Desert Island Discs

Alli Warren

I am limiting my list to albums I own (either on vinyl or on CD).

Hank Williams, Sr., 24 Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1977, vinyl

This double LP will remind me, in my lonely island despair, to have a sense of humor about my desperation. And to sing-along. And to drink whiskey and remember all the times friends gathered and despaired of love, and hard living, together. Hank Williams' music creates the perfect atmosphere for a night at home alone or a wild after party. Having Hank with me on the island will remind me that my private life is ultimately social. & if I get to bring the album itself, I'll have the tremendous pleasure of gazing at Hank's white suit with the musical notes running up and down his limbs.

The Impressions, This Is My Country, 1968, red! vinyl

I bought this album for $5 at Down at Lulu's hair salon & thrift store in Oakland. Little did I know I'd one day be taking it with me to a deserted island! I've always loved classic R&B—fittingly, my love for Curtis Mayfield has increased exponentially as I listen to more and more of his repertoire. This Is My Country represents the kind of popular R&B I fear we've lost in the 21st century: danceable, emotional, and political. These love songs are set beautifully in their time and find the band dealing with questions of how to love, as African American men, in 1968. As such, all the songs are love songs, even if the content is directly political (as the title track is). Having this album with me on the island will remind me of the historical circumstances of my American citizenship, my love of soul music, the messy dance parties, and what a focused heart can accomplish. If I get to bring the vinyl with me, I'll have the pleasure of seeing the band straddling urban rubble (Chicago?) in beautiful suits and ascots.

Nina Simone, To Be Free, 2008, CD

The first Nina Simone song I ever had the pleasure to hear was "Ain't Got No (I've Got Life)" and ever since I've been hooked by Nina's intelligence, intensity, capability, and integrity. What an astounding (and rare!) ability to turn so many songs she did not pen into works she truly owns. From jazz standards to the Bee Gees to Bob Dylan, Nina powerfully commands her voice, her piano, and her band into fiery, inspiring gems. This box set is three beautiful discs spanning her career. Having this material with me on the island will remind me what a passionate and insistent woman can accomplish. It'll also give me plenty of variety. Protest songs, love songs, cracking wavering voice and indestructible scatting.

Washington Phillips, What Are They Doing in Heaven Today, Mississippi Records, vinyl

My encounter with this gospel singer has, perhaps fittingly, emerged from gifts of friendship and coincidence. I first heard Washington Phillips via Kasey Mohammad, who included the song "I Had a Good Father and Mother" on a great mix. I've been in love with Mr. Phillips ever since, but have had a hard time locating his music. David Brazil, receptive ear to my constant whining about the album being out of print, generously gifted me his beautiful vinyl record from the most excellent Mississippi Records. Only 16 Washington Phillips recordings (from 1927-1929) survive, and every one of them is a gem. He plays a mysterious instrument that folks since have made guesses at (is it a dolceola? a celestophone? a phonoharp?) because of its unfamiliar, heavenly sound. To me its like soulful bedtime music piped straight in from heaven. Washington Phillips makes me almost believe in God.

Placeholder or Public Promise, 2010

I was holding this fifth final spot for Dylan or Springsteen, wavering between their respective works and capacities to hold my attention On the Island. But then I went to Paris and heard Mozart's Requiem and Chopin's Funeral March performed live in L'église de la Madeleine. And was transformed. I'm ashamed to admit that this was my first time hearing symphonic music performed live. So you can surely understand that I want more of it in my life. I know my Dylan & my Springsteen pretty well, so I should spend some time on the island learning about these other old white guys. So to the island I'm taking with me…good intentions.

More Desert Island Discs

Jennifer L. Knox

Full disclosure: despite my seven-year stint as a third-chair clarinetist, my musical vocabulary is limited to simian gestures, deep nods, and stink-face grimaces. No doubt, if I could describe, in proper terms, how music does what it does, I would be a phenomenally wealthy woman.

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Jen Benka

My great-grandmother Phoebe was French-Canadian. My mother, who was named for her, studied in Quebec for a spell, and eventually became a French teacher. She had several albums by Edith Piaf that she acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, and certain Piaf songs—like the plaintiff yet commanding "Mon Dieu" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"— are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

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