Thursday, February 27, 2014


Here's a surprising album.  Lake Street Dive comes out of Boston, and has been treading the boards for several years, before a breakthrough performance on the Showtime broadcast of the Celebration of the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis concert, where they came close to stealing the show.  Since then it's been all the big TV shows and Rolling Stone's band to watch, etc.  But what's surprising is how basic this is.  Basic, in the best way.

What you have is r'n'b, pop, soul, big harmonies, essentially 70's music.  Killer vocals, especially lead singer Rachael Price, kinda smoky, kinda jazzy.  And of all things, there's not a hint of studio in the music;  no effects, no ambient washes, no great amounts of gizmos, it's about as clean as you'll hear.  Just singers and musicians doing what they're supposed to, without using anything to make them artificially better.

That's not to say there aren't overdubs and such, it's just back to the basics of classic record-making, and they sounds great. Bobbie Tanqueray is bubbly, almost girl-group 60's, a warning about a bad character, and tons of harmonies.  The title cut is tough-luck soul, an excellent lyric about a woman who bought a camera to take pictures of her love, who then dumps her, and now "I'm taking landscapes, I'm taking still lifes, I'm taking bad self portraits of a lonely woman."  Seventeen has Jackson Five verses and then dirty Prince guitar all over the chorus.  This is just one fun, smart album, made by talented folks.  Remember those?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The venerable psychobillies umpteenth album, still growing strong, and possibly better than ever?  After all, Jim Heath and company have been doing this long enough to know what works, and how to keep it fresh.  Plus, he keeps coming up with great lyric ideas, and an endless supply of tremendous riffs.

The key is that there aren't many rockabilly bands around, and it's always fun to dip your toe back in, especially with such an incendiary bunch.  With all the energy of punk, but with chops galore, you can have your thrash and still marvel at the quality playing.  

Heath also knows the right level of double-entendre to use.  The instant classic here is Let Me Teach You How To Eat, which never crosses the line, but lets you know its one big metaphor:  "How to marinate the meat/let me teach how to eat."  But it's not all jokes; Schizoid is his commentary on all the kids today being prescribed drugs for any number of anxieties that might just be part of growing up.  Basic love ballads aren't part of his repertoire. Intense rocking is. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Is there any more of an unlikely blues player than Sugar Brown?  Sure, he has the blues name (and he earned it), but his real one is Ken Chester Kawashima, the son of a Japanese father and Korean mother, who was born in Ohio, schooled in Chicago, and now in Toronto.  Schooled in both ways; he was going to university by day, and hitting Chicago blues clubs at night, soaking up the influences and playing with local luminaries.  Torn two ways, he then went on to get a Ph.D. in Asian studies, living in Tokyo and NYC, and now teaches at U of T.  But he's also just made the rawest, most legit blues album of the year.

Steeped in the gritty, authentic sounds picked up in Chicago, Brown turned to Montreal harp player and studio owner Bharath Rajkumar, along with drummer Ben Caissie, and recorded the album live off the floor, into a mono tape machine.  This primitive set-up amounted to a haphazard mix, off-mic vocals, plenty of over-modulation, and in other words, just what the first electric blues sounded like.  Brown is a growler, sounds like he's 60 and a keen smoker, and would win any bar fight with a broken bottle.  This album isn't about the hot new blues sound, it's about raw, dirty, direct, simple.

The influences are the right ones; opening instrumental Fishman's Blues, an Elmore James number, here gets a taste of Freddie King's Hideaway in Brown's guitar line.  Before The Law, the first of several Brown-written numbers, has Bo Diddley all over it, right down to the maracas.  If you want old, there's folk blues in the traditional John Henry, and a sleazy take on Muddy's Rollin' and Tumblin'.  If you want new and different, he's probably the only artist to ever cover The Velvet Underground's Run, Run, Run as a blues number (which it is, if you listen close).

Brown's own songs are highlighted by some stirring, emotional numbers about his father's passing.  Grim Reaper, Sad Day, and Two O'Clock all reference it, and all sound like those mournful numbers that formed the saddest of all blues songs.  Sugar Brown knows the blues, is the blues.  He's the 2013 winner of the Toronto Blues Society's Talent Search, and Lord help me if this isn't up for a bucket of Maple Blues Awards next time.

