Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Records to Die For: Disraeli Gears; Dark Was the Night

I just my annual invite from Robert Baird, music editor at Stereophile magazine, to participate in the magazine’s year-end RTDF poll. RTDF stands for Records to Die For, and Baird’s rules are that you write reviews of two albums currently in-print, that you have fun and use no more than 100 words, which makes them similar in style to the short reviews popularized by Robert Christgau in his monthly Consumer Record Guide in the Village Voice and Creem that I grew up with. One hundred words is just a few quick sentences. (This paragraph is 123 words.) Trying to say anything coherent that quickly — especially about a record I love — is always an interesting exercise.

This is my tenth year, so I thought it would be fun to post each year’s two entries. I still stand behind each and every choice. We’ll start with the year 2001.

Disraeli Gears
Eric Clapton, guitar, vocals; Ginger Baker, drums, vocals; Jack Bruce, bass, vocals.
Polygram 531811 (CD). 1967/1998.
Felix Pappalardi, prod.; Tom Dowd, eng. TT: 33:33.

Strange brew. The rainbow has a beard. Tales of Ulysses. Whimsical wah-wah. Delirious drums. Big bass. Harmonies from some higher dimension. SWLABR. There is little doubt that Cream’s short career sowed the seeds for future musical prowess (and excess) while wedding the blues to psychedelia. But not here. Disraeli Gears is about economy, stupid. These 11 songs are notoriously lean and mean, with the longest, “Sunshine of Your Love,” clocking in at a little more than four minutes. Along with Highway 61 Revisited, this is where rock finally pulled up alongside the blues and waved back. (97)

Blind Willie Johnson
Dark Was the Night
Blind Willie Johnson, guitar, vocals; Willie B. Harris, vocals.
Time: 50:40.

With lyrics ripped from Baptist hymn-books and Scripture, a mannered steel-guitar style and a moaning, tortured voice that cried like a prophet in the wilderness, the street evangelist known as Blind Willie Johnson worked the crossroads between Saturday night and Sunday morning. This is as scary as religious music got in the 1920s, or any decade, for that matter. Original versions of “If I Had My Way,” “Dark Is the Night,” “John the Revelator” and 13 others you probably thought were written by someone else. (85)


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