Greg Dennis: More music for a desert island

Here’s Part 2 of the Desert Island Disc Challenge. It’s drawn from the key question in a long-running BBC Radio show: If you were to be indefinitely stranded on a desert island, what eight pieces of music would you take with you?
Part 1, in a previous column, covered the first four of those eight albums. It required this second treatise because it’s hard to be concise when it comes to music.
Those first four albums were:
•Joni Mitchell, “Blue (runner-up: “Miles of Aisles”)
•Paul Simon, “Graceland” (runner-up, “Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park”)
•Bob Dylan, “Blood on the Tracks (runner-up: “Blonde on Blonde”)
•The Beatles, “Abbey Road” (runner-up: the White Album)
Now it gets hard. Because there is literally a world of music out there, and the castaway-to-be has to narrow it down to just four albums.
5.  Grateful Dead, “One from the Vault” — Deadheads will spend the rest of their lives debating the band’s best album. This one captures the Dead in an August 1975 show. The band was on a break from touring and many of the songs are from the “Blues for Allah” studio album. Among the cuts: 21 space-case minutes of the title tune. Perfect for meditating on a desert island or just staring out at the endless ocean.
One can make a strong case for other Dead picks, of course. I’m tempted by “Cornell 5/8/77,” widely known as “Barton Hall.” (My brother says his picks to take to a desert island would be this album and, um, Halle Berry.)
A friend of mine who knows the Dead far better than I nominates “Europe ’72” with “Live/Dead” as the runner-up: “It’s been known to slay dragons and bring tears to the dead (not Dead) people.”
I’m even tempted to choose the Jerry Garcia Band’s “After Midnight: Keen College 2/28/80” for the all-time-best version of “Sugaree.” Which, by the way, I would like played at my memorial service.
Ultimately “One from the Vault” is my pick because it has excellent versions of the three Dead cuts that would help Castaway Greg stay sane: “Sugaree,” “Franklin’s Tower” and “Eyes of the World.”
“Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings. The heart has its seasons, its evenings and songs of its own.”
6.  John Stewart, “Phoenix Concerts” — Departing the Kingston Trio in 1967, Stewart embarked on a long and distinguished career as a singer-songwriter. His music was played by artists as varied as Roseanne Cash, Lindsey Buckingham, the Four Tops and the Monkees.
I acknowledge that I am not rational on the topic of John Stewart. I saw him maybe 20 times in concert between 1965 and his passing in 2008, often as the culmination of a stony road trip with a couple other JS freaks.
Stewart was quintessentially West Coast but never mainstream. He was a musician’s musician, Americana before there was Americana, and an endlessly inventive guitar player. Said his bass player, Dave Batti: “John never played a song the same way once.”
Stewart’s unabashedly patriotic “Mother Country” is the only music in “Apollo 11,” the new documentary about the first men to walk on the moon. The chorus plays in the film as the astronauts tumble back to earth: “Oh, mother country, I do love you.”
Though some of Stewart’s best work was later in his career, “Phoenix Concerts “captures him one 1974 night in a city where he had a rabid fan base. It compiles the best songs of his early solo career into one long set.
Runner-up: “The Last Campaign, inspired by Stewart’s travels with Bobby Kennedy in the 1968 presidential campaign.
7.  “Further In,” Greg Brown — With a smoky bourbon baritone, Greg Brown provides a contrasting take on American folk music. He’s backed on “Further In” by stellar pickers Bo Ramsey and Kelly Joe Phelps. It’s great road trip music. I’ve spent years of highway trying to decipher the depths of the sly, often humorous lyrics.
Brown has always dabbled in sensual longing, and this album is full of it. In “Think About You” he assures his absent girlfriend:
I can smell your warm neck, I can hear your low laugh/
I see the way you come to me, feel the muscle in your strong back/
I get the good blues when I think about you
“If I Ever Do See You Again” finds him writing to an old love haunted by “twenty years, a couple of busted phone calls, letters I had no where to send.” Sometimes, he tells her, “I see the little child we never had running to you.”
But this is for the most part an album of happy anticipation. He’s got his eye on a woman, a friend and maybe a lover-to-be, telling her “some day when we’re both alone we’ll get together … find out if our dreams are all they seem.”
Runner-up: “The Evening Call” because “I had my fun, my fun had me.”
8.  Judy Collins, “Living” — I’d want to take more than just one woman’s voice with me to that island, and there’s hardly a finer one than Collins’s. This live 1971 album captures the wondrous intensity of her concerts.
She’s giving voice here to some of the best work by Leonard Cohen (“Famous Blue Raincoat”), Ian Tyson (“Four Strong Winds”), and Joni Mitchell (“Chelsea Morning”). For the closer here she delivers a stirring, bluesy, torch-singer version of Bob Dylan’s epic “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
Two of the best cuts were penned by Collins herself: “Song for Judith” (“Open the door and come on in, I’m so glad to see you my friend”) and “Easy Times,” a yearning-for-you plea that was co-written with her then-boyfriend, the actor Stacy Keach.
So this album, too, is drenched in lost love. What better company for a desert island?
Greg Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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