Monday, February 24, 2014


It's interesting to look back at what started the whole alt-country movement, at least in popular terms.  Nobody really talked about a scene that was building in the late 80's, although it was definitely there.  Many rock fans were starting to get into some honest country sounds, although still with a rock attitude; everybody from Blue Rodeo and Cowboy Junkies up north, to the coolness of Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle from the U.S.  But then came a scene, that got called No Depression (after this album), and at various times Americana or alt-country or roots music.  Lots of different sounds got lumped in, but the starting point was much more intense.

Uncle Tupelo, from St. Louis, did get the thing moving with this landmark debut.  The power trio had two writers and singers in guitar player Jay Farrar and bassist Jeff Tweedy, and along with drummer Mike Heidorn made a heck of a noise.  It was at a time when country-rock still had a bad taste to it for many, based on too many Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd clones.  But there were others who had heard the old promise of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and also like their rock really raw.  Uncle Tupelo proved the two could mesh.  They wrote intense songs with punk energy, alternative college flavour (think early R.E.M.), but with country moments in the calm parts.  Banjo and mandolin could be heard when the volume lowered, there was a twang in the vocals, and rough-edged, rural themes all through it.  

Drinking was referenced in most songs, hard drinking for hard times.  Bible images showed up too, these guys knew why they were scared of their own attitudes.  But the biggest moment of all came from an off-the-wall cover, reaching back to the very dawn of country music, The Carter Family's original No Depression In Heaven, a fire and brimstone look at the dirty 30's, where the only hope people had was death and a better after live.  Just by this very reference, the genre was born.  A fanzine for the band, with the same title came next, and then quickly one of the best music magazines ever came from that, with the No Depression website still going strong.  Still covering the bands that came out of Uncle Tupelo's split too, Farrar's Son Volt, and Tweedy's Wilco.

This two-disc set offers a ton of demos, including the famous cassette, Not Forever, Just For Now, recorded the year before No Depression, pretty much the template for the album.  You get to hear just what caused all the excitement, as this was the tape that got the band named Best Unsigned Band in the States, from the influential College Music Journal.  Rolling Stone jumped on board too, and soon other bands emerged, such as The Jayhawks.  Listening back to the demos, it's surprising how much the band had figured out, and in fact the early versions are even more country, the go-for-broke guitar and volume hadn't been amped up to 11 yet.  The other interesting thing is just how explosive alt-country was at the start.  They'd blow Mumford and Sons out of the water, and you can certainly trace a direct line from this to all the roots-trad-folk-whatever that has come since.  Grab this deluxe version, for not only is it historically important, it's still a damn good, loud album.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Who knew what to expect from Beck this time out?  He's never quite the same, and this is unlike any other album he's made.  Lush and quiet, the dominate instruments are acoustic guitar, strings, and voice.  Even his singing is new, soft and doubled, with sweet harmonies and a higher range, it's airy and dreamy, Pink Floyd as folk music.

Lyrics float by, songs about morning and moon and light, but the singing has more to say than the words.  I'm sure there are meanings in there, but this is all about the sound, and mostly the sound of his voice.  Hearing his lines drift off skyward in harmony and echo, sweetened by the string arrangements, piano, banjo or whatever fits the mix, is the highlight.  The collection of songs is cohesive, all from the same cloth, all things of beauty.  A couple of numbers do stand out, including Blackbird Chain, with its simple acoustic chords giving away to a kind of late 60's revival at its calmest, a little McCartney and a little CSN.  Heart Is A Drum rolls along with a couple of Becks singing harmony, with rich bass (Stanley Clarke!) and some backwards loops dropping in and out.

The closest Beck's been to this type of music in the past has been the Sea Change album, but he didn't get this specific with the sounds, or carry it through so fully.  And it's also surprising to hear so much emphasis on the vocals, from him or anyone.  A beautiful collection.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Dawson could have called this "So You Think You Can Play Guitar", but he's probably much too humble for that.  The renowned player and producer has been behind, and in front of some of the best roots albums made in Canada (Zubot & Dawson, Jim Byrnes, Roxanne Potvin, The Sojourners, Old Man Luedecke), including his own, but this time it's hands-on, and only hands.  The all-acoustic, all-instrumental album shows Dawson as not just a tremendous player, but a tremendously soulful one.  Words and voice would only clutter the message and emotion pouring out of these melodies.  As much as you have to admire the jaw-dropping dexterity, it's best just to sit back and be transported.  There's a story in every number, whether he's chattering away with the finger-picking, or pointing skywards with the slide.

