There’s so much good new music out there. The best music of 2012:
1. Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: Invigorating blend of R&B, funk and jazz infused with top-shelf musicianship and an enticing lyrical quality. This is perhaps her best yet. Spalding sports a fluid, proficient and pleasing voice that delivers her poignant lyricism over the engaging compositions. Get the Deluxe Edition with a Making of DVD.
2. Locked Down, Dr. John: Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach gets an inspiration to record with the N’Awlins legend and they whip up a spooky, funky, voodoo dose of swamp funk mixed with hard rock sensibilities. Some of the best from recent vintage of the good Doctor.
3. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten: One of the truly remarkable and original sounding records from a singer/songwriter whose dense, penetrating lyrics are revealed through inventive arrangements that complement her songwriting.
4. Sunken Condos, Donald Fagen: At his wry, funky, satirical and stinging best. Glossed with a Steely Dan sheen but it still swings like mad.
5. Everybody’s Talkin’, Tedeschi-Trucks Band: Live outing from one of the best ensembles around today. A beautiful combination of blues, rock and pop whipped together with Derek Trucks’ slide lacing through it and the marvelous Susan Tedeschi’s soulful, blazing voice on top. Not to be missed live.
6. Sun, Cat Power: Return of the elusive, mercurial and magnetic singer/songwriter. Her best since The Greatest.
7. Election Special, Ry Cooder: Venerable American music stylist gives his biting political take on the present state of affairs with his usual entertaining, insightful views served with a helping of exquisite string playing.
8. Driving Towards The Daylight, Joe Bonamassa: Another edition in the evolving style and development of one of our best modern-day blues guitarists, who happens to have a soulful voice as well.
9. The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: From the opening strains of the remarkable title track through another set of inspired rock and pop, a step forward and upward from this New England-based group. Their roots are firmly planted in the fertile ground of the 1960s and early ’70s. All framing Potter’s gloriously wild and unrestrained voice.
10. Blues Funeral, Mark Lanegan: Love him for his various collaborations over the years, not the least with Isobel Campbell, but there is something dark and compelling about this bluesy and funereal outing that is addicting. (continue reading…)
Tucked away in the Blu-Ray/DVD Deluxe Edition of Martin Scorcese’s Living In The Material World, a biopic on Beatle George Harrison, is a 10-track CD made up of acoustic renderings and some early takes of Harrison songs, some of which run through the feature film.
The collection has also been released as a single CD or on vinyl, and is appropriately titled Early Takes Volume 1. The 1 teases at possible subsequent releases in what is presumed to be a series. That’s not guaranteed but has been indicated by Harrison’s widow, Olivia.
This set is nothing short of wonderful. A nice glimpse into George’s world, where he is in the early stages of getting songs down on tape, either purely with acoustic guitar and vocal or with a small backing band. Some of these tunes are so familiar to the Harrison fan that the many instrumental parts we’re all familiar with on songs such as My Sweet Lord, Awaiting On You All and All Things Must Pass, for instance, run through your mind in the background even while listening to the demo versions.
But it’s nice to hear the songs in their raw state. The listener gets a greater appreciation for the singer and the song. And in some cases those bombastic Phil Spector-produced tracks are improved upon in a more primal form.
There are some delightful covers as well, one of Bob Dylan’s Mama You’ve Been On My Mind and the classic early ’60s Everly Brothers ballad Let It Be Me. On Let It Be Me, Harrison delivers simple acoustic guitar accompaniment to his lead and harmony vocal tracks. One of the few times, if ever, Harrison sang a harmony part to himself on tape. The effect is beautiful on this gorgeous melody.
The only other listed musician on the album in Jonathan Clyde on mouth harp for the bluesy Harrison original Woman Don’t You Cry For Me from his solo album 33 1/3. (continue reading…)
Finally a list of favorite albums from 2011. I’ve included the best albums of early 2012 as well. Here are the top albums from 2011:
1. El Camino, The Black Keys: No they haven’t lost their way. No, this isn’t a step back or a step to the side. This is infectious, rocking and raw, though not as raw as their early releases, tuneful and driving. They keep moving forward.
