A Journey: Opus Collection Cat Stevens
Universal

Author:
Sophia A. Strosberg

Cat Stevens captures childlike-wonder in his songs without a backward glance. He’s being followed by a moon shadow, he sings out when he wants to sing out, he learns lessons from older men and studies the themes concerning younger ones. But though his spirit is uplifting and and his messages seem simplistic at first, he shuffles in untold layers of meaning. Not only do his vibrant words actually have multiple meanings, his melancholic voice lets us know that no matter how sassy his songwriting, he has thought long and hard about the implications of each song.

His conversion and later songwriting saw an even more ungaurded approach to music. He wrote and played anything he wanted. But Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam, he has a sincere style that frees us from our bars with naked hammers on his fretboard. With 13 classic Cat Stevens songs and three Yusuf Islam songs, A Journey shows us the many dimensions of not just a musical journey, but the personal journey of one creature of thought and sound.

Single of the Week: “Miles From Nowhere”

Editor’s Note: After his bout with tuberculosis, he emerged on the US scene with a knock-out. He delivers his romantic sentiments, simplistic homilies and hippy mysticism with an affecting, gentle, acoustic touch, having tons of hits. Now that he’s a Muslim, you’ll never hear him on the radio again, thanks to our severe fear of the Islam faith.

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Black Gives Way to Blue Alice in Chains
Virgin / EMI

Author:
Kyle McKinley

When a band puts out its first studio recordings in 14 years, and its only album since the death of its charismatic front man, it is beyond foolish to expect the tracks to blend into a previous oeuvre. And yet blending in is likely the great accomplishment ofBlack Gives Way to Blue. That brooding, minor key guitar work and carefully spaced rhythmic variation that Alice in Chains brought to the top of pop charts in the early ’90s is here, even if the opiate-fueled magic of those days evaporated well before the band disappeared from public life in 1997.

Most of the tracks will be of interest only to serious fans of the lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell, with the possible exception of the title track, where Alice in Chains is joined on piano by Elton John. An unexpected pairing to be sure, the song walks a fine line of sorrow in remembering the band’s lead vocalist and founder Layne Staley (who died in 2002). Such eulogizing (especially in the company of Sir Elton John) is all but guaranteed to sappy excesses and melancholia, but here manages to hearken to the great rock ballads of the late 1980s – fittingly the music that Staley, and Alice in Chains, came up through. –KM

Editor’s Note: Heavy metal was every bit as crucial an ingredient as punk in the mix of influences that became Seattle grunge. Though often underrated, next to more celebrated grunge progenitors, Alice in Chains slow-grind roar may be even more influential.

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Let’s Go!: That Rockabilly Rhythm Various Artists
Rhino / Warner

Author:
SAS

The rhythm is in the lovin’, the rhythm is in the pickin’, the rhythm is in the high-hat and in the swingin’ vocals. Let’s Go!: That Rockabilly Rhythm plays like a college radio introduction of rockabilly – you’ll have heard of about half of these artists, who may have identified in any number of ways during their peak productivity, but all fit under the umbrella of rockabilly. The theme of this album isn’t just a who’s who among rockabilly artists, it’s a party-music showdown.

As you listen to Let’s Go!, you’ll explore the questions of who will make you dance harder, who will make you misbehave with the most abandon and who will capture your heart. Keep an ear open for Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Sonny Burgess, Little Richard and others who not only got the 1950s hopping, but also dragged Generation Y out of their pop music rut and into the wonderful world of music from the heart.

Single of the Week: Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”

Editor’s Note: If rock and roll can be called the child of R&B and country music, no style is a purer blend than rockabilly. The first form of rock and roll performed by white musicians, its duration of mass popularity was brief, but the best of it remains among the most exciting and frenetic rock and roll ever waxed.

Best Album of the Week

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The Lost Atlanta Tapes Piano Red
Landslide / Select-O-Hits

Author:
kfm

The highly energetic R&B, blues and roots standards that Piano Red played in Atlanta juke-joints, bars and carnivals was likely notable in the 1930s and ’40s for his percussive phrasing and persuasive showmanship; after 1950 it was notable for breaking the race barrier in pop music and setting the stage for rock and roll. His 1950 single “Rockin’ With Red” made it to #5 on the Billboard R&B chart was the first recording by an African American artist to meet with commercial success outside of segregated “race records.” As such he stands as an important figure in the long struggle to acknowledge and accredit the central contribution of blues to rock.

