Quick Cuts: Comfortably Alluring

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost

I first heard about Caleb Caudle when he made Rolling Stone’s list of “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know.” Frankly the more I read about him, and with whom he was being compared, the less interested I became. I’m not sure why; maybe just feeling cranky that day. But he’s from my home state of North Carolina, and I was intrigued by the album’s title, Carolina Ghost, so a few months later I gave him a listen. What I heard were songs, guitars and keys, and a voice that all together rested as comfortably as a front porch rocker on an early fall afternoon. In the interst of full disclosure, about a third of the tracks don’t do anything for me. Ah, but the others? They just keep speaking to me and calling me back. They’re not all happy songs, but they make me feel happy whenever I answer the call to hear them again. There’s not too much more you can ask of a musician, is there?

Stop reading and start listening to lyrics like “This afternoon was nothing less than lonely, and yesterday was one long kiss goodby.”

 

And you have to love vivid imagery like, “I see my breath, and I hear winter’s lonely croon.”

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Quick Cuts: Faulkner, Haggard and Murder – Lots of News in the “Crier”

Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

The concept behind Enderline’s second album is that each song could be a story in this fictional small town newspaper, the “Whiskeytown Crier.” Her web site bio connects her songwriting inspiration to her love of William Faulkner, and her songs are similarly rich in character, story and details of place. Most of her tales are sad, even heartbreaking, but her skill makes hearing them a pleasure.

She had her first song recorded by Alan Jackson (“Monday Morning Church”) before she graduated from college. Soon she had placed tunes with the likes of Lee Ann Womack (“Last Call”)  and Luke Bryan (“You Don’t Know Jack.”)   She toured with Willie Nelson and made friends with Merle Haggard. She confessed to Merle she was inspired by his approach, especially to phrasing, when she wrote “The Blues Are Alive & Well.”

On Whiskeytown Crier Enderline proves she can sing as well as write. Anybody who can write lines like these deserves to be heard:

“She could’ve had any man,
I thought he was just another one,
’Til that No Tell Motel shotgun epiphany…

My baby sister, sweet baby sister,
I knew you were a pistol,
But I never knew you owned a gun.”

Or…

“I smoked one to the filter, and I watched the ashes fall,
Blew smoke rings at your memory as it danced across the wall,
’Til it was gone.”

Or…

“If I start thinking about your sweet kiss,
I start thinking ‘bout your goodby,
Baby that’s the kind of heartache that can take all night,
When it comes to you,
That’s more than a glass or two,
That’s a whole ‘nother bottle of wine.”

 

Quick Cuts – “Let’s Go Honky Tonkin’ Round This Town”

Midland – On The Rocks

Imagine that somehow your travels have taken you to a small town in west Texas, maybe Abilene, San Angelo or Big Spring. You’re by yourself with nothing to do, so after washing down a chicken fried steak with a couple of beers, you mosey down to the nearest honky tonk. There on stage are three guys who look a bit like the Flying Burrito Brothers and sound like George Strait meets seventies LA country rock. Before you know it the music drags you out onto the dance floor in the arms of a friendly cowgirl wearing tight jeans and cowboy boots and off you go two-steppin’ in the great counterclockwise circular sea of folks from eight to eighty having a damn good time.

It takes awhile, but soon you realize these guys are a cut above. They can play; they can sing in harmony. You haven’t even noticed until now that this is not the typical small town cover band. They’re playing their own songs – catchy melodies, traditional country lyric themes – and nobody’s throwing bottles through the chicken wire fronting the stage. And like I’ve said once before already, everybody’s having fun. Sometimes that’s all you want from a batch of tunes.

Quick Cuts – Grace = Simple Elegance or Refinement of Movement

Lizz Wright – Grace

My first impression of Lizz Wright’s newest release Grace was that this is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard in any genre. I know I shouldn’t say something like that because the album, no matter how beautiful, may never be able to live up to that hype. Yet repeated listens continue to affirm my first impression. Grace seemed such an apt moniker that I looked up the formal definition of the word. While it has several, the first became the title for this blog post because it so well described the feeling I derived as the songs flowed through the album.

A Georgia native and now part time North Carolinian, Wright grew up musically in the church as did so many wonderful singers from Aretha Franklin to Parker Millsap. Although they cross many genres, their music has an innate soulfulness in common.