2. The Harrow & The Harvest, Gillian Welch and Let England Shake, P.J. Harvey: It’s a tie. Second choices each. Can’t separate them. Welch and her partner David Rowlings have produced an extraordinary duet album underpinned with roots guitar and banjo and enchanting vocals. The songs are spare country-folk pieces beautifully executed. As for Harvey, I’ve already mentioned this one in an early 2011 best-of list. It continues to grow on me if that’s possible. Highly thoughtful, enveloping musical statement featuring Harvey’s and her friends’ expert muscianship and musicality. There, I’ve used a form of music three times in that sentence.
4. I’m With You, The Red Hot Chili Peppers: Talk about an overlooked album. Oh, I’m sure it sold well. The only problem with this album is that it had to follow Stadium Arcadium, which was a career effort in creativity and popularity. Still, it’s more of the Peppers and the Peppers are quite something.
5. Hard Bargain, Emmylou Harris: This was my top choice for the early list. It’s dropped a few places, not because it isn’t worthy, because the later releases were just that good.
6. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator: Another early choice that stood up. Blues, soul, R&B mix with Tedeschi’s heartfelt, soulful vocals on top and Trucks’ dynamic, penetrating slide running through it all. (continue reading…)
It you’ve forgotten how good a guitar player Nils Lofgren is or for that matter how good a singer and songwriter he is, you should take in his latest Acoustic Duet show. Many probably don’t realize the depth of talent Bruce Springsteen’s guitar player possesses. But Lofgren has been around since his teens in the late 1960s and has continued to create a catalogue of classic rock tunes on a string of creative albeit somewhat overlooked albums.
When I noticed Lofgren would be playing at the Ridgefield Playhouse in late June, I quickly scooped up tickets for a venue I like a lot and an artist I had never seen in a solo atmosphere. Although an ardent fan, I didn’t know what to expect from a solo show. I figured a couple of acoustic guitars and Lofgren weaving through his most memorable compositions with perhaps help from one of his brothers. It was anything but.
He’s on acoustic for much of the night, but it has big, embellished sonics by his use of a number of effects that give it a rich texture, with chorus- and doubling-style layers almost sounding like a keyboard at times. Before he gets to it though, Lofgren comes out and plays a tune on electric harp, and he’s very musical on the unusual instrument, then rips into Too Many Miles with a Stratocaster that rocks the house, accompanied by the remarkable Greg Varlotta on electric keyboards. (continue reading…)
In the first half of the year, I’ve been listening to three CDs quite a bit, all beautifully executed but quite different from one another. They are easily three of the best records from the first six months of 2010 and three you should give a listen.
The Chieftains’ San Patricio gives a featured billing to Ry Cooder, an occasional collaborator with the Irish group who writes, plays, sings, produces and arranges on this unusual yet intriguing mix of Celtic and Mexican music based on a fictionalized version of the story of Irish soldiers fighting with the Mexican army.
San Patricio is somewhat reminiscent of Santiago, another Chieftains’ effort from 1996 on which they blended Celtic sensibilities with Galician music from northwest Spain.
The group showed the direct link between the two musical heritages while including collaborators Cooder, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos, among many others.
The music on San Patricio is joyous, celebratory, heartfelt, forboding and ultimately upbeat and forward moving. The highlights are many, including the opener La Iguana with sensuous vocalist Lila Downs, who also appears on El Relampago; Ronstadt’s tender La Orilla de Un Palmar; the Cooder compositions The Sands Of Mexico and Cancion Mixteca (Intro) along with the song proper by Jose Lopez Alavez; March To Battle (Across The Rio Grande), which features a narration by Liam Neeson; and traditional numbers that feature Los Folkloristas and Los Camperos deValles.
It’s all a rich tapestry of the blending of these two musical styles that share so much in common.
The Irish soldiers, led by Captain John Riley during the war with Mexico (1846-48) were discriminated against and treated brutally by the American troops. So much so they defected to join a people with whom they had much more in common.
