5 Overlooked Albums

High quality albums often fly under the radar and go unnoticed for years and even decades. For whatever reasons the music gods or the powers that be decide to withhold the greatness of such works, often resulting in audio explorers serendipitously stumbling upon them. Look no further! Here is a list of albums that were carefully crafted from front to back and have been waiting to be discovered.

 

1.  Pandemonium Shadow Show – Harry Nilsson

 

Pandemonium

 

Harry Nilsson is a man you’ve probably never heard of but know very well. His songs “One,” covered by Three Dog Night, and “Coconut” are pop culture classics, and his versions of Badfinger’s “Without You,” and Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” were chart toppers. But long before the success, Nilsson’s second album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, was a commercial failure. The album featured several covers, including two Beatles songs, and a handful of incredible originals, but it failed to chart. However, Harry’s songwriting and arranging abilities paid off; The Monkees and Blood, Sweat, And Tears covered two of Nilsson’s originals, “Cuddly Toy” and “Without Her.” The Beatles publicist Derek Taylor heard “1941” on the radio and bought several copies of the album to give to the Fab Four, who endorsed Nilsson as their favorite artist and group and later invited him to Abbey Road studios. Pandemonium shows off Nilsson’s prowess as a vocalist and his forward thinking in the realm of layered vocal overdubs and unusual arrangements. It’s an album that presents something new with every listen and a greatly overlooked piece of art.

 

 

 

 

2.  Mutemath – MUTEMATH

 

Mutemath

 

This album is by far the most sonically interesting album on the list. Originally released on January 19th, 2006, Mutemath is the debut of New Orleans based indie alt-rock band Mutemath. The album was sold in jewel cases at concerts, but was quickly made available as a digital download and sold nearly 10,000 copies in the first month.  Mutemath is a gumbo of several styles of music, including electronica, rock, pop, experimental, jazz, and even contains some spiritual and religious motifs. The album broke the top 50 two years in a row on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers Chart, and their first single “Typical” reached 39 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart in 2007. In 2008 the album stalled out, but it built a successful following that has allowed the band to continue touring and put out great music.  Mutemath is a perfectly constructed electronic portrait that unabashedly uses every color on the palette. Each song flows into the next seamlessly, allowing the album to play through completely without weird pauses or interruptions.  Mutemath does not disappoint.

 

 

 

3.  Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka

 

Kiwanuka

 

Home Again is a fine example of how modern soul music could sound, but it was buried under the surge of Adele’s 21. Nothing against Adele, but this guy is the real deal; think Marvin Gaye meets Bill Withers meets James Taylor. It sounds like a weird combination, but Kiwanuka has hit the folk-soul nail on the head. The release of Home Again in 2012 saw the album climb to 4 on Billboard’s Folk chart, but it failed do much more than that in the states.  The album features some of the most incredible displays of songwriting heard in the last decade, as well as a collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Kiwanuka is currently working on a new album titled Love & Hatewith Jack White as producer of the first single.

 

 

 

4.  Learn & Burn – The Sheepdogs 

  Sheepdogs

 

Canadian rock band The Sheepdogs carry the torch on their third album Learn & Burn, citing several influences and genres including psychedelic, classic rock, and blues. From the first notes of the pulsing Fender Rhodes, to the Beatles-esque four-song medley outro, this album is on fire from beginning to end. Learn & Burn peaked at 14 on the Canadian charts and earned the band Rock Album of The Year at the 2012 Juno awards. But like the others on this list, it went over the heads of most Americans. Which is a shame because not only is this album listenable in its entirety, it is also an excellent study of American rock music, capturing many of the elements that defined the genre throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Listen, The Sheepdogs are so good they were the first unsigned band to make it onto the cover of Rolling Stone. So why not check them out? And then say “Thanks Canada!”

 

 

 

5.  The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend – Baby Huey

 

Baby Huey

 

One of the most tragic stories in music history is that of James “Baby Huey” Ramey. Baby Huey began performing professionally around Chicago during the early 1960’s as a lead singer for small club bands. Born with a glandular problem, he weighed 300 pounds, giving him a larger than life stage presence and severe health problems. In 1969, at the age of 25, Huey signed a contract with Curtom Records and recorded an album under the supervision of R&B giant Curtis Mayfield.  Huey died after its completion from a drug related heart attack at the age of 26.  The album was released shortly after to little attention and eventually drifted into obscurity.  Though Living Legend didn’t perform well initially, its contribution to music reached far beyond Huey’s life. Baby Huey’s rhymes and rhythmic patterns are considered to be the foundation that Hip Hop was built upon, and his songs have been sampled countless times, most notably “Hard Times.” All that aside, the album’s funky arrangements, powerhouse musicians, and Baby Huey’s soul-drenched voice is enough reason to give this album listen.

 

 

 

Beginning to end these albums are rock solid, carefully pieced together, wonderful works of art. Take a couple of hours and listen to these albums all the way through. Get to know them. Take them on dates; introduce them to your friends and family. Fall in love, and then add them to your record collection. It’ll be worth it, guaranteed.

