10 years earlier played electric piano on Bitches Brew. In comparison, a contemporary review of LifeTimes by the Harvard Crimson called it “Dentists’ Office Jazz”. Like most muzak, LifeTimes is directionless and mostly uneventful. It even contains a vaguely-ethnic-sounding track called “Arabia”. But in its meandering sonatas it is strangely successful ambient music, and absolutely uncanny in the context of its creation.

Some may call it dreck, or just plain boring, but I genuinely enjoy this oddity of an album. To my knowledge Diana Hubbard has not released other music, and little is publicly known about her life. I’ll leave you with Hubbard’s handwritten description for the final track, “Midnight #3”: “A sea rippling quietly with the moon. The cliffs tower. Maybe you heard the sirens.”

Listen to LifeTimes here.

Album of the Week: 2Pac’s 2Pacalypse Now (1991)

I’d like to dedicate this post to De La Soul’s Dave, AKA Trugoy, who passed away recently. On 2Pac’s 1995 track “Old School”, Pac reminisces on the incomparable times and artists who shaped him, and De La are namedropped in the first verse. I think that begins to illustrate how important and influential De La are, and Dave was a core part of that.

Rewind to 1991: Despite the goofy title, 2Pacalypse Now is a remarkably mature and political debut album from a 19-turning-on-20 year old soon-to-be-superstar, one that laid the groundwork for music like Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

As exemplified in Kendrick’s “Mortal Man”, 2Pac was incredibly prescient. His first single, “Trapped”, is a 5-minute story of racial profiling. Although it lacks some of the more profoundly emotional delivery of his later work, “Trapped” is a strong and unified lyrical display. It serves as not only a strong start to Pac’s rap career but a signpost of what may be his most overtly political full-length. You can hear the roots of Kendrick’s style on “Words of Wisdom”: it’s a jazzy interlude which finds Pac rewriting the etymology of the n-word and fast-paced rapping about America’s racial suppression.

During these nascent stages of Pac’s rap career, he was in the Bay area recording this album in Richmond. As he would go on to rap on the title track of his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., “I’m comin’ out of O-Town, bitch, fuck around”. That album would find Tupac at his most aggressive, whereas 2Pacalypse is more relaxed in production and delivery. “Soulja’s Story” employs the same smoky Isaac Hayes sample (“No Name Bar”) as Tommy Wright and DJ Paul would (separately) employ later for some defining Memphis atmosphere.

“I Don’t Give a Fuck” finds Pac with couplets that set 2Pacalypse firmly in the early 90s, rap’s Golden Age: “And now they tryna send me to Kuwait? / Give me a break… Who’s that behind the trigger? / A motherfuckin’ 90s ni**a.” It’s a blueprint for the young Shakur, one that he would re-shape and transcend until his death.

“Brenda’s Got a Baby” is probably the most popular song from 2Pacalypse, but in its intensely melodramatic presentation is also one of the most dated. Still, it’s a classic storytelling rap in the conscious style. This one and the Stevie Wonder quoting “Part Time Mutha”, with its strange placement as an album closer, are probably the only 2 tracks here I would skip.

For the amount of music he recorded and the impact he has on pop culture, it’s still mind-boggling how short 2Pac’s career was. Killed in 1996 less than 3 months after his 25th birthday, Pac had spent nearly all of 1995 in prison, a superstar missing in action. Listening to 2Pacalypse today is like watching a fuse get lit. It’s a reminder that even in the beginning, 2Pac was something special.

Listen to 2Pacalypse Now here.

Album of the Week: Black Rob’s Life Story (2000)

I didn’t know much about Black Rob before he passed in 2021, except his song “Can I Live” with The LOX, which has a beautiful beat and finds Styles P fantasizing about “hang-glid[ing] to the Alps with a fly chick”. One of Bad Boy’s most promising artists after Biggie’s passing, Rob was featured on Motown’s “I Want You Back ’98”, a Jackson 5 remix that dropped, strangely, not 30 but 29 years after the original. Why this track was made, I’m not sure, but rapping on a track with (the then-living) Michael Jackson must have been a promising early-career move for Rob.