The Lost Atlanta Tapes, which are issued from live recordings in 1984, witness a consummate blues man who, even at the age of 73, a year before his death, could light up a crowd. Though the tapes were never really lost, and probably rarely given a second thought, they bring a smile and some toe-tapping to anyone familiar with the variety of interpretations of these classic songs. -KM

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2nd Avenue No Justice
Carved

Author:
SAS

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No Justice, a country rock outfit from Oklahoma and Texas, isn't out there on the streets chanting “No Justice, No Peace!” or other such slogans. Rather, the band sings about the injustices of the broken heart, of the lost soul, of the nostalgic lover. These guys have finally started charting, four albums into their music career, and it absolutely makes sense that they have finally broken through: the choruses are poppy and the pop-rock and country mix appeals to college kids and contemporary country lovers alike.

The lyrics on 2nd Avenue aren’t exactly Shakespeare, but they are straightforward and sung with feeling. The little repeated guitar licks manage to suck you meditatively in like a Sting song, and Carved Records doesn't seem to have forced the band into any kind of pigeon-hole. Still, it will be exciting to see if No Justice can come up some more ways to express their obviously complicated love experiences.

Single of the Week: “2nd Avenue”

Artist to Watch

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Your Songs Harry Connick, Jr.
Columbia / Sony

Author:
SAS

Harry Connick, Jr., is schmaltzy yet lusty on this collection of familiar, adult-contemporary songs sung with his usual close-eyed longing. From “And I Love Her” by the Beatles to “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel, sweet piano love songs with atmospheric strings and touches of jazz guitar and brass create a mirage of kisses.

You’ll be wondering if Connick is really this sincere about love all the time – he sounds so sincere, yet it couldn’t be really true. Any of these love song collections could really use a couple of songs with just the tiniest bit of angst to break up the unwaveringly sweet sentiment of the album, but none of them do. So save this one for when you’ve just met the love of your life and you’re still in that honeymoon phase – you’ll feel each track is speaking to you personally.

Single of the Week: “All the Way”

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The Beat Club Sessions Rory Gallagher
Capo / Strange / Eagle Rock

Author:
SAS

Known for a stage presence strong enough to creep into this audio recording, Rory Gallagher wails and rails with his guitar, creating a charismatic retrospective of the blues beast who died before his time, in spite of, or perhaps from the same passion that inspired his beautiful playing. With The Beat Club Sessions, you will dive directly into the heart of his style with solos that are lead the drums even in rhythmic pressure and a voice that rings with the his Irish-guy-come-British-invasion abandon.

Rory Gallagher is much less talked about than other similar-sounding artists of the time, perhaps because his bands never took off. But under his solo efforts, his guitar playing thrived and soared above and around his fantastic backup musicians' playing. Slide and electric guitars are all cohesively fuzzed and raked and scamper over in a style that works - and only works - when played by one with so much talent.

Editor’s Note: One of the most aggressive guitarists in the blues-rock genre, the late Rory Gallagher’s style wasn’t diluted by changing musical tastes and attitudes.

                       

Late but Great

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The Loving Kind Nanci Griffith
Rounder

Author:
SAS

Nanci Griffith had writer’s block all through the Bush years because she felt that there was nothing to hope about – the situation just seemed too desperate. However, she was inspired by the election of Obama and has begun a new outpouring of personal and political folk-country songs on The Loving Kind. She writes about the famous Loving v. Virginiainterracial marriage case, Lyndon B. Johnson, Obama’s election as well as more typical (but always conscious) country songs about love and life changes.

While it may be that her political fervor is misplaced – writing about presidents seems to be a useless endeavor, as all of them are corrupt in the end – her sentiment is truly echoed by many U.S. citizens. Nationalism, hope and a sense of humor all leave their marks on the album. Nanci Griffith has been a part of country and folk history since the late 1970s and it’s good to know she’s back in the saddle.

