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Record Roundup: Election Special

By Jim Caligiuri, September 19, 2012, 12:31pm, Earache!

Something’s up this fall. There are too many new releases to keep track of, much less listen to. Due in the next month or so are new discs from Iris Dement – her first in 16 years – Tift Merritt, Wanda Jackson, Van Morrison, and a second 2012 disc from Neil Young & Crazy Horse. In the meantime, here’s a few new ones occupying my sound system.

Shortly before his death in 2002, Waylon Jennings went into the studio and recorded 12 songs with just his guitar. Earlier this year, his longtime pedal steel player Robbie Turner took those tapes, added instrumentation from some of Jennings' friends, and the result, Goin’ Down Rockin’, is one of the best country albums of the year. He may have been ill, but his vocals are strong, with “Never Say Die” and the title track sounding like Waylon in his prime.

Aimee Mann’s latest, Charmers, is a near perfect follow-up to 2008’s @#%&*! Smilers. She’s become more comfortable with her pop side; there’s gliding synths and guitar jangle among what’s become her trademark, hook-filled melodies. Playing to the kids, Mann's joined by the Shins' James Mercer for “Living a Lie” while ”Gamma Ray” and the title track are as powerful as she’s ever been.

Following the journey he began with last year’s Pull Up Some Dust & Sit Down, Ry Cooder gets even further into the state of the Union with Election Special. Song titles like “Mutt Romney Blues,” “The Wall Street Part of Town,” and “The 90 and the 9” might appear obvious sentiments and at times are, but Cooder’s urgent spirit is palpable and he sees these overtly political songs as a wake up call to a sleepy nation. It might seem quaint and dated in a decade, but today Election Special rings all the right bells.

The Time Jumpers are Nashville’s equivalent to Austin’s Heybale!: serious players who get together on a weekly basis to perform country and swing standards for the sheer enjoyment of it. Vince Gill is the most recognizable of the band’s members, which includes studio pros Dennis Crouch, Paul Franklin, and Joe Spivey. Their self-titled studio debut is highlighted by five Gill originals that are a comfortable fit among the traditional sounds of “Ridin’ on the Rio” and “Texas on a Saturday Night.”

He never lived up to the “New Dylan” tag attached to him in 1978. Steve Forbert didn’t want it anyway. Some have called his latest, Over With You, a modern Blood On the Tracks, and its 10 songs indeed concern love and relationships, but he does so in a manner that’s mature yet without the mysterious figures of speech. Ben Sollee and Ben Harper guest on a disc that Forbert’s fan will find reminiscent of his finest work, workmanlike roots music with unexpected lyrical stingers strewn throughout.

Chris Knight is no stranger to Central Texas, where he’s developed quite a following with a brand of heartland rock that places him somewhere between Steve Earle and John Prine. Little Victories is the Kentucky native’s first album of new songs in four years and it’s typical of his past work: lyrically blunt, musically hard-hitting. Knight’s songs of rural life during the Great Recession, like “Low Down Ramblin’ Blues” and the title track, are among the brawniest electric folk tunes you’ll hear this year.

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