Led Zeppelin, "Led Zeppelin II"
For me, all roads lead to Led Zeppelin's second album, "II." When I first discovered the record, it seemed to perfectly capture the bluesy exuberance of late 1960s rock, and I still turn to it whenever I crave wicked guitar licks. Fittingly, lead ax-man Jimmy Page earned his place in the pantheon of rock 'n'roll for the ferocity and bombast of his solos, but what makes "II" more satisfying than other blues-rock records is the band's simultaneous balancing of its folk influences. The record doesn't come off as soft or unanthemic, but songs like "What is and What Should Never Be" and "Ramble On" are as gentle as they are aggressive. "Bring it on Home" even begins with a minute and a half of soulful but simple blues, before launching into one of the most incendiary guitar riffs in history. Like the rest of the album, the song gives me goose bumps every time.
-- Jim Dalrymple
Citizen Cope, "The Rainwater LP"
This is a bit of a deceptive album. At first blush, it feels under-developed and even tossed off. The songs feel a little too simple, and the acoustic-centric sound seems under-produced, as if Cope was releasing demo versions of some songs. But the more one listens to "The Rainwater LP," the more it becomes clear that Cope has used something fairly rare, particularly in today's flashy urban music realm -- restraint. Cope, whose music mixes hip-hop, reggae, folk and pop, simply doesn't overdo things. Songs that seem slightly underwhelming in their production (such as "Lifeline" and "Off the Ground") actually reveal themselves to be nicely nuanced, with subtle details in the sonic treatments emerging with each additional listen. What's more, by not piling on tons of effects and layering parts to death, Cope keeps the core strengths of the melodies from getting lost in sonic clutter.
-- Alan Sculley