After several weeks of all new releases, I'm drifting away from that course of action...but only slightly, and mostly in theory. There are a few older releases on here, but technically most of them are from this year, but they are archival material from old timers, another fallout from the glory which is Record Store Day. Another rarity for the Roundup this week is that the list features three live albums. I'm usually not a big fan of live records, but all of the ones on here are pretty fantastic. Next week I'll probably return to a list of current albums, but for the moment I'm enjoying the nostalgic trip down memory lane. Enjoy.
Neil Young - A Letter Home: For the second time in two years, Neil has released an album of all covers. Crazy Horse rejoined him for his previous covers album of old-timey Americana folky tunes, but this time he is flying solo. Recorded in the lo-fi studio Jack White built inside a telephone booth, the very nature of the production of this album creates the illusion that it's a very old piece of vinyl. Some have said it's gimmicky, but I actually love the crackle quality...and it's not really gimmicky if the effects are a natural result of the recording process. Anyway, on this record, Neil covers songs that inspired him early on, and even later in his career. His voice is vintage Neil, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and the occasional piano. My favorites include "Needle of Death," "Girl From North Country," "On the Road Again," and "If You Could Only Read My Mind." This is a must for fans.
Grateful Dead - Live at Hampton Coliseum '79: In the ongoing tradition of releasing concerts that have been floating around in bootleg form forever, the Dead released this wonderful concert on vinyl for Record Store Day. This is one of the best live Grateful Dead albums that I've heard from this era. They are in perfect form, feeding off the crowd and playing with the passion that they are known for. Though I'm not a huge fan of "Eyes of the World" or "Truckin," which take up 21 minutes toward the end, they don't take away from the album, and I know others will consider them both to be highlights. My favorites are "Passenger," "New Minglewood Blues," "Loser," and "Estimated Prophet."
Archie Bronson Outfit - Fur: This is the 2004 debut from the UK based garage rock band and one that I'd been looking for going on a few years now. I really liked the follow-up to this record, and this one is just as good and perhaps slightly better. They play garage rock with an acid blues aggression, but are also capable of producing quieter psychedelic gems similar to those put out by Black Angels. They released an album in 2010, and a fourth one is due out this year, but this is the perfect place to start. "Riders," "Here He Comes," "The Wheel Rolls On" and "Pompeii" are among my favorites.
2 Chainz - Codeine Cowboy: This mixtape, released in 2011 under his alias Tity Boi, is billed as a "2 Chainz Collective" though I must admit there is fair amount of filler. The Atlanta rapper is one of the most conflicting current hip hop artists in my opinion. When he's on, there are few that deliver rhymes better. But when he's off, I find his tracks to be disposable at best. Thankfully there are a few moments on this album where he delivers. "Cowboy," "Too Easy" and "Call Teisha" are standout tracks and worthy of download...which is free for this mixtape.
R.E.M. - Unplugged 1991-2001: Another Record Store Day release was this 4 album vinyl box featuring the legendary alternative rock band's MTV Unplugged performances from two decades ago. Though I'm admittedly mixed when it comes to R.E.M., finding them borderline pretentious at times, and nearly brilliant at others, I decided that this was the kind of setting where I could really enjoy them. It turns out that I was right. This is the band at its best, devoid of production tricks and performing with the kind of feeling their songs demand. This set is filled with gems, including two amazing versions of their best song "Losing My Religion." Other standouts for me are "Get Up," "Pop Song 89," "Half a World Away," "The One I Love," and "Country Feedback." Certainly a must for fans, and even for those on the fence like myself.
Arctic Monkeys - iTunes Festive London 2013: This EP was released toward the end of last year and it's a great companion to the album that was one of my favorites of the year. This live set features five of the best songs from the AM album. The versions on here don't vary too much from the studio versions, but this is one of those bands that sounds great in a live setting. Probably not necessary if you have the album, but if you love it, then you'll certainly want this to go along with it.