the year in music – 2015

There’s two albums that have gotten more play from me – by far – than any other albums. It’s two of the three discs in a John Williams (the guitarist, not the film score composer) collection – “The Soloist” and “The Romantic.” These are the albums I listen to nearly every night as I’m trying to fall asleep. Yay tinnitus! I think we have to discount them as a result.

I bought 18 new albums (and two concert DVDs) in 2015, up from 2014’s eight, but for many of them, I waited until they were on sale for under $10 – and that includes the DVDs.

Now, on to the rest of the story. Here are this year’s top 10 most played albums. If you read my 2014 music missive, the top 10 hasn’t changed much. Whether or not this is unfortunate or not is another story.

10. AC/DC: For Those About To Rock, We Salute You (1981) (did not chart in 2013, #10 in 2014)

  • This ancient (2nd oldest in this list!) hard rock album exists in the shadow of its predecessor, “Back in Black,” but in many ways it’s a superior album. The BiB songs were largely written before Brian Johnson joined the band, and though the songs are good – it is, after all, AC/DC’s most-purchased album (the #2 album of all time with 36 million million copies sold worldwide – and a distant 2nd to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – which has sold over 68 million copies worldwide) – FTATR is a more cohesive effort. BiB’s frumpy songs are super frumpy, and FTATR is all killer/no filler from start to finish. You’re only likely to ever hear one song from this album on the radio – the title track – but what a song it is!

9. Sarah Jarosz: Song up in Her Head (2009) (#4 in 2013, did not chart in 2014)

  • Even though I’ve got both of Jarosz’s other two albums, this one still blows me away every time I spin it. The raw, guttural emotions present and just utterly fantastic musicianship keeps this album in regular rotation. Her other two albums are good, don’t get me wrong, but this one is transcendent. Enjoying this album’s resurgence after a year of not listening to it much.

8. Dead Can Dance: A Passage in Time (1991) (did not chart in 2013 or 2014)

  • A greatest hits album of sorts for Dead Can Dance, a creative writing teacher introduced me to this album way back in college when it was only a year or two old. He used the song “The Host of Seraphim” to set an emotional state for a writing exercise. I don’t remember what I wrote or what his name was, but I went out immediately and bought this album.

7. Cake: Fashion Nugget (1996) (#8 in 2013, #6 in 2014)

  • From “Frank Sinatra” to “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” this is an album full of quirk. When it came out, it set the radio on fire with two singles – “The Distance” and “I Will Survive” – but few people then knew that three of the 14 tracks were cover tunes. Beyond the singles, the best track is probably “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” – one of the covers.

6. Kingdom Come: In Your Face (1989) (#7 in 2013, #8 in 2014)

  • What can I say? I still love this album after all these years. Good songwriting, fabulous playing, excellent guitar tone and Lenny Wolf’s great vocals! It’s like a time machine back to the days of big hair and concert pyrotechnics.

5. Joe Satriani: The Extremist (1997) (did not chart in 2013 or 2014)

  • While “Surfing With the Alien” brought Satriani to the forefront of rock/metal instrumental music a decade before this album came out, this one’s the top of his heap. Great, great album.

4. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: Mind Control (2013) (#10 in 2013, #4 in 2014)

  • This was my top album of 2013 (& #10 most played) and got tons of rotation in 2014 (#4 on the list).

3. Black Label Society: Stronger Than Death (2000) (#9 in 2013, #2 in 2014)

  • I still enjoy this album quite a lot (obviously), but it’s become that album that I measure all of Zakk Wylde’s other efforts against.  He hasn’t put out anything this good since this album – and he just might not ever again.

2. Cutting Crew: Broadcast (1986) (#6 in 2013, #3 in 2014)

  • This is another throwback album that still makes me happy. A great album to put on and just listen as it flows from one song to the next. The song sequencing is near perfect.

1. Mastodon: Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014) (#1 in 2014)

  • As in 2014, I just cannot get enough of this album. It is still averaging two plays a week and I’m not getting tired of it. Could be the sign of a modern metal classic!

Albums noticeably absent from my top 20 dating back to 2013: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle; George Thorogood, Baddest Hits; Black Sabbath, 13; Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.

Honorable mentions for 2015:

11. Baroness: Yellow & Green (2012)

  • My friend Jon (whom I used to play with in metal powerhouse CRASHLANDER!) turned me on to both Baroness and Ghost in 2015. I can’t thank him enough. This double-album contribution from Baroness is equal parts inspiring, prog, metal and bizarre. Baroness is probably my favorite band of 2015, and this may be my top-rated not-new album of the year.

