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Underrated Albums: Discovering Musical Gems

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By Rick Henry Christopher Published 4 months ago 10 min read
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The following ten albums are all, in their own right, underrated by the general music-listening public and are deserving of a closer look.

Some of these albums were very popular in their day; some are Grammy Award winners; some are considered classics within their fan base. However, all have eluded the tag of “classic” by the larger general public of music listeners.

Therefore, today we will take another look at these albums, which span various decades and genres of music.

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Foreverly (2013) by Billie Joe + Norah

This duo consists of Billie Joe Armstrong from the pop-punk band Green Day and jazz-pop superstar Norah Jones.

Green Day has experienced major success, having won five Grammy Awards. Two of their albums rank within the all-time best-selling: "Dookie" with sales of 20 million worldwide and "American Idiot" with 16 million.

Norah Jones' debut album, "Come Away With Me," is one of the most celebrated albums of all time, having sold more than 27 million copies worldwide and earning a total of six Grammy Awards. Norah also won the Best New Artist Grammy in that same year. In total, Norah has won nine Grammys.

"Foreverly" is a collection of traditional songs and is a reinterpretation of The Everly Brothers' 1958 album "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us."

Norah and Billie Joe met in 2005 during the 47th Annual Grammy Awards broadcast. They shared the stage with luminaries such as Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Alicia Keys, Bono, and Alison Krause to perform a version of The Beatles' “Across the Universe” for Tsunami relief.

Several years later, Billie Joe had been listening to The Everly Brothers album quite a bit and decided he wanted to remake the record. But he wanted to do it with a female vocalist instead of two brothers. It was Billie Joe's wife that suggested he contact Norah Jones.

Musically, the album remains true to The Everly Brothers' folk leanings, and Norah and Billie harmonize beautifully together.

Best Tracks: “Long Time Gone,” “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Rockin' Alone (In An Old Rocking Chair),” “Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet”

RHC's Note: This album is so beautifully done it sends shivers through me. “Rockin' Alone (In An Old Rocking Chair)” brought tears to my eyes.

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Fire of Unknown Origin (1981) by Blue Öyster Cult (BOC)

This was BOC's highest-charting album in the US and Canada and received favorable reviews from critics. The album contained the hit single “Burnin' For You,” which made it to #40 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart. The song also made it to #1 on Billboard's Album Rock Tracks chart.

"Fire of Unknown Origin" was a sonic accomplishment for BOC. Songs such as “Fire of Unknown Origin,” “Veteran of Psychic Wars,” and “Sole Survivor” all sport a prog rock wall of sound that boasts the decibels up and rocks the roof off the house.

While the songs may be somewhat more commercially accessible, they are as hard-rocking as anything they've ever done.

Best Tracks: “Fire of Unknown Origin,” “Sole Survivor,” “Veteran of Psychic Wars,” “Burnin' For You,” “Joan Crawford”

RHC's Comment: "Sole Survivor" is one amazing song. That one song alone makes the album well worth the price of admission.

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Horizon (1975) by Carpenters

For those of you into Adult Contemporary, this is one of the finest albums ever produced. The album was initially a huge success around the world, reaching #13 in the US, #1 in both the UK and Japan, #3 in New Zealand, #4 in Canada, and #5 in Norway, as well as charting in several other countries.

Record Executive and A&M Records Co-Founder Jerry Moss called the album the Carpenters' Sgt. Peppers. A Rolling Magazine review described it as their most sophisticated album.

Carpenters spent many long hours experimenting with different sounds, techniques, and effects. One of the most astonishing techniques used on the album is the multitude of separate mikings. Every instrument and voice has its own microphone. This helped to create a broad, full sound. The drums were recorded on four separate tracks: one for the kick, one for the snare, and one each for the left and right tom-toms. On the song “Only Yesterday,” a tape delay is used on the saxophone. This effect accents the instrument and lifts it above the canvas, giving it an extra dimension.

Many fans have said that some of Karen's finest vocal performances are found on this album.

Best Tracks: “Please Mr. Postman,” “Desperado,” “Only Yesterday,” “Solitaire,” “I Can Dream Can't I,” “I'm Caught Between) Goodbye and I Love You”

RHC's Comment: Karen Carpenter's voice was magical.

