10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection

26th Jun 2014 | 06:58

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Johnny Cash - American Recordings (1994)
Guitarist: Johnny Cash

ACOUSTIC EXPO 2014: From the now-ubiquitous sound of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind and Neil Young’s Harvest, through to Clapton’s landmark unplugged record, the acoustic guitar has been the star of some of the finest albums ever recorded. Here we celebrate 10 of the best, starting with the big J.C….

Johnny Cash -American Recordings (1994)

Guitarist: Johnny Cash

Cash’s career was lost in the wilderness when producer Rick Rubin approached him with a plan to return to a stripped-down sound - the results sealed his legacy and brought him to a whole new audience.

You say: “Re-established Cash as the king of country - a warm and emotive album.” Richard Simon

Must hear: Delia’s Gone, Down There By The Train

Did you know: Ex-Misfit Glenn Danzig contributed his song Thirteen, and Tom Waits wrote Down There By The Train especially for the album.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
John Martyn - Solid Air (1973)
Guitarist: John Martyn

Martyn’s unique style and experimental Echoplex-driven leanings intertwine perfectly throughout Solid Air.

Superb musicianship elevates his poignant, heart-on-sleeve songs to another plain, creating one of the all-time great chillout albums.

You say: “Solid Air varies so much from track to track... Martyn’s songs are sublime.” Carl Burton

Must hear: Don’t Want To Know, May You Never

Did you know: Martyn first recorded a band version of May You Never, substituting it at the 11th hour.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
Guitarists: Bob Dylan, Bruce Langhorne

Arguably the album that established Dylan as the greatest songwriter of his generation, Freewheelin’ shifts gears from polemic to whimsy with effortless aplomb. He was just 21.

You say: “Where would Lennon have been without this album?” Brian Macey

Must hear: A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Blowin’ In The Wind

Did you know: The famous cover of this album sees Dylan trying to recreate a famous shot of James Dean with girlfriend Suze Rotolo.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Neil Young - Harvest (1972)
Guitarist: Neil Young

Far from an entirely acoustic affair, Harvest’s place here demonstrates the impact of its melancholic songs of longing, which live longer in the memory than the explicitly electric numbers.

You say: “A brief collision between Young and the mainstream that served up a country gem.” Peter Gray

Must hear: Heart Of Gold, The Needle And The Damage Done

Did you know: Eschewing any notion of a stripped down feel, A Man Needs A Maid and There’s A World feature the London Philharmonic!

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Robert Johnson - King Of The Delta Blues Singers (1966)
Guitarist: Robert Johnson

Johnson barely seems to have ever existed, except in myth and sound - making his plaintive, otherworldly voice and elegant, economical chordal and slide accompaniment all the more profound an experience for any guitarist.

You say: “For being the root of all guitar pop music.”TR Stiller

Must hear: Cross Road Blues, Hell Hound On My Trail

Did you know: Johnson recorded his songs while facing the wall of the San Antonio recording studio.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Rodrigo Y Gabriela - S/T (2006)
Guitarists: Rodrigo Sanchez, Gabriela Quintero

The Mexican duo’s lightning- fast, seat-of-the-pants rhythmic acoustic playing has garnered them a fanatical live following; and their trailblazing third album brought their thrash metal band roots confidently to the fore in devastating style.

You say: “The playing is amazing. An absolutely stunning album.” David Simons

Must hear: Orion, PPA

Did you know: Rodrigo Y Gabriela beat Arctic Monkeys to Number 1 in the Irish album charts.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972)
Guitarist: Nick Drake

Drake’s third and final album is his least accessible, but thought by many to be his greatest work.

This 28-minute mix of stark, melancholy acoustic and unsettling, hollow voice is like spending a night in a haunted house.

You say: “Pink Moon is powerful stuff - a lyrical and musical trip.” Katie DeFries

Must hear: Pink Moon, Things Behind The Sun

Did you know: Drake personally dropped off the album master tape to Island Records’ front desk where it lay unnoticed for days.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (1994)
Guitarists: Kurt Cobain, Pat Smear

Underpinned by stark acoustic arrangements and haunting cello lines, Cobain’s vocal performance takes centre stage on this poignant mix of covers and originals.

You say: “Stripping back the songs makes for a haunting listen.” Mark Herbert

Must hear: Where Did You Sleep Last Night, All Apologies

Did you know: ‘Unplugged’ Cobain used a BOSS DS-2, Electro-Harmonix Small Clone and Fender Twin with his modified Martin D-18E.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
Eric Clapton - MTV Unplugged (1992)
Guitarists: Eric Clapton, Andy Fairweather-Low

After EC delivered a heartbreaking rendition of Tears In Heaven, a slinkier reworking of Layla, and a clutch of beautifully finessed standards, Eric the acoustic bluesman was born.

You say: “Clapton IS God on this - outstanding acoustic playing.” lan Behan

Must hear: Tears In Heaven, Layla

Did you know: MTV Unplugged earned Clapton six Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year and Rock Male Vocal.

10 of the best acoustic albums to start your collection
'The Trio' - One Night In San Francisco (1981)
Guitarists: Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia

Loose and spontaneous, FNISF sees three world-class finger-wigglers battling it out with ferocious intensity and a sense of fun. For many guitarists it remains the last word in acoustic virtuosity.

It’s easy to forget, 25 years on, what an audacious move Friday Night In San Francisco really was. Here was the world’s most prominent player of the electric jazz era, McLaughlin, sitting down with fusion’s next-gen successor, Al Di Meola, and a (then) unknown ‘new flamenco’ player from Spain.

They were to play all acoustic, way before the days of MTV Unplugged making such things fashionable. They were to have no rhythm section. And they were to make their debut statement a live album from only their 15th show together.

Could they pull it off? They certainly could. And in the process they took instrumental acoustic guitar music to a whole new audience.

Moreover, The Trio made instrumental music fun. Live, they’d quote lines from Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Pink Panther theme in the middle of Chick Corea pieces, and make their daring improvised interplay a dramatic piece of theatre.

Friday Night... won no Grammys and yielded no hits, yet it remains a landmark guitar album, firing the starting pistol for the likes of Gipsy Kings right up to Rodrigo Y Gabriela...

You say: “Who said metal players invented shredding?” Magnus Mathewson

Must hear: Short Tales Of The Black Forest, Mediterranean Sundance/Rio Ancho

Did you know?: Paco De Lucia was a master flamenco player by the age of 11, when he made his stage debut.

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