There's a thread doing the rounds of the YouTube vinyl community that's been difficult to avoid in recent weeks, concerning the ten albums you go-to most. Not necessarily your all-time favourite albums (though of course some of those might be included), but ten records that you might instinctively reach for as you gaze, otherwise uninspired, at your racks, boxes or digital folders, in search of something to play. Musical comfort blankets if you will. The thread got me thinking and I quickly jotted down a couple of dozen of my own go-to albums off the top of my head. Here, in no particular order, are ten of them.
(For the purposes of this exercise I've deliberately avoided choosing any records from my personal big hitters - Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan, Robyn Hitchcock, Bowie, The Clash, Miles Davis, Alasdair Roberts et al ('...all the cats..' to quote Marc, '...you know who they are...'), as they would quickly come to dominate a list such as this).
The Sundays - Reading Writing and Arithmetic
You'll often find me piping up about this one whenever discussion turns to defining the perfect album. I've always felt a bit sorry for 'Blind' and 'Static & Silence', either one of which would surely have been regarded as a formidable first outing in an alternative universe, but instead they languish in the immense shadow cast by the band's actual, impeccable debut.
Joe Henry - Trampoline
At the dawn of the 1990s I was deep in the pocket of The Jayhawks and followed them over to Joe Henry's 1992 album 'Short Man's Room', where they functioned as the house band. It was Joe's 4th album and his 5th, 'Kindness of the World', also included sundry Jayhawks within it's cast. Then, following a three year gap, came 'Trampoline', an album unlike those that came before, a huge progression. Fine as those early albums were, for me, this is where Joe truly found his voice. Sometime last year in one of those online polls, I nominated 'Trampoline' as the album I'd most like to see gain a vinyl (re)issue. To my amazement, Joe got wind of my comment and reached out to thank me for it.
Nancy Wallace - Old Stories
Nancy is a serial collaborator who has contributed to the likes of The Memory Band and The Owl Service over the years, with 2008's 'Old Stories' remaining her sole solo full length release. It's a fragile, timeless delight of an album, recommended heartily to one and all, even though it doesn't actually contain my all-time favourite song of hers (this one).
Maria McKee - Life is Sweet
1993's 'You Gotta Sin to Get Saved' is a raucous gospel influenced affair, but it's the follow-up from three years later that is my go to. 'Life is Sweet' is a harrowing, over the top opus that baffled record label, critics and fans alike at the time, though for some reason completely connected with me. I have no idea what was going on in McKee's life back then, but in places on this album she sounds as if she's not far from the very end of her tether. Unhinged and utterly gripping music.
Mikey Dread - African Anthem
A joyful aural snapshot of Mikey's late 1970's JBC radio show, featuring dubs and instrumental backing tracks overlaid with mad jingles and eccentric sound effects. I'm not claiming that African Anthem is the greatest reggae album ever made, nor even my favourite of that genre, but if push comes to shove it's the one I still dig out most often.
Ed Kuepper - I Was a Mail Order Bridegroom
Ed Kuepper put out great albums at a prolific rate through the 1990s, though it's this 1995 limited mail-order release that I've pulled from the racks most over the years. Recorded during rehearsals for a solo acoustic European tour, it's a career overview reaching back to The Saints' 'Messin' With the Kid' and also featuring a fine cover of The Who's 'The Seeker'.
'Trilogy' was one of my earliest musical forays away from the hitherto Glam-only diet of T.Rex, Bowie, Sweet, Slade etc. I was 12 years old when I first heard this record that combines classical subtleties, progressive explorations, honky tonk hoedowns, bawdy rockers & tender ballads and I still play it regularly 50 years later.
Chook Race - Around the House
If you, like me, enjoy guitars that jangle, choruses that chime and have an fondness for the early sound of the Flying Nun label, this one's for you. Effortlessly charming and instantly catchy. The band's second and still most recent LP from 2016. Are you still out there guys?
Rozi Plain - Friend
'It will be reported to be, a difficult year, a tumultuous year...' So begins Rozi's third LP, a break-up album, yet suffused with optimism as well as regret. It's the aural equivalent of a comforting arm around the shoulder. She hasn't put a foot wrong across her five full length releases, but if you're a newcomer, start here.
Grant McLennan - Horsebreaker Star
It was Grant's 'Cattle and Cane' that originally drew me into the orbit of The Go-Betweens back in 1983. 11 years later, during the band's decade long hiatus, he released his third solo album, the magnificent double CD 'Horsebreaker Star'. I'm on record as professing my extreme admiration for Robert Forster's current run of 'The Evangelist', 'Songs to Play', 'Inferno' and 'The Candle and the Flame', four outstanding albums, but it's Grant's 'Horsebreaker Star' that I return to time and again. For me it's his very best work and yet another of my favourites never to have gained a vinyl release. What chance a 30th anniversary reissue next year?
Rather than overwhelm by posting a selection from each of the ten albums, here's just one from Joe Henry. The slowed to a crawl take on the 'Sympathy For the Devil' riff permeates 'Ohio Air Show Plane Crash', growing steadily in stature and volume throughout, drawing the listener ever deeper into the tale of the unnamed stranger standing at the bridge. The song runs for 6½ minutes, but I'd gladly take another half an hour of it.