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The L-Shaped Man (2015) by Ceremony

"The L-Shaped Man," the fifth album by the post-punk band Ceremony, takes them further into a Joy Division influence while remaining true to their own unique style.

The album charted well on two of Billboard's genre-specific charts: #11 on Heatseekers and #20 on Hard Rock Albums.

The band borrowed their name, Ceremony, from a Joy Division song, which was later re-recorded and released as a single by New Order.

Best Tracks: “Your Life in France,” “The Separation,” “The Party,” “The Bridge.”

RHC's Comment: I discovered Ceremony in 2012 with their album Zoo and was an instant fan. The L-Shaped Man is my favorite of their albums.

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South of Reality (2019) by The Claypool Lennon Delirium

This duo, composed of Sean Ono Lennon and bass player-vocalist Les Claypool from the band Primus, met in 2015 while Lennon's band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth, was an opening act for Primus on tour. "South of Reality" is their second album and is classified as Progressive Rock and Psychedelia. Paulo Baldi from Cake plays drums on three of the tracks. The album is very Beatlesque with hints of Pink Floyd.

Best Tracks: “Little Fishes,” “Blood and Rockets,” “South of Reality,” “Easily Charmed By Fools,” “Amethyst Reality,” “Like Fleas”

RHC's Comments: This album is the most Beatlesque album I have yet to hear.

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Flying Doesn't Help (1979) by Anthony More

Anthony Moore (aka Anthony More, A. More, and Flag Face) is a founding member of the British band Slapp Happy. Aside from releasing eight solo albums and several collaboration albums, he has written several songs for Pink Floyd, which were included on their albums "A Momentary Lapse of Reason," "The Division Bell," and "The Endless River."

"Flying Doesn't Help" is Moore's fifth solo album and his most celebrated. I call it the greatest Post-punk/alt-rock album nobody has ever heard. Anthony Moore produced the album with Laurie Latham, a British producer who has also produced groups such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Paul Young, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Stranglers, Squeeze, and several other known British bands.

The album did not chart, though it received high praise from critics. Ira Robbins from Trouser Press stated, “Building dense sonic forests filled with jagged splinters and dry, incongruously delicate vocals, the results fall somewhere between Peter Gabriel, John Cale, David Bowie, and Kevin Ayers. An extraordinary record that reveals itself a little further each time it’s played.” Michael Jordan of all music.com writes: “More manufactures a musical landscape that is starkly beautiful, emotionally charged, and a tad dangerous.”

Best Tracks: “Judy Get Down,” “Lucua,” “Caught Being in Love,” “Time Less Strange,” “Girl It's Your Time”

RHC's Comment: One of my all-time favorite albums!!! I played this album like crazy in the early 1980 along with More's World Service album.

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The Grass is Blue (1999) by Dolly Parton

"This is the first in a trilogy of superb bluegrass albums recorded by Dolly Parton. In a poll taken of bluegrass fans, when asked who they would like to see record a bluegrass album, Dolly Parton was overwhelmingly chosen. Therefore, Dolly obliged the results of the poll and set out to record her first true bluegrass album. She kept faithful to the genre and hired the best bluegrass session musicians on the scene.

The album is a mix of traditional bluegrass songs and original recordings; among the original recordings is "Steady as the Rain," which Dolly wrote for her younger sister Stella Parton, who had a top 40 country hit with the song in 1979. "Will He Be Waiting for Me" is an updated version of a song that Parton originally recorded for her 1972 album, Touch Your Woman. The album also includes a cover of the Blackfoot song "Train, Train." Also included is “Silver Dagger,” a late 19th-century song that was popularized by Joan Baez in the 1960s. The Billy Joel song “Travelin' Prayer” is an album highlight. Her sister Rachel Dennison wrote the album's closing song “I Am Ready.”

The album was a critical success and won the Grammy award for Best Bluegrass Album.

Best Tracks: “Train, Train,” “Silver Dagger,” “Travelin' Prayer,” and Parton's original “The Grass is Blue.”

RHC's Comment: Dolly's trilogy of bluegrass albums are within my ten favorite Dolly Parton albums.