Editor’s Note: Striving the fine line between folk and country music, Nancy Griffith has become as well-known for her brilliant confessional songwriting as her beautiful voice. A self-styled “folkabilly” singer, she is a legend in my world. In fact, whenever she was in New York City, years ago, I would go to all of her shows, meeting her a couple of times and, goddamn, wish I had asked her to marry me.

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Women and Children Last Murderdolls
Roadrunner / Warner

Author:
SAS

Shock-rock is to music what horror films are the movies, and it’s surprising that more people don't go in for it, because it seemed like 28 Days Later was the hottest thing out there for a while. In fact, music seems capable of taking the shock value even further than movies, making it more prime for our repressed and oppressed population. Murderdolls talks about the creepiest stuff, blood and guts being a cheap commodity throughout the entirety of Women and Children Last.

As far as the song writing goes, the stuff is quality. The production is quality. The vocals fit snugly into their oozing lyrics like a knife in your heart. It’s a pretty clever concept, created by guys who claim to be from functional families. It’s Gwar without the goofiness, it’s Marilyn Manson without the politics, it’s pretty stupid, but if you are an understimulated dude you'll find this to be the best in its class.

 

Mighty Mighty

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Live in Louisville Carrie Rodriguez
Luz Music / Mood Indigo

Author:
SAS

Dark and ringing, with pretty electric mandolin chiming and throaty vocals singing the urban youth experience, Live in Louisvillemanages to tear up your chest and get at your heart as Carrie Rodriguez and her band tear it up on the stage. Rodriguez is big in indie circles. The country girl from Texas was discovered at the SXSW festival in Austin, and she has all the aesthetically hip sounds known to bustle around that music scene.

This live album is a huge treat for lovers of indie bluegrass as a minor-keyed, rockabilly rendition of “Blackberry Blossom” pops in among the trippy cymbals and Courtney-Love-esque moaning. Great British folk-revival strains also seep into the mix with nice long, scratchy fiddle riffs. Thanks to Lucinda Williams for having Rodriguez open for her on that night in 2007.

Editor’s Note: What can I say except that Carrie Rodriguez is as good as they come.

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James Brown, The Singles Volume 9 (1973-1975) James Brown
Hip-O-Select / Polydor

Author:
SAS

James Brown was a sexual funkster who influenced several generations to the core. Born of the soul music of the 1950s and rising to the occasion of disco and beyond, Brown has been around the block, working with, influencing and drawing inspiration from artists as varied as David Bowie and Afrika Bambaataa. The Singles Vol. 9 (1973-1975) reaches into an important period of James Brown history, as time when his politicization was beginning to show and his funk game was at its height, perched between rock, R&B and dance music.

Enjoy cuts including “Stoned to the Bone,” “Damn Right, I Am Somebody,” “Thank You for Lettin' Me Be Myself, And You Be Yours,” “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” and “Dead on It.” Perfect at dance parties but necessary for the education of your children, The Singles is not to be missed, especially not these vital years in Brown’s career.

Single of the Week: “Sex Machine, Part 1 and Part 2”

Editor’s Note: James Brown, by any real measure of musical greatness – endurance, originality, versatility, breadth of influence – he’s better than anybody. All his albums are great, and all are worth hearing. The late James Brown boasted that his best ideas were years ahead of their time, and history has borne him out.

Let the Good Times Roll

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A Collection of My Best Recollection: George’s Most Memorable Hits George Jones
Cracker Barrel / Universal

Author:
SAS

George Jones’s A Collection of My Best Recollectionadds two previously unreleased tracks to ten of Jones’s big hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Affectionately referred to as “the Possum,” Jones was amongst the generation of honky-tonk and country-and-western singers that included such luminaries as Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and was well poised to bring the blues-tinged stylings of Texan drinking holes to the wide white audiences that these stylings have enjoyed ever since. And though Jones’s reputation for heavy drinking and cocaine use was as much a part of his public persona as it was for Cash or Jennings, Jones’s proclivity for antics was always tempered by the essentially conservative complacency that we hear throughout his quintessential Nashville Sound.