Close-mic'ed to get every subtle harmonic, means you get the occasional little noise too, an extra knock on the wood or clatter on the strings, but it hardly matters, it's the experience of a one-take, beautiful performance.  Fans of the genre will hear the old bluesmen, or the best of the folk players, but there's lots of modern too, changes and attitudes that come from growth and exploring, very much today.  Yes, it's an acoustic guitar fan's dream, but it's much more for whatever you need.  Meditative at times, explosive at others, you can easily get lost in its winding path, wonder where an hour went, and wonder why you are suddenly uplifted.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Benmont Tench has been a rock to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers since the mid-70's, and just as valuable to dozens of other projects, as a highly-desired session player.  However, he's always been in the background, a real quiet one.  So the big question here is, what kind solo album will he make?  No surprise, it's relatively quiet, but in a very good, mellow way.  Tench is not a grand vocalist, more gravelly than anything, so the laid back approach works best.  As you could expect, the strengths here are the sound, the melodies, and the knowledge of how to package a song well.

He's written the bulk of the tracks here, including the lyrics, aside from a couple of piano mood instrumentals, and a couple of Dylan covers.  Dylan is the biggest influence, the latter-day gruff chronicler, lots of description pouring out over a sharp band.  Of course, Tench has lots of famous pals ready to pay back; his boss Petty joins on electric bass, while Don Was handles upright bass on the mellower numbers.  Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch are in for some harmonies and acoustics along the way, as is Ryan Adams, and even Ringo Starr shows up for some tasty, audible tambourine.  But it's the keys that dominate, whether Tench's bright piano, or rootsy, Garth Hudson-influenced organ.

Given the laid-back vibe, there are still a couple of decent rockers, including You Should Be So Lucky, certainly the one that most conjures up the Heartbreakers, with its put-down "you should be so lucky that I would give a fuck."  It's the easy feel that wins though, with Blonde Girl, Blue Dress the best of them, no brilliant lyrical statement but a cozy, sunny day number with Welch sweetening up the proceedings, and Tench filling with great organ.  Like his entire career, this ain't flashy, but it's classy.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Winnipeg's Barber has been one of the bright lights in the roots-folk world with his first three albums, taking influence from his Prairie roots, updating traditions by telling stories of the new reality of working lives these days.  His characters have a foot in the past with connections to the land and small towns, but deal with modern jobs and troubles too.  That continues here, but now he's closer than ever to actual country songs.  About half the cuts here put him in that ball park, although not the polished one of Top 40 country thankfully.  It's catchy stuff, with lots of pedal steel from co-producer Bill Western (what a name), without bringing in the rock production.  Name-dropping Prairie map points, we go from Qu'Appelle to Jasper, as he tells us "I've always had a hard time walking in a straight line."

There's a trade-off to be made as he gets away from folk lyrics, his strength, to the more down-home and upbeat stuff.  Barber tries to tread the fine line between simple, heartfelt numbers and corny lyrics.  We get the story of Peter And Jenny Lee, a love affair between the front desk clerk and the cleaner, which is just too sappy:  "She was rolly and polly and able/he hired her under the table".  Country Girl is so simplistic its inconsequential,  "Walkin' downtown with a country girl on my arm," over a bouncy beat.

But Barber shows his deft writing chops on the big city versus. small town upbringing, Big Smoke:  "We used to fly through the woods on the back of quarter horses," not surprisingly a reflective piece that sees him back on the roots side.  There's a lot more meat on the bones on that one, or Yellowhead Road, where a young man makes a drastic mistake, agreeing to smuggle drugs in his 18-wheeler.  I'm not somebody with a problem with country music, and love lots of it, but some of these tunes just seem dumbed down, which doesn't have to happen in country.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Neil Finn`s career after leaving Crowded House (the first time) has been hard to pin down and enjoy.  Solo albums, a reunion with the House, various side projects with family members and all-star collectives have all yielded primarily mellow mood music and a lack of the straight-forward pop gems that gained him McCartney comparisons and a beloved status among fans.  In short, where`s the hits?

There's probably nothing on here that will change that, but the good news is it's a fascinating album, unlike any he's done in the past.  Teaming up with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev), Finn gains a lot of the other-worldly textures from that console man, and truly stretches out in several directions.  There are several groove songs, best described as soul music, such as Flying In The Face Of Love, a bouncy first single that nods to later Curtis Mayfield, fun and funky and rich.  Elsewhere, tracks are heavily orchestrated, delicious big string sounds, real ones it should be noted.  White Lies and Alibis moves into Peter Gabriel territory.  But then the album takes a big left turn, introducing the strangest song Finn's ever done, and just as equally successful.  Divebomber is a dream fantasy about flying, complete with airplane sound effects, choral parts, hazy moments, passages sung in a croaky falsetto, more orchestra, and whistling.  It's hypnotic and melodic and modern and a joyous departure from the norm.