What followed in 1999 was the recording of Rob’s debut Life Story, including the smash lead single “Whoa!”, which has largely held up well (other than the f-slur). The Buckwild beat is bonkers, and Black Rob sells the single title as a catchall response to anything remarkable. Also worth pointing out is the 8-minute remix with Rah Digga, Beanie Sigel and more. Whoa.

But Life Story is a surprisingly solid front-to-back album. The title track is captivating as a wistful growing-up-in-the-ghetto song (“living in this tenement, eating stale Entenmann’s”). Rob’s character is quickly established: a hard-nosed jailbird who perseveres through life struggles by rapping. Somewhat unexpectedly, CeeLo Green appears as the album’s first rap feature on “Lookin’ at Us”, and he kills it. Sometimes I forgot how good at rapping CeeLo is. Then we have a Bad Boy posse cut with Diddy, Mase and G-Dep on “Down the Line Joint”.

Later on, “B.R.” is some expert noir-rap with gritty rhymes and the beat to match. “Thug Story” is a Slick Rick callback, and “Jasmine” is steel-drum infected storytelling rap. “I Love You Baby” originally appeared on the Puff & The Family album No Way Out (1997), which went 7x Platinum. Things wrap up with some pep on “I Dare You” (that’s after the J-Lo feature). I really like this album. It’s packed to the gills but there is nary a garbage track to be found. God bless Black Rob.

Listen to Life Story here.

Album of the Week: Domo Genesis & Evidence’s Intros, Outros and Interludes (2022)

This release from two LA-to-the-core hip-hop artists is an overlooked joint project. It’s a merging of two different generations: The 31-year-old Domo Genesis cut his teeth as a member of Tumblr-era phenoms Odd Future, and the 46-year-old Evidence co-founded the group Dilated Peoples in the 90s. What the two have in common is a laidback, uncomplicated approach to rap music. While this trait may have kept both artists from achieving the mainstream success achieved by some of their peers, it rewards listeners as they age with confidence and consistency in their respective outputs.

Evidence and Domo first collaborated on 2017’s “Deez Nuts”, a Domo track produced by Evidence. A year later, Ev rapped on Domo’s “Fuck a Co-Sign”, from his brief yet excellent Arent U Glad Youre U tape. Evidence produced the entirety of last year’s Intros, Outros and Interludes, and his beats are absolutely lush. I find myself playing this album early in the morning as it relaxes me. “Trust the Process” finds Doms riding over a 70s soul sample, his lyrics unadorned observation: “This hash is in my lungs / a bunch of plastic in the ocean”. The sunny “Stay One More Day” sample fades in and out as Evidence proves himself a master beatmaker.

Ev’s one guest verse is smooth: “Drive slow, homie / Like my son is in the car / My summers as a kid in Brooklyn made me to a star”. This is a reference to canon hip-hop (Late Registration), a sly nod to his age, and a reflection on his come-up in one rhyme. Domo follows with “I never had a chance / I lose my life to seek a new one, look we movin’ through the dance”. It’s just two guys ruminating on how they got where they are, but in the context of the album it feels almost like a passing of the torch moment.

The beat on “December Coming” is heavenly, another delicious piece of a brief yet worthy album from two rap devotees. Here’s hoping they team up again.

Listen to Introshere.

Album of the Week: Pat Metheny’s New Chautauqua (1979)

Here’s an idea: what if Pat Metheny fans were referred to as Meth-heads? Eh? No, sorry, not sure about that one. But the guy does have a devoted fan base. When I saw Metheny in concert (2021), an older couple in line joked to security, “Metal detectors?? But we love Pat Metheny! We would never do anything to hurt him!”

There’s a reason people seek to protect Pat Metheny at all costs. He controls an active legacy dating back almost 50 years to a 1974 recording with Jaco Pastorius, Bruce Ditmas and Paul Bley. Metheny was 19 at the time of the recording, and the album was released in 1976, the same year as Metheny’s proper ECM debut, the trio recording Bright Size Life. Metheny would continue to release strong records for ECM for almost a decade, but his only true solo effort in this bunch is his fourth album, New Chautauqua.