It is that same conservatism that makes this record – a promotional release for exclusive sale at cash registers of Cracker Barrel restaurants across America – make so much sense. If you enjoy Cracker Barrel, you are likely to enjoy George Jones, and vice-versa. That goes equally for the previously unreleased tracks included here, which are variants on folk standards but played and produced with precision and pith. -KM

Editor’s Note: George Jones is the greatest pure singer in country music, with a remarkably clear and pliant voice, and an astonishing vocal technique. But just as important is how profoundly Jones has bound himself to country music tradition, which for him, is the religion that saved his life.

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To the Teeth Ani DiFranco
Righteous Babe

Author:
SAS

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To the Teethcame out in 1999, after Ani DiFranco had already had her popular breakthrough. However, she managed to make this one as political as her other stuff, less self-conscious than other albums leading up to this one, and ringing with an echoing realness that proved she wouldn’t fall into the oblivion of typical studio production style.

 

Lots of guest appearances, including by Maceo Parker and Price, add unexpected interest to the album, as do experimental guitar techniques and effects. Jazzy in instrumentation and voice, the album could be known for its folk-jazz fusion alone. But then Ani shines through as usual, with her pointed lyrics that frankly state, often in complete sentences, her sentiments about the f-ed up state of the world and about the oddness of life in general. But she never leaves you in a rut, because somehow she manages to make us laugh at ourselves.

 

Single of the Week: “Wish I May”

 

Political Album of the Week

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For All We Know José James and Jef Neve
Impulse! / Verve / Universal

Author:
SAS

These two dapper musicians—José James crooning and Jef Neve on the ivories—create a beautiful vocal jazz sound that’s anything but trite. They deal in half-steps and longing, leaving time for you to dream, eyes closed, about your lost muse in the quietude between melodic piano trailings.

James has only been on the scene for a couple of years, and his effort on “For All We Know” with Neve shows his growing maturity and makes us wonder if the two will continue making music together in the future. The two make an incredible pair, doing the traditional jazz thing but with a self-consciousness that allows you to identify with the music. They fearlessly venture into the world of minor keys to express in music what can never be fully said in words.

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Tumblin’ Home US 32
Anthony Avenue

Author:
SAS

Married couple Michael and Christy Kline let us in on their personal chemistry with their musical project US 32. Country twang, complete with that rural accent, fiddle, banjo and an ever-steady rhythm carried you through each story-song. These stories are ones that you will relate to in your own everyday way – the struggles of credit cars and cards, the tales of family history and family struggles.

Tumblin’ Homereally does make you come tumblin’ home; it’s like a family performance in your living room, except that the music is put together and practiced, and the lyrics are complete and thought out. It’s bring tears to your eyes with its sheer cuteness, even if US 32 isn’t on Clear Channel yet.

New Album of the Week

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Truth or Dare Automatic Loveletter
Sin / Red / Sony

Author:
SAS

Fashionism has finally become a genre of music. If its audio is taken alone, Automatic Loveletter appeals to the part of you that craves the return of Heart mixed with the part of you that doesn’t shrink away from Florida pop-punk in horror. The cigarette-strewn voice of Juliet Simms comes through like that of a woman beyond her 24 years, perhaps because we are so used to hearing her style of singing coming from the heavy rock divas of the 1980s. The drums are hipstery, though, and the guitar effects a fascinating study of the cycles of musical trends.

However, Juliet – or else Sony Records – has decided that her American Apparel appeal ought to be made unavoidable, perhaps in an effort to assure some of the younger kids that this kind of ’80s-sounding music is, indeed cool. She has a small pinup that unfolds behind the lyrics, and her youthful appearance somehow makes the whole thing just too explicit. However, all in all, the music is good. A live performance would probably be really fun, and if it weren’t for Juliet trying so hard to make her voice scratchy and get her tattoos under the spotlight, the whole album would rise significantly in integrity. Note that Juliet’s brother Tommy is also in the band, adding a few cuteness points.

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Powder Blue Bone The Problems
Muse Sick

Author:
SAS

The Big Apple seems to be able to produce these amazing blends of musical style just as all the different kinds of people there mingle and blend into the pulsating mass of life packed into that Atlantic corner. The same thing is happening in a microcosm on Powder Blue Bone. Speaking blues, old punk, traditional country and somehow, British invasion rock, all work their ways into the album, sometimes all at once in a song.

