Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dr. John Mos' Scocious The Anthology 1993

There have been some fine Dr. John CDs since this collection, and I'm comfy recommending Goin' Back To New Orleans 1992 (probably his strongest single album), Duke Elegant 1999, and Creole Moon 2001.

But this fine 2-CD set from Rhino in 1993, which is heavily tilted to his 1968-1975 period, is priceless. Although none of the individual records was completely great, this collection with 3-5 tracks from each of the eight records made in the aforementioned era is unquestionably completely great. Add to that a nice selection of early sixties singles that Mac Rebenack was featured on, and a few tracks from his eighties solo piano outings, and you've got a killer collection, and a pretty good encapsulation of the modern New Orleans gumbo of jazz, funk, and swamp-rock. The good Doctor distilled everything into his thick stew- James Booker, Nevilles, Preservation Hall, and a fat slab of voodoo. And during this uniquely commercial period, he penned a number of classic songs, all included here.

By the late sixties Dr. John had been around the block twice, and he knew the studio and the stage. His best work is eclectic and eccentric and electric- and funky. His gruff voice, his songwriting, and his classic New Orleans piano, incorporating Professor Longhair and Fats Domino, and everyone in between, is a nice set of skills. It seems a shame now that he didn't break bigger, but it hasn't hurt his longevity. His most recent, a tribute to Louis Armstrong, was released this year.

This one is out of print, but Amazon has used sets for $15-20. It comes with a pretty good book, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Al Kooper White Chocolate 2008

Al Kooper has had a long and successful career in rock and roll. From his first hit (Short Shorts) as a 14 year old in 1958 with The Royal Teens, to his latest solo release, White Chocolate 2008, Kooper's work has been both eclectic and highly entertaining.
Here's a brief list of Al Kooper moments in musical history:
Wrote This Diamond Ring, a hit for Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
Played organ on Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone.
Was a founding member of The Blues Project.
Was a founding member of Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Produced and played on Super Session in 1968 with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, the first-ever "jam" album.
Played piano, organ and horn on The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want.
Recorded seven solo records from 1969-1977.
Produced and played on the first three Lynyrd Skynyrd albums.
Taught composition and recording production at Boston's Berklee College of Music.
And much, much more.

Since 1994, Al has had quite a renaissance, and has released four particularly fine records. 1994 saw ReKooperation, an all-instrumental soul-jazz-rock record full of great versions of classics and a few Kooper originals.

Recorded in 1994 for Al's fiftieth birthday, and released in 1995, Soul Of A Man: Al Kooper Live is a tremendous career overview/live best-of that sees Al playing with original members of Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears, as well as the ReKooperators during a three-day stint at New York's Bottom Line.

2005 saw the release of perhaps Al's best solo outing ever, the fantastic Black Coffee. Eclectic as always, but this one is a perfect mix of what Al Kooper does best. Seven of the tracks feature The Funky Faculty, a group of his colleagues from Berklee College, and a super hot band. My Hands Are Tied and Going, Going, Gone rate with Al's best songs, and the whole CD is flawless. Al's singing, playing, arranging and producing firing on all cylinders. The CD booklet also contains an Al Kooper timeline that reviews his entire career.

Al followed Black Coffee with the nearly equal White Chocolate in 2008. Members of The Funky Faculty and ReKooperators (and other famous guests) return to help , and Al again assembles a batch of fine originals and carefully chosen covers.

All four of the 1994 and later CDs are well worth owning, and outshine much of the contemporary competition.

Al also has a weekly blog post over at the Morton Report called New Music For Old People, where Al, the consummate musicologist, helps the elderly discover musical gems.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Parthenon Huxley Thank You Bethesda 2013

There is a power pop thing going on here for sure, but there's also that perfect pop rock record ala Fountains Of Wayne's Welcome Interstate Managers. There are comparisons galore (Sloan, Crenshaw, The Hang Ups, Tim Easton), but Huxley makes it all his own. This is a genre that is derivative by nature, so when an artist can stay within a style and yet express himself so clearly, well, you should pay attention.

Huxley is certainly no newcomer, having made solo discs and produced and written songs for other artists since 1988. He's had a way with a hook from the beginning. A particularly strong songwriter, an above average singer, a hot shit guitar player: what else is there? Well, his arrangements are always interesting.

The hard-rocking title track kicks things off in fine style, a tribute to either nature or hallucinogens. Angelino is a fine riff rocker with a funny "becoming a star" lyric. Luckiest Man is a sweet love ballad that is neither cloying or trite. Buddha, Buddha has a fun lyric hung on a terrific song structure, and three great guitar leads, two from hot shot guests. And a fine Wurlitzer break from Daniel Clarke. Long Way To Go is a lonely road song that leads into a hot lead guitar.

Beautiful shuffles in for a nicely different take on a classic love song theme. A long look back at the thrills and chills of real life is the mid-tempo Roller Coaster, and it includes some super guitar from Huxley and another shining moment from keyboardist Clarke. A Feeling That Won't Fade Away is an airy, acoustic guitar driven soft rock that is a pleasant surprise. Huxley takes on everyone's reference, The Beatles, with Love Is The Greatest Thing, and manages to turn a Beatlesesque intro into a gutsy guitar rocker with a first rate hook-filled chorus. The CD ends with the closing ballad Turn The Soil, another long look at aging that is written to perfection.