Wright’s music simmers at the nexus of folk, gospel and jazz. Although she’s written many songs for her previous albums, this one includes only one co-write. The others are drawn from an eclectic mix of songwriters like Allen Toussaint, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, k.d. lang, Cortez Franklin and this number by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey.

When I describe the album as beautiful, I don’t mean that every song is a lovely ballad. In fact the songs vary in tempo and rhythm. I mean we are treated to compelling lyrics, seductive melodies and Wright’s beautiful voice – especially moving in her lower registers. Moreover, those elements are masterfully combined with brilliant musicians and instrumentation by producer Joe Henry. He provides room for every note and every nuance in the performances. The album is an homage to Lizz Wright’s native south and a gift to all who will hear her music.

 

Quick Cuts – Old School Soul

Syleena Johnson – Rebirth Of Soul

The title might be hyperbole, but the delivery is silky old school soul singing punctuated by bright horn riffs and shimmering strings. Syleena is the daughter of Syl Johnson, a somewhat overlooked singer, songwriter, guitar player and producer from the classic soul period in Chicago in the sixties. He hooked up with Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records in Memphis in the seventies, where unfortunately he was overshadowed by the great Al Green. Syleena’s earlier recordings were in the contemporary vein of R&B and Hip Hop, but when she decided to record Rebirth Of Soul as a tribute to her dad, her old man eagerly signed on as producer. The result is superb, one of the better revisits to the soul standards catalog of recent vintage.

The song selection is key to the album’s success, in my opinion, because even though they’re all covers, for the most part they’re not rehashes of the typical lineup of big hits. A couple are included like “Lonely Teardrops” and “Chain Of Fools.” Most, however, were lesser hits like Bettye Swann’s “Make Me Yours,” Otis Redding’s  “These Arms Of Mine,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings Of You.” She also covers a couple of her dad’s records. My point here is that the selections paired with the arrangements – retro yet fresh – add to a package of music you’re not tired of hearing before it even starts. Plus Syleena’s voice is well up to the task. She’s neither gritty nor a belter, but she has the chops to glide or soar as the songs demand all the while giving them a mature shading of her own, as on this classic “hold your baby close and slow dance” number originally recorded by Betty Everett.

One of the better tunes on Rebirth of Soul is Syleena’s cover of her dad’s minor hit “We Did It.” But what the heck, let’s give papa Syl a little respect and close with his own version from the seventies.

Short Cuts – One Slice At A Time

Here’s the thought I put on hold when I wrote my tribute to Fats Domino: I’ve listened to a tremendous amount of new music over the last few months. To borrow an old cliche, I’ve thrown quite a bit of stuff against the wall, and quite a bit of it has stuck. It’s too much to even think about much less write about all at once. So I’ve decided to take ‘em one at a time.

This means that for the next few weeks, I’m changing my approach to my blog posts. I’ll write one short recommendation every three or so days and include just one or two videos. I can get a bunch of very good music to your ears more quickly. Plus you’ll know when you open these “Short Cuts” that you can enjoy the post and tunes in small bites – less than ten minutes in most cases. Let’s get started!

Christian Lopez – Red Arrow

Lopez is a 22 year old from West Virginia blessed with a stress free tenor voice that hits all the notes and slides easily in and out of falsettos as the song requires. He’s also a fine guitar player, and he’s smart about his choices of collaborators and songs. Red Arrow is his second album, and it’s stronger than his debut. He presents a set of tunes with lyrics befitting his age, but thanks to marvelous melodies and arrangements that touch on multiple genres under the Americana umbrella – a bit of country, a bit of folk, a bit of r&b flavored pop, they should also appeal to even old cats like me. After all, we were 22 once. Us older guys even get a bit of a nostalgia trip of our own as Lopez sings about “1972.”

 

And keeping the youthful take on old school rolling…

 

 

He looks like he’s having fun, and certainly fun is the feeling I get most listening to Red Arrow, but as he shows here, he can write, sing and play beautiful melodies as well.

Hold That Thought; Let’s Pay Tribute To Fats Domino!

