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.

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