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CD Buying Guide - Reviews by Jim Trageser
Welcome to my CD Buying Guide and music links page. The CD reviews are organized by artist, style, year, etc. on the navigation bar to the left (or use the Google search tool beneath the nav bar.) Scroll down for some interesting music links that have struck my fancy. And I've started adding links to some of the hundreds of interviews I've conducted with different musicians through the years.

There are more than 1,500 jazz, blues, folk, international and rock albums reviewed (with more being added every day, both new reviews and pre-Internet reviews being converted to HTML). The intent is to help you make an informed decision before spending your hard-earned coin.

Don't view this as a list of recommendations. There are some real dogs in here, but those should be clear by the review!

A little bit about this page: I've been reviewing albums since the mid-1980s – taking in every style from classical to bluegrass, metal to electronica. But the emphasis has been on jazz and blues the past 15 years, so there are more albums from those styles reviewed than the others. And most are linked to Amazon.com, where you can hear audio samples.

Am I an expert? Nah – just someone lucky enough to have had the opportunity to listen to some great music through the years. I've tried to write honestly and to describe the music on each album so that even if your taste is different from mine, you'll still be able to learn something from the review. I did study violin, piano, guitar and even trumpet as a kid; so I have enough theory to be able to know a little bit about what the musicians are doing. But that doesn't make me an expert.

Below are links to some of my favorite music sites online – webcasts, clubs, musicians, labels. Any comments, suggestions or questions, e-mail me.

BROADCASTS/WEBCASTS
  • There are damn few good radio stations in San Diego. One that is good is my old alma mater, where I was news director and hosted Stepped on Jazz for two years — KCR. Underground, alternative music and cool DJs.
  • Another good station in San Diego is the local jazz station at City College, KSDS Jazz 88. Some of the best straight-ahead jazz going today, plus blues on the weekends.
  • KKJZ out of Long Beach State calls itself "America's Jazz Station" with good reason. With deejays like Helen Borgers, this is one of the great stations in radio history — and now anyone can listen, thanks to the 'Net.
  • Chicago's WNUR has gotten away from their all-jazz format, but mornings, Central Time, they still have a jazz and blues focus. Imagine, the Windy City without a jazz station ...
  • If you're ever in Dayton, Ohio, check out the afternoon broadcasts of the first station I ever worked at — the student-run WKET-FM 98. It used to be shared by all the high schools in suburban Kettering, but now seems to only include the public high school — leaving my Alter High out in the cold.
LABELS
  • Accurate Records — If you like way-out-there, avant-garde weirdness jazz, check out this page — home of the Either/Orchestra and more ...
  • Alligator Records — Genuine Houserockin' Music is the motto; electric blues is the tunage (mostly, as there's some really fine acoustic blues thrown in, too).
  • American Clavé — The owner, Kip Hanrahan, likes putting poetry to music, or recording avant-garde tango, or capturing a Santeria Mass, or ...
  • Blue Note Records — If you like straight-ahead jazz, this is the place to be — one of this nation's cultural treasures.
  • ECM Records — ECM is another great avant-garde label; folks like Carla Bley and Steve Swallow.
  • Concrd Records recently bought out the Fantasy catalog as well, forming the Concord Record Group. With jazz subsidiary labels like Milestone and Norman Granz's Pablo Records, you can find everything from Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald to Freddie Cole and Joe Pass. Plus, yes, old CCR albums on CD.
  • Malaco Records — The Stax/Volt sound lives! Great Southern soul — artists like Johnnie Taylor and Little Milton.
  • M.E.L.T. 2000 (formerly B+W Music) — Very cool world beat/jazz kind of label; home of the Outernational Meltdown series of South African music.
  • Mode Records is the label of John Cage. 'Nuff said.
  • Rhino Records — Kings of the box set. Rhino may have started off as a novelty label — their first release was the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra (with a ... um, unique cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love") — but today Rhino issues some of the best jazz and blues box sets and other reissues you'll find.
  • Rounder Records — This independent label is home to the hippest, hippiest blues, folk and everything-in-between music on earth. They also now own the catalog of Flying Fish Records, which was one of the greatest folk labels ever.
ARTISTS

