Babel Reviews

Album Reviews from a Music Lover with Resolution

Author: greenwoodw (page 1 of 3)

Fantasy Albums: Mad Caddies – Just One More (Re-Edited)

Mad Caddies - Just One MoreMad Caddies are a massively underappreciated band in a massively underappreciated genre. Their albums each take the basic framework of ska and explode it in entirely new directions, from Rock the Plank’s punk-infused sea shanties to Just One More’s delirious mix of ska, punk, reggae, polka, New Orleans jazz, and Latin music. In fact, the latter is easily among my personal favorite ska-punk albums, alongside Catch 22’s Keasbey Nights, Less Than Jake’s Anthem, and The Specials’ self-titled debut.

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Nas – Illmatic

Released in April 1994, Illmatic is the debut full-length album from NYC-based rap legend Nas. While it originally sold only 60,000 copies in its first week, it has since been certified Platinum and is now considered one of the best albums of all time, hip-hop or otherwise. Together with Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, Illmatic represents the foundation of 1990s East Coast hip-hop, providing a gritty alternative to the then-popular dance-oriented sound of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice while introducing a worthy (and ultimately tragic) adversary to the West Coast G-funk of Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Snoop Dogg.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
In high school, I went through a phase where I refused to listen to anything without guitars. In my warped little teenage mind, that meant absolutely no pop or rap music (even though there are totally guitars in pop and rap music). Regardless, when my musical taste eventually began to expand, hip-hop felt like a foreign language. I could wax rhapsodic about why I loved Nirvana or Weezer for days, but I couldn’t find words to explain why I kept songs like Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” on repeat other than, “It’s catchy, I guess.” Since then, I’ve come to enjoy quite a bit of modern hip-hop — particularly Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city — but getting into Nas in particular seemed like a daunting task. He comes across as the consummate rapper’s rapper, the kind of guy you can’t really enjoy without knowing the genre’s intricacies inside and out. But after a deep dive into Illmatic, I’m beginning to see what all the fuss is about.

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Ruby Bones – Ruby Bones

Rating: B+

Buy the album now at

Ruby Bones - Ruby BonesIt’s tough out there for a guitar-based band, with the charts seemingly allergic to any artist that puts a little riffage front and center. New Jersey-based indie rockers Ruby Bones take that as a dare on their self-titled debut album. Not only is this a proudly guitar-heavy record, they’re mixed so high you can’t even hope to ignore them. But the band isn’t just here to batter you into the ground. While they certainly fit the contemporary indie-punk mold of Cloud Nothings, Japandroids, and White Lung, Ruby Bones set themselves apart through the sheer quantity and quality of the hooks crafted by lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Chris Nova. Oh, and a little sax-a-ma-phone.

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Jeff Buckley – Grace

Jeff Buckley - GraceBackground
Released in August 1994, Jeff Buckley’s Grace is his lone complete studio album. While it initially sold poorly, it has since become a cult classic, selling over 2 million copies worldwide. It placed #303 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time list, #13 on Q’s 2005 greatest albums of all time list, and was reportedly David Bowie’s favorite record. Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” would also become the definitive reading of the song, eventually being inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Unfortunately, Buckley would not live to see his success. He died in May 1997 at the age of 30 in a drowning accident at Memphis’s Wolf River Harbor.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
Grace is an album that comes with an immense amount of mythology and baggage, so getting into it always seemed like work to me. This is an album that is meant to be experienced, and it just never seemed like the right time. Plus, Buckley’s tracks have a tendency to zig when you expect them to zag, so on the few occasions when I did give it a tentative shot, it was difficult to find a foothold. Couple that with the sheer ubiquitousness of “Hallelujah” — which has been featured in The West Wing, The O.C., House M.D., Without a Trace, One Tree Hill, The Edukators, Lord of War, Saint Ralph, Shrek, and Longmire, to name a few — and I just never felt the urgency to give Grace a fair shake. Alas, I do now. Thanks, New Year’s resolutions!

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Fantasy Albums: Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans (with Jason Isbell & Shonna Tucker)

Drive-By Truckers - English OceansIn the 2014 film Boyhood, there’s a great scene where Ethan Hawke’s character gives his son a painstakingly curated mix CD of post-breakup Beatles tunes that he dubs The Black Album. His explanation: “When you listen to too much of the solo stuff, it kind of becomes a drag, you know? But you put them next to each other, and they start to elevate each other. And then you can hear it. It’s The Beatles!”

Many of us have taken our own stabs at the perfect Black Album over the years, but the point is always the same. There is no favorite Beatle. The band was great because it consisted of four amazing musicians working together, each bringing their own style and personality to the table, with the result adding up to far more than the sum of its parts.

But The Beatles aren’t the only great band with an abundance of songwriting talent that has since been scattered to the winds. Case in point: Drive-By Truckers, one of the best rock bands, indie or otherwise, of the last two decades. Since their formation in 1996, each of the band’s first nine studio albums featured contributions from at least three songwriters — most notably co-founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley as well as Jason Isbell, Shonna Tucker, and Rob Malone.

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