By layering tracks of acoustic and electric guitars, Metheny achieves a strikingly full sound on New Chautauqua by himself. Though the title track is upbeat, the album’s sound as a whole is weightlessly drifting, most notably on the 10 minute “Long Ago Child / Fallen Star”, which reaches a mesmerizing conclusion. It takes almost 7 minutes to get there, but “Fallen Star” is a brilliant oasis, a background of shimmering echoes with soft strings plucking away at the fore.

Chautauqua was a kind of rural educational fair that spread in popularity throughout the U.S. in the late 19th century. What Metheny’s music has to do with it I’m not sure, but I have read somewhere that the album is based on his impressions of New Mexico as a child. After “Fallen Star”, “Hermitage” provides another one of those “oh shit” moments, when the melody drops about a minute in. It’s an easy song to treasure. “Daybreak” rounds things out in a manner fitting its title, as it starts off a slow crawl and rises to a gleaming resolution.

Listen to New Chautauqua here.

Album of the Week: Gene Clark’s White Light (1971)

Gene Clark of The Byrds was not a successful solo artist. He left the band in 1966 after his role as a primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist was significantly diminished. Listening to any of his solo records, it’s clear that his songwriting skills make him deserving of a greater legacy than his contemporary reception as a lesser Byrd member. Rightfully, this attitude seems to have changed with recent critical appraisal of his 1974 masterpiece No Other, which was reissued in 2019 and received a 9.3 rating from Pitchfork. Their review paints a stark picture of Clark’s dire fate: “No money would go to promote the album and No Other tanked, all but ending Clark’s career. One of the most exquisite spiritual seekers in song, Clark was dead by the age of 46, ravaged by alcohol and heroin.”

Clark died in 1991, leaving behind a legacy that was more than just The Byrds and even more than No Other. White Light is an inspired acoustic/folk album that features one of my favorite Clark songs, “One in a Hundred”, which was also released in an alternate arrangement on 1973’s Roadmaster. The song’s lilting melody is matched by its delightfully 70s (read: hippie) lyrics: “Voices of time / bringing surprise / voices that sing in waking moments to look into life’s eyes.” Clark could be epic to a degree nearing overly-maudlin, but at other times was quite direct, such as on the lovely chorus of “Because of You”: “The sun I see only shines for me because of you.”

“For a Spanish Guitar” situates itself somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan, which is pretty much exactly where you want to be if you’re recording a folk album in the early 70s. It’s a lost classic. Speaking of Dylan, White Light features a great cover of “Tears of Rage”, Dylan’s song that was famously played by The Band, Jerry Garcia Band, and probably 100 other people. Clark’s version features impassioned guitar playing (acoustic and electric!) and organ work that would make Garth Hudson proud.

White Light is so succinct that even though the reissue (the version you’ll find on Spotify) packs it with 5 bonus tracks, it barely passes the 50 minute mark. Imbued with a warmth amplified by the magic of early 70s recording technology, White Light is a classic that I’d recommend to any fan of folk or acoustic music.

Listen to White Light here.

Album of the Week: Ana Mazzotti’s Ninguém Vai Me Segurar (1974)

Brazil in the 60s/70s was, among other things, fertile ground for amazing music. Ana Mazzotti began playing accordion at age 5, before moving to keys and forming a Beatles cover band while still in school. A move from Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul to the more populated São Paulo found her introduced to Rio de Janeiro’s Azymuth, the fusion/funk band that would play a key role in her music. By 1974, Azymuth keyboardist José Roberto Bertrami was already something of a session wizard, having played with luminaries such as Tim Maia and Marcos Valle. When Mazzotti recorded this, her first album, Bertrami and the Azymuth crew were her backing band.

