The Forgotten Angel (32 R&B)
Here's a historically significant, well-produced 2-CD set showcasing the singing of Clyde McPhatter, both with the Drifters and as a solo artist. McPhatter is somewhat neglected today, because his most well-known records were with a group and he died young. During the Fifties, however, McPhatter influenced a number of R&B vocalists including Jackie Wilson and Smokey Robinson. After a brief stay in gospel groups, McPhatter became the lead singer for Billy Ward's Dominoes in 1950, and appeared on such important records as "Sixty Minute Man" and "Have Mercy Baby." When he was canned by Ward and replaced with Wilson, McPhatter signed with Atlantic. The Forgotten Angel collects stuff he did with Atlantic, Mercury, and two live performances on Alan Freed's radio show. With an unusually high tenor, almost a falsetto, McPhatter was gospel-influenced even when singing the blues; his style of singing is quite relaxed. The Drifters were built around him, and it didn't take long before they started producing hits, including "Money Honey," "Bip Bam," "White Christmas," and "Such a Night." The Drifters' success was not due to McPhatter alone, however; Bill Pickney and Andrew and Gerhart Thrasher were talented and well-rehearsed. The group thrived on good harmonies and their back-up instrumentalists included Mickey Baker and Sam Taylor. Give the Atlantic producers credit for some solid planning, then. Indeed, the Drifters' success continued after McPhatter left them for the Army. Upon returning, he became a solo act and continued making hits, which weren't as exciting as his work with the Drifters. He became more of a ballad singer with lush backing. McPhatter left Atlantic for MGM in 1959, and after a short stay there went with Mercury, where he enjoyed success through the mid-Sixties. After that, things went downhill. Drinking heavily, McPhatter went through several more labels before his premature death in 1972. Kudos to Bill Dahl for his lengthy and informative notes.
4.0 stars -- Harvey Pekar
Danny Sims does not deserve your money. The entrepreneurial business partner of Houston-born singer Johnny Nash and producer Arthur Jenkins (JAD being an acronym for Johnny, Arthur, and Danny), Sims signed Bob Marley to a recording contract in 1968, the singer reportedly telling a friend, according to Timothy White's written-in-stone biography Catch a Fire --The Life of Bob Marley, "Him seh me voice nuh good, but me songs are." By White's account, JAD owns the exclusive rights to 72 "largely demo tracks" recorded by the Wailers in Kingston and in London between 1968-1972. Many of these tracks -- indeed, demos -- finally came out earlier this year on the 3-CD The Complete Bob Marley & the Wailers 1967-1972 Part I, a disgraceful attempt to cash in on the sovereign King of Reggae's name. Part two of JAD's projected trilogy of 3-CD box sets, The Complete Bob Marley & the Wailers 1967-1972 Part II repackages the (Wailing) Wailers' first two Jamaican releases, Soul Rebels and Soul Revolution, produced by the island's legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. Recorded in 1970 and 1971 respectively, Soul Rebels and Soul Revolution find the Wailers on the verge of a peak that came in 1973 with Catch a Fire, the first of eight studio albums Marley recorded for Island Records over the next decade. Raw and edgy, both albums feature early versions of songs made famous later ("400 Years," "Kaya"), with instrumental support provided by Perry's longtime backing band, the Upsetters, whose rhythm section, drummer Carlton "Carly" Barrett and brother Aston "Family Man" Barrett, did as much to define Marley's sound as his distinctive vocal cry. Disc one features Soul Rebels plus "versions" (instrumental tracks minus the vocals -- also known as "dubs"), while the second disc rounds up Soul Revolution and its versions. The third CD, "More Axe," collects an assortment of B-sides, alternate takes, and versions, including the original stabs at "Who the Cap Fit," and "Don't Rock My Boat." From a purely musical standpoint, this is all worthy material for Marley enthusiasts looking beyond the Island catalog, many fans and scholars claiming this period of the original Wailers -- Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer -- was never equaled, especially after Tosh and Wailer left following the second Island album. While Marley would only get better throughout the Seventies, Soul Rebels and Soul Revolution are clearly the foundation of the reggae singer's unparalleled career arc. The problem is, Sims doesn't deserve your money. He proved that three CDs ago with the heinous first volume of this series (as well as an epic, early-Eighties legal battle with the Marley estate), and again here with a package that looks splendid and is musically thorough, but simply feels like bad juju. Like greed. This isn't so of the UK releases of this material on the Trojan label, which put out the stellar African Herbsman, the lesser but still prime Rasta Revolution, and the 2-CD Soul Revolution I & II. Good collections, good karma. Sims, on the other hand, is overdue for a good dose of what Jamaicans would term duppy mischief -- a plague of evil spirits.
