I hope the reason you’re here is to find great music by artists performing in classic forms of Country, R&B/Soul, Blues, Folk and Jazz, or the special blend of any or all of these as pioneered by Texas based so called “outlaws.” We’ll be finding, listening to and writing about musicians recording in these forms today as well as genre masters from “back in the day.” For a complete definition of CowjazzR&B and why this blog exists, please click on the link for “What is CowjazzR&B?” in the tool bar above. For now, let’s get started with my first batch of music. Hope you have fun.
B.B. King – Completely Well
We’ve already lost too many musical heroes and legends in 2015, but probably no loss was bigger than the passing in May of B.B. King. I’m privileged to have seen BB’s thrilling live show several times, and his albums and CD’s in my library have long been among the most played in my collection. Many critics praise “Live at the Regal” as his best. It’s a great one, but my favorite is “Completely Well,” which marked his move to a more mainstream audience with the debut of his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone.” Actually that cut is only my third or fourth favorite song on the CD. My favorite is the opener, “So Excited.” If ever a song was aptly named, this is the one. The tempo comes out charging, horns are firing, and Lucille is wailing. Then on the verses, the drummer and bassist shift to a staccato beat that, well if you can sit still, you must be dead. Another favorite is the ballad “What Happened,” a beautiful lament for love that has inexplicably died. Terrifically paced, the mood heats back up immediately with “Confessin’ The Blues” and “Key to the Kingdom” before steaming into a double header of “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” and “You’re Mean” which becomes an extended jam featuring fireworks between BB and his second guitarist Hugh McCracken. No description of this CD is complete without crediting the drummer Herbie Lovelle and bass player Gerald “Fingers” Jemmott. I cited their work on “So Excited.” More to the point, their dynamic rhythms propel the entire CD. And have I mentioned that BB King has never sung better. He’s loose, strong and free. The “King of the Blues” is clearly enjoying himself, and you will too. You simply must have “Completely Well” in your music collection.
Donnie Fritts – Everybody’s Got A Song
One late night a little over a year ago, I was following my nose on iTunes, when I stumbled across this CD by songwriter Donnie Fritts released in 1997. To quote from the iTunes review, “Donnie Fritts is probably a name you don’t know unless you look for well crafted songs.” Well I didn’t know his name, but after a quick preview and a little research, I knew I had to have his music. His songs are witty one moment, poignant the next. At first listen, his voice could only be described as “adequate.” Yet something about it pulls you in, and soon enough it’s just fine. Plus he has loads of help from friends he’s made in a career spanning from Muscle Shoals to Nashville and as Kris Kristofferson’s keyboard player for several decades.
Donnie was born in Florence, Alabama, across the Tennessee River from Muscle Shoals, so it’s no surprise he was among Rick Hall’s early team at Fame Studios before moving to Nashville. Like his friends such as Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, his music can best be described as country soul because it combines the often clever lyrics of the former with the groove of the latter. As he sings in the title song, “I love my country, and that rhythm and blues, I feel it from my head to my feet.” Along with the title song, my favorite cut has to be “If You Say So.” I don’t want to spoil any of its punch lines here, but suffice to say when I played it for some compadres recently, they insisted on hearing it about a dozen times in a row. Plus every tune in the collection brings a smile to my face. Check out the first cut on the album here – it’s a duet with John Prine.
I just love what Donnie has to say and how he says it. If you like entertaining lyrics set to engaging tunes, you must have this CD. And by the way, Donnie’s friends who helped with this project include Waylon, Willie, Lucinda Williams, Delbert McClinton, John Prine, Stephen Bruton, Mike Utley, Lee Roy Parnell, and the aforementioned Kris, Dan and Spooner. They make you believe Donnie’s lyric from the title track “everybody’s got a dream to write a song the whole world can sing.” Donnie just makes me feel good.
Chris Stapleton – Traveller
Watching recent CMA and ACM Awards shows, you could be forgiven for thinking that Country music had been smothered to death by pop rock, bro-country and glam girl poseurs. Still, if you were paying close attention during the 2013 CMA Awards when Luke Bryan sang (I know, why would you be paying close attention then, but I digress…) you would have heard and seen something not present on Bryan’s record, “I Drink A Beer.” As he glides into the first chorus, one of the song’s writers joins in with an emotional harmony which transformed the performance. If you sat up and wondered who was that guy, now you know – Chris Stapleton. This spring he stepped out front himself with his stunning debut solo CD “Traveller.”
Chris’s brand of country music is descended from Hank and Merle, but it’s also flavored with R&B and Rock, not because of some studio “suit’s” production directive, but rather from something soulful deep inside Stapleton. His tenor voice has just the right rough around the edges and can wail or whisper at will. As on any album, there are a couple that I might delete after a few spins, but songs like the title cut and “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Nobody To Blame,” “More of You,” “When The Stars Come Out,” “I Might As Well Get Stoned,” and several others will be in my rotation for a long time, and I expect they’ll be tunes I love revisiting years from now.
Emotion, honesty: the best Country singers like the best Soul artists have it. Highly recommended!
Note: Here is the really good news. I’ve found an unusually high output of really good classic style Country music in the last couple of months. Of course you won’t hear too much of it on so called country radio other than Sirius/XM’s Outlaw Country channel. I don’t want to flood you with too many to choose from at one time. Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller” is just the first. Look for more in my next few posts.
Jerry Jeff Walker – Viva Terlingua
If I were to make assumptions, I’d assume that if you’re reading this blog, you either already own this album or you did at one time before you spilled so much beer on it that it would no longer play, or somebody stole it from you because listening to it is just too much fun. If one record truly launched and defined outlaw country, it’s “Viva Terlingua.” But I learned long ago, that assuming anything is foolhardy. I can’t take the chance that you’re not familiar with this album, or you’ve forgotten it with the passage of time. I just have to close this blog launch by diving deep into my vaults for this album recorded in the summer of 1973.
Jerry Jeff and his Lost Gonzo Band blended country, rock ’n roll and folk in ways never heard before then. They did it in a loose, free flowing style that makes the whole album sound like a live performance even though only part of it was recorded before an audience. It has honky tonk drinking songs, gentle ballads, infectious sing alongs and one outrageous satire. Some of the songs are legendary: “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” “London Homesick Blues,” and “Sangria Wine” to name just three. As usual, Jerry Jeff chose songs he wrote himself along with songs from other great writers like Guy Clark, Michael Martin Murphy and Gary P. Nunn. Jerry Jeff would come to “own” their songs in the same way that Frank Sinatra put his stamp on tunes in the Great American Songbook. Somehow his versions always seem to become definitive.
Jerry Jeff has recorded many of the songs on “Viva Terlingua” multiple times, so you may have them elsewhere in your musical library. Still on this CD, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. If you never owned “Viva Terlingua,” or if it slipped from your grasp somewhere over the years, buy it or download it immediately.
I’ll sign off this first post with a video clip of sort of a reunion of Jerry Jeff and the Lost Gonzo Band as they are joined on “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother” by the song’s writer Ray Wylie Hubbard during an episode of the TV show “Texas Connection.” Although not as raucous and beer soaked as the performance on “Viva Terlingua,” it’s still fun to see. First I want to thank you for spending time with me. If you liked my blog, please do me two favors:
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Until next time…