The result is delightful, as the two guys, two gals and handful of guests make their electrocoustic dreams come true. The highlights are the interplay between the banjo and electric guitar solos, the times when female vocals join the male lead singer’s, the surprise visits by accordion and other surprising instruments and the interest held in the candidly sensual lyrics.

So Nice Gotta Do It Up Twice!(created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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Tonight I Ride Tom Corbett
Roundhole

Author:
sas

Western is the theme of this release by mandolinist and guitarist Tom Corbett. Once he got the idea that he wanted to make a Western album, he expanded the project to include a huge number of musical guests including Nina Gerber, Bill Knopf, Herb Pedersen and more than a dozen others.

The outcome is fun and slightly raucous. Everything – love, travel, trouble, childhood – are all filtered through the dusty roads of the West. The places include the Mexico-U.S. border, Arizona, Texas, California, Wyoming and the other Western states. The music itself is fantastic, in large part thanks to the stellar guests on the album, but also because of Corbett’s creativity and because of the possibilities opened by Western music as a genre. Tonight I Ridewas inspired by the concepts of liberation that go along with the myth of the American West, and may or may not be informed by reality. Why don’t you go out West and decide for yourself?

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Seeing Eye Dog Helmet
Work Song

Author:
SAS

Helmet began in New York on the art-rock tip of the heavy metal-grunge scene. Mired in hard street drugs, and with a mature sound that many of the other scooped up bands from that time lacked, Helmet’s music thrived for a while. However, on Helmet’s recent works, which include an almost complete turnover of bandmates, the magic that was wrought by the original members just isn’t there, in spite of continuous lead singer Page Hamilton’s best efforts.

This latest release may be just an excuse for the band to go on tour again. But the real Helmet angst is still present on Seeing Eye Dogand, if anything, the frivolous character of the album adds some interest to the mood. The cover of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” is evidence of Helmet’s attempts to do something fresh and different from the usual. Growing up is hard to do, but sometimes the harder things are, the better the music. Don’t let it get too easy, Helmet.

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Cry Till You Laugh Terri Hendrix
Wilory

Author:
SAS

A woman and her harmonica are a guarantee of fun, and Terri Hendrix is not the exception. She likes full sounds, layered vocals, picked banjo mingling with chopping drum, touches of jazz. She’s a good girl, and at times seems not to see the roughness of the world, even way she pays it lip service. But upon a deeper listening, you hear that she’s not all that removed from the blues side of life. Perhaps hopeful in her music-making is actually a result of her focus on the blues offstage, hence the title of this recording, Cry Till You Laugh.

The harmonica throughout the album is used in an unusual way, because it is integrated into contemporary country rock as another instrument that is supposed to fit into the scheme of the music, rather than being featured on top of a blues guitar. Additionally, there are several tracks that are a great interpretation of New Orleans swing. These are the height of the album, as they both giving something more exciting than the usual country-rock and showcase Hendrix’s strong, round voice.

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Listening Booth: 1970 Marc Cohn
Saguaro Road

Author:
SAS

The year 1970 is now being explored by Marc Cohn, the fellow who danced out in 1991, wrote “Walking in Memphis,” and between then and now continued in the adult contemporary vein for four more studio albums. Now, he brings us Listening Booth, in which his favorite 1970 songs are explored in a slow, swooning manner, complete with acoustic guitar, simple piano and lullaby-like production.

Even upbeat songs like “After Midnight” by J.J. Cale are given the slow treatment. We basically get to see an alternate path that the year 1970 could have taken, with the same lyrics and sentiments but a complete lack of rock and roll. The mellow album shows that Marc Cohn has good taste in music and knows his 1970, and we get to hear it in all its romantic potential. It also proves that Cohn remains an unapologetic adult contemporary artist to the max. Listening Booth: 1970includes covers of Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, John Lennon, Van Morrison and others.

Editor’s Note: Marc Cohn has been plagued by the eternal success of his breakthrough single, “Walking in Memphis,” which still stands as his most deserving achievement. Bitter-sweet clouds, however, have covered his recent releases, which attempted the impossible feat of making everyday bourgeois boredom look tragic, or even interesting.

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