12. Various Artists: Maiden Heaven (2008)

  • I had to resort to eBay to track down a copy of this CD that was originally included with the August 2008 issue of Kerrang!, a UK music magazine. It features bands you’ve heard of like Metallica and Dream Theater, along with popular but lesser-known bands like Black Tide, Avenged Sevenfold and Coheed & Cambria, as well as bands you’ve never heard of like DevilDriver and Fightstar. The best song is probably “Wrathchild” by Gallows. Holy crap is it good.

13. Luka Bloom: The Acoustic Motorbike (1992)

  • A really fun, spunky and emotional album from the Irish king of open-tuned sorta-pop songs.

14. Pink Floyd: Animals (2011 Remaster) (1977) (#13 in 2013, #10 in 2014)

  • Still my favorite PF album by far, and getting regular – though somewhat less – rotation.

15. Enigma: MCMXC A.D. (1990)

  • I went through a big Enigma phase this year, just grooving on their beats and melodies. Fun stuff. Their other three albums rank in the top 35, but their debut holds a special place in my mind.

16. KXM: KXM (2014) (#9 in 2014)

  • dUg Pinnick of King’s X, George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob and Ray Luzier of Korn came together for this one-off collection in 2014, and it still melts faces and shreds speakers. Whoa. A much better offering than the album Lynch did with Michael Sweet, though that album isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Also better than the Pinnick Gales Pridgen album, but I’m looking forward to their 2nd release.

17. Monte Montgomery: 1st & Repair (1998)

  • A singer/songwriter that many haven’t heard of, he plays the acoustic guitar like it owes him money. It’s a shame he’s not more popular than he is.

18. Cinderella: Long Cold Winter (1988)

  • More hair metal memories – way, way better than their debut album and with a lot more depth to the production and songwriting.

19. The Outfield: Voices of Babylon (1989)

  • Weird that this album got more attention than “Play Deep,” which is definitely my favorite Outfield album. I wonder why?

20. King Giant: Black Ocean Waves (2015)

  • One of my friends is a guitarist in KG, and this album is fan-fucking-tastic. If you dig Black Sabbath, you *will* like this album. Get it. Now!!

Albums Released in 2015:

  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: The Night Creeper (ok, but not as good as “Mind Control”)
  • Sweet & Lynch: Only To Rise (OK, but not amazing)
  • King Giant: Black Ocean Waves
  • Foo Fighters: Saint Cecelia (EP) (Good. Solid. As expected.)
  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (Good 2nd album from a quirky, female-fronted retro-rock band.)

Other Albums Purchased This Year:

  • Baroness: Purple (2015; arrives 18 Dec.)
  • Baroness: Red (2007)
  • Baroness: Blue (2009)
  • Ghost: If You Have Ghost (EP) (2013)
  • Ghost: Infestissumam (2013)
  • Ghost: Opus Eponymous (2011)
  • Sarah Jarosz: Build Me up From Bones (2013)
  • Al Di Meola: Splendido Hotel (1980)
  • Al Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy (1977)
  • Black Sabbath: Live Gathered in Their Masses DVD (2013)
  • DIO: Live in London, Hammersmith Apollo 1993 DVD (2014)
  • Lenny Kravitz: Strut (2014)
  • Poison: Native Tongue (1993)
  • Triumph: Live at Sweden Rock Festival (2002)


book suggestions

A former student emailed me asking for suggestions on some history books to read, so I thought I’d share with you what I shared with her.  If you end up reading any of these books, please comment here, email me, or send me a Facebook messages with your thoughts on the book(s).

The best – hands down best, no kidding – history-related book I have EVER read came out not too long ago.  It’s called Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly & the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson.  It happens that one of my favorite movies (ever) is “Lawrence of Arabia,” and the author deconstructs the movie as well as the reality of TE Lawrence.  Just a fantastic book, no kidding, plus it really opens the mind to why the Middle East is the way it is now.

Another really good book is Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion & the Armies of Rome, by Stephen Dando-Collins.  He’s written a bunch of books in this series and they’re all OK, but this one is the best of the bunch.  The cool thing is that they read more like novels/stories than history books – maybe I appreciate them because that’s the way I like to teach!

Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner, is a cool book that takes a serious world-spanning look at how the effort to acquire just one of life’s minor luxuries helped shape the world as we know it.  Fascinating.  This book was recommended to me (along with another book that wasn’t quite as good) by a 17-year-old home-schooled girl, and I’m glad I listened to her on this one.

