Deserted Island Music

the lists

random musings

how the site works

publish your list 


Deserted Island Music home page


Kohn's Corner  

Bill Machrone's list

First, three albums that all grew out of the same core of influences in the Los Angeles urban folk music scene.

Linda Ronstadt  

Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind

This album was the last gasp of the overwrought ‘80s, and the best pop album of that decade. After all the folk, country, rock, jazz and standards classics, and Spanish songs, she pulled out this towering collection of songs, including two duets with Aaron Neville. One of the most amazing cuts, however, is “California Coast,” in which Brian Wilson sings six-part backup harmony. “Desperado,” (not on this album) by Eagles Henley and Frey, is still Ronstadt’s signature song.


The Eagles

Hotel California

Back in the early years of the LA urban folk scene, the Eagles were Linda Ronstadt’s backup band. While Ronstadt went on to apply her magnificent instrument to everything from jazz to opera, the Eagles refined their West Coast Cowboy sound, became far better songwriters,  and added rocker Joe Walsh to the band. They dominated the charts with “Hotel California,” “New Kid in Town,” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” The production values are incredibly high for an album recorded in the mid-1970s, when record companies were not exactly covering themselves with glory in their support of artists.


Jackson Browne

Late for the Sky

The single most amazing thing about Jackson Browne’s singing on “Late for the Sky” is the way he eliminated vibrato from his voice, singing in a spare, uncompromising style that strips away any art, artifice, prettiness or pretense. You have no choice but to focus on the lyrics. And what lyrics! “Fountain of Sorrow” has all those playful plays on words, but the song cuts to the heart of the matter like few others. “Before the Deluge” could be the theme song of any environmental group today. It’s like Dylan without the cryptic allegory. But the best song on the album is “For a Dancer,” a song about his wife, who killed herself. Heartrending, naked, raw.  

Browne, of course, is the author of one of the Eagles’ biggest hits, “Take it Easy,” and also penned several of Ronstadt’s hits. One of the very few missteps in Ronstadt’s recording career was the recording of “For a Dancer” that she and Emmylou Harris did on “Western Wall”—chirpy and cheerful, it absolutely misses the point of the song. And it’s not like they didn’t know what it was about when Browne wrote it; they knew him then.




Philip Glass


I first heard the pieces that comprise “Glassworks” at the New York City Ballet, the music to “Glass Pieces,” choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Against a spare grid pattern at the back of the stage, the dancers  moved like ancient Egyptians on a frieze. The steps were as hypnotic as the music. I went out and bought the album the next day. The torrent of notes! The throbbing synthesizer! The mad woodwinds! And the snake charmer’s soprano sax above it all. An astounding piece of music. But someday I’ll have to ask myself why I seem to get so much from a bunch of arpeggiated chord changes.



Ella Fitzgerald

Composers’ Songbooks

These albums were the reason I bought my very first CD player—and they were my very first CDs. Remastered from the originals, they’re far better than the LPs that I’d lost to an old lover somewhere along the way. Cole Porter, Harold  Arlen, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, they’re all here. Ella’s voice is perfect, Ella’s pitch is perfect, Ella’s arrangements (thanks to Nelson Riddle) are perfect. Sometimes, however, the wit of the songs is lost in the perfection of the delivery. She could sometimes stand to loosen up and have more fun with the lyrics. But it’s still the definitive collection of songs by these composers. Only Sinatra’s recordings could be compared in the same breath, but he’s as casual with a note as she is laser-sharp, and sometimes he comes across as too worldly and bored.



Karrin Allyson

Wild for You

Fast-forward 20 years, and a child of the ‘70s grows up, becomes a sophisticated jazz chanteuse, then turns her quirky, intimate voice with that little catch in it to the ‘70s songs of Carole King, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, and Joni Mitchell, among others. With tasteful drum, bass, piano (some with her fingers on the keys), and guitar framing them, the lyrics are what matter here. Not every cut is a home run, but you can hear something new in each of them, as well as the something old that made me love these songs the first time around. Diana Krall is the reigning goddess of jazz vocals, and everybody’s still talking about Nora Jones, but Karrin Allyson is a treat for the ear.

And if you get into her, there’s plenty more to check out, including some sweet art songs like “Robert Frost” on the “Collage” album. Did I mention how much I love the little catch in her voice?


Russell Malone


While we’re talking jazz, one of the most tasteful guitarists around is Russell Malone. He has a big, round, warm, sweet tone and doesn’t try to dazzle you with his chops, but they’re there when he needs them. He works closely with a tight little group, and doesn’t hog the limelight. But he’s never more listenable or expressive than when he’s playing solo. His version of “You’ve Got a Friend” is so intimate and familiar that you’d swear you were hearing the lyrics, not just the melody, delivered with half-mournful jazz chord voicings. One of his signature songs in live performances is the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and everyone who has listened to the Carpenters’ layered vocals and strings and felt like they were drowning in maple syrup should hear this. You suddenly discover that there’s a real song under all that icing. This is the first time Malone has committed it to disc.




Comfort Eagle

Unclassifiable. Cake (John McCrea) is rock the way Joni Mitchell is folk. He writes lyrics from some strange place between his heart and his head, speaks truths, and wraps them in whatever sounds are necessary to bring them to full flower. You’ll hear rock, alt rock, country, jazz, salsa, and who knows what else in the accompaniments, and the lyrics go from pretense-busting, laugh-out-loud (“Opera Singer” and “Comfort Eagle”) to head-scratchingly opaque (“Long Line of Cars” and “Meanwhile Rick James”).

But each song is like a little short story, a précis that gives you insight into the subject. “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” nails the bright, aggressive young woman who reinvents herself as she matures, while “Symphony in C” lampoons, of all things, an 18th-century Austrian nobleman. “Shadow Stabbing” describes a novelist, shut away in his room, writing about a world that he never experiences directly. But maybe it’s about something else. You decide. And let me know if you figure out what “Meanwhile Rick James” is about.


Michael Tilson Thomas/George Gershwin

Rhapsody in Blue

Sure there are lots of great renditions of “Rhapsody in Blue,” especially Leonard Bernstein’s, with the New York Philharmonic. But this one has George Gershwin playing piano. OK, he’s been dead a long time, and it’s really a piano roll, but it was a special kind of player piano that captured expression as well as any digital piano does today—maybe better, because it was analog and infinitely variable. In order to make this recording they had to completely restore one of those pianos and make it operable after 50 years or so of disuse. Then Tilson Thomas had to immerse himself in Gershwin’s cadences so he could direct the orchestra accordingly. The definitive “Rhapsody.”




They sound like the greatest bar/frat party band you ever heard (that honor actually belongs to Blotto), but Boston was really Tom Scholz and an associate or two in the studio, layering on the guitar riffs that defined the  mid-1970s. “More than a Feeling” is the megahit from this album, but every track is an invitation to play air guitar. Listen to the crunch of the rhythm guitar—how you can define every chord, even through the distortion. The lead guitar wails and soars, but never descends into bathos. The lyrics are nothing special, but that’s OK—this is music for rolling down the windows and singing along. Scholz’s voice is just the right pitch of testosterone-fueled tenor—urgent, but not out of control.




Abbey Road

It’s all been said before.




Nocturnes of John Field

John Field (composer), performed by John O’Connor

John Field invented the nocturne. Considering when he wrote them, they sound shockingly modern, far more expressive than other music of his period. Chopin was heavily influenced by Field, which will be obvious at first listen.



I could do more, but I think I’ll leave off here.