Luke Sole is a writer, guitar nerd, and Star Wars aficionado. He likes his guitar solos long and intrusive. He previously fronted Christchurch-based jam collective, Custer’s Revenge. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – The Band, The Last Waltz: This album is worth the purchase price just to hear Pops Staples delicately massage the third verse of The Weight before a high-as-fuck Rick Danko yells all over the fourth. The Last Waltz isn’t new to me by any stretch, but it’s one of those albums I’ve always come back to. You always find something new there. It’s layered like that. My battered LP copy was dusted off, given a quick clean, and cranked solidly over the New Year period to rapturous applause from the neighbours (not quite). It’s perhaps my favourite album, but truth be told, I’ve probably spent more time talking shit about this album than actually listening to it. It’s the album for lame musician discourse.
Some memorable observations I’ve heard:
- “Clapton sucked so fucking hard he deliberately lost his guitar strap so Robertson could school him”.
- “There was a room full of cocaine backstage and it was piled to the ceiling”.
- “You know Bob Dylan was going to fight Neil Diamond backstage, right”?
- “I can’t believe Wilco thought no one would notice that they ripped of Stage Fright”.
It’s a near flawless album, but it always strikes me how the film focused so heavily on Robertson. Let’s not forget he co-wrote Dry Your Eyes with Neil Diamond – he’s a great guitarist, but no one can polish that turd.
2 – Van Morrison, It’s Too Late to Stop Now: Holy shit, this album rules. When Van Morrison breaks up a five-minute jam by screaming “I really wanna make love to you”, over a blaring horn section, you know he means business. Recorded during his 1974 US/UK tour, this album captures him at the top of his game. It really is the best definition of a true ‘live’ album – there are no studio overdubs, splicing of tracks, or amplified applause. What you can hear is an 11-peice band absolutely killing it – carefully unravelling each track with precision, while creating the necessary space for Van Morrison to let rip. For me, it’s John Platania that steals the show – carefully, slotting the guitar between the other instruments without detracting from the sound. When he steps up to take a solo it’s trademark big band (ala Henry McCullough before he got cheesy) – trebly and frenzied, with enough botched pitch harmonics to let you know he’s in the moment.
3 – Grateful Dead, American Beauty: I met an actual ‘Deadhead’ when I was working a menial part-time job during university. He was in his 60s with long white hair tied back in a pony tail, a matching white beard, and always wore a tie dyed shirt featuring Hendrix mid-solo. His favourite topics were naming mythological beasts and recounting the time his band got booed off stage for using a wah pedal at a farmers wedding circa 1969. He was Jeff Lebowski incarnate. I looked up to him.
But I digress…
American Beauty was something of a slow burner for me – I’ve attempted it a few times over the years but it always struck me as a bit patchy. It’s kind of half country croon, half oblique blues jams. But there are a handful of songs that are truly timeless.
There’s a considered approach to American Beauty that sets it apart from anything the Grateful Dead had produced until that point. The songs are short, stripped back, and restrained (at least for their standards). It feels like a confident release – the songs are strong enough to stand on their own without gratuitous solos or experimentation. Well-placed pedal steel and mandolin are favoured over big guitar sounds. They more or less lost this sound after only two albums. As a side note, I’ve always thought of Nest Egg by The Phoenix Foundation as an existential quandary worthy of The Grateful Dead.
4 – The Reduction Agents, Dance Reduction Agents: I love this album. At first it sounds like the Sunday musings of a bunch of rowdy students, but then it hits you – every song is total genius. It’s loose and raucous, but it’s also a lot more precise than it lets on. The vocal harmonies sound amazing. The standouts for me are The Pool, Couldn’t Anymore, and Our Jukebox Run is Over. Pop perfection. Waiting for Your Love is an incredibly catchy, if ever-so-slightly meandering, love song that descends into chaos for the sake of it. It’s a song that any other band would chuck in the first three tracks, but it’s the tenth track here. It’s a pretty good contender for the best use of the chords A, B, and E ever.
I celebrate James Milne’s entire back catalogue – the guy has never produced anything that even remotely sucks. Why can’t I get this album on vinyl?
5 – Neil Young, On the Beach: [Insert mandatory Neil Young album here] I first heard this album when I was 17 and spent many after school evenings trawling my dad’s albums and playing GoldenEye. It was probably sitting between Bread’s Greatest Hits and a copy of Saturday Night Fever with the pimpin’ silver vinyl. I was yet to discover After The Gold Rush in the same pile (that happened a few months later), so this served as my introduction to Neil Young. On the Beach is supposed to be dark, sparse, and difficult, but I didn’t notice it at the time. It’s certainly cynical, but it has some incredibly optimistic moments. The compositions say something else entirely – it’s probably his most musical album. Ralph Molina’s drums on opener Walk On is his most inventive drum beat. See the Sky about to Rain blows me away every time I hear it. It’s a near-perfect tune. The Byrds’ version is too polished. There’s too much going on for me. Revolution Blues is menacing. It freaked me out a bit the first time I listened to it. That’s quite the achievement considering it features David Crosby, Ben Keith, and a rhythm section consisting of no less than Levon Helm and Rick Danko. As Young waxes lyrical about Charlie Manson and the leech-like scenesters of Laurel Canyon, Helm provides a drum beat that only he could. You can’t get too depressed about the subject-matter when the groove is this solid. Danko’s bass sounds monstrous. I’m sure David Crosby was struggling to remember all four chords.