It seemed like a good idea in the meeting ...
43. Eddie Lang
Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Vols. 1 and 2 / JSP, 1923-'31
A childhood friend of Joe Venuti (see No. 65), Eddie Lang (Salvatore Massaro) was the first American guitar hero. A skillful and inspired musician who could play blazingly fast when necessary, Lang was in heavy demand for session work during the roaring '20s. Bing Crosby noted that "Lang was the first fellow to do much single-string guitar work." Lang worked with Jean Goldkette's Band and Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, and recorded for years with Venuti, resulting in this double-CD collection of duo, trio and quartet dates complete with alternate takes.
Chocolate and Cheese / Elektra, 1994
Dean and Gene Ween are an acquired taste for many, but this mid-'90s release captured the moment in time when it became pretty goddamn clear that the only way to do anything new was to smash together everything that was already lying around. Chocolate kicks off with the classic rockin' R&B of "Take Me Away," as if to prove the band had the chops to play it (somewhat) straight before heading into outer space--from Mexican-flavored tracks to disco, weepy balladry and even Jonathan Richman-styled twee rock. The result is that the brothers Ween seem to set rock criticism to music, commenting on the myriad forms pop music takes even as they deliver accomplished songs of their own.
45. G. Love and Special Sauce
G. Love and Special Sauce / Epic, 1994
From some Southern swamp comes the improbable Philly trio G. Love and co.--though the swamp in this case is actually the Schuylkill. With this debut album the band hit MTV hard with the video for the groove-infused "Cold Beverage," and toured behind it devotedly. Taking inspiration from funk, blues and hip-hop, this strong live debut--just Garrett Dutton on guitar and harmonica, Jeff Clemens on drums and Jim Prescott on upright bass--was a harbinger of what was to come from these guys, namely powerfully fun and frequent live shows. This album isn't very complicated, but its mix was strikingly original at the time. And sometimes it's just nice to just sit back and shoot the shit about drinking beer and shooting hoops.
46. Good God
Good God / Atlantic, 1972
Good God was a pioneering jazz/rock fusion band. Larry "Zeno Sparkles" Cardarelli was guitarist. Cotton Kent, who still performs quite a bit around New Hope, played keys. Greg Scott played saxophone. John Ransome played bass, and Hammering Hank Ransome was drummer. They got their name by telephoning Don "Captain Beefheart" Vliet and asking him what they should be called. Vliet replied in his sonorous voice, "Good God!" The band said thanks, hung up and had a name. They were a thrilling outfit, as all four were superior players who meshed beautifully. Their own compositions "A Murder of Crows," "Zaragoza" and "Fish Eye" were fine, but the two covers on their one album go a long way toward explaining Good God's parameters: John McLaughlin's "Dragon Song" and a fabulous take of Frank Zappa's "King Kong." Definitely a band ahead of its time.
47. Benita Valente
Shepard on the Rock / Sony, 1999
Soprano Benita Valente is one of the Curtis Institute of Music's most famous stars, and over a long career she recorded and performed with another famed Curtis affiliate, pianist Rudolf Serkin, as soprano in residence at the Marlboro Festival. She and longtime Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy had a stormy relationship, but she also sang under some of the most famous conductors of all time, including Leonard Bernstein and Daniel Barenboim. As for this recording, Mark Beers says: "She produced many dozens of recordings. Her most famous and most beloved was Shepherd on the Rock, recently reissued by Sony. It's one of the greatest vocal performances in history." Valente retired last year and lives in Center City.
Calendar: March 25-April 1
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide