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.

2017: A Vintage Year So Far – Part 2

There’s so much good music flooding into our ears so far in 2017, let’s jump right into Part 2 or our survey of the keepers from the year so far. As in the previous post, we’re not going in any particular order neither chronological nor ranking preference. I have plenty to choose from across multiple genres. Here we go!

Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 1

Chris Stapleton’s first solo album, which I wrote about two years ago, was such a huge hit, I assume all of you know about him and know he’s released a new album.  Often an artist has a tough time following up something as big and as good as Traveller, but dadgum I think Chris has done it. That’s all I’m going to say about it now. Here’s his take on Gary P. Nunn’s “The Last Thing I Needed, The First Thing This Morning,” which was a big hit for Willie back in the eighties. I heard him on Sirius/XM radio describe it as just about the quintessential country song in terms of structure and content.

 

Charlie And The Regrets – Rivers In The Streets

Front man and primary songwriter Charlie Harrison and his mates sound at first like a bunch of good old boys from Houston (probably because they are.) But their songs on their first full length album stretch across quite a range of tempos and subject matter. They’re seasoned with humor, even when the subject matter is dead serious, and there’s plenty of depth in the lyrics. Fun songs like “Proud Man” are balanced by the beautiful “Houston Rain” with some very interesting dissonant chords that lift the melody from the ordinary. Band member and frequent co-writer Willy T. adds great work on lap steel and dobro. Best of all, the album is paced beautifully, so even when the mood is somber, it’s never dull.

 

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’TajMo

From a band of young newcomers, we jump to a couple of old pros with Taj and Keb.’ When you consider how much influence the former has had on the latter, you may ask why they’ve never collaborated like this before. Like much of the music on their individual albums this one is filled with blues and R&B that is more likely to make you feel good than bring you down. In short, listening to this album is fun with engaging performers, good guitar playing, and an excellent backing band with a tasty horn section. Music like this makes you want to dance and sing along. As one of the song says, “there’ll be nothing on the radio but good news.”

Here’s a fun look at just that tune with Taj, Keb’ and the “Late Show” Band.

 

Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band

This eponymous titled album features Robison, a hugely successful songwriter just on the basis of the hits he wrote for George Strait, and a few good friends having a grand old time. As he says on his own web site, it’s “recorded on analog tape with no digital shenanigans. Just like back when music was good…”  There are three songs by Bruce himself and others by the likes of Jack Ingram, Jason Eady, Micky Braun and even Pete Townshend. (In a strange coincidence, The Who’s “Squeeze Box” is on both this album and TajMo.)

Even the quieter songs and sad ones like the old George Jones weeper, “Still Doin’ Time” reflect the joy the musicians find in this work. It’s short with only nine tunes, but I dare you to try and not smile while you listen.

 

Greg Graffin – Millport

Greg Graffin is a punk rock singer, songwriter and band leader (Bad Religion) who also holds a PhD from Cornell and more recently lectures on subjects like paleontology and evolution at UCLA as well as Cornell. In recent years he’s developed a solo music career as a folk-rocker influenced by the folk and country rock artists who emerged in the Southern California late 60’s – early 70’s music scene of his youth. He tackles serious subjects like Lincoln’s assassination and the demise of small town America with an earnest, energetic and engaging style executed with excellent musicianship surrounded by a band of merry me with comparable talent.

Ruthie Foster – Joy Comes Back

Ruthie Foster, like so many of her fellow Texans, is hard to pin down genre wise. She’s often listed under “blues,” but she’s also soul, folk, gospel, country and who knows what. Joy Comes Back has a little of everything from the gospel tinged title song to a re-working of an old Four Tops hit, “Lovin’ You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” to a toe tappin’ old time country ditty that Jerry Jeff Walker might do. You’ll probably want to add eight of the ten tunes to your regular playlist.

There’s so much fun in so many of the tunes from this batch of albums. What really unites them is the sense of joy all the musicians involved seem to find playing such good music. To tie it all together in a nice bow…I opened this post with Chris Stapleton, and I’m going to close it with one of his songs which became Ruthie’s kick off cut for Joy Comes Back. She’s accompanied by a great band on the album, but this solo, live performance really shows off her voice and Stapleton’s lyrics on his pre – Traveller tune, “What Are You Listening To?