I was just about ready to publish a new post featuring several strong new albums when I got word that Fats Domino had passed away, left us to go take his place in Rock ‘n’ Roll heaven as the Righteous Brothers put it. I had just had to put that post on hold and take some time to remember Fats. In my mind there were five foundational forces at the birth of rock n roll in the 1950’s: Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino. Yes there were others we could mention like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and maybe even Dion Dimucci. But really even those guys were drawn into the special energy generated by those five giants as they transformed R&B, blues, country and gospel – and galvanizing stage presence – into Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Of those five, Fats was surely the most unassuming and thus today is the least remembered despite his impact at the time. In fact, he was the first with a million selling record, “The Fat Man,” in the later forties. Eventually the man had 37 singles hit the top 40 in the fifties and early sixties. He sold some 65 million singles with 23 gold records which placed him second only to Elvis in dollars generated. He did it with an infectious, upbeat manner that belied the blue feeling in many of his songs. When you heard Fats sing and play that piano, you just wanted to grab a partner and dance. Although his sound was so consistent that sometimes one record sounded like the one before, a closer listen unveils sly inferences and nuances in the lyrics and melodies that reveal his true genius.

If you’re not as old as me and thus are not familiar with Fats’ hits, then I suggest you check out any of several of his greatest hits collections such as The Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits or maybe Greatest Hits: Walking To New Orleans. There are also two good, hit loaded live recordings from the early 2000’s: Fats Domino Live! From The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2001 and Live From Austin TX: Fats Domino, which has excellent quality audio from an appearance on “Austin City Limits” in I believe 2006. “Here he is on Austin City Limits.”

“Blueberry Hill” was his biggest seller, but my favorites were always “Walking To New Orleans,” “My Girl Josephine,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” ” Blue Monday,” “I’m In Love Again,” and “I Want To Walk You Home.” Here is a medley of several hits from a kinescope of a Dick Clark show in 1958 followed by a clip from 1957.

 

If you already have a collection of his hits, I have two other recommendations for you:

Goin’ Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino

I’ll kick off my review of this album with a double tribute to include the late, great Tom Petty, a man who knew the difference between rock and Rock ‘n’ Roll, as he demonstrates here.

 

Fats was almost swept away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but a helicopter plucked him from the rooftop of his home in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. A couple of years later, some New Orleans friends spearheaded this all star tribute with some of the proceeds going to the Tipitina Foundation. Unlike many tribute albums, which are simply a collection of pre-existing cover recordings by various stars, every cut on this double CD set except one was recorded explicitly for this project. The producers were able to round up a gaggle of great artists – Paul McCartney, Elton John, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Plant, Taj Mahal, Irma Thomas, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and the list goes on. Some recorded as solos, but the producers were able to pair many of them with New Orleans bred artists in very entertaining combinations. By the way, the one exception to new recordings is John Lennon’s version of “Ain’t That A Shame,” an exception well worth making. In total there are thirty tunes – and a barrel of fun.

One of the cool pairings on the album is this collaboration between Paul McCartney and Allan Toussaint.

 

Fats Domino – Sweet Patootie: The Complete Reprise Recordings

Like so many of the early stars of rock n roll, the hit train stopped rolling for Fats by the mid sixties, overwhelmed first by the British invasion and then psychedelia. Somehow in the late sixties, Fats wound up at Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records. His first effort there, known, as Fats Is Back captured the essence of what made Fats’ hits so great. The album died as far as chart sales go, but boy does it succeed on the merits. Most of the songs were new except for two covers. One is a rollicking version of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” which I’ve read was itself a bit of a tribute to Domino. The other is Barbara George’s “I Know.”

In addition to Fats Is Back, this package also includes:

  • Three singles that would’ve been hits in another time, especially the Randy Newman penned “Have You Seen My Baby?”
  • A second album which had been titled Fats, produced by his old New Orleans hit machine collaborator Dave Bartholomew.

 

All in all, the Reprise recordings freshen the Fats Domino repertoire while remaining true to his legend. It may have been out of step with its times, but from the perspective of 2017, the music is great fun and reinforces his standing at the dawn of rock n roll.

So in 2017 we’ve lost Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, leaving Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis as the sole survivors from my Mount Rushmore. But thanks to great recordings likes these, the beat goes on and “Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to stay, it will never die.”

Alabama Bound

What is it about Alabama? On the one hand it’s a state too well known for hatred and violence between the races. On the other hand, its black and white musicians have found a bond that has resulted in incredible records from the turbulent fifties and sixties all the way to the vexing twenty teens. I know, the same two statements could be said of most southern states. But only Alabama has Muscle Shoals, where a core group of rural, dirt poor white musicians, songwriters and producers wrote for and played behind soul greats from Aretha Franklin to Percy Sledge to Wilson Pickett and many more. Such was their success and resulting fame that artists as big as the Rolling Stones came there to pick up on the vibe for their own recordings.