Lyrically, Finn's no longer dealing with the basic verse-chorus, love song sentiments that he mastered back then, but that loss is now replaced with broader concepts.  Recluse looks at most of us, stuck behind whatever screens we're addicted to:  "It's people that stay at home/we're watching A Game Of Thrones."  Strangest Friends could be a Bowie lyric, people seeming like aliens.  This is certainly not the album anyone could have expected, as Finn has taken his game to dizzying heights.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


On an album that begins "We touched beneath our skin, right down to the bare wires," and is filled with lots of mechanized and angular, machine-made music, there's a surprising warmth to Too True.  That's mostly due to singer/writer/sole member Dee Dee's passionate readings of her dark lyrics.  The more danceable tunes see her recall sweet Debby Harry;  the darker ballads have the beauty of Johnette Napolitano's L.A.-noire of Concrete Blonde.

Along with producers Richard Gottehrer and Sune Rose Wagner (Wagner plays much of the music), Dee Dee has a blend of New Wave, synth-dance, shoegaze and decadence.  Evil Blooms is a bouncy 80's track, programmed drums up front, but some serious guitar behind, ending in a My Bloody Valentine bit of squeal.  Rimbaud Eyes is a sweet croon, with a dark threat lurking behind.  She's going to make us move, even when the subject matter is pretty bleak, or at least searching.  Lost Boys And Girls Club has "the void in my head, the hole in my heart, I fill them with things which all fall apart."  And in Trouble Is My Name, it's "I had a vision, I wanted to be dead."  I hope all this ultimately pleasing music helps keep the visions at bay.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


A concept album of sorts, but not a heavy-handed one.  Cash has a live-long, on-again, off-again connection to the South.  She was born there, after all, but moved to L.A. when her father got successful.  Then it was back and forth for summers and such, and periods of living there when her own career got going.  But it's always been a rocky relationship, loving but then leaving.

She's been in New York for a couple of decades now, but a series of trips to the South reignited her passion for the region, and a set of stories and coincidences emerged.  While there's no direct line from start to finish, the songs are all about her relationship to the region, from people she knows to family history.  Mostly, they are a batch of lovely songs.  Etta's Tune alone is a heart-warmer, two of her oldest friends, Marshall Grant. bassist of her dad's Tennessee Two, and his wife Etta, and their 65-year love.  Opening line "What's the temperature darling?" was what they would say to each other each morning after waking.  The Sunken Lands is about the area the poverty-stricken Cash family was given in the 30's to scrape together a living.  When The Master Calls is a Civil War ballad, inspired by a genealogy search that showed the Cash family had relatives who fought on both the Union and Rebel sides.  Each number has rich subject matter, each interesting on its own, no need to force a story line out of the whole piece.

What really makes it work though is the rich sound of the piece.  Produced and co-written with her husband, John Leventhal, there's a rich and warm feel to each song.  While ballads dominate, they also have a groove to them, acoustic soul music. Check out the strings and guitar solo in the bonus cut Your Southern Heart, an update of Dusty in Memphis.  And of course, Cash's voice is simply superb, this album the sonic equal to her last, hugely-loved The List.  I'd go for the deluxe version, with a hard-bound cover, a book with explaining notes, and three extra tracks, because this feels like a deluxe album, and that's how you should own it.

Monday, February 10, 2014


The key to a good movie soundtrack is how the music makes you feel while you see the action.  The key to a good soundtrack album, well that's completely different.  Some cuts fit the footage and plot just right, but don't really come off well in a compilation of tracks.  Listening is a lot different.  I'm not suggesting that filmmakers should keep this as a priority when choosing their music, it's just that sometimes both seem to work together better than others.  Most soundtracks I get have at least a couple of cuts that I could do without.

This one works as a great listen.  No surprise, since it's Martin Scorsese, who knows how to find great and obscure music, as well as classic cuts and surprising choices.  Also on board is Robbie Robertson as Executive Music Producer, a vet of most of Marty's films since they met at The Last Waltz.

