At Salon I have a list of most underrated albums,, but it was cut for space. So here’s what got left off.
Jeri Southern, “You Better Go Now” 1956

Forget icons recognizable by a single name like Billie, Sarah, or Ella; Jeri Southern is little known compared to relatively obscure torch singers like June Christy, Julie London, Peggy Lee and Anita O’Day. But Miles Davis was a fan, and you can hear why on this album. Southern’s voice is pure, bright, and sensual, perfect for the flirtatious vulnerability of songs like “You Better Go Now” and “Remind Me”, or for the tortured lost love pie-in-the-sky hopes of “Something I Dreamed Last Night.” Southern doesn’t waste any tracks on uptempo; the pace throughout is slow, giving her careful phrasing and restrained emotion room to take on weight and depth. “Give me time/I’ll give you love/Give me time/I’ll give you rapture, dear,” she sings, and it’s a promise she keeps.
Bill Harris, “Bill Harris and Friends”, 1957

Jazz trombonist Bill Harris was a longtime sideman for Woody Herman, but as far as I know this record, featuring Ben Webster on tenor sax, is his only outing as a leader. It’s a true gem, though. Harris’ broken, hesitant squonk gives “It Might As Well Be Spring” a plaintively delicate vulnerability, and Webster’s huge tone and vibrating reed are sensuous as ever on “Crazy Rhythm.” It’s the juxtaposition of the two on “I Surrender Dear” that’s truly transcendent though; smooth and broken, hesitant and suave, one of the greatest forgotten “good old good ones,” as Dick Buckley used to say.
Chuck Berry, “St. Louis to Liverpool”, 1964

This was released in 1964, after Berry had spent 20 months in prison. It’s a conscious effort to engage with the wave of bands that had been inspired by his music, from the use of overdubbed vocals on “Little Marie” to name-dropping the Beatles on “Go Bobby Soxer.” “St. Louis to Liverpool” also tends to make all those bands look a little puerile, Certainly, the Beach Boys weren’t singing about child custody struggles, and John Lennon wasn’t writing lyrics to match “It’s a bobby soxer beat
/And you can rock it any way you wish/Work out, bobby soxer,/you can
Wiggle like a whimsical fish.” Nor did the Stones ever have a guitar solo as hot or cool as Berry’s in “Promised Land,” which manages to evoke both tough electric blues and blazing Nashville picking (Berry was a country music fan of long standing.) And that doesn’t even get to the still-funny-after-100-listens “No Particular Place to Go,” and the fierce instrumental “Liverpool Drive”. Berry is usually thought of as a singles artist; partially as a result, “St. Louis to Liverpool” is rarely considered in the pantheon of the top rock albums. It should be though.
Doors, “The Soft Parade” 1969

As rock, the Door’s were always strained, pompous and lumbering. This is the one album where they turned that to their advantage. Inevitably, fans hated it — Rolling Stone said the band was “in the final stages of musical constipation.” ( That comparison seems particularly inapt; the Doors here are anything but tight. Instead, the album lurches from track to track, strings and brass spurting seemingly at random, blues riffs flailing, Morrison staggering from odd, vaguely offensive tribute to Otis Redding to hippie enthusiasm to portentous declamation (“You cannot petititon the Lord with prayer!”) to outright doggerel (“The monk. Bought. Lunch!”) The result is something like the Shaggs meet Shatner; a miracle of trashy incoherence. “The Soft Parade” is both humiliating self-parody and the only time Jim Morrison ever made good on his claims to genius.
Sadistic Mika Band, “Hot Menu”, 1975

Sadistic Mika Band was an influential Japanese band, but this particular album doesn’t seem to have been much heralded over here. Nonetheless, it’s my favorite of theirs — a quintessential 70s fizz of lounge fuzak. If Steely Dan composed a blaxploitation soundtrack, it might have turned out something like this.
Sonny & Linda Sharrock, “Paradise” 1975

Guitarist Sonny Sharrock played with Miles Davis, but he’s still relatively unknown, perhaps because he refused to fit neatly into the “jazz” label. Certainly, his second album with his then wife Linda is uncategorizable. There are repetitive spiky “On the Corner” style funk riffs, cheesy keyboard grooves, dissonant free jazz interpolations, blues licks, and through it all Linda’s Yoko-Ono-goes-to-church garbled combination of moans, shrieks, and speaking in tongues. All the nuttiness is held together by an undeniable strain of soul. Many folks have draped themselves in the mantle of Mingus, but “Paradise” may be one of his truest children, not least because it sounds so completely unlike him, or anything else.
Marty Stuart, “Busy Bee Café”, 1982

Stuart had some success on country radio later in the 1980s and 1990s, but this, his second album, was mostly ignored at the time and since. You can see how folks overlooked it; it’s a gloriously relaxed affair, with Stuart’s lightning bluegrass picking sliding into one easy groove after another. The album is a tribute to Stuart’s influences and friends, and so Johnny Cash shows up on a number of tracks, just to remind you that he wasn’t as aesthetically lost during the 80s as Rick Rubin would like you to believe, while the wonderful Doc Watson trades vocals on the twin guitar “Blue Railroad Train”. “Boogie for Clarence” is a virtuoso tribute to the bluegrass guitarist. “Busy Bee Café” is a quiet masterpiece, filled with love.
Womack and Womack, “Love Wars” 1983

Womack and Womack make moderate soul for middle-aged folks who want to bob their heads rather than shake it on the dance floor. The lack of urgency probably explains their relative obscurity — and it’s also why “Love Wars” is such a great album. The tracks sway and insinuate, as Cecil and (especially) Linda’s vocals dripping with longing, knowledge, and vulnerability. It’s a similar psychic space to Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” and I’m not always sure which album I like better.
Doughnuts, “Age of the Circle” 1995

The Doughnuts were apparently marketed as a straight edge band, but those thick, brutal guitars, the grinding tempos, and even the strained, half-shrieked vocals seem less akin to punk than to the death metal scene in their native Sweden. Similarly, the lyrics aren’t about hardcore snottiness and political engagement; they’re about filth and impurity and despair —songs like “Who’s Bleeding?” are a riot grrrl take on metal’s traditional body loathing. Maybe the Doughnuts are unknown because of the punk/metal genre confusion, or maybe the U.S. just wasn’t ready for an all-female Swedish band that sounded like it pulverized multiple grunge acts before breakfast. Either way, “Age of the Circle” is a lost classic.
Michio Kurihara, “Sunset Notes” 2007

Best known for his work with Japanese collective Ghost, Kurihara’s solo album has a lot of that band’s psychedelic fire. It’s also a showcase for his range as a guitarist, though; not just the high volume Hendrix lilt of “A Boat of Courage,” but the gentle acoustic backing of “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters” or the crunchy guitar pop-hook worthy riff in “Pendulum On A G-String” and the oddball high-volume March of “Do Deep-Sea Fish Dream of Electric Moles?” One of the most sublime records of the 2000s that didn’t show up on anyone’s best-of lists.

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