Fifty years later singers are still going to the studios there searching for the magic – the feeling and the groove that transcended differences and powered those great records. Lucky for us, some of them are good enough to find it, as you will hear in two albums in particular that have been released in the last few weeks. One is a fine farewell from a hall of famer, while the other is a bright “hello” from a newcomer so new he still has a part time day job.

Gregg Allman – Southern Blood

Normally I don’t write about stars as big as Allman because I figure even casual music fans are familiar with their work. This album caught my attention, however, despite the fact I’m not what one would call a “fan” of either Gregg solo nor the Allman Brothers Band. I respect him and believe he as a solo artist or bandleader deserves all the accolades that he and his mates received over the years. I enjoy hearing the occasional Allman song. For some reason, however, I just never liked them enough to own any of their records, although I did buy the Duane Allman Anthology album years ago. My attitude changed dramatically with Southern Blood.

Maybe it was something about an old veteran coming to grips with his own mortality and expressing that process through a collection of songs carefully chosen for the purpose. I found the same appeal in Glen Campbell’s farewell release Adios, which I wrote about a few months ago.

From various articles, I understand that Allman originally planned to write all new songs for the album, but his declining health and dwindling time led him to settle for just one original to kick it off. With help from his producer Don Was, he chose covers to fill out the album that fit the flow and mood perfectly.  With a couple of exceptions that provide a bit of punch, this album doesn’t rock. Yet the controlled passion of the performances belies the notion that it’s mellow. A bit melancholy in some places, reflective in others – no doubt. It’s a man looking back on a life lived on his own terms while savoring songs that have meant something to him along the way.

 

There’s a story behind each selection that I won’t go into here. If you’re interested, go to his interview in Garden and Gun  magazine here: http://gardenandgun.com/feature/gregg-allman-says-goodbye/.

There’s also an excellent article from NPR which you can find if you “google” Gregg Allman Southern Blood. The NPR article makes the point that returning to Muscle Shoals to record Southern Blood brought Allman full circle because it was there that he and Duane started their career, as sidemen and as an unknown new band, Hourglass. It’s fitting, therefore, that he did include a tune from one of Muscle Shoals’ top songwriting teams, Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn’s “Out Of Left Field,” originally a hit for Percy Sledge.

 

The opening song, “My Only True Friend,” is quite good but clearly personal. Perhaps too much of that wouldn’t have been such a good thing. I think the covers he chose to follow his opening statement make the appeal more universal – it’s not just about himself. You and I might have chosen the same songs for our own farewell. Enjoy it with a smooth whiskey.

 

Cale Tyson – Careless Soul

Young Mr. Tyson is a Texan who in his twenties moved to Nashville. From what I’ve learned from the articles I’ve found, he’s not a record industry guy. Rather he began performing in the somewhat “alternative” club scene in East Nashville. He seems to have started as a neo-traditionalist honky tonker. A few years ago, he did an EP that sounded like Hank Williams and early Ray Price, but was that really Cale Tyson? While he respected the artists he mimicked, he hadn’t really grown up on their music. Then he hooked up with a producer who, after listening to Tyson describe the music floating around in his head, suggested they go to FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. They took a bunch of musicians from Nashville; the only original FAME swamper in the studio was bassist David Hood. But then again, who’s more responsible for a record’s groove than the bass player? And maybe there is something to the legends about the studio there. As Tyson told NPR, “The room was incredible.”

The result is, dare I say it -cowjazz, an otherwise indescribable mix of folk, country, R&B and whatever. There are horns and strings along with guitars and pedal steel. There are tunes you can dance to, tunes that make you yell “yahoo” and tunes to cry to. There are tunes with a soul groove and tunes that sound like they could have been written by denizens of the Brill Building like Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Regardless, they all possess catchy melodies and intelligent, sometimes clever lyrics.

One of my favorite lines is from “Somebody Save Me,” in which the singer, whose lover is out of town, is begging that “somebody save me from doing her wrong.” As he confronts the temptation to stray, he intones “somebody please help me, I’m losing my mind, I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t cross the line, if somebody sees her, tell her come home, I want to be faithful, but I won’t be for long.” Well, you can guess how it ends.

