Staff Picks for December 2023

Blue River
December 6, 2023
Blue River, with its themes of uncertainty and struggle, is by no means a casual record, although songs such as the bittersweet "Is It Really Love at All" and the title track, featuring Joni Mitchell's ethereal supporting vocal, will draw the listener in with their sheer beauty. Andersen, then in his late twenties, was dealing with questions of love, life, and desire with a maturity matched only by a handful of songwriters at the time.
- Brett Hartenbach
Band on the Run
December 5, 2023
Released 50 years ago today, Band on the Run is generally considered to be Paul McCartney's strongest solo effort. The album was also his most commercially successful, selling well and spawning two hit singles, the multi-part pop suite of the title track and the roaring rocker "Jet." Though it lacks the emotional resonance of contemporaneous releases by John Lennon and George Harrison, McCartney's infallible instinct for popcraft overflows on this excellent release.
- Al Campbell
Frankie Rose and the Outs
December 4, 2023
After playing enhancing roles in Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts in the late 2000s, Frankie Rose's mostly solo debut was among the best of the cavernous reverb and shadowy pop indie scene of its time. It drew from the same C-86 and girl group influences, but with exceptional songwriting and the unexpected twist of occasional Cramps-styled demented swagger. An overlooked gem.
- Fred Thomas
Birth, School, Work, Death
December 3, 2023
A searing opening salvo from the underrated U.K. rock band whose best known song, "Birth, School, Work, Death" led off their excellent major label debut.
- Timothy Monger
Lucky Strikes
December 2, 2023
Heard on four songs apiece on tenor and soprano (he was one of the first bop-oriented soprano players), Thompson plays two standards and six originals in a quartet with pianist Hank Jones, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Connie Kay. The playing time on this straight reissue of an earlier LP is a bit brief (just over 38 minutes), but the quality is quite high.
- Scott Yanow
Alone With His Guitar
December 1, 2023
A real treat for Hank-o-philes who really drooled over the few gritty demo recordings that appeared on the extensive box set The Complete of Hank Williams. Ten of the 18 cuts here come from early '49 appearances on Shreveport, Louisiana's KWKH; and the rest are demo recordings made to pitch songs to his label. These provide a warm, intimate look at a man playing songs on his guitar that would change the world.
- Zac Johnson