I haven't seen the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle yet, so I can't comment on the song usage, but the tunes go from cool jazz to classic Chicago blues, Bo Diddley to Billy Joel.  And good Billy Joel, Movin' Out.  There's not much I'd call pop or modern rock, aside from the always fun Never Say Never by Romeo Void, and The Lemonheads' scorching take on Mrs. Robinson.  There's some primal blues, nothing rare in Elmore James' Dust My Broom or Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightning, but those are two cuts that are impossible to tire of, of top pedigree.

On the surprise side, the closer is an instrumental by Allan Toussaint, Cast Your Fate To The Wind, truly inspirational.  Equally nice is the Ahmed Jamal Trio's version of the chestnut Moonlight In Vermont.  Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are tapped for their cover of Goldfinger, perhaps not as exciting as you'd hope, as Jones sings it more subtly than the great Shirley Bassey version, and I guess it's a song that really needs to be over-the-top.  But that's a minor complaint in this all-round excellent collection, which is like listening to a smart and hip late-night DJ.

Friday, February 7, 2014


This album was due last year, but was put on hold while Jones battled cancer.  Now, wonderfully, she has a clean bill of health, back in business, and business is good.  One of the premiere soul  acts of our time, Jones and Co. continue to mine the classic 60's sounds, with just enough modern touches to belong in this time as well.  Opener Retreat! has a great girl-group sound, The Supremes as if produced by Phil Spector.  But the Daptone Records pay-off is in the glorious arrangement with brilliant horns and bells, awash in big echo.  Things get funkier on Stranger To My Happiness, a soulful strut, Jones telling it like it is, this time with everyone playing and singing sharp, sassy lines.

It's hard to overstate how integral the horns are to these songs, certainly one of the joys of the Dap-Kings records, but all the parts contribute to the joy for soul fans.  The background vocals hit perfectly, answering Jones' lead lines like horn stabs of their own, in the Curtis Mayfield-styled We Get Along.  Lead guitar licks are short and sweet fills, finding the right spots in between horns and vocals.  Pushing it all is the wonderful Daptone rhythm section, sleek and tight, as well-oiled as the fabled Funk Brothers, from bass to bongos.  And before anyone says retro, no 60's act had the great separation and depth of listening field found here, modern production just giving us more opportunity to hear the instruments in their full clarity.  Glad to have you back, Ms. Jones, and so quickly.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Hey, when did Badfinger get back together?  Since that's an impossibility, somebody else must be behind this smooth, intricate pop.  Turns out that when John Stirratt and Pat Sansone aren't on the road or recording with their main band Wilco, they have this going on as a side project. Seems I've been missing out, too.  This is album number five, over a decade of tours and sessions stuck in between the rather frantic pace of Wilco's schedule.

There are of course lots of other similar side projects, but few are as completely polished as this is.  Usually they are just vehicles for music vets to let off a little steam, but great work and attention to detail has gone into this album.  While I hear Badfinger, it's really a love letter to late 60's-early 70's pop of many influences, especially acoustic rock with thick harmonies and glossy arrangements.  There are several tracks with minor key mellow verses that then blossom into heavenly choruses.  The group also strays near the power pop line on the most uptempo tunes, including None Of This Will Matter.

The group's playing some live dates for this new album, and hopefully will become less of a secret and gain more of a cult following at least.  Those who have discovered them know a good thing; their out-of-print, decade-old debut is selling for big bucks online, $78 and such.  In other words, we got us a cool band here.

Monday, February 3, 2014


A pair of four-disc boxes to celebrate the Queen and King, during their golden years, on Atlantic and Stax, respectively.  There are bigger and more sumptuous boxes out there, with booklets and better packaging, but the point here is to get all the great music, at a more affordable price.  In this case, it's around forty bucks each, pretty good for five hours of legendary stuff.  Virtually all of Redding's recorded output is here, given his early passing, and really Aretha hasn't done much since leaving Atlantic in 1976, sadly.  No dispute on her title as Queen of Soul of course, nobody touches her for that, and all the proof is here.  With Otis, there are more contenders, and it would be hard to argue against Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, or James Brown, but I notice the Redding Family Trust has wisely incorporated the name The King Of Soul, so Otis wins in the courts anyway.