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That's the Way God Planned It (1969) by Billy Preston

This gospel-influenced funk and soul album were produced by George Harrison shortly after Preston collaborated with The Beatles on their “Get Back” single. The album has a spiritual leaning with a positive feel-good message.

The musicians playing on the album form a stellar lineup including Keith Richards on bass guitar, Eric Clapton on electric guitar Ginger Baker on drums, Doris Troy on backing vocals, and George Harrison not only as the producer but also electric guitar, acoustic guitar, sitar, and synthesizer.

This was Preston's sixth album and his first of two released in The Beatles' Apple Records. The album reached #127 in the US. The gospel rock single “That's the Way God Planned It” was the first to chart, reaching US #62, UK #11, Ireland #12, New Zealand #14, Netherlands #14, Australia #22, and Canada #61.

Best Tracks: “That's the Way God Planned It,” “Everything's Alright,” “Hey Brother,” “Let Us All Get Together (Right Now),” “This is It”

RHC's Comment: I started digging into Billy Preston's music around 1992 and was scouring the used record stores for his albums. I found this one for $1.00 so of course I bought it and it became a staple in my collection for many years.

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Birth of a Ghost (2017) by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (ORL)

ORL's biggest claim to fame is being a founding member of the alternative prog-rock band The Mars Volta, for which he is the lead guitarist, songwriter/composer, and producer. Omar has also had a successful and very prolific solo career, releasing 60 albums from 2004 to 2017.

"Birth of a Ghost" is Omar's 58th album. For this album, he ditched his alt-rock and electronic music and tried his hand at classical music, and he succeeded in producing an outstanding body of music. It's with this album that I realized what I already knew: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a musical genius. If he desired, he could be quite successful as a classical composer.

Best tracks: “Through a Glass Darkly,” “Thoughts and Ashes,” “The Old Lacquer-Tinged Tomb,” “A Good Kind of Blue,” “September.”

RHC's Comment: This album is so incredibly inspiring. Genius!

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Songwright's Apothecary Lab (2021) by Esperanza Spalding

This unique album by jazz luminary Esperanza Spalding is part science and part music. The album is presented as "half songwriting workshop, half guided research practice," bringing musicians and practitioners of different disciplines, such as music therapy and neuroscience, together.

The songs are titled as Formwelas from “Formwela 1 to Formwela 13,” with 12 purposely left out. Each song is designed to address specific emotions and stresses.

The album has received high marks from music critics and won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

The album is accompanied by a user's guide describing the function of each Formwela. For instance, “Formwela 4” is for tuning oneself to expect and receive attunement when speaking intimately to the heart’s un-articulated needs. Use it to remind oneself that loving and self-giving are not individual undertakings; even in the most intimate circumstances, ancestors and earth’s support forces are in attendance, for the honoring of their beauty via the truth of how you really are, and what you really need.

Best Tracks: “Formwela 1,” “Formwela 2,” “Formwela 4,” “Formwela 5”

RHC's Comment: I love Esperanza. She is my current day favorite female musician.

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In exploring these ten albums that have, in their own way, slipped under the radar of the general music-listening public, I hope you've embarked on a musical journey across genres and decades. Whether you've discovered hidden gems or revisited familiar sounds, each album offers a unique perspective and a sonic experience worth savoring. As we conclude this musical expedition, I extend my heartfelt gratitude for joining me on this exploration. Thank you for your time and curiosity. May these albums continue to resonate with you, and may your musical discoveries be ever abundant.

With Love, RHC ❤️

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About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing is a distraction to fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and soothing the bruises of the day.

The shattered pieces of life will not discourage me.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/vocalplusassist

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Comments (6)

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  • River Joy3 months ago

    Great list/write up and album choices. Some I had heard of some I hadn't. I'll be checking them out.

  • A very thorough review of songs, excellent choices!

  • Excellent choices, Rick. Thanks for the journey.

  • Paul Levinson4 months ago

    Great review, Rick! Karen Carpenter's voice was sheer magic.

  • Mother Combs4 months ago

    I love BOC

  • Real Poetic4 months ago

    Thanks for providing a catalog to listen to! Appreciate it.

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