2.0 stars -- Raoul Hernandez
100 Flowers Bloom (Rhino)
On November 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president and Gang of Four played Club Foot in Austin. The band took the stage, told the crowd they were in a shitload of trouble, and delivered a scorching, in-the-moment set that people still talk about today. With raw angularity and a keen eye for the groove, Gang of Four danced with a purpose in the fat face of postmodern consumer culture, and unlike most bands with a political bent, their message continues to transcend chronology. And perhaps because the Leeds, England-bred quartet was careful to articulate its opposition in broader, more philosophical terms, the shitload has only grown larger since 1980. Gang of Four's new 40-song compilation takes us deep into the trove of the band's multifaceted prowess in a manner that defies any quaint notions of nostalgia. Instead of following the standard greatest hits formula, 100 Flowers Bloom examines the band's output in a distinctive non-linear fashion. The 2-CD set starts out obviously enough with "Not Great Men" from 1979's Entertainment! before seguing into a remix of "I Parade Myself" from the band's less-heralded 1995 album, Shrinkwrapped. Many of the classic Gang of Four songs are represented here in live or remixed versions. While some purists may miss the original versions, the 1980 live recording of "Anthrax" emphasizes the band's sixth sense for unorthodox phrasing and captures their superlative ability to create a palpable anticipatory tension within the audience. Andy Gill's introductory guitar solo favorably recalls Hendrix at Monterey, while Gill and singer Jon King's simultaneous vocal delivery sounds more like a droll transmission from the Emergency Broadcast System. "Natural's Not in It" (preserved here in original form) features a repetitious, ankle-spraining groove built around Gill's mechanical guitar. The repetition, along with King's attack on the "market of the senses," drives home the futility of the ring-around-the-collar rat race. Much like their contemporaries in Joy Division/New Order and the Cure, Gang of Four supplemented their angular pop aspirations with factory-style dance rhythms as the Eighties progressed. Material from 1982's Songs of the Free, such as "History of the World" and "I Love a Man in Uniform" (banned by the BBC during the Falkland Islands War) showcases the band's ability to pen club hits well-suited to an age of casual alienation. Though not as groundbreaking as their earlier work, Gang of Four's two Nineties albums (Mall and Shrinkwrapped) also merit a second look. A recurring theme in the band's more recent work is a comparatively prurient focus on sexual power dynamics; "Unburden Unbound" examines a mutually unfulfilling phone sex encounter, while "F.M.U.S.A." (an acronym for "Fuck Me U.S.A.") looks at the mutually exploitative relationship between a black American soldier and a Vietnamese prostitute during the Vietnam War. You don't have to throw too many rocks to hit a band influenced by Gang of Four. INXS, the Jesus Lizard, and Nine Inch Nails are a few of the well-known extrapolating entities. Though popular success always eluded Gang of Four, 100 Flowers Bloom adds a tanker truck of fuel to the argument that their art school jab-and-stutter was (and is) the rightful heir to the musical connotation of "New Wave." Think about that next time you're enduring the fashion-dependent, high-gloss sound that usually dominates retro-lunch hours on your local "X" station.
4.0 stars -- Greg Beets
Paid in Full: The Platinum Edition (Island)
Last year, Rakim released The 18th Letter, a platinum-selling comeback that was most notable for its limited edition companion disc of Eric B & Rakim's greatest hits, The Book of Life. By drawing heavily from Paid in Full, the duo's groundbreaking 1987 debut, The Book of Life introduced a new generation of hip-hop fans to one of the genre's cornerstone longplayers and one of the game's ultimate MC's, Rakim. In an era where rap thrived on cheap comedy and outrageous egos, Rakim turned lyrics into narratives and Islamic self-knowledge into power. Only Run D.M.C. was more influential. The key was that Rakim never uttered a word on Paid in Full that didn't take into account his partner's turntable prowess, the rapper crafting a polyrhythmic jazz-style flow that matched Eric B's spare drumrolls and simple samples ("I Know You Got Soul" is oft credited as hip-hop's first use of a James Brown snippet) breath for breath. Paid in Full is pure poetry in motion and there's not a single weak cut on it. The reissued set includes both of the duo's seminal pre-album singles, "I Ain't No Joke" and "Eric B. Is President," as well as a new, genre-defining centerpiece, "My Melody," a menacing break-beat boast that includes one of hip-hop's all-time classic rhymes: "I take seven MCs, put 'em in a line/ and add seven more brothers who think they can rhyme/ it will take seven more before I go for mine/ and that's 21 MCs ate up at the same time." The math on this new Platinum Edition is just as impressive: the original 10 tracks plus 10 vintage remixes previously out-of-print. And the best of those remixes work for entirely different reasons. While Coldcut's seven-minute title track mix, which builds a new tune out of a breathtaking Middle Eastern rhythm and a surprisingly effective Ofra Haza sample, expands on the original and is credited with redefining the duo's sound, the a capella 12-inch take on "I Know You Got Soul" leaves less to the imagination -- it's just Rakim and an oh-so-spare beat. It's the perfect addition to an already near-perfect album. If there's any justice, Paid in Full: The Platinum Edition would be Rakim's second platinum record in as many years. God knows hip-hip could learn something from it ...