The real difference here is the consistent song quality. Well, that and Huxley's many exceptional skills. Huxley has given us a CD that doesn't require any track skipping. Put it on and play the whole thing. An album, the old fashioned way.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Karrin Allyson In Blue 2002

There's been other just as recommendable Karrin Allyson records in the last twenty years, but none has found the perfect fit between songs and songstress as this one. And the band is choice, too. Mulgrew Miller (piano), Lewis Nash (drums), Peter Washington (bass), Danny Embrey (guitar) and Steve Wilson (saxophone) are all top notch, and Nick Phillips' production is flawless.

The songs are themed around the the album's title, but these aren't just torch songs. There's spritely work here, but it is all in the service of a late-night blues vibe that cooks like crazy and works consistently. Songs by Oscar Brown, Jr., Mose Allison, George and Ira Gershwin, Joni Mitchell, and Bobby Troup all share a perfect frame within these casual yet deep arraignments, and Allyson's subtle yet powerful delivery.

If you're unfamiliar with Karrin Allyson, you've missed one of today's finest jazz interpreters. She's got it going on in a serious way, with real jazz cred, and an approachable style that's as comfortable as an old shoe. Then it gets into you, and you're transported to a dark room late at night, and she's signing just for you.

After twelve years on the stereo, it still sounds fresh every time.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peter Tosh Equal Rights 1977

Anybody can make a list. Top ten, even top five (which is clearly a better choice than ten). I'm talking about going out on a limb here. Best Reggae record ever.

Now I know I should pick a Marley album, although for me number two is probably The Heptones Night Food, then maybe either a Marley record or Bunny Wailer's Blackheart Man. But when it comes right down to a perfect example of the Reggae form, Peter Tosh's Equal Rights is the bomb.

It opens with Tosh's version of Get Up, Stand Up, and this version wins on perfect hypnotic reggae rhythm and Tosh's soulful baritone. Downpressor Man follows, and it's another deep groove. I Am That I Am does it again, and then Stepping Razor finishes side one with an incredible quick-paced reggae with a threatening lyric that Tosh dares you not to believe, over a rhythm laid down by Sly and Robbie that is sheer perfection. "If you wanna live, treat me good, I'm like a stepping razor, I'm dangerous."

Side two breaks with Equal Rights, a slow jam with a fine political message, and another deep groove. The thing that makes this record so good is the instrumentation and the abundant talent and focus of the players. Tosh seems to evoke inspired performances from the entire troupe, and the little percussion effects everywhere and harmonies add layers on top of the already thick reggae stew. The band is built around Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's rhythm, with Al Anderson's guitar and Tyrone Downie's keyboards, and Bunny Wailer singing backups. Skully's additional percussion is perfect. African, Jah Guide, and Apartheid all continue the high quality (and politically charged) songwriting, singing and musicianship, making this a rare Reggae (or any other genre) record indeed, without a single weak track.

The grooves are as deep as James Brown's funk at it's seventies best. The recording is super. The sound is great. Tosh made some great records after this, and before with the Wailers, but this is the pinnacle of his work, and at least in my view, the best Reggae record ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band 1969

Over at My Husband's Stupid Record Collection, Sarah has gotten to Trout Mask Replica, the poor girl. There has been so much written about this record, and its genius, it is really very hard to believe.

I don't have much to add. If this record is a monumental leap forward into deconstructed, Dada-esque noise rock, so be it. That doesn't make it listenable, even as an academic study.

If it is a masterpiece, I don't get it. This can happen with any art form, and even within the music domain, there are other masterworks that elude my understanding.

Here's my take. The singer isn't very good. The rhythms change so often and so shockingly that they are almost impossible to keep up with, leaving the listener without an actual rhythm to follow. Forget melody. There are some, but they are unconventional at best. It might be hard to play music this bad, but I'm still unimpressed.

The best use of this record is to polarize people who are interested in music. Somewhere between "If you understood this music better you could appreciate it", and "Turn that crap off" lies the truth. Me, I turned that crap off a long time ago.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

David Crosby If Only I Could Remember My Name... 1971

David Crosby's solo debut has been hailed as a classic despite it's tepid initial sales and lackluster reviews. Today it stands as worthy, in some ways, of both the hype and the detractors.

There are vocal harmonies to die for, with Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell standing out. A fine blend of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana members providing solid backing and a few great jams. There's Crosby's writing, and this record contains examples of his better work, as well as some of the more slight. Dead-styled jams with a particularly hot Jorma Kaukonen, and Crosby's own rhythm guitar style that is at least unique, and perhaps also outstanding, and which frequently defines the jammy songs. Trippy, wordless vocals on two whole songs.

It is very much of it's time today. But if you can get through Music Is Love's sappy sentiment, and you should, because the vocals and the arrangement are spectacular, then the rest of side one is solid. Side two is hard to take by most standards. There are of course beautiful vocals, but in the service of pretty weak material.

So one great side. Not bad, really, but not quite a classic. It was very well made, and the recording is very nice. And Crosby is an exceptional singer. The good stuff is worth it, at least for some. And then there's that rare mix of Garcia and Kaukonen playing guitar together.