 

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The Brilliance Behind Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller”

Since the release of his first solo album Traveller in 2015 the world of music has become infatuated with Chris Stapleton. His strikingly honest songs and soulful voice have made him a household name, and even earned him several Grammy nominations and CMA Awards including one for New Artist of the Year. But Chris isn’t new to this game, and there’s more to him than just good songs and a great voice. The rise of Chris Stapleton has long been in the making, and the success of Traveller has more to do with good marketing than it does with great songs.

          Christ Stapleton is not a new artist, at least not in the traditional sense. Stapleton has been doing this whole music thing professionally for over fifteen years, so he’s no spring chicken. When he moved to Nashville around 2001, Chris signed on as a writer with Brad Paisley’s publishing house, Sea Gayle Music. There he honed his songwriting craft for the better part of a decade, having over 150 of his songs cut by other artists and turning out multiple top-ten country songs and at least four number ones.

Traveller

 

In 2008 he joined an already-established bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers, as their lead singer and contributing songwriter. During his stint with the band they released two albums, their self-titled debut album and Reckless, both of which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts and were nominated for several Grammy awards. In 2010 Stapleton announced he was leaving The SteelDrivers to focus on raising a family while he continued to work as a songwriter for Sea Gayle Music. Shortly after leaving he formed another band, The Jompson Brothers, which took a hiatus when Stapleton signed with Mercury Records as a solo artist in 2013.

As you can see, Stapleton is not new. He’s spent the better part of fifteen years songwriting, playing, and getting his name out there and making people aware of his presence. In short, he has been marketing his brand for a long, long time.

          Traveller is essentially a greatest hits album. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve never heard any of these songs before. How can they be his greatest hits?” and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that. Stapleton was a professional songwriter for fifteen years, and he’s said in multiple interviews that the songs on Traveller span across that timeline. Chris handpicked each song that made its way onto Traveller for one reason or another, and knowing that he is an established chart-topping hit songwriter he probably had good reason for picking those particular songs.

 

 

The writing support he had on this album is incredible. He co-wrote most of Traveller with some huge songwriters and producers.   For instance, “Parachute” was co-written with Jim Beavers, former MTSU professor and Marketing Director for Capitol and Virgin Records. In 2002 Jim became a full time songwriter, and since 2008 has co-written nine #1 songs. “Nobody to Blame” was written with Ronnie Bowman, with whom Stapleton co-wrote Kenny Chesney’s #1 hit “Never Wanted Nothing More”, and Barry Bales who has been the bass player and a contributing writer for Alison Krauss’s band Union Station for around twenty-five years. Dan Wilson, former lead singer of SemiSonic, Grammy winning producer on Adele’s album 21 and co-writer of her hit “Someone Like You”, helped Stapleton write “When the Stars Come Out.”

From the list of hit songwriters that appear on this album it is evident that Chris Stapleton has some strong networking skills. Not only did he write some great songs with some well known and sought after songwriters, he also set Traveller up to be a huge success by doing so.   Not in the glaring obvious way, but in a more subtle and skillful manner.

When I moved to Nashville the first piece of advice that was given to me was, “If you want to have a #1 album, you need to write with hit songwriters.” The person giving this advice wasn’t saying, “Hit writers write hit songs which leads to a hit album.” He was making the point that writing with great songwriters exponentially increases your social network. Not only will your team be working to promote your album, those other songwriters and their teams will be working to promote it too, because now they are invested in what you’re doing. This is exactly what Chris Stapleton did. He spent fifteen years writing with the best songwriters he could find and saved the best songs for his own Greatest Hits album, knowing those songwriters would help him market it. Genius.

          Chris Stapleton transcends space and time. All jokes aside, Stapleton was able to successfully execute an out of the box marketing campaign and engage customers in outside markets through cross promotion. Because he comes from such an eclectic musical history Stapleton knew he would need an equally eclectic marketing strategy behind Traveller.

Working with UMG to promote the album led to a grassroots word-of-mouth campaign that relied heavily on the strength and honesty of the record to capture an audience and turn them into mini-marketers. And it worked. It worked so well that twenty-three radio stations began playing the debut single the first week after its release. Though it didn’t get much airplay due to the negative attitude towards non-mainstream artists that pervades radio, it did get some attention. After six long months of grassroots campaigning Traveller had sold 114,000 albums and made Chris Stapleton a growing name in country music. But what really put the album over the top was the knockout blow that came in November at the 2015 CMA Awards.

 

49th Annual CMA Awards - Show

 

With the help of pop star Justin Timberlake, Stapleton sang “Tennessee Whiskey,” a cover of a George Jones song, from the album Traveller. The performance went viral. Its presence was heavy across all social media platforms, the biggest news outlets in America were covering it, and people were heralding Chris as the savior of country music. Album sales increased by 6,000% practically overnight, and Traveller went from #9 on the Billboard charts to #1. By the end of the year the album had sold more than 520,000 copies in the U.S. alone. Chris Stapleton’s firm grasp on social media marketing, grassroots marketing, and cross promotion helped bring himself and Traveller to the pinnacle of success.

Chris Stapleton may be new to mainstream country fans, but his success didn’t happen overnight. It took many long, hardworking years of trial and error and learning the music industry to make Traveller a success. We could all learn a thing or two from him, like hard work and dedication will eventually pay off, and that having a solid, well-planned marketing campaign can mean the difference between putting out an album and putting out a #1 album.