MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvanna


Four hours deep in a pathetic display of self-indulgent pity. You know those days when you wake up pissed at someone, only to find out a few hours later that you’re the jackass responsible for all the dismay? Anyway, I was staring out the window, when out of nowhere FedEx suddenly appears at my door. Two things are important: 1. it’s only about 11am at this point and FedEx routinely comes to my house after 2pm, and 2. I opened the box and low-and-behold, Nirvana is here to save the day.

When has Nirvana ever saved my day? The answer is never. In my early teens, I was a punk. Not the cool CBGB kind, in case you were dumb enough to think I had any level of swagger or cynical understanding of modern influence. No, I was punk, like many you all knew, who grew up in a society that spoiled anyone capable of dribbling a basketball; who could recite Israel’s pledge of allegiance by heart; and who enjoyed nothing more than hunting out my dad’s weed stash (he eventually stopped moving it around after he realized my unfathomed determination to impress, and get stoned). Nirvana wasn’t a band I played because I wanted to get in touch with my feelings, not even close. Shit. Smells Like Teen Spirit is what you played to justify and obnoxiously provoke your in-pubescent certitudes. Nirvana was going through puberty, just like me, that was all it was; it was our bond, and it seemed to be working just fine.

But Unplugged shifted all of that for me, even into my twenties and thirties. And here it is, the full circle, glowing under MTV’s perfectly designed lights. This recording is where this rock band’s emotion is realized, respected and reflected. Again, this is my take on it. And I knew on this day, Nirvana was going to make me feel something different. I cancelled my afternoon.

This album played perfectly. I felt it in my bones and it shifted my perspective on life, in that window anyway, and cleansed my soul. I sang one song out loud, the last track on side B: Where Did You Sleep Last Night. The emotion in Kurt’s voice was perfect the entire album. He pours his life into that microphone. My living room filled with talent, with off-the-charts soundstage, with purity, with complication, and with a shitload of heart. Thank you record submitter. I’ve played this album a dozen times since receiving it last month, seeking out that memorized emotion. And when I have a guest over, I tend to end our jam session with this record, intently staring at  my guest to see if they get even a dose of what I felt on this day. The time  I’ll aptly title “the day Nirvana saved me.”



I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), Aretha Franklin

By Adam Blank:
There are artists and songs that you’ve heard so many times they are a part of you to the point you can’t describe life without them. Safe bet we all grew up hearing the same bands, courtesy of 60-something-year-old parents: the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan and the list grows in more or less the same direction. Then there’s the segment of soul; the R&B oldies, as you will. In my case, this is where my dad’s influence comes to play. I have cherished memories of riding around in his ’71 MGB listening to the oldies station. He knew every word, to every song, and we sang the shit out of ’em. Sometimes he’d share a story or memory. But I digress. Let’s talk about May’s album: Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. 
Released in 1967, this is Ms. Franklin’s eleventh album release. When it was recorded, FAME studios was just developing its groove. Muscle Shoals, everybody. (disclaimer: this album was part produced at FAME part Atlantic’s studios in NYC). The arrangements are hard to dismiss as anything short of superstar. But the approach to producing was simple: Ms. Franklin sat at her piano, and rhythm patterns were built on this base, and the horns and vocals answers filled in later.
First thought that comes to mind after hearing the record in its entirety: immediately smitten. You know the place she’s going to take you before the onset. But you also know it’s going to exceed that exact expectation and so the excitement consummately transcends you into that special space. You’re in your chair before the first note.
A hit beyond explanation. And I really should save myself any embarrassment and out of respect, move along to the next track.
You sneak back to your amp, and turn the volume up, a bit more, and back to your chair with a certain degree of charisma and satisfaction rarely obtained in your living room while the family sleeps soundly. How can someone’s tears sound so beautiful? Again, I’m not special by any degree nor will I begin to ponder or declare the origin of Aretha’s soulful capabilities. But I sure as shit feel good listening to her belt her heart out.
Self titled track. Organs. And Aretha. And then you get some horns. Your stereo is in perfect harmony. Oh snap, that guitar (Muscle Shoals doesn’t just have singers). I could hear this song on repeat, without dinner, for a week straight.
The soundstage on this track is off the charts. I dazingly (this has to be a real word?) stare at my needle. I watch the record groove. And before I know it we’re on the to the next track. And it’s time for another drink.
Not every track has to be perfect. I’m taking my time pouring that drink.
Classic sounding in every sense. You follow the words as your memory searches for the pictures. If you ever need a song to find the courage for an overdue apology, put this on.
If you can remember, you’re back at your amp, volume up. Drink in hand, patiently waiting to sing along.
I got up, moved around, and this is a good time to get a standup break. The song is awesome, the guitar is back, and I’m more or less floating in front of my speakers, enjoying that embodied richness.
You either have it or you don’t. If this song doesn’t make you float into 1960, into the body of one of Ms. Franklin’s backup singers, you don’t know. And I feel sorry for you. Maybe next life.
Rhythm guitars. And a steady drum. This is soulful rock ‘n roll. The riffs are simple, and Ms. Franklin isn’t toppling over anyone. The horns are balanced and fit perfect. It’s a short melody and easy to listen to. The horns and bass line will be mimicked for decades to come.
We’ve come to an end, and Ms. Franklin takes us to church. In her attempt to lift us emotionally, her producer puts the perfect touches, leaving a rich hum not so much in your face but into the depths of your soul. Perhaps this last track sums the record up perfectly: rejoice rejoice rejoice ya’ll Ms. Franklin just laid a perfect record. 
So in conclusion: If you don’t own this album. It isn’t going anywhere, you don’t need to beat the crowd. But your home isn’t quite complete without it, so there’s that. Disclaimer:
I know who sent me this album. This is one of this person’s “essential albums.” And I’d trust him with my last dollar if he told me how to spend it.

Greg Brown – “The Iowa Waltz”

By: Adam Blank

I received my April record today. I haven’t heard of this artist nor this album: Greg Brown, The Iowa Waltz. Although recorded in 1981, the opening track aptly titled The Iowa Waltz, delivers a sultry,  well-balanced Americana melody, with a studied and patient arrangement. Jumping across the album, each song has its own personality, but stays within that same classic singer-song writer mold. The second track, Mississippi Serenade, is a familiar tune, but after researching, and much to my surprise, it hasn’t been recorded by anyone else; it is a Greg Brown original.

And so my opinion of this record: soul-satisfying and above-average soundstage, even though it sounds like it was produced on a $300 budget in 1960.

I’m honestly not sure how the sender learned about this guy, but I’m glad I own this record. I’ll likely purchase another one of his records, especially now that I’ve read he produced an album titled Freak Flag, where the title-song ponders modern American values and when faced with inevitable doubts, Brown proclaims “let your freak flag fly.” Real shit.