Unplugged: the stars' favourite acoustic albums
19th Sep 2013 | 14:59
Discover which unplugged albums get the stars' thumbs up
ACOUSTIC EXPO 2013: Albums, live performances and simply breathtaking 'acoustic guitar moments in time' are the subject of our aptly named Unplugged feature.
Here we speak with a select bunch of guitarists to discover which acoustic offerings have had the biggest impact on them. From Neil Young to Jay-Z, it's an eclectic list and one you won't want to miss.
Prepare to ransack your wallet at the local record shop after reading!
Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller, solo artist)
“Neil Young Unplugged is in my top five Neil Young albums. He plays an amazing slowed down version of Mr Soul (an old Buffalo Springfield song), and Like A Hurricane played solo on a pump organ without all the great guitar solos is amazing!
"Then there's Harvest Moon, which I think was a single off the album. But by far the best track on this LP is Transformer Man. I don't know the original of this and don't feel the need to as this is such a great version - there's a lovely auto-harp with great and simple backing vocals by Neil's half-sister Astrid Young, as well as Nils Lofgren and Spooner Oldham.”
Iain Mahanty (Kids In Glass Houses)
“I've chosen Jay-Z Unplugged as I think it's one of the most ear catching 'acoustic' albums I've heard. I'm a big fan of The Roots, who play as his band on this record, and I feel like Questlove's skills as an MD really shine through on how the tracks have been arranged to work in an, almost, unplugged kind of way.
"I like the way some of the tracks are almost like a medley or mixed as if they're part of a DJ set. It blew me away the first time I heard it as I couldn't imagine the tracks in any other way than the big radio hit sound he has.”
Luke Potashnick (The Temperance Movement)
“This was part of the eagerly anticipated Archive series that came out fairly recently - just Neil on his own with some Martins and playing a load of new songs. He has such a recognisable acoustic style that he uses so well to accompany his voice. It's so percussive and he uses drop tunings with such originality.
"My favourite track on the album is Don't Let It Bring You Down. It's such a forcible performance and it's so high to sing! Amazing. Apparently, the song is about London, which I like. I thoroughly recommend you read the biography Shakey. It changed my life alongside Neil's music.”
“My fave acoustic album was originally recorded in 1968 with the intriguing title of Sir John A Lot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte by John Renbourn. Acoustic guitar by John, flute by Ray Warleigh and Terry Cox on percussion.
"I particularly like the first track, The Earle of Salisbury. The whole record is a work of genius; a natural crossover of styles - from folk to classical, jazz and Indian, and from raga to ragtime. This was a huge influence on me and therefore early Genesis.”
Brian Briggs (Stornoway)
“This was the first CD I ever bought and yet it still finds its way onto my hi-fi regularly. It opened my ears to a whole load of world-class artists and bands I'd never heard before. It features 16 songs recorded live at MTV Unplugged sessions. This live element was another new thing for me - it was exciting to hear the artists having fun with the songs and the response of the audience. It made me want to go to gigs!
"Particular 'discoveries' for me were Paul Simon playing Graceland, Neil Young playing Like A Hurricane, and R.E.M. playing Half A World Away.”
Scott Holiday (Rival Sons)
“Django Reinhardt, King of gypsy jazz, was a true innovator. This man just had it all. The upbeat swing makes ya wanna dance your ass off; the ballads will make you cry. He is the original jazz virtuoso. And, for all I can see, one of the first rock 'n' roll icons.
"Funnily enough he rarely recorded, believing that recorded music was a passing fad and that people wanted to enjoy music as a live experience. God bless this man.”
Barney JC (Autoheart)
“When you hear PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake you don’t immediately think ‘acoustic album’. But it largely is, albeit with much Flood production genius.
"We know she can rock out on an acoustic - way back on Plants and Rags, or Send His Love to Me and C’mon Billy. On The Desperate Kingdon of Love, from Uh Huh Her, she plays the Spanish guitar, strummed lightly with the thumb. Possibly the most fragile, warm, intimate sound imaginable.