Although the thread of story on this record is entirely fictitious, there is no doubt music must have been a big part of the Irish soldiers’ experience as it is imbued so deeply in both cultures. A wonderfully realized example of what we now call World Music but is simply an inspiring work under any title. (continue reading…)
After the breakup of Cream in 1968, it became a point of fascination to see what was next for the three members.
Eric Clapton got together with Steve Winwood to form Blind Faith, which lasted from late 1968 to the end of the summer of ’69, producing one album and an ill-fated tour. He then took up with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett in their touring band, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. That led to Clapton’s first self-titled solo album, produced by Delaney, which still stands as one of Clapton’s very best.
Ginger Baker quickly formed an all-star band of sorts after Blind Faith, dubbed Air Force and recorded a double live and a studio album under the name. It was short-lived. He went through many other musical vehicles in the ’70s and ’80s but always seemed to produce his best work when recording what we now call World Music, then in the ’90s recorded two extraordinary jazz albums with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden.
As for Bruce, he had already recorded a straight jazz album, which bordered on free jazz, in August of ’68, Things We Like, even before the Farewell Cream tour of that fall.
That was followed by Songs For A Tailor (September, 1969), a truly amazing mix of R&B, soul, blues, folk and rock blended with his Celtic sensibilities, particularly in his vocals, and the enigmatic yet compelling lyrics of his writing partner from Cream days, Peter Brown.
After Songs For A Tailor, probably his most successful commercial album, he has continued to blaze his own path with a string of artistic achievements in his solo career and with others, particularly Kip Hanrahan in the ’80s and ’90s, that has in most cases escaped the music world at large and especially the rock press. That notwithstanding, it can be easily argued Bruce has been the most creative and successful artistically of the three members from Cream.
In early 1970 Bruce put an intriguing and accomplished band together to tour in support of Songs For A Tailor. Called Jack Bruce & Friends, I noticed they were to play at the Fillmore East the weekend of January 30-31 as the opening act for Mountain! Leslie West’s group, at the time, was of course doing very well commercially in the wake left by Cream, but it startled and somewhat annoyed me that Bruce would actually be opening for them.
Nonetheless, my girlfriend and I secured tickets and went to one of the early shows. As I recall it was the Saturday night performance, although it’s possible it was Friday. In the 1990s, I became aware of a recording of one of the shows from that weekend. That kind of stunned me at the time, but it’s now happened more often than you would think possible. At first I believed it was the actual show we attended but I have seen it variously listed as either early show Jan. 30 or late show Jan. 31. So it’s impossible to pin down.
Suffice to say, the setlist is the same as the show we saw. And the recorded document confirms that although this band had not been together that long, it was producing dynamic and intricate versions of Bruce’s tunes, mainly from Songs For A Tailor. (continue reading…)
It seems truly unbelievable that a record company such as Lost Highway could reject an album by Shelby Lynne, particularly when it is as compelling and heartfelt as Tears, Lies & Alibis.
But it happened. It goes on more than you would think with top artists. As Lynne mentioned during her set at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass., Friday, she was through with the world of corporate companies and has released Tears, Lies & Alibis on her own label, Everso Records.
Now, she said, she can release an album anytime she wants to and promised a Christmas album this year, something she has been trying to convince a record label to do for 20 years.
Amid all this life-changing turmoil, Lynne is touring the country in support of Tears with a three-piece band that includes Nashville guitarist John Jackson and Lynne’s producer and bass player, Brian Harrison.
At the Iron Horse they ran through a beautifully arranged set that featured songs from the new album and material from her previous albums, all of which since 2000’s I Am Shelby Lynne have showcased her extraordinary voice and songwriting skills, with an eclectic mix of country, rock, folk, Southern soul, blues and more.
Fortunately, the videos above and below, shot by one of her crew, show off Lynne’s performance at the Iron Horse. So, you can get an intimate and immediate display of her talents. She also often talked extensively between songs and some of the raps were very funny.
Hearing her music in this stripped-down setting was revelatory and a wonderful showcase for Jackson’s prodigious picking skills, particularly on slide that he makes sound like a pedal steel. Jackson is on the new album as well as Harrison, so between recording and playing live now for several weeks, the three were tight and played with a strong feel and connection to the music and each other. (continue reading…)
In the 1970s heydey of the singer-songwriter, southern Californian Karla Bonoff emerged as one of the genre’s brightest lights. A gifted songwriter, whose melodic and well-structured tunes were often made more famous by other artists, Bonoff also produced a string of memorable albums and toured with her own band extensively.
She never achieved the kind of recongition some of the artists who covered her material did — Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, among many others — but her interpretations of her songs often struck home much more profoundly, as she displayed a beautifully crystal clear voice that could handle all of the demands her compositions make of a singer.
Although she has toured frequently, I never remember her coming to Connecticut. Happily, she stopped in Norfolk Thursday night at the Infinity Music Hall, and along with longtime collaborator Kenny Edwards and the remarkable guitarist Nina Gerber, Bonoff presented about an hour-and-a-half of truly inspired performances of some of her most well-known songs and some even her most avid followers were probably not that familar with.
I always associate piano with Karla Bonoff’s songs, but for most of the night she played one of two acoustic guitars and used the baby grand on about five or six tunes. Edwards alternated among mandolin, acoustic guitar and electric bass and Gerber played a white Fender Strat, often bringing to mind the style of the late Clarence White, from one of the last incarnations of The Byrds, who made his Tele sound like a pedal steel much as Gerber does with her Strat. (continue reading…)
Last year I picked five albums I considered the best of the year. This time I’m upping it to 10 with a few bubbling under and some added tidbits.
1. Already Free, The Derek Trucks Band: Traditional blues with modern sensibilities and influences from jazz, roots and world music, all played by an array of accomplished musicians and one of the best slide players of our time.
2. The Deep End, Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez: Stellar songwriting, impassioned vocals and infectious grooves highlight Ohlman’s fifth album, which also features an impressive roster of guests. Her best yet.
3. Electric Dirt, Levon Helm: On this electrified followup to his comeback album Dirt Farmer, Helm blends traditional roots music with elements of folk, blues, soul and gospel. The mix of new original material and classic covers works perfectly. The arrangements are clean and to the point and musicianship impeccable.
4. Middle Cyclone, Neko Case: A wonderful concoction of folk, rock, country and pop interlaced with enigmatic lyrics and penetrating melodies. All topped with Case’s crystal clear voice.
5. All In One, Bebel Gilberto: Her best since Tanta Tempo in 2000, this work is alive with beautiful songwriting and Gilberto’s gorgeous, hushed, cool vocals. Aided by her pals Carlhinos Brown and Didi Gutman among others.
6. Soul On Ten, Robben Ford: A ripping, rocking live set with two live-in-the-studio cuts, filled with Ford’s interesting blues-based originals, some classic covers and his unique take on blues, rock and jazz playing.
7. The List, Rosanne Cash: A love letter to her father Johnny and her audience, giving back songs from his list of 100 that he gave to his teen-age daughter. Arrangements and execution by Cash and husband John Levanthal are enthralling. (continue reading…)
As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past year I’m an avid fan of Wolfgang’s Vault.
The site never ceases to surprise me by unearthing rare, interesting and previously unavailable concerts from its vast treasure hold.
This one is truly an unexpected delight, Jackie DeShannon and Ry Cooder playing as an acoustic duo at the legendary Ash Grove in Los Angeles on September 3, 1963, long before either had achieved any type of widespread notoriety. DeShannon was 19 at the time and although she had released a string of singles, it was before her opening stint on the first Beatles tour of the U.S. in 1964 and her first hits, Needles & Pins and When You Walk In The Room.
I’ve come to really love her earthy, soulful and gospel-inspired vocals from this era of her career. As for Cooder, he’s 16, yet still shows an amazing virtuosity on acoustic guitar. One of the great players of our time.
Despite being a fan of both artists, I never knew this show existed on tape or that these two made any type of collaboration during this period, which is what makes the Vault such a valuable resource and an unending source of enjoyment. Below is a track from the show. The concert can be accessed here.
To listen to the entire show, you’ll need to register at the site, which is an easy process and free.