If you’re interested in Cold War-era stuff, look at The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc, by Lewis Siegelbaum.  You wouldn’t think a book about crappy cars made in Bulgaria or Hungary would be that interesting, but when you look at them in their geopolitical context, pretty cool stuff.  Another good CW book is Red Moon Rising: Sputnik & the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age, by Matthew Brzezinski.  It’s a little more … dense & academic … than most of the other stuff I’ve listed here, but I’m obsessed with sci-fi, so I always liked this book because it combines history and space.

OK last suggestion, and this one might be a little off the wall: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, by Art Spiegelman. It’s a graphic novel filled with mice, cats & pigs, but it’s a really powerful book about how an American man learns to cope with his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor.  My copy is 2 volumes, but I think it’s available as one complete book now.


2013: the year in movies

I’m hoping to go see either Anchorman 2 or 47 Ronin before the year is out, but we’ll see if it actually happens. I have that whole job thing going on!!

  • Best film of 2013:  American Hustle
  • Worst film of 2013:  The Lone Ranger
  • Biggest disappointment of 2013:  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Biggest surprise of 2013:  Pacific Rim




Top-grossing films I saw in 2013:

  • Despicable Me 2:  This was a fun film and a good sequel. I love the Gru character and kind of dug the love story they threw in. Liked this enough to get it on DVD for my kid.
  • Monsters University:  Not bad, but not as good as Monsters Inc. & not as good as Despicable Me 2.
  • Man of Steel:  Great piece of cinematography.  Not a good movie despite the presence of Amy Adams.  My big boss took us to see it in 3D on IMax, which I have to say was pretty impressive.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug:  Good movie, but Peter Jackson has deviated so far from the book “The Hobbit” that I want him to call the next installment of this trilogy “The Hobbit: Peter Jackson’s Prequel to The Lord of the Rings Part 3.”

(Iron Man 3 was the top-earning film of 2013 – I didn’t bother. I also didn’t see the new Thor film.)

Other films I saw in 2013 (in the theater) (PS stop spelling it ‘theatre’ – it’s just a movie. Stop being pretentious!):

  • Olympus Has Fallen:  While not a bad action flick, this movie pretty much stunk and was a waste of $10.  The only reason to see it is if you absolutely must see everything that Morgan Freeman is in.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness:  While Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent actor and carries a lot of gravitas, I don’t think he was the best choice for Khan.  Having said that, I think JJ Abrams is doing a great job with the franchise.  IMO he needs to cut back on the chase scenes & focus a bit more on the story, but I bought this on DVD & will definitely go see the next one.
  • World War Z:  I got tired of people complaining that WWZ wasn’t just like the book.  That book is impossible to translate into a movie because it’s a collection of varied accounts of the zombie apocalypse written by Mel Brooks’ son.  Yes, THAT Mel Brooks.  Anyway, I liked this movie, but probably not enough to buy it on DVD.
  • The Lone Ranger:  I only went to see this because my daughter wanted to see it, and knowing the Lone Ranger story, I wanted to see how violent this movie would be before I let her go.  I was able to spare her the disappointment by telling her, simply, “Don’t go see it, that movie sucked.”
  • Pacific Rim:  Best monster movie of 2013 that didn’t feature Godzilla.  Charlie Hunnam was even believable as the hero!
  • The Wolverine:  Not bad, but I could have lived without it.  The plot was too easy to figure out.
  • Elysium:  Didn’t get good reviews, but I enjoyed it.  I get Jodie Foster as the ice queen, I think she did fine.  Matt Damon is a good action hero.  This movie did have its gross-out sequence (when the bad guy gets his face literally blown off) and the moral message is a little heavy-handed, but I liked it.  Probably won’t get the DVD.
  • Ender’s Game:  A nice little sci-fi romp.  I never read the book & avoided anything deeper than a cursory review because I heard it had a big plot twist… which I figured out about 10 minutes before it happened.  I do think the filmmakers should have given a shout-out to Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” though, because – and I haven’t read the book, as I said – it’s totally a riff on the bugs from ST.
  • American Hustle:  I just went to see this movie last weekend.  Really really REALLY liked it.  Will definitely get the DVD, if only to see Amy Adams do an amazing job as a con woman that has her shit together.

