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Some of My Best Friends Are Records 

SF Weekly writers pick their favorite Bay Area records of all time

Wednesday, Mar 15 2006
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Julian Priester

Love, Love

(ECM)

In 1973, veteran jazz trombonist Priester picked up where former employer Herbie Hancock left off with his albums Mwandishi and Sextant, melding aspects of the avant-garde and groove schools with Pink Floyd's interstellar overdrive for a batch of electric jazz with a most human cry. (ECM reissued Love last year.)

Charming Hostess

Punch

(ReR)

Imagine a cross between an Eastern European women's choir, early-'70s Jethro Tull, and a supercaffeinated King Crimson, singing lyrics writ by a teenage, glue-sniffing Camille Paglia -- listen, then imagine no more. Invigorating, brilliant, and fun!

Jerry Garcia

Garcia

(Rhino)

Even some Deadheads aren't aware of this disc, which contained no name on the cover and subsequently dove into bargain bins shortly after its 1972 release. Reissued last year, it contains some of Garcia's best songs ("Bird Song," "Loser") and some atypical instrumentals that presage the surreal Americana of Pelt, Calexico, and Jim O'Rourke.

Naked Barbies

Tarnished

(Nbd)

In business since 1990, the unaffectedly roots-y Naked Barbies feature one of the most distinctive female voices around, Patty Spiglanin, whose wise, whiskey-tart tones make the yearning "Marry Me" sound like a veiled threat, then epitomize elation on "Roy Orbison" and late-night desolation with "Junkie."

The Beau Brummels

Volume 2

(Sundazed)

Formed in 1964, this S.F. group predated even the Byrds with its mixture of folky melancholia, jangling guitars, terse, snappy songcraft, and distinctive vocal harmonies, with the compellingly plaintive vocals of Sal Valentino front and center. Try to get "I Want You" out of your head after but one listen.

Red Meat

Meet Red Meat

(Ranchero)

Red Meat is not a band of rockers who "went country," but rather a hard-core honky-tonk country act that sounds like the wise-ass bastard child of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, with a slightly satirical bent and proclivities for Bacharach pop and Stanley Brothers-style bluegrass. If ever you see these guys, be sure to thank them for being Americans.

The Residents

Third Reich 'n' Roll

(Ralph)

These are some of the weirdest, most artfully warped parodies of pre-1970 AM-radio rock 'n' pop songs since the earliest Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention albums.

ROVA::Orkestrova

Electric Ascension

(Atavistic)

The Bay Area's finest (only?) saxophone quartet joins with eclectic, improvisation-savvy homies (Chris Brown, Carla Kihlstedt) and compatible out-of-towner pals (Fred Frith, Otomo Yoshihide, Wilco's Nels Cline) for a dazzling, unpredictable, cathartic reimagining of John Coltrane's seminal Ascension.


Hello, My Name Is: Dan Strachota

There's not a single record made before 1972 on my list. Shocking, I think, especially considering how much I love '60s music (or how nearly all the acts included were influenced by those artists). Maybe it's generational: All of these discs feel more like the bay to me than Surrealistic Pillow ever will.

The Aislers Set

Terrible Things Happen

(Slumberland)

Amy Linton set the indie-pop world on its ear with her first (mostly) solo disc (the full band played on only four songs). A return to garage rock (literally and figuratively), the 1998 LP channeled everything from Stooges strut to Shop Assistants punky pop to girl group harmony, all with offhanded charm.

Camper Van Beethoven

Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart

(Virgin)

The band's fourth LP and major-label debut continued to show that world music could be punk instead of hippie dippy. Only here, David Lowery proved himself a smartass with something to say (hello Grace Slick's jumpsuit), and the group's Led Zep fixation comes to fruition.

Digital Underground

Sex Packets

(Tommy Boy)

The 1990 debut full-length that made Oakland famous for the P-Funk sound is one of the few records to be funny, funky, and sexy all at the same time. More than just the LP that unleashed "The Humpty Dance" on many a frat party, the disc made big noses and funk riffs popular all over again.

Donner Party

Self-titled

(Pitch-a-Tent)

Before he made the misanthrope fashionable in Quasi, Sam Coomes led this post-punk trio (with Melanie Clarin and Reinhold Johnson), fashioning downbeat lyrics about death and getting lost in Hoboken over hellbent guitars that buzzed out equal parts Replacements and R.E.M. Misery never sounded as good as on this eponymous LP from 1988.

Ed's Redeeming Qualities

More Bad Times

(Flying Fish)

This local trio's 1990 debut is full of off-key singing, rinky-dink ukulele/bongo/violin playing, and songs about distributor caps -- and yet it's still brilliant! Mainly because the record features some of the best storytelling ever, with shaggy characters who never quite seem to get what they want. Anything this simultaneously mournful and gut-busting is genius.

Go Sailor

Self-titled

(Lookout!)

Originally released on 7-inches and compilations, these tunes -- recorded by Rose Melberg after fronting Tiger Trap and before starting the Softies -- were collected on CD in 1996. The sound's somewhere between Melberg's two bands, featuring the speed-jangly hooks of the former and the superduper sweet singing (and lovelorn lyrics) of the latter. Adorable and catchy as hell.

Sean Hayes

Alabama Chicken

(Snail Blue)

This folkie doesn't do anything fancy -- no giant harp, no weird animal imagery, no out-there playing -- which is probably what makes his songs so good in the long run. His third album, from 2003, is full of heartbreak sung (and played) the way it should be: miserable and confused and a little bit beautiful.

Jolie Holland

Escondida

(Anti-)

Holland's first studio album (from 2004) perfectly captures what makes the Texas native such a unique performer: haunting playing, otherworldly songwriting, and a voice that shivers and purrs. Few people can do bucolic folk, boozy blues, spooky country, or Irish jigs as well; even fewer can do all of the above.

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