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If you had to go away for a while and you could only take five of your favorite albums with you, which ones would you choose? Yes, we know it isn’t a fair question, but that hasn’t stopped us from asking music fans who happen to be recording artists in there own right. This edition of Desert Island Discs comes courtesy of Singer-Songwriter Jesse Terry, whose latest release, Empty Seat on a Plane, is out today. To download a free six-song sampler of the upcoming LP visit his NoiseTrade page, and check out Jesse’s upcoming tour dates on his official website – after reading his Desert Island picks, of course.
I love discovering and listening to all kinds of new music and artists – but being stranded on a desert island is a unique scenario. This is not the place for Pandora! It’s so incredibly hard to choose but I’ve picked out some records that never wear out for me; records that have always comforted me, inspired me and made me feel like home was right around the corner. I can listen to these records all day on repeat and that’s really what I’d need on a desert island.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, “Live/1975-1985”
From the first notes on the piano of “Thunder Road” you know that this compilation of live Springsteen recordings is going to be a masterpiece. “Thunder Road” may be one of the greatest lyrics ever written — and that’s just the beginning. Bruce and the E Street Band are at their very best for all three records, including my favorite recordings of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Badlands,” “The River,” and the Tom Waits-penned gem “Jersey Girl.” I grew up in southern CT, a short ride from Jersey and NYC and definitely in the heart of Springsteen country. I remember the first time I saw him and the E Street Band perform live at the old Giants Stadium and how transfixed I was by his energy and emotion on stage. Bruce was great then and always will be, but these recordings to me are the pinnacle of his work. His voice is dripping with emotion and you can feel every word. It sounds like he wrote every song the night before.
Jackson Browne, “For Everyman”
Jackson’s second album, For Everyman may just be my favorite of his, which is saying a lot, considering his amazing body of work. It’s significant in that it marks the debut of his long relationship with brilliant multi-instrumentalist David Lindley. To me, Jackson seems more confident and powerful than ever on this record, particularly with the addition of Lindley’s lap steel playing. The record flows incredibly. I never skip a track; from the definitive recording of “Take It Easy” to the heartbreaking “These Days” to the title track, which was written as a response to the apocalyptic “Wooden Ships.” Guest artists include icons like David Crosby, Glenn Frey, Elton John, Don Henley, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt. The record makes me long for the days of Laurel Canyon and the amazing nucleus of artists that came out of Southern California in that era. We may never see a music scene like that ever again.
James Taylor, “New Moon Shine”
JT’s thirteenth record, New Moon Shine has always been special to me. The production is beautiful and organic, which always complements James’ songs and vocals so well. I love the albums he released in the ’80s, but at times they feel a bit over-produced to me. So what did James do for New Moon Shine? He brought in a couple of the best bluegrass/country players on the planet to give this record a bit of a different flavor. The result is a more natural and honest feel. Jerry Douglas’ dobro is perfection and Mark O’Connor’s fiddle parts are great additions to this record to go along with James’ stellar all-star band. Taylor’s voice sounds triumphant and joyful, like he had been to the depths and emerged victorious. I’m not sure where James was at this point of his life, but I remember being in a dark place when the album was released in 1991. It has always been a comfort to me and still is a record I listen to on a weekly basis. “Copperline” and “The Frozen Man” are two of the finest songs ever written in my opinion (“Copperline” is a rare JT co-write with poet Reynolds Price). “Like Everyone She Knows” contains an absolutely stunning guitar intro and James’ cover of the traditional “The Water Is Wide” is timeless and flawless.
Ryan Adams, “Heartbreaker”
The greatest singer/songwriter of my generation at the height of his prowess. It’s hard to believe that this is his debut record as a solo artist (although his previous records as a member of Whiskeytown are also brilliant). Ethan Johns, one of my favorite producers (and son of legendary producer Glyn Johns) is at the helm here and also plays six instruments on the record. Ethan also mixes and engineers. Classic performances by guests David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Kim Richey cement this as one of the greatest records ever. From the loose Rolling Stones/Gram Parsons vibe of “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” to the heartbreaking and sparse “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” the entire record is a masterpiece. Emmylou Harris’ harmony on “Oh My Sweet Carolina” may be some of her finest harmony work (and that’s saying a lot). I love all of Ryan’s work, but Heartbreaker is the one that absolutely destroys me. I think it’s fair to say that he had a strong hand in putting alt-country and Americana music on the map as relevant and thriving genres. And like another trailblazer before him, Neil Young, Ryan always did it his way.
Joni Mitchell, “Blue”
This isn’t much of a surprise when choosing classic albums, but if we’re talking about being stranded on a desert island I can’t leave Blue off my list. I consider Joni to be the best lyricist ever. She’s from outer space. No one created her. All of this music and originality was inside of her from the very beginning and that is very rare. When she was looking for a new chord voicing or emotional texture she simply re-tuned her guitar until she found it. Besides her lyric writing, she sang like a bird and sounded like no one else before her (or after). Harmonically this record is perfection. Joni is such a legendary singer/songwriter/lyricist that I feel like sometimes her fine musicianship is overlooked. This is Joni’s fourth album and was written after her painful break-up with Graham Nash. I can feel all of her pain and the slow process of healing in this record. Here’s a quote from Joni herself that inspires me and sums up the record perfectly:
“The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”
Bravo, Joni. An artist revealing complete truth in their music is the most powerful thing to a listener, and I think Blue proves it.