2013 films I saw on Netflix or other video service:

  • Movie 43:  Don’t bother.  Gross-out sketch comedy with famous actors.  The only sketch worth the time is the “Because You’re Black” one about the basketball game.
  • Parker:  I’m an unabashed Jason Statham fan & will pretty much see anything he’s in.  Gigli – er, Jennifer Lopez – was pretty good in this, but of course it’s all about Statham.
  • Sound City:  A fun music documentary starring Dave Grohl, who is probably one of the most fun guys in the music business.
  • A Good Day to Die Hard:  Better than the last one, the one that had the Apple commercial guy in it.
  • Dead Man Down:  Caught this on Netflix & watched it largely because Noomi Rapace is in it.  She is definitely the scene-stealer in this one.  Except for her, it’s mostly just like every other revenge movie you’ve seen.
  • The Heat:  Sandra Bullock is very underrated as a comedic actor, and she’s actually best when she’s the straight man.  This movie (the unrated version) was a lot of fun.
  • The World’s End:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost & Edgar Wright?  My only regret is that I never got around to seeing it in the theater.  Excellent movie!!
  • Europa Report:  I wanted to like this movie a whole lot more than I did.  As a matter of fact, I disliked it so much that I only watched about half of it & never bothered finishing it.  The found footage thing is about as lost on me as lo-fi garage rock.  I’m not a fan, but I can tolerate it if the material is excellent.  Unfortunately, here it isn’t.  You’ve seen every aspect of this space saga before and wherever you saw it before, it was done better in that movie.

Movies I meant to go see, but either forgot or couldn’t work up the actual desire when it mattered:

  • John Dies at the End
  • Stand Up Guys
  • Identity Thief
  • Oz the Great & Powerful
  • The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Evil Dead
  • 42
  • Pain & Gain
  • After Earth
  • Now You See Me
  • This Is the End
  • The Way Way Back
  • RED 2
  • Blue Jasmine
  • 2 Guns
  • Kick-Ass 2
  • The Butler
  • Riddick
  • Rush
  • Don Jon
  • Gravity
  • Runner Runner
  • Captain Philips
  • Machete Kills
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Carrie
  • Bad Grandpa
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Last Vegas
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  • 47 Ronin
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • Lone Survivor


the year in music (2013)

First, a lengthy quote:

     Doctor Labyrinth, like most people who read a great deal and who have too much time on their hands, had become convinced that our civilization was going the way of Rome. He saw, I think, the same cracks forming that had sundered the ancient world, the world of Greece and Rome; it was his conviction that presently, our world, our society, would pass away as their did, and a period of darkness would follow.

     Now Labyrinth, having thought this, began to brood over all the fine and lovely things that would be lost in the reshuffling of societies. He thought of the art, the literature, the manners, the music, everything that would be lost. It seemed to him that of all these grand and noble things, music would probably be the most lost, the quickest forgotten.

     Music is the most perishable of things, fragile and delicate, easily destroyed.  –Philip K. Dick, “The Preserving Machine,” 1953

It is with some measure of trepidation that I begin this post, knowing full well that my cynicism towards music this year has reached an epic level.  We were force-fed a steady (and putrid) diet of Miley Cyrus and The Voice, both of which are epic-level fails of quality music.

I mean, seriously. I loved the first Maroon 5 album, Songs About Jane. At this point I can’t even look at a photo of Adam Levine (the singer) without laughing.


I’ll include a list of all the new albums I bought in 2013, but I want to start with the BEST of what I got in 2013, including albums I got but weren’t put out in 2013.


MD.45, The Craving.  I have always been a fair-weather Megadeth fan, in that I love love love the music they play but really wish Dave Mustaine was a better (more melodic) singer. He’s got a gruff voice that is good for metal, but he’s just not a good singer.  You can’t deny the guitar skills, though, and Megadeth is still one of the best (if not most relevant) metal bands around.  The Craving came out in 1996 during a time when Mustaine was disillusioned with Megadeth, and he got Lee Ving (of Fear) to do all the singing.  What it became was a punk/metal extravaganza and it’s an excellent album, even with the harmonica solos.  Be careful tracking down a copy of this album, though, as Mustaine remastered his entire back catalog and says he couldn’t find Ving’s vocal or harmonica tracks when it came time to redo The Craving, so he replaced Ving’s voice with his and the harmonica with guitar. As little as I like harmonica solos, they work in this context, and Mustaine’s vocals turn this album into just another ho-hum old metal record.

Leon Redbone, Up a Lazy River.  If you watch reruns of Saturday Night Live episodes from the 1970s, sooner or late you’ll come across a white-suited, Panama-hatted dapper fellow called Leon Redbone. Many of the songs he played on SNL were done with just him and an acoustic guitar, and he has a rich, oddly soothing – yet occasionally disconcerting – baritone voice.  Nowadays what he plays is called “Americana.”  I wanted one of his albums, so I dug through reviews & discussions of his music and came across Up a Lazy River, which many of his fans say is his best recent album. I haven’t heard any of his other albums, recent or otherwise, but I have truly enjoyed this disc.

Huey Lewis and The News, Greatest Hits.  Duh.  Why didn’t I have this album already?  Chock full of toe-tapping, finger-snapping hits you already know, plus some other songs that you could graciously call “filler.”

