Classic North Carolina Albums - Part 2

January 7, 2019

We’re back with part two of our list of classic North Carolina albums.

Flat & Scruggs – The Essential Flatt & Scruggs: ‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered (1997)

Is it cheating to pick a best-of compilation album when we’re dealing with one of the most important bluegrass bands of all time? We think not. Banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs – a Shelby, NC native – met Tennessee guitarist and vocalist Lester Flat through Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass,” in 1945. They played in Monroe’s quintet until striking out on their own in 1948. For the next two-decades, the duo marshalled bluegrass to an international stage, and this album chronicles 19-years of their recordings, including the bluegrass standard “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Down in the Flood.

Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)

In 1975, Kinston native Maceo Parker abandoned his post with the Godfather of Soul and hopped aboard Kannapolis born George Clinton’s Mothership. The result was one of the most important funk records of all time, and North Carolina is all over it. Clinton brought the interstellar P-Funk vision, Parker brought the tight horn section from his time with James Brown, and together they “Tear the Roof off the Sucker.” The Library of Congress added Mothership Connection to the National Recording Registry in 2011, citing the album’s “enormous influence on jazz, rock, and dance music.”

Superchunk – No Pocky for Kitty (1991) 

Superchunk was a key player in Chapel Hill’s indie scene in the 1990s. Recorded over three days with legendary producer Steve Albini (whose worked with Nirvana, Joanna Newsome, and Cheap Trick), this album encapsulates the sound of their era – great songwriting intentionally obscured by harsh tones, blurring the lines between punk rock and indie rock. Originally released on Matador Records, the album was re-released in 1999 on Superchunk founding member’s Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance’s Durham-based label, Merge Records.

Elizabeth Cotten – Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar (1958) 

This collection, recorded by musician and folk music documentarian Mike Seeger, brought attention to Wlizabeth “Libba” Cotten’s  repertoire, which consisted of blues from the North Carolina Piedmont along with reels and folksongs that pre-dated the blues. Being left-handed, she played a right-handed guitar upside down, and the result was a truly unique sound coined as “Cotten picking.” Inspired by the trains running near her childhood home in Carrboro, North Carolina, she penned the second track, “Freight Train,” when she was 11-years-old. 

Shirley Caesar – First Lady (1977)

Born in Durham, NC in 1938, gospel singer and pastor Shirley Caesar is often referred to as “First Lady of Gospel Music.” With 11 Grammy Awards, 17 Dove Awards, and a National Heritage Fellowship Award to her name, she is one of North Carolina’s most decorated musicians. This classic 1970s recording blends sacred music with the sounds of funk and soul. 

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000) 

After cutting his teeth in Raleigh’s underground circuit with his alt-country outfit Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams – born and raised in Jacksonville, NC – set off on his own with Heartbreaker.  This debut effort let the world know he was ready for fame. Among many of the album’s memorable tracks is “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” an ode to his home state that features Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. 

Billy Strayhorn – The Peaceful Side (1961)

Composer, arranger, pianist, and lyricist Billy Strayhorn has long been recognized as the right-hand man of Duke Ellington. Strayhorn spent many of his childhood summers with his grandparents in Hillsborough, N.C., where he was first drawn to the piano. Taylor’s work for Ellington created some of the most recognizable sounds of jazz music, but this is his only solo recording. His skills as a pianist shine on the album, which primarily consists of solo piano takes on 10 of his most popular songs, including “take the A Train.”