What we can’t guess is where Tyson will go next. Careless Soul was released in the UK a couple of years ago, but was unheard here in the states until it was released this past summer. He didn’t grow up on country music, although he appreciates it, and he didn’t grow up on R&B either. He can sound authentic with either genre but he worries they’re not authentically him. He told Rolling Stone that while waiting for Careless Love to be released in the US, he’s been writing songs in more of an indie-folk vein inspired by Conor Oberst and Emmylou Harris on Oberst’s album Bright Eyes. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what that might sound like. I do know he’s a fine singer and a very good songwriter. I also know that he found something good inside the walls of that old studio in Muscle Shoals, perhaps the spirit of Rick Hall and Clarence Carter. Stated simply, Careless Soul is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard this year.

 

And in the category of “what the heck…”

Marc Broussard – SOS-2: Save Our Soul: Soul On A Mission

Marc Broussard is not from Alabama, and this 2016 album was not recorded at Muscle Shoals. Nevertheless several of the tunes were originally written and recorded in integrated studios in Muscle Shoals and at Stax in Memphis. All are from the canon of greatest soul hits by Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Solomon Burke. In fact Burke’s song “Cry To Me” inspired Broussard to depart from his usual repertoire and record this set.   He openly says that he tried to emulate the arrangements of the original recordings. He wanted to expose their pleasures to a new generation of audiences, albeit with a higher recording fidelity given technology today. Having said that, this is not a case of a white guy ripping off black artists’ music. Born into the melting pot of Louisianna music – his dad is in the Louisianna Music Hall of Fame, Broussard has built his chops from the ground up.

Clearly he internalized classic soul music while growing up. Even more clear is the joy he brings to the project. I don’t think he’s quite wicked enough to pull off Wilson Picket’s “In The Midnight Hour,” but otherwise there’s more than a record full of great fun here. As I listened I couldn’t help remembering all the white bands I heard in the sixties – the Embers, Catalinas, Fabulous Five, Sardams and so many more – playing R&B and Soul music in college frat houses and beach dance clubs throughout the south. White bands covering  records of black singers written and produced by both black and white artists. What’s in those grooves bound them all.  You know, I think we can bridge some divides, if we just turn off the news and turn up the stereo.

 

Remembering Jim Croce

Late July and most of August proved to be a busy period for me, so I ended up taking an unplanned hiatus from posting to “Finding Classic Cowjazz R&B.” Instead of writing about music, I played some music – and some golf, and I listened to quite a bit of music, new and old. I saw a great performance on “Austin City Limits” by Parker Millsap, which reconfirmed that he’s one of the most compelling high intensity vocalists of the last forty of fifty years. I also stumbled across an old favorite from the early 1970’s.

Jim Croce first began to emerge from South Philadelphia in the early to mid 1960’s as a folk singer. Mind you, most singers who emerged from South Philly from the late fifties to the mid-sixties were the teen idol pop rock ’n’ rollers like say, Fabian. Croce was a mold breaker.

He finally burst onto the big time during the singer-songwriter period of the early to mid seventies. This was the era of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Harry Chapin, Paul Simon and even erstwhile rockers like Stephen Stills. Croce shouldered his way into this mix with a combination of great character songs like “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” mixed with broken-love songs like “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels”) and “Lovers Cross.”

He also did odes to the  “everyman” like one of my all time favorites, “Working In The Car Wash Blues.” And he had a sidekick guitar virtuoso, the classically trained Maury Muehleisen. Today, such a lineup would be labeled Americana.

What separated Croce then, and what still gives him punch nearly fifty years later, is his singular vocal style, clever while sometimes ironically biting wordplay, and a smidgen of south Philly attitude. He put out less than a handful of albums before perishing in a plane crash in Louisianna, the same fate that befell Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Ricky Nelson and Patsy Cline among many others. I fear he’s largely forgotten today, overlooked on most lists of seventies stars. Yet those few albums yielded a treasure trove of wonderful songs and masterful performances.

Jim Croce – I’ve Got A Name

If I were to recommend one album by Croce, I’d be tempted to go with the posthumously released Photographs and Memories, His Greatest Hits, because of course it includes all of his hits including two of my four favorite songs by Croce, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Operator.” And you wouldn’t go wrong with that album. Still, I’d also recommend I’ve Got A Name. The title track was the theme song in the movie about NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, “The Last American Hero,” starring Jeff Bridges, and it’s the rare recording by Croce of a song he did not write. The album also includes the aforementioned “Working In The Car Wash Blues” and my other favorite “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song.”