  • My brother Jeff was in a band called Rotator in the early part of the new millenium with Mark Sgarbossa, who was with Jeff in their previous band, theShirlies. Rotator was electronica — high-energy post-funk dance music. Think of it as punk disco.
  • The Country Dick Montana Memorial Page — The late Country Dick Montana (Dan McClain to his family and friends) was founder, lead singer and drummer of The Beat Farmers, one of the best bands San Diego ever produced. There was something very right about having a 6-foot tall man in cowboy boots spill beer all over you while table dancing. He died much too soon, but former Ocean Beach Beacon co-editor (back when the Beacon was still worth a damn) Howard Owens maintains this tribute.
  • The late Buddy Blue was another veteran of The Beat Farmers, although he left after their second album. He recorded a whole slew of solo albums worth checking out, and you can do just that at his site. A little embarrassing, him quoting my review of his albums, but never you mind that. (And under his nom de plume of Buddy Seigal, he was also one of the very best music writers on the scene – you can check out his interviews and essays in the Music section of Turbula.) God I miss him ...
  • Speaking of Buddy Blue, check out his own history of The Rockin' Roulettes, the band he was in before the Beat Farmers.
  • Speaking of The Beat Farmers, in 2004, Buddy and fellow Beat Farmers founder Jerry Raney began performing together as the Flying Putos. There had been several Beat Farmer reunions following Country Dick's death, some with and some without Joey Harris, who had replaced Buddy in the band. But the Putos (a Mexican vulgarity, btw) allowed Buddy and Jerry to revisit their old Beat Farmers material while not being enslaved to it. They soon recruited former Beat Farmers bassist Rolle Love to play with them. Rolle had sold off all his basses and quit music in the years following Country Dick's death. Then they added Joel Kmak, who had sat in for Dick on drums when Dick was too sick to play with the Beat Farmers. In 2005, they renamed themselves The Farmers and released a new album, "Loaded." Following Buddy's death in the spring of 2006, Jerry, Rolle and Joel decided to carry on as a trio – you can check them out on The Farmers web site.
  • Alison Pipitone is the best songwriter you've probably never heard of. Alternative and folk, Alison writes perfect little gems of songs. Her lack of fame only prove this is not a just universe. She's out of Buffalo, N.Y., but gets to San Diego every so often — wherever you live, check her out if she comes to town.
  • Eve Selis grew up across the street from the house my parents bought when we moved to San Diego in '79. Eve was about 17 then, I guess — a year younger than me — Eve Selisand wanted more than anything to be a rock 'n' roll singer. She'd practice in her family's converted garage — singing over hits by Pat Benatar, as I recall. Less than supportive (mostly because she wouldn't go out with any of us — looking back, it's hard to blame her!), the rest of us kids would toss lemons at her when she was in the back yard. Eve stuck to her dream, though, and is now one of San Diego's most popular local acts, and even tours in support of her CDs. Oh — and she's not singing Pat Benatar stuff anymore: more rootsy material, blending blues and country into something new, fresh and fun.
  • Reddog hails from Atlanta, where he plays some of the meatiest blues guitar on earth. His "Theme From Texas" ought to be the national anthem.
  • "I'd love to see a festival with Kiss, Garth Brooks and maybe Dr. John. Because you know what? Kiss fans might not see Garth. Garth fans may not see Kiss. And both should listen to Dr. John."
    — Gene Simmons
    Lead singer for Kiss
  • Rippopotamus is out there ... punk funk, really. Wild stuff and worth a listen.
  • The Museum of Making Music is located in Carlsbad, Calif., right next to the Legoland theme park. Different from most museums about music, MOMM is dedicated to preserving historic musical instruments and recording equipment.
  • Allmusic.com is the a solid resource for learning more about your favorite musical artists — biographies, photos, discographies; it's all here.
  • The Ultimate Band List is the last word on finding out if your favorite musicians are on the 'Net yet.
  • I found the Floating Fish site by accident, but was impressed. Most of their site is devoted to their midi production company, studio and band releases. Very weird and fun.
CLUBS
  • The Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, Calif., is a classic roadhouse. Located in a refurbished Quonset Hut, the BUT features lots of blues, reggae, folk, bluegrass and everything in between.
  • The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano is another cool roadhouse; many of the same artists will hit both The Coach House and the BUT on consecutive nights, so if you miss them in San Diego you can catch them in Orange County.
  • Jim Croce's widow (and A.J.'s mom), Ingrid, runs a very hip little outfit in San Diego's restored Gaslamp Quarter called, what else, Croce's. There's a top-rank restaurant, there's the Top Hat bar and grill, there's the jazz club. You can find schedules and all on the Web site ...
  • "It was real simple. We wanted to hear the blues and there was no other way to do it, so we opened the club. Period."
    — Cliff Antone
    The late founder, owner and manager of Antone's Home of the Blues in Austin, Texas.
  • The late Cliff Antone loved the blues — loved the blues so much he founded his own nightclub in Austin, Texas, his own label, and his own record store across the street from the club. And they're all named Antone's. The club is where The Fabulous Thunderbirds were the house band before they made it big, replacing the previous house band — Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. On any given night, you might see Kenny Neal or Buddy Guy or James Cotton or ... And, of course, being deep in the heart of Texas, they serve Shiner Beer. You can get to the club, the label and the record store all from the Web site.
MUSIC WRITING
  • There's a sometimes interesting debate on jazz and the role of critics on a site run by a guy calling himself The Pariah — Bird Lives. Pariah is himself a critic for a number of major jazz publications, and there are times it seems that his critiques are more self-serving than anything else. But he does have pretty good taste in music, and his links to other sites are worth a visit.
  • The Jazz Journalists Association helps spread the gospel of jazz and blues; a good resource to bookmark.