Top 20 Summer CDs

Summertime is here! It’s hot, it’s sunny. Now if I could only be on vacation, that’d be great.

As was the case the last time, with winter, I found it harder than expected to figure out what summer actually “sounds” like. And to my surprise, it’s not all about reggay.

About that… funny story : at the beginning, I had two or three ideas at best for this list, and it was pretty much all about reggay, but now I can barely fit all of the albums I thought of in there. The list ended up being a lot more eclectic than expected.

I hope you’ll find some nice musical inspiration here while you’re probably also waiting, at work namely, looking out the window, irritated… waiting for the day when you can say so long y’all, I’m going for a sweet mohito on the terrace of a restaurant right in the middle of this beautiful sunny day.


Runners up : ZZ Top, Greatest Hits &  The Dead South, Good Company

These well-known bearded guys from Texas can certainly play some nice blues rock. But come on, forget about ZZ tops!

This folk bluegrass band from the Canadian Prairies, Mumford and Son’s Evil Twins as they call themselves, created the strangest addictive cool summer song.

20. Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club

Named after Havana’s lost mythical night club, this album is a summer classic. I drank so many coffees listening to this music on late Sunday mornings.

19. Ben Harper, Fight for your mind

Enjoy your Summer mornings with Ben Harper’s slide guitar and his classic 1995 album Fight for your mind.

18. Elevator to Hell, Part I to III

Moncton’s indie low-fi psychedelic rock band Elevator chose to illustrate its album with a wintery picture, but paradoxically, it is a great listen in the summer.

17. The XX, The XX

I didn’t know about this London indie electronic pop band until recently, yet I feel this music has been flowing around everywhere since forever (on TV? in the wind?).

16. Ani DiFranco, Dilate

Ani’s critically acclaimed seventh studio album remains a personal favorite, with her signature rapid fingerpicking, crazy guitar tunings, and overall intensity.

15. Lhasa De Sela, La Llorona

Lhasa’s deep voice warms up any atmosphere. Her first album La Llorona is all in Spanish, and it’s such a pleasure to listen to in the summertime.

14. Gotan Project, Lunatico

Argentinean tango blended with electronic music is a strange but cool mix, and Lunatico is certainly a nice atmospheric summer album.

13. Sublime, Sublime

Sublime’s classic 1996 eponymous release may be the sunniest of all punk-ska albums. There is some dub, reggay, and hip hop music in there as well. A joy to rediscover.

12. Mano Negra, Best of

Alternative rock salsa ska punk (really, how can I describe this band?) Paris-based La Mano Negra, “The Black Hand” in Spanish, produced this sunny, energetic and eclectic “best of” after they disbanded. I wish I could have seen them in concert.

11. Zebda, Essence ordinaire

Zebda’s third studio release is a festive yet socially-charged album. These guys (of French and Arab descent, among others), who all grew up together in Toulouse, tell authentic and compelling stories.

10.  Jean Leloup, L’amour est sans pitié

This album tore the place down in Québec in the early 1990s. A young Jean Leloup teamed up with La Sale Affaire and lived, played, and sung at a freaking crazy pace, about urban life, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And summer in Montréal.

9. Janis Joplin, Greatest Hits

Many times, I heard someone say that this person or that person is “the Janis of the 80s”, “of the 90s”, “of the 2000s”, … but in the end, it never stands the test of time. Beautiful soulful Janis… you just rock. And as I listen to your music, I’ll always think of you standing on the stage of the Monterey Festival on that sunny day.

8. Jimmy Hendrix, Are You Experienced?

I don’t know if I’m experienced, but I’ve definitely listened to that album enough times that I know and appreciate the Jimmy Hendrix Experience. Even the colours chosen here for the cover amplify the warmth of his voice and music.

7. Tryo, Grain de sable

Tryo’s signature reggay and folk guitar rythms are a great fit for your summer afternoons. Like their peers Zebda, Tryo knows how to be socially-engaged and festive at the same time.

6. MC Solaar, Prose combat

If you don’t speak French, it’s a dang shame, because MC Solaar is a poet rapper who plays with words like no other. In any case, you’ll still move your head to these suave rythms.