Ninguém Vai Me Segurar translates to “Nobody will hold me”, which is probably a statement of loneliness but which I prefer to liken to Rick Ross’s refusal to be stopped. Mazzotti’s confident vocals and great songs are only the first layer of the music. Bertrami’s contributions are massive: these synths are FUNKY. “Roda Mundo” features some synth-spazzing that rivals Chick Corea and “Eu Sou Mais Eu” has a particularly funky bounce to it.

I think I discovered this record via “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, a cover of the Roberta Flack song (written by Eugene McDaniels) that served as the title track to the first AOTY I ever posted on this blog. Mazzotti’s version is sampled on Isaiah Rashad’s “Cilvia Demo”, and matches the mellow of Flack’s take. We get a sort of Syreeta vibe on “Acalanto” with its sleepy Sunday atmosphere and Stevie-like synths.

Ana Mazzotti followed Ninguém with a self-titled album in 1977, but unfortunately neither were very commercially successful. Little is known (at least to me) about her last 10-or-so years, and she passed away from cancer early in 1988. Thanks to a 2019 reissue on Far Out Recordings, more is known about Ninguém and it is easy to find and stream, which is fantastic as this album is an absolute delight.

Listen to Ninguém Vai Me Segurar here.

Album of the Week: Phish Live 6/27/2010 at Merriweather Post Pavilion (2010)

I’ve been to Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion exactly once, to see Animal Collective perform for the very first time at the venue they named their seminal 2009 album after (the Centipede Hz-heavy show included just 3 songs from MPP). This was in July 2011, and as a high-schooler I was ecstatic to see my favorite band deliver the goods. I knew almost nothing about Phish at the time except that my dad considered them a shameless Grateful Dead ripoff, and being far from even a Deadhead myself I was in no rush to counter. Phish was a total blindspot.

A decade and change later, Phish is my most listened-to artist (I type this with as much humility as possible). Most “phans” consider the mid-to-late 90s as their peak live era, and I won’t dispute that claim. But for whatever reason, a disproportionate amount of their 2010 shows are available on streaming services. This is one show deserving of attention.

The band’s first two-night stand at Merriweather (there have been seven since) began on Saturday, 6/26/10, with the band notably performing a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”. While I haven’t heard that whole set, the “Aeroplane” indicates the magic in the air at Merriweather that weekend.

Merriweather Post is a beautiful venue with a large outdoor lawn and a summery roof over the stage. A review sets the scene for 6/27: “The HEAT was bad! Lot’s of humidity, def. could have rained on us but it held back. This actually created a sweaty, half naked crowd that was just waiting to get down.” Sunday night’s show opens with a rare “Walfredo” (one of only two in the past 20 years!), which despite some speaker feedback and a forgotten line signaled a special night ahead with its appearance. A Marley cover (“Mellow Mood”), the evergreen “Divided Sky”, a roaring “Bathtub Gin” and a ripping “Run Like an Antelope” highlight a fun first set.

The second set is where things step into all-killer no-filler territory. “Wilson” starts things off by rocking the engaged crowd before “Meatstick” sends things into funkier territory. One thing about Phish: they are silly. I don’t think everyone will appreciate just how goofy “Meatstick” is, but if you let it take you there, it’s 8 minutes of liquid funk. This jam somehow morphs into the near-metal of “Saw It Again”, which turns into a repeated theme for the rest of the show. This “Saw It” is the first since 2003, and it appropriately fries the brains of the present crowd as it explodes. From the ashes of “Saw It” rises a “Piper” which starts delicately enough before Trey absolutely rips shit on guitar. The cheers are audible around the 11:45 mark when Page finally takes over on organ.

“Ghost” is one of Phish’s all-around best and one of their most consistently played songs (they’ve played it at 2 of the 4 shows I’ve seen) for good reason. On this version, Trey’s got that wet guitar tone and stretches the notes out while the rhythm section churns. In the blink of an eye this “Ghost” turns into the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (only time ever played!), an unexpected treat, before resolving as a reprisal of the monstrous “Saw It Again”.

“Contact” is a great breather between the climactic “Saw It Again” and the set-ending “You Enjoy Myself”, the most quintessentially Phish-y Phish song. As for the “Fire” encore, it’s an appropriate victory lap given the level they were at on this night. Give it a go and see for yourself.