All of the songs I’ve mentioned are on the greatest hits collection. The reason I love this particular album, however, is the pleasures derived from lesser known tunes like “Salon and Saloon,” “Five Short Minutes,” “ Top Hat Bar And Grille,” and “The Hard Way Every Time” to name a few.

Over the years I’ve developed a soft spot for singer songwriters: Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett. But coming out of the sixties, the period when I was almost totally absorbed in Atlantic/Stax/Motown soul, the first singer-songwriter who really grabbed my attention was Jim Croce. I saw him on TV a few times but never in person. The closest I came was a 1973 show in Richmond, Virginia, on a bill with The Doobie Brothers and Loggins and Messina. A bad storm delayed Croce’s flight, so he was a no show. Sadly, not long after, an ill fated flight between one gig and the next ended his life at the age of 30 along with Muehleisen and three others. I Got A Name, completed the week before and released three months after the crash, reached number 2 on the Billboard Album Charts. Enjoy the gift he left behind.

Take A Break, Look Back, Listen…And Enjoy

While I love exploring new releases, I never want to forget the pleasures from revisiting buried treasures from yesteryear. Recently a couple of references in new releases triggered a journey back into the vaults of my library where I rediscovered (so to speak) four CD’s you may enjoy as much as I do. So for this post we’re setting aside the new to take advantage of the greatest benefit of recordings – the ability to look back, listen anew and enjoy all over again.

Linda Ronstadt: Cry Like A Rainstorm – Howl Like The Wind

Actually this great record is like getting two for the price of one because it features the uniquely amazing voice of Aaron Neville on four cuts, not just as a backup singer but as a full fledge duet partner. Linda very generously lets Neville take the lead role on a couple of the cuts, especially on their scintillating version of Sam & Dave’s soul classic, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.” In fact, there are times when I think Linda and Aaron have topped the great Stax duo. Another duet cut, “Don’t Know Much” was certified gold and reached #2 as a single. The truth is Ronstadt revived Neville’s solo career which had languished since his hits in the sixties. He returned the favor with performances that helped her CD go triple platinum.

Of course, Ronstadt was terrific on the solo cuts as well. The album was her first since the trio of standards albums she had recorded with Nelson Riddle, and her return to pop firmly reminded everybody why she had become one of the biggest selling female singers ever. The woman could flat sing any kind of music and along with Gram Parsons practically invented country-rock. Remember, the Eagles were her backup band in the sixties. Moreover she proved herself perfectly able to handle folk, pop, R&B, straight country, and rock, picking songs from among the greatest songwriters of our time ranging from Hank Williams to Bob Dylan to Smokey Robinson to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. She chose from several great writers on this album including notably Jimmy Webb’s beautiful “Adios,” which became another top ten tune for her.

Ironically her range, both musically and stylistically, and the sheer beauty of her voice may cause some to dismiss her as too commercial. In my opinion, however, it’s her transcendent talent and integrity in her musical choices that made her the incredible commercial success she became. Alas, her story has a rather sad note. She now suffers from Parkinson’s which has robbed her of her ability to sing. Thank goodness we have her recordings, so her marvelous sound cannot be stilled. If somehow this album slipped by you, or you haven’t heard it in awhile, do yourself a favor and get it on your turntable post haste. It will restore your faith that there can be such a thing as great pop music.

 

Gary U.S. Bonds: Back In Twenty

Gary U.S. Bonds had a string of about a half dozen rock ’n’ roll hits beginning in 1961 topped by “Quarter to Three,” which hit #1. Although Bonds grew up singing R&B in clubs in Norfolk, VA, these records were more flat out party tunes targeting the teen audience. When the British invasion hit, his career was essentially washed away, like so many others. Lo and behold, twenty years later Bruce Springsteen met Bonds, who apparently had been one of the Boss’s early heroes. He helped get him a record deal, and Bonds promptly had a hit with “This Little Girl.” Then he all but disappeared from view again.

Flash forward another twenty years – I know, by now you see from whence the title of the CD derives. Once again Springsteen enters the picture along with Southside Johnny, also a big Bonds fan, and Gary U.S. Bonds returned with a set of sizzling blues flavored R&B. The amazing thing is that despite his twenty year fallow periods, when Bonds gets a chance to record, he puts out damn good music. Several friends join him on various tracks including, Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Dickie Betts and Phoebe Snow. In addition to the celebs on board, Bonds is accompanied by a strong rhythm section led by guitarist Mark Leimbach, and a handful of hot horns.