5. Morcheeba, Big Calm

We loved that album right away when it was released. English trip hop electronic band Morcheeba, with its cool beats and jazzy musical exploration, is a nice album to chill out to. Pretty much like the cover implies.

4. Amadou et Mariam, Un dimanche à Bamako

A couple of musicians from Mali, who both became blind in their youth, conveyed their beautiful positive music and immense talent to the world with this classic album. This CD is loved by people of all ages (seriously, my parents have this album, I have it, and my kids love it).

3. Manu Chao, Clandestino

After La Mano Negra and other musical experiments, Manu Chao produced the stripped down Clandestino. With this, he intended to smoothly end his musical career. Ironically, this album, blending traditional latin music, reggay, rock, bresilian rythms, with a hint of chanson française, was a whopping success.

2. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Catch a Fire & Bob Marley, Uprising

It’s not cheating (too much) to have two Bob Marley albums on a Top Summer CDs list. I still listen to Catch a Fire often, but I had forgotten the sunny, upbeat and very catchy Uprising. I’m glad I rediscovered it.

1. Billy Stewart, Summertime

Janis’ version of Summertime is magical, but Billy Stewart’s is… just… mindblowing. Forget about Despacito (seriously, forget it)! THIS is the ultimate Summer song!


Summery fun fact : there are three (awesome) versions of Summertime in this list.


Mixing punk and folk: I listened to Violent Femmes today

I was enjoying Violent Femmes’ 1983 eponymous debut album today, and when I decided to post about it, I wondered how I would describe this music. I thought that the guitar riffs, the attitude, and the lyrics felt like punk music, but with acoustic instruments. A mix of punk and folk! Then while surfing on the Internet, I realized that there apparently was such a thing as the “folk punk” genre… forgive my ignorance! I don’t know Violent Femmes’ subsequent albums were as punk as this one though. One thing’s for sure, once again, the Violent Femmes song that got most radio airplay of them all (American Music) is one of the less interesting ones. Of course their lyrics might be a bit too much for conventional radio…

In any case, this album constitutes another proof of the quality of some of the music produced in the 80’s. This record expresses the raw energy and feelings of youth, but with enough intelligence that it remains enjoyable years later. Although, forgive me for saying this, but the angry sexual frustration expressed here sounds a bit creepy for a woman. LOL. No hard feelings Violent Femmes, I’ll even post the all time favorite “Add it up” anyway so there you go! But we’ll begin with “Kiss off”, one of my favorite angry frustrated songs.

Anti-authoritarian Bad Religion: a punk rock band led by a PhD holder

Bad Religion is an influential and successful (both critically and commercially) american punk rock band that’s been recording and touring for over 30 years. Their style features three-part vocal harmonies, guitar solos, catchy choruses, and of course socially aware lyrics. Religion, here, is a metaphor for anything that limits independent thought. It is quite clear when you listen to the lyrics that the ideas conveyed in those songs are very progressive. One of the fun facts about this band is that original member and lead vocalist Greg Gaffin has a PhD in zoology (evolutionary biology) and has taught (or still teaches, I’m not sure) both at UCLA and Cornell University. There you go. Stay in school, kids!

This is one of the only punk rock bands I still listen to. This band is not just about releasing energy, these guys have something to say. Moreover, Greg Gaffin has a great voice – very different from the intolerable creaky nasal voices of several other punk rock singers. 30 years later, the voice is still great. This 2013 live show in France features many good songs, such as old classics like “Anastesia”, “Generator”, and “I want to conquer the world”, as well as a few new songs that I like such as “True North” from their latest album.

Who’s up for some California ska punk reggay rock… Sublime style?

I had to put this post under the hard/punk/ska category, although Sublime has several reggay-type songs that are quite accessible to a wide audience (although the lyrics might not be… yeah might not be my parents’ cup of tea). Sadly, charismatic singer Brad Nowell died at 28 of a heroin overdose in 1996, just before Sublime now-famous eponym album was released. What a great album. Rest in peace Brad!

Here’s a live performance of Johnny Butt and Don’t push. Also, for your enjoyment, two music videos: “What I got” and “Same in the end”. Now, who want to go surfing? Or skateboarding? Or even longboarding? (remember the longboard? No? Check the videos!!)