4.0 stars -- Andy Langer
How long ago was 1981? If you had a kid then, he'd be bugging you for the car keys now. That's how long ago it was. In 1981, the underground music scene was dominated by the blind fury of Black Flag, DOA, and the Dead Kennedys on one end, and the effete musings of synth-poop bands like Haircut 100, Flock of Seagulls, the Human League, Kajagoogoo (tried to forget that one, didn't you? Ha!), and other such electrified cheese. For a brief while, though, there was the roots/cowpunk field with such adherents as Lone Justice, Rank and File, even the Gun Club, to stretch the point a bit. Enter the Long Ryders. With chiming Rickenbacker 12-strings, pedal steel, Chuck Berry chops, and down-to-earth songwriting, they found themselves in a netherworld that wasn't quite Paisley Underground, cowpunk, Sixties garage rock, or Ramones-style punk. Rather than wear their Byrds/Burritos/Standells influences on their buckskin sleeves, they picked up the ball and ran with it. This 2-CD set amasses 40 early tracks that are certainly worth revisiting, prefiguring today's alt-country/Americana scene by half a generation. There's the garage-squawk bravado of: "10-5-60," "Looking for Lewis and Clark," and "Join My Gang;" the sweet acoustic introspection of "If I Were a Bramble and You Were a Rose" and "He Can Hear His Brother Calling;" the pure Parsons twang of "You Don't Know What's Right, You Don't Know What's Wrong;" or the cover of Merle Haggard's "Sweet Mental Revenge." Or check out the Lennon-esque "Born to Believe in You." One of the band's strong points was their stylistic diversity; actually this sounds like it could be a compilation of four or five different bands. With hardly a dog of a song on it, The Long Ryders Anthology is a fine overview of a band out of its time, one that deserves to be rediscovered.
3.5 stars -- Jerry Renshaw
Garage Inc. (Elektra)
For years, Metallica's raw, 1987 tribute to their New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots, The 5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, has been a record biz oddity: a truly classic album from a mega-platinum band that's been heavily sought out by fans and collectors and yet is still inexplicably out of print. It also seemed inexplicable why Metallica and Elektra never opted to repackage the original five-song set with enough filler to push it into the full-length price range. Fortunately, the new, expanded Garage Inc. proves it was worth the wait and may just wind up setting a new standard for deluxe reissues in the process. A 2-CD set with 27 songs, 11 of which are newly recorded, and a two-hour running time, plus a phenomenal set of David Fricke liner notes, Garage Inc. is indeed a deluxe bargain. All five original Garage Days tracks are reissued here, but more importantly, only a handful of the remaining 25 tracks seem any less vital, primal, fun, or cathartic than the original set. And why wouldn't they? They all come from the same heartfelt place --Metallica's genuine respect for the bands that paved the way for them, and in turn, Metallica's ongoing commitment to challenge their fans to recognize their favorite bands' influences. Better yet, Metallica is the rare beast that makes whatever it touches its own, all the more impressive in the face of source material that seems so deceptively simple. Disc 2 is everything a Metallica diehard could want in one place, from the covers on the original EP (Diamond Head's "Am I Evil" and Blitzkrieg's "Blitzkrieg") to more recent one-offs (Budgie's "Breadfan" and Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy"), and the Motorheadache '95 material, originally released only as UK B-sides. Then there's the full disc of new stuff, covering both the obvious suspects (Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, and more Diamond Head) and a batch of genuine surprises/curiosities (Nick Cave's "Loverman," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone," and Blue Öyster Cult's "Astronomy.") As befits Metallica's recent track record of limp radio tunes, the only real throwaway happens to be the first single -- a flat reading of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page." If that's the price fans have to pay for one of the more listenable and fulfilling concept record/tribute/re-issue in years, than so be it.
4.0 stars -- Andy Langer
(Rhino Party Pack)
Twenty-one years ago this week, Saturday Night Fever opened, ushering disco past the velvet ropes of the urban club scene and into the malls of America and beyond. Spending high school in South Florida during the Carter administration, we kids fell into camps: Disco Dolls, Stoned Parrotheads, Rich Preps, or Rockers. Cliques ran along racial, economic, and religious lines, but just as often had to do with choice of music. Preppies grooved to Supertramp, stoners to Jimmy Buffet. Jocks banged heads to Kiss and good Catholic school girls gave head with the Bee Gees as backdrop. Now, in the revisionist Nineties, disco no longer