Andres Segovia, The Art of Segovia.  Two discs stuffed full of some of the most amazing classical guitar playing you’ll ever hear.  If you’ve listened to classical guitar in the last 50 years, you’ve heard Segovia, somebody taught by Segovia, or somebody influenced by Segovia. This is the master at his finest.

John Fogerty, Centerfield (25th Anniversary Edition).  You can get tired of hearing a great song over and over. I worked at a minor league baseball stadium (selling beer, flipping burgers, etc.) for four years starting in 1988. I probably heard the song “Centerfield” a thousand times – at least the beginning of it, anyway.  I will admit that I sometimes skip that tune when I play this album, but I never heard the rest of this record until buying it this past summer.  It’s a terrific record from start to finish.

Now that we’ve done that, here’s


Black Sabbath, 13.  When I heard Black Sabbath was reuniting for an album and a tour, I was pretty excited.  Then I heard the original drummer wasn’t included, but they were getting the drummer from Rage Against the Machine.  See, I was never a Sabbath purist, and I didn’t get into them until I was in my 30s, and I’m not a die-hard fan.  I only have one album plus the Greatest Hits compilation – until now.  I don’t miss the original drummer, and I find the new album compelling and a fitting close to what has been a very long career as the godfathers of heavy metal.

Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11. Above I mention Andres Segovia. Rodrigo y Gabriela is what you’d get if you took Segovia and made him listen to Metallica for years.  This is an album where they pay tribute to their influences, which range from piano players to Pink Floyd.

Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats, Mind Control.  A Facebook friend turned me on to this album, and I got it almost on a lark.  Totally. Blown. Away.  This album is the most Sabbathy-sounding non-Sabbath album I’ve ever heard.  I suppose it helps that they’re English and using instruments, amps & recording gear made in the 1960s & 70s.  This album is filled with dark, sludgy, wonderful songs.  Buy it.  Note that I also picked up Blood Lust, the album they put out in 2012. It’s OK, but not as good as this one.

Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.  This was the first great album of 2013.  It opens with a goofy (and pointless) instrumental and has a couple of real clunkers that feature the singer’s overuse of auto-tuning, but all the other songs are catchy, heavy, well written, and exceptionally well played.  An excellent album.

Rush, Vapor Trails (Remixed).  This is the Rush album I always wanted to love but couldn’t, simply because it was basically impossible to listen to.  The original version of this album was completely brick-wall limited – with the levels just slammed to the max.  It was so …tiring… to listen to that after a couple of spins, I put it away.  Rush listened to their fans and not only remixed the album, but had it properly mastered to put the dynamics back in this excellent collection of songs.  The new version is a joy to listen to.

There you have it, folks, my top 10 albums of 2013.  Here’s a list of all the albums I bought in 2013, then, in alphabetical order, with non-2013s first.

  • Andres Segovia, Art of Segovia (1969)
  • Charlie Daniels Band, A Decade of Hits (1983)
  • John Fogerty, Centerfield (25th Anniversary Edition) (1985/2010)
  • Rush, Presto (Re-Issue) (1989/2013)
  • Daryl Hall & John Oates, The Very Best Of Daryl Hall & John Oates (1990)
  • MD.45, Craving (1996)
  • John Williams, Great Paraguayan: Solo Guitar Works By Barrios (2004)
  • Huey Lewis & the News, Greatest Hits (2006)
  • White Wolf, Victim of the Spotlight (2007)
  • Tom Lehrer, The Tom Lehrer Collection (2010)
  • Leon Redbone, Up a Lazy River (2011)
  • John Williams, Guitarist (2011)
  • The Nightwatchman, World Wide Rebel Songs (2011)
  • Halestorm, The Strange Case of… (2012)
  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Blood Lust (2012)
  • Black Sabbath, 13 (2013)
  • Ray Charles, Forever (2013)
  • John Fogerty, Wrote a Song For Everyone (2013)
  • Iron Maiden, Maiden England ’88 (DVD) (2013)
  • Pinnick Gales Pridgen, Pinnick Gales Pridgen (2013)
  • The Quill, Tiger Blood (2013)
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11 (2013)
  • Rush, Vapor Trails (Remixed) (2013)
  • Scale the Summit, The Migration (2013)
  • Shawn Smith, So the Heart Can See (2013)
  • Stryper, Second Coming (2013)
  • Stryper, No More Hell to Pay (2013)
  • Roger Taylor, Fun on Earth (2013)
  • Thicker Than Water, Coming Soon! Side 1 (2013)
  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Mind Control (2013)
  • Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013)