411 Essentials –Mathan Erhardt

So, as a result of some inflammatory, defamatory, and libelous statements I made last week, I got sued. And despite some crackerjack legal maneuverings by Corben Bernsen (I know he’s not a real lawyer, but he was all I could afford and I was willing to by twice as much as Celebrity Mole) the judge found in favor of the plaintiff. I was ordered to turn over all 296 singles and 753 of my CDs.

Well that left me with ten CD’s, of my choosing to keep as my own. But before I could formulate a way to cheat the system the judge decreed that 1) I couldn’t pick greatest hits CDs. 2) No compilations. 3) All boxed sets would count for the number of CD’s they contained.

While the punishment was confining it still offered too much freedom. If it were “10 Rock Albums” it would have been easier. Or “10 Hip Hop CDs,” piece of cake. But opening up my entire collection and having over 700 different CDs vying for my affection was just too much to bear. So I made a list of about 35 CDs, and pared down from there.

What follows are the Ten CDs that I found Essential to my musical sanity. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Johnny Cash- At Folsom Prison

How could I not have a Johnny Cash CD in my possession? The problem was picking which one. I picked this one for two reasons. First it’s a great album. But secondly it is also the quintessential “live” album.

This album is the perfect portrait of Johnny Cash. I mean here is Johnny performing a concert for a prison. His cautionary tales of the trouble that comes from crime may be coming a tad too late, but it still shows Johnny’s devotion to his fellow man. He peppers his performance with humorous asides and songs that actually cause those hardened criminals to bust a gut.

It has its fair share of stereotypical Country songs, but it shows that even a song bound by stereotypes can be great. Johnny’s voice, with its sensitive warble, sounds profound on this album giving his lyrics the impact of a sledgehammer. An album with impact, that is a rarity.

Plus the inlay booklet is packed with writing and photographs of the concert. This CD is aces in my book.

Miles Davis- Kind of Blue

Miles Davis was a vicious man, but I can differentiate the man from the music. Sure Alicia Keyes and Adam Wallis may disagree with me and say that “Sketches of Spain” is the better album, but I’m picking “Kind of Blue.” It has a quality that I can’t put my finger on, but to me it just rings true.

This album is so chill and cool. It sets a mellow mood that just calms the nerves. When I listen to this album I just want to sit in front of a fireplace with something to read and just relax. This is some real cool out music. You can’t deny the chill factor “All Blues” probably the most recognizable track on the album, followed closely by “Freddie Freeloader.”

The musicians, including Miles Davis and John Coltrane , have an amazing chemistry. It’s so fluid that it just sounds whole, as if it couldn’t be dissected into individual components. This is one of the great Jazz albums.

Again the inlay book has lots of information, making it an excellent read.

DJ Shadow- Endtroducing

I don’t know if you would classify this album as Hip Hop, Turntablism, or Electronica. But it doesn’t really matter, because the music on this disc transcends genre. It’s almost fitting that it follows “Kind of Blue” because in the way that it sets and keeps a mood, it is a descendant of Jazz.

DJ Shadow uses his turntables to piece together snippets found on other albums into a masterpiece. The result is songs that change tempo and built to a climax. These pastiches show that sampling is indeed an art form.

This album is dark and brooding but not depressing. “Changeling” is like a thunderstorm, with occasional rays of sunshine poking through the ominous clouds, and ending with a rainbow. DJ Shadow plays tricks with your ears, which in turn toys with your emotions. Songs build and swell and the samples may catch you off guard, but you realize that they are a perfect fit for what he’s trying to create.

To me the album is like a soundtrack for a collector searching. It could be a DJ digging in crates, or a comic book fan looking in dollar bins. But I hear an album that captures the intensity of the chase.

The inlay book doesn’t really offer too much, other than who DJ Shadow holds dear to his heart. But the cover is an accurate portrait of a music fan.

Handsome Boy Modeling School- So…How’s Your Girl?

Again, this is another album that defies classification, but retains its classic status. It has EL-P and Father Guido Sarducci. Oh, you want more? It samples Three Dog Night and the cult favorite TV show “Get a Life.” It could quite possibly be the most perfect album, ever.

Prince Paul and Dan the Automator are geniuses. Sure it’s an album full of perhaps the most talented guest stars imaginable, yet it still bears the signature sound of Dan and the quirkiness of Paul. Whether the songs are about life in the P.J.’s or about a troubled relationship they all demand that you give them your undivided attention.

Need some proof about the great songs on this album? Consider that music from this album has been featured everywhere; from NFL commercials to “Ocean’s Eleven.” This album is the perfect melding of genres. It is like the musical equivalent of what the United States claims to be, a melting pot.

The inlay book is hilarious. It features Nathaniel Merriweather and Chest Rockwell living the dream. What more could you ask for?

Prince and the Revolution- Purple Rain

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said before? Probably nothing, so here goes a rehash. This album is a soundtrack, that stands on it’s own. This is a perfect album by one the greatest musical geniuses, ever. And this is the album that put the Parental Advisory labels on albums. C’mon you knew Prince was going to appearance.

Yes, this album does have a distinctly 80’s sound, but is that a bad thing? Every track on this album is classic. If you enjoy the Foo Fighter’s cover of “Darling Nikki” be warned; it merely does the original justice. “The Beautiful Ones” is a lesson hard learned, but sounds flawless. And can anyone deny the epic majesty that is the title track?

I can’t even describe the images that flood my mind when I hear this album. The music is just filled with such energy, and it creates an emotional buildup in the listener. It really runs the gamut of emotions from betrayal to infatuation, and reckless abandon to utter devotion.