"But this time, somehow, they created an utterly modern and unique sound using some very old-fashioned instruments. [Let England Shake] was recorded in a 19th Century Church in Dorset. I heard it was because she wanted to be able to drive home at the end of each day. But I’m sure the space was a key in capturing the autoharp, which is a difficult acoustic instrument to record. When you strum, the pick clacks against the deadened strings making it very... clicky sounding. It’s rhythmic live but can be quite distracting and harsh on record.
"Here, on The Words That Maketh Murder, and my personal favourite All and Everyone, it sounds truly epic, wild and almost choral yet earthy. Acoustic instruments in all their deliciousness.”
Stitch D (The Defiled)
“Without a shadow of a doubt, Nirvana Unplugged will always be the greatest acoustic album of all time. This band - and this performance in particular - totally changed my life.
"I like that they didn't come out and play their greatest hits and just made them into acoustic versions. It took balls to come out and play songs that many people would never have heard, including the Vaselines' version of Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam and Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night. A highlight for me was Kurt doing Pennyroyal Tea on his own with just his rather Frankenstein-looking d18e Martin acoustic.”
Kris Coombs-Roberts (Funeral For A Friend)
“I think Alice in Chains are one of those rare bands who can switch between playing aggressive heavy rock music and stripped down acoustic music without losing any sense of their sound. This mini album and EP made me realise how important it is to have a strong sense of identity to your playing. It's also an example of how to play acoustic music as a band, which I think is shown perfectly on the opening track, Rotten Apple.”
Matthias 'Matte' Jacobsson (Bombus)
“Since I'm a big fan of country music, this one is pretty hard to pick. It could be kind of every album with either Townes Van Zandt or Buck Owens. When we're talking acoustic music Bill Monroe could fit real good, but still there's only one Hank Williams. No-one swings that acoustic rhythm axe like he does. Playing it so happy, singing it so sad.
"Those recordings are so old, but still no-one has come even close to being compared with Hank Williams Sr. Also, take a listen to the recordings where he sits down all by himself with only an acoustic guitar.”
Chris Gomerson (Glamour Of The Kill)
"From a young age I've always been a fan of unplugged albums - I find it interesting to see what a musician does to strip down their song yet still keep it interesting and exciting. My favourite to date, however, has to be the MTV Unplugged performance by Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora doing a medley of Livin' on a Prayer and Wanted Dead or Alive.
"Richie Sambora has been such a big influence on me both as a songwriter and musician, so it's great to see your idol still smash it out of the park even when stripped back and unplugged with nothing to hide behind."
Niklas Sundin (Dark Tranquility)
“My pick is not a guitar album per se, but a record called Movitz! Movitz! by singer Cornelis Vreeswijk and guitarist Ulf G. Åhslund that made in the '70s.
"This album contains traditional songs from Carl Michael Bellman, one of our most heralded songwriters from the 18th century. These pieces are part of the Swedish musical canon and are often rendered in a very basic and plain way with the guitar merely playing basic background chords. But Ulf's creative and delicate guitar arrangements transform them into something daring and exciting.”
"I only discovered this album two months ago and have been listening to it solidly since. It’s clear [Springsteen] made it purely to tell the characters’ stories, not for commercial gain. It’s well told and human.
Tracks that stand out include The Line, where an American Vet allows a young Mexican through the border then spends years searching for her. You can just feel the heartache and feelings of bereft-ness. Youngstown is a great track, too, that runs well and is quite spooky as a tale of the rot that set in once the steel industry moguls left town. They’re stories, not songs. Sung in his existential voice, they just work in a powerful, cohesive way."
Martin Barre (Jethro Tull)
"I have only recently been introduced to Martin Simpson through Chris Leslie, a fabulous musician himself with Fairport Convention. Vagrant Stanzas has a freshness and clarity to it which makes it a delight to listen to. To have a combination of great lyrics and a very strong voice, complemented by extraordinarily fine guitar playing, is fantastic.
"The guitar playing has a fluidity and clarity to it that understates the lovely technique of both hands. The interest is held by turning to slide and banjo. It really takes two or three passes of the whole album to focus on the voice, the instruments and the songs themselves. A truly great UK artist."