I have not helped my readers out in a few months with practical musical advise. Sure, I could recommend the latest by the Hold Steady, The National, The New Pornographers, Gogol Bordello or Josh Ritter. However, do you really need me for that? You already know those are albums to buy.What I should be doing is recommending new hidden gems like Anais Mitchell's folk opera take on Orpheus with guests like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Ani Difranco. Hadestown will definitely be in my top 5 at the end of the year.
But, in an effort to save you money and get good music in your hands I reintroduce my Good Cheap Music column once more. Each month Amazon gives us at least 100 digitally downloadable albums for only $5 each. There are always great albums in the midst of the pablum. So you don't have to waste your time looking through the stacks, here are the DJ Word recommendations for May:
If you feel that music is something that peaked in the 70s and is best when good songs are covered by an overrated singer-songwriter, then James Taylor's Covers if for you. If you buy this, please don't play it if I am in your car. But, if you must, please drive slowly around curves, because I will be jumping out at some point... probably during Wichita Lineman.
If you are a crass male chauvinist with no musical taste (in other words, you like Limp Bizkit and Nickelback), the Scorpions' Animal Magnetism, with the worst non-parody album cover ever is only $5.
However, if you actually like music and think it is growing better daily, check out The National's Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. It is not their best album, but it is awesome, especially the chilling"Slipping Husband," a warning to all husbands/ dads to keep their family close. Anytime a National album is $5, you must buy it.
One of the year's best debuts is Gorilla Manor by Local Natives. This is how I described it on a recent blog review:
"Take 1 part Vampire Weekend/ Harlem Shakes rhythm section and 2 parts Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper harmony heavy vocal arrangements (with stronger lead singing) and add some crunchy guitar work and Coldplay-esque Christian-lite spirituality, while taking away much of the restraint those bands strive for and you end up with this debut album by Local Natives. If it sounds like it was put together in an Indie Rock laboratory, then those guys should get a Nobel Prize for the formulation that makes me groove."
If you are a fan of 80s music with a a love of Hall and Oates that you proudly trumpet from the highest building, as I do, then check into The Bird and The Bee's Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates in which a young pop duo reinterpret many of hall and Oates best songs, unironically.
Other highlights include Yeasayer's trippy euro-world mashup Odd Blood, Ben Harper's double album Both Sides of the Gun and The Best of Snoop Dog (always needed, just in case). There are a couple of great jazz works including Take the "A" train by Dexter Gordon and Miles in the Sky by Miles Davis.
If you care about the history of punk rock in America, The Descendents' Milo Goes to College is an underrated gem. I like these guys a lot more than Black Flag or other SoCal early 80's hardcore bands. the longest song is 2:13.
The one album on the $5 list that you must buy, if you do not have it is The Hold Steady's most perfect album (which is saying something since they have almost attained it many times) Boys and Girls in America. A midwestern sensibility meeting Springsteen obsession and observation through the eyes of a seriously lapsed Catholic that spent too much time in a bar with Bukowski's writings, Craig Finn is the poet laureate of disenfranchised partiers that want to grow up, but cannot.
If you want to expand your musical horizons, I recommend French musician Serge Gainesbourg's decadent masterpiece L'Histoire De Melody Nelson from 1971. It still sounds fresh.
lastly, a $5 Spoon album must always be celebrated, even if Kill The Moonlight is not one of their best.