The inlay book leaves something to be desired. But hey, it was 1984, the technology was new.

Radiohead- The Bends

This is the album that showed the world what Radiohead had the potential for. While I’ve enjoyed every album before and since, this one is my favorite. It’s a rock album for people who actually like rock music.

The song are about topic from failing relationship to the malaise of modern life, but these things have never sounded better. This album is very accessible, for listeners who may have been put off by Radiohead’s later releases. But it still shows glimpses of everything that makes those albums great. It’s basically before Radiohead to super cynical but after they reached perfection.

The sound is loud and brash, yet intelligent. The vocals are emotional and vulnerable, yet confident. Thom really flexes his range on this album. But everyone does, “Fake Plastic Trees” really does soar. This album reminds me of when I wasn’t as cynical. When I believed that good albums were right around the corner, and before I believed that the fast forward button was a necessary evil.

As for the inlay booket, it offers lyrics and weird pictures. Put it perfectly matches the mood of the album.

Res- How I do

I’m not a fan of R&B. Most of it is trite and offending to the ear. I’m not a fan of video channels. They are just another cog in the machine of deciding what people should buy. That said, MTV2 put me down with Res, a surprisingly fresh artist. I saw her video for “Golden Boys” and was slayed.

Her album sounds like nothing else. It’s harder than R&B, but smoother than Rock. It’s more mature than Pop but more real than Contemporary. The sound is like an auditory equivalent to a roadside accident; it draws your attention so much so that you can’t turn away.

Res’ voice has a smoky almost sultry quality. While her musical tracks are anything but traditional, her voice matches up perfectly. She finds the rhythm and rides it with the slickness of a waterslide. The album finds it’s groove and you ride it as well. She also has a talent for making hackneyed subjects worth listen to. I actually care what she as to say about her man, who neglects her.

The inlay booklet features lyrics, and most importantly photographs of the way attractive artist. I gotta give that a thumbs up.

The Roots- Do You Want More?!!!??!

This is the definitive Hip Hop album. A classic album from the best year in Hip Hop history. This album embodies everything that critics off Hip Hop fail to recognize in the culture. It’s like, if everyone who had an unkind word for Hip Hop could give this album a listen to, and still make broad sweeping statements about the music, then perhaps I could take their opinion seriously.

The rhyme cover the usual topics in Hip Hop; chilling, bragging, and love of the culture. It has tracks devoted to the vocal stylings of Rahzel, live performances, freestyling, and spoken word, this could be Hip Hop’s most well rounded album as well. Plus it featured the last appearance of Shorty No Mas that I can recall. And how many Hip Hop albums can boast bagpipe solos? Not even House of Pain I’d imagine.

The sound is reminiscent of a happier time in Hip Hop, before commercialism and tragedy robbed it of its innocence. This album has a raw earnest sound that has disappeared from their later albums. And as fun as it is to listen to, it sounds like it was even more fun to record.

The inlay booklet features some of the best liner and production notes ever. The asides and inside jokes make reading everything fun. The Roots also established their signature track numbering system on this, their second album.

(On a side note, I went to see The Roots when they performed at the Buena Vista in Tucson on June 5th 1995. The show was amazing, as you would expect. But when Black Thought tired to get the crowd ready to do “Essaywhuman?!!!??!” no one in the crowd was responding, so they axed the song. I was so pissed because I knew how hot that song was going to be, but the crowd wasn’t feeling it. And that’s why democracy sucks.)

Tenacious D

The world needs laughter. And after that judgment against me I need laughter too. And can anyone really top the Greatest Band Ever? I don’t think so.

The D rock harder than everyone on this list, combined. This was the first CD I picked, and I was really going to stop at that point. There is no song that rocks like “Tribute.” Yeah, they get a little help from everyone’s favorite guy, Dave Grohl, and the Dust Brothers produced the album, but this really is pure D.

This is an album that calls for you to sing at the top of your lungs, even if you are sitting next to an elderly woman on a cramped bus. Y’know what, she’ll be better off for it. Jack gives us lessons on sexual practices and telekinesis. On how many other albums do you actually learn something? Kyle and Jack also have beautiful harmonies, that rock!

In the inlay booklet is the usual credits, a picture of The D and the only “thank you’s” worth reading. They thank Metamucil. You know you are interested.

Weezer-The Blue Album

Is there a band that threads the line between Indie Rockers and Rock Stars better than Weezer? I can’t think of one. For the record, this was the first rock album to touch me.

This was the music for the folks who didn’t dig Hair Metal, but weren’t quite angry or dissatisfied enough for Grunge. I found it a perfect fit. I also enjoyed the fact that it was rock with harmonies. How refreshing to hear singers actually sing. This album knocked my socks off. It totally captured the essence of being an awkward teenager, which is always fun to listen to.

The heartbreak in “The World has turned and left me here” is palpable, as is the angst in “Say it ain’t so.” “Only in dreams” is a ballad that rivals “Purple Rain” in my book. Every other song on this album is classic as well. I know this album by heart and hold it close to my heart as well.

The inlay book is basic and simple, just like the music.

There you have it. That is my list. Want some “Honorable Mentions?” Nope. Curious about the other 25 that didn’t make the cut? Sorry. But I am interested in your feedback. So holla back!

Be sure to come back next week where Brian J Blottie (the dude with a anal metal fixation) gives you his Essentials. I’m sure it will be more entertaining and insightful than what you just read.