05/15/2012 04:10 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

Underrated Albums of the 90s -- Part 1

I wanted to start this series and shine a light on some stellar records from the 90s, now that enough time has passed to get some perspective. Here are the first five on the list, more to follow:

1. Huffamoose -- We've Been Had Again (1997)

The band released this album on Interscope in 1997 and those of us that heard it at the time were hooked. The band didn't sound like anyone out at the time, didn't look particularly cool and wasn't marketed well by the label, but the songwriting, performance and production all stand the test of time. The singles were the opening song "Wait" and it's follow up "Enigmatic" which, though they didn't catch fire at radio, have memorable hooks and lyrics that deepen as they sink in. The way the lyrics are phrased are as unique as much of the content and there are lyrical gems all over this record. The heavier alt-rock tracks are balanced by the gentler songs like "James" and the love song "Buy You a Ring." Every tune on this record has merit and the bands chops are tight and tasteful throughout, but it might be the lyrics that wind up taking you further down the rabbithole of Huffamoose's music. The band split up in 2001 and has reunited once for live shows in 2009. Singer Craig Elkins is flying solo on the west coast while the rest of Huffamoose became a band called The Fractals.
Also get: I Wanna Be Your Pants

2. Sloan -- Navy Blues (1998)

Halifax, Nova Scotia gave birth to the group known affectionately as "Canada's Beatles" but Sloan are still a living breathing entity putting out consistently great records at the twenty year mark (Pick up 2011's The Double Cross and treat yourself to a band still deep in it's prime). But back in 1998, Sloan was almost a decade into their career and slowly building their loyal fan base one record at a time. From the super-riffy opener "She Says What She Means" through the live favorite "Money City Maniacs," Sloan's 4th record packs a lot of punch. But dig deeper on the album to songs like the excellent "Sinking Ships" or the piano-based "Seems So Heavy" for the well-crafted chord changes and lyrics from a band maturing into their prime. All four of the band members write songs, sing really well and bring something unique to the mix. The vibe is very early 70's rock with hooks and harmonies, a sound that never goes out of style. Navy Blues is a great introduction to Sloan and a great record for your collection. The band is out on tour supporting The Double Cross -- do not miss Sloan live in concert if they come near your town!
Also get: The Double Cross, Never Hear the End of It

3. Satchel -- The Family (1996)

Singer-songwriter Shawn Smith has built a following of fans who have bonded with his voice, which has elements of falsetto and a unique tone that resonates with his die hard followers. He performs and puts out records solo and with bands like Brad (with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam), Pigeonhed (with producer Steve Fisk) and with Satchel, among others. Satchel's first album had more of a stoner rock vibe but it yielded one of Smith's better known songs, "Suffering." But the follow up album was a huge step up in songwriting and production, and a more cohesive album throughout. From the opening "Isn't That Right" through the rocking "Not Too Late" and one of my favorites "Time of the Year," there are some classics on this disc that will still be highly listenable years from now. At least one or two of these tunes makes it onto a lot of my playlists and I'm never sorry when they pop up in the mix. Brad is out touring off a new album right now; if you get a chance to see them, by all means do!
Also get: Shawn Smith- Shield of Thorns, Brad- Shame, Interiors

4. David Garza -- This Euphoria (1998)

Austin, TX-based David Garza (pronounced Dah-veed) is a minor shaman of song and lyric writing, crafting hundreds of tunes that he's released over the course of many cassettes, CD's, bootlegs, different band configurations and box sets. Though output of that nature usually means some filler, Garza manages to hit the "killer" mark more often than not and with each song you hear, you'll appreciate even more what talent lurks throughout his labyrinth of melodic poetry. 1998's This Euphoria was his first major label album and it's a creeper. Some of you might remember the opening song "Kinder" on a Best Buy commercial he did at the time, though it doesn't really define the sound of the album. Garza's lyrics are quirky and he has a way of phrasing a story that benefits from the vibe and mood of the production. After the second song "Core" comes the slinky "This Euphoria" which veers away from any expectations the first two songs may set up. As the album unfolds, you start to get a feel for David's willingness to stray from one kind of mood into a more expansive collection of songs. Check out the single "Disco Ball World," a kind of modern "Crocodile Rock" for the alt-rock kids. The production is really adventuresome, which may have made it sound too weird for mainstream radio or crowds. Well screw them, this is cool shit! If you hear this record and begin to dig into Garza's other works, bring a huge shovel, as it runs deep.
Also get: Overdub, Kingdom Come and Go

5. Dada -- El Subliminoso (1996)/ Dada (1997)

It's a tie for these two stellar albums from Dada. First off, let me mention why you don't know about these records: El Subliminoso was released on IRS Records in 1996 just before the label folded, so it barely got a real release. The band moved to MCA for it's next self-titled record and that label dropped the ball on promoting it. Two amazing records that never got a chance; here's hoping you'll give them one now. It's hard to pick the best of Dada's work but suffice to say if all you know was the minor hit "Dizz Knee Land," you are in for a real treat. In certain groups, the combination of voices creates a unique hybrid a la Simon and Garfunkel, and it is the combination of Joie Calio and Michael Gurley that rises to that rare level of cohesiveness. But the songwriting, lyrics and performances are top notch and the band has had a penchant for working with stellar producers and mixing engineers, so the albums sound great. Though their earlier albums Puzzle and American Highway Flower may be more notorious, I discovered the band with 1996's El Subliminoso, which struck me immediately. Straight from the opening "Time is Your Friend" the band lays down the goods, segueing into the breakneck rocker "Sick in Santorini." But then comes "Bob the Drummer," a fan favorite about buying drums from an old drummer that every stickman should have in his iPod. The flavors here vary from the beautiful acoustic stalker song "Star You Are" to rockers that stretch out in such interesting ways that they're hard to classify beyond "that Dada sound." I love "A Trip with My Dad" and "You Won't Know Me," but I hold a special place in my heart for "Rise" with lines like "floating dragonflies and I hail to you." So many epic tunes, each player in the trio an accomplished instrumentalist and singer, and an album that speaks to both your heart and mind. So how do you follow that up? Try 1997's stellar self-titled disc. How a band can record such cool music and get snubbed by their label I don't know, but it speaks to the lack of vision and conformity of marketing that paralyzes many labels both past and present. To hear this record -- well written, performed, sung, produced and mixed -- you'll find songs that catch you right away. The ones that don't will hit you on repeat listens and remind you why you dig deeper into albums and give great bands a chance to sink in. Years after getting this album, I "rediscovered" the last song "Agent's Got No Secret," now one of my faves by the band. But throughout the album, each song has it's own legendary flow. To hear songs like "Sweet Dark Angel", "Beautiful Turnback Time Machine," "Baby Really Loves Me" and "Where You're Going" on their own is cool, but in the context of an album that includes "Information Undertow" and "Playboy in Outerspace" you begin to appreciate even more the talent at work here. If you dig these two records, all their others will be a natural fit for you as well. Currently Dada is on a short hiatus but you can catch Calio and Dada drummer Phil Leavitt in their 7Horse project, on tour now.
Also get: Puzzle, American Highway Flower

Next segment in this series coming soon. Feel free to post your own under-appreciated faves from the 90's in the comments below. Thanks!