Listen to 6/27/10 here.

Album of the Week: Emily Remler’s East to Wes (1988)

Welcome to 1988, the CD era! George Michael and Rick Astley ruled the charts, and Kenny G’s Silhouette would go 4x Platinum. Miles Davis was recording the glossy Amandla with the help of writer and bassist Marcus Miller, who had just written and produced the hit “Da Butt” for D.C. go-go group Experience Unlimited (chorus: “she was doin’ the butt”). Wayne Shorter’s Joy Ryder, a synth-filled foray into adult contemporary, was described as “grossly overproduced middle-brow funk”. Jazz wasn’t what it used to be.

Emily Remler, then, might as well have been living in the 50s. The 30 year old Berklee alum was devoted to bebop and swing, her greatest idol the jazz guitar giant Wes Montgomery. “I was so obsessed with Wes Montgomery that I had a picture of him on my wall,” Remler shared in a 1986 interview. “And for two years, I learned a new Wes song every day.” Hence the title of her sixth album East to Wes.

Though the album itself features no Montgomery compositions, East to Wes is largely composed of Remler’s take on other songs. “Daahoud”, from the classic Clifford Brown and Max Roach, starts things off with pep. Marvin Smith on drums provides a hopping rhythm allowing Remler to take off. Hank Jones, who played piano with Cannonball Adderley among many others, works as a melodic counterpoint.

“Snowfall” aptly begins gently and rhythmically before Remler takes things up a notch on acoustic guitar. You can watch her performing the song with her eyes closed, deeply focused. Smith’s drumming accentuates the speed of Remler’s playing while Buster Williams provides the perfect backbone. Remler’s original composition “Ballad From a Music Box”, by contrast, is 7 minutes of mellow, an easy highlight for me. Later in the album, the standard “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” gets the centerpiece treatment as the longest track. Remler draws it out nice and easy, waiting at least 4 minutes to really let it rip with the fingering before Hank Jones takes over. Williams even gets a tight solo in.

Emily Remler died just 2 years after the release of East to Wes, a tragic loss for a young musician who was steadily improving. Listening to the album today, it feels like neither a product of the 80s or a bebop-era time capsule, but an ageless testament to Remler’s skill.

Listen to East to Wes here.

Album of the Week: Sweet Smoke’s Just a Poke (1970)

Or, a bunch of jewish stoner kids from Brooklyn move to Germany and record a psych-rock classic. With legendary Krautrock producer Conny Plank at the helm, the guys of Sweet Smoke managed to release a two-track jam LP with European distribution on Columbia. Full of flute and guitars, “Baby Night” kicks off with an interpolation of Jeremy & The Satyrs’ “In the World of Glass Teardrops”. Not 3 minutes in, the tempo shifts to a “Moondance”-like strut, stretching out the instruments into jam territory. A minute later, things kick back up into high-gear, with dueling lead and rhythm guitars driving the instrumental passage. Marvin Kaminowitz’s lead around 7 minutes is tantalizing in its brief melodic passage. Then the song shifts again, turning into a cover of The Doors’ “The Soft Parade”. This provides another place for Kaminowitz to stretch out, this time achieving some trippy delay effects, before cycling back to “Teardrops”.

Side B’s “Silly Sally” features some hot saxophone action, so best to start there if you have any aversion to flutes. With some wah-wah guitars, things groove for about 7 minutes until we reach what one Discogs user describes as “one of the most amazing drum solo to hear on drugs .” Some sick fading enhances the solo of Jay Dorfman, who, according to a blog post later “programmed the drum tracks for the seminal dance tech record Planet Rock for Tommy Boy Records” (no way!). The “Silly Sally” solo is about 5 minutes of funky drumming. After that, things round out with more cookin’ sax. Though I have not heard either of their follow-up records, Sweet Smoke’s international debut stands as a strong entry into the canon of both American psych and German Krautrock.

This French fan site also has some good info on Sweet Smoke.

Listen to Just a Poke here.