Redding's remarkable story and voice was cut short after a blazing mid-60's run, but he left a hundred or so tracks, thanks to the prolific recording standards of the day.  In addition to 45 and album sides, the compilers do a nice thing here, bundling up several cuts from his fiery live albums, Live In Europe and In Person At The Whisky-a-Go-Go.  These perfectly show what an explosive vocalist he was.  He blasts onto the stage in Europe with his Respect, simply one verse and chorus repeated several times, before knocking them back again with Can't Turn You Loose.  Then he actually builds the tension up more, with a ballad, with his amazing vocal on I've Been Loving You To Long (To Stop Now), shaking the rafters as he reaches for the high note, singing "..I try.....".  Behind him, the brilliant Booker T and the MG's match his energy, wisely hitting the road for the most important dates.  So, two good chunks of live music, plus all his solid hits, including six numbers from his album with Carla Thomas, King & Queen.

The trouble with his claim to the throne is also here, as we go deeper into this album cuts.  It was common for most artists, especially in soul, to do their own versions of current hits of the day by their rivals, so we get Otis doing Smokey (My Girl), some Brown and Charles, and a bunch of Cooke.  With the covers, sometimes he could make them his own, but other times, he simply relied on singing in his really big over-the-top voice to make his mark.  Some are brilliant adaptations, like his stomping take on Satisfaction, but when he tries Day Tripper by The Beatles, well it's a more subtle song than he delivers.  With only a few albums to choose from, the four-disc set does get some filler.  Sadly, Redding was starting to move away from simply astounding belting when he died.  As Dock Of The Bay, and some of the album cuts show, he and Steve Cropper were looking for a new, storytelling side to add.  Still, we're talking about five years here, a remarkable achievement.

Franklin is ... hell, Franklin is the greatest.  I'll just mention some examples.  Hear how she takes Redding's own Respect, which is a pretty great song, and completely turns it inside-out, in every way.  First, it's a bullshit lyric from him, a stereotypical macho blast about wanting "respect" (wink wink) when he gets home, after all, he's giving his woman all his money.  Aretha rewrites the tune, demanding she get respect, her propers, when she gets home, in one of the most uplifting song for women ever performed, whether you call it feminism or not.  She makes the song better too, coming up with the whole R-E-S-P-E-C-T part, plus the brand new arrangement.  Check out her sisters Carolyn and Erma doing the "Re-ah-re-ah-re-ah-re-ah-spect" line.  Further, I think she had the best backing vocal parts of all time.  Another great example is her version of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, already with a brilliant string and horn arrangement, made twice the song with the call-and-response ("What you done to me") between Aretha and the others.  Funky?  My my, check out Chain Of Fools.  And you can't accuse her of going over the top like Otis;  when she did unleash all the power she had, which was actually rare, it is totally appropriate, like an opera singer would.

As with the Redding box, we get a nice live interlude, including the famous version of Spirit In The Dark from Live At Fillmore West, when Ray Charles comes out of the audience at Aretha's bidding ("I just discovered Ray Charles" is a great joke).  Whether it was set up or not, it's a historic performance by the two.  And kudos to the compilers for including three live cuts from her Amazing Grace gospel album, something often overlooked in her career in hits packages.  Never forget she got all her training, voice, piano and arranging, in the church.  Her performance on these spirituals is just as inspired as anything else here.

I know, I sound like I'm directing more love Aretha's way, but really I'm a big Redding fan too, you have to have large collections of both artists.  These will do nicely.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


This is a deluxe reissue of Williams' 1988 album, her breakout release after some smaller label efforts that built her reputation.  The real success came not from her own tracks, but from the hit cover of her Passionate Kisses, by Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Form then on, Williams' skill as a songwriter was never in doubt.  Plus, this is a grand album, one of her two best, along with Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.

Those familiar with Williams in the 90's and beyond will find her a younger, gentler singer, her voice not so raspy, her edge not yet developed.  But she was still a solid writer, her material perhaps a little more easily digested.  The songs were easy to take in, the love songs intense, the heartache fresh and young, not damaged as she'd be able to transmit later.  Her characters are hurt but hopeful, like the small-town waitress who gets out of town for a wider world in The Night's Too Young.  I Just Want To See You So Bad is plenty powerful, about a woman who would drive all night to meet her lover.  What really makes this such a winning collection is the tight, upbeat arrangements, with lots of hooks, easily her most accessible work.  If she had stayed the course, more commercial hits might have followed.

This is the second time the disc has been reissued with bonus tracks, the first as a single disc with six extra cuts from radio sessions.  Now, it's a double-disc, complete with a full live concert, and a darn good one.  The same band on the album proves a rockier bunch live, and just as tight.  Nicely, the set includes the same old bonus tracks from the other version, so we don't lose anything.  It's one of those discs you'll go back to all the time