There are a couple of cuts from the classic R&B canon – “Fannie Mae” and “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” but most of the others have not been recorded before. In fact, Bonds wrote or co-wrote seven of the twelve cuts. And he’s listed as the Producer and also part of the horn arrangements team. Stylistically, the closest comparison I can give you is Delbert McClinton and his hot horn driven band from the mid-1980’s to the late 1990’s. Most of the tunes are uptempo, and while these are not like the teen party tunes from the early sixties, they have more than enough brass, punch and soul to put adults in a get-down mood.

 

Quincy Jones: Q’s Jook Joint

I must admit, I was hooked from the time I saw the album cover and title. In his long, illustrious career, Quincy Jones has been a musician, composer, arranger, band leader and record producer at the highest levels. As a producer alone, he’s worked with everybody from Ray Charles to Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson, usually with superlative results. But in the eighties and nineties he produced a collection of albums on which his role could best be described as amalgamator, if such a word exists.

The concept seems to be that as record producer, Q would bring together a batch of songs and various singers and players and build a thematic whole out of seemingly disparate parts. Often, as is the case here, he didn’t write any of the songs or play any of the instruments. He just makes it happen. Of the series, this is by far his most appealing to me.

The idea seems to be to evoke the notion of a jook joint through a blend of R&B, soul and jazz songs performed by R&B icons like Stevie Wonder and Q’s old friend Ray Charles , young nouveau soulsters like Tamia (check her out below) and Brandy, rockers like Bono and Phil Collins, and jazzmen like James Moody, plus too many more to mention.

The album’s arc more or less follows the night from the excitement of bursting through the doors of the joint to closing time. Q’s version of a jook joint is far more sophisticated than the image – or sound – embodied by the joints on the chitlin’ circuit where you might hear Gary U.S. Bonds, for example. Still it’s an interesting, and most importantly, entertaining compilation that moves from tune to tune almost seamlessly. Yes you can pull out individual cuts to enjoy on their own, but the album is particularly satisfying when enjoyed holistically.

 

Jimmie Dale Gilmore: After Awhile

Jimmie Dale Gilmore may have been the first hippie West Texas cowboy singer. He’s melodically and rhythmically grounded in west Texas, but his ethereal tenor voice and elliptical lyrical style often take his tunes to a whole ‘nother place. He was born in Amarillo and raised in Lubbock, but according to Wikipedia “Gilmore spent much of the 1970s in an ashram in Denver, Colorado, studying metaphysics with teenaged Indian guru Prem Rawat, also known as Maharaji” before moving to Austin where he still resides. Not too many Texas musicians have gone that route.

Since the early 1970’s he has performed periodically with his buddies Joe Ely and Butch Hancock as The Flatlanders. At the time, they were influenced by the Austin based originators of “outlaw” country like Jerry Jeff Walker, and they’ve carried the torch further on ever since. He finally released his first solo album, which included covers of tunes by other writers, in 1988. After Awhile followed in 1991, and it’s a fine a statement of alternative or progressive or outlaw country – pick your own label – as you’ll ever find.

All twelve tunes were written by Gilmore except for the rollicking bluegrass-like “My Mind’s Got A Mind Or It’s Own,” which is by his fellow Flatlander Hancock.

Gilmore ranges across tempos and emotions as easily as a tumbleweed blowing in the wind across a west Texas prairie. It’s all there: sadness, happiness, tragedy and humor. Songs to dance to and songs to contemplate over red wine or brown whiskey. Perhaps some are more comprehensible with herbal assistance. Best of all, he’s played enough beer joints to know how to pace the set. The result here, as on the other albums presented in this post, is very satisfying musical entertainment.

And now a fond farewell…

Glen Campbell: Adios

This look back was actually inspired by Glen Campbell’s recently released last album, recorded near the end of his farewell tour as he was being overtaken by Alzheimers. The title song is a cover of the Jimmy Webb penned hit by Linda Ronstadt, and Glenn’s excellent rendition sent me into my vaults to find Linda’s original. I was never a big fan of Glen’s although I certainly acknowledge his seventies era hits like “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and others, all written by Webb. And yes I’m amazed by the Youtube videos of him playing the William Tell Overture on a 12-string guitar. But I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed this album, a collection of tunes he apparently always loved but never recorded. The four by Webb are excellent, and the other choices for the most part are inspired and often surprising. It’s given me a fresh perspective on his fine singing and incredible guitar playing. He gave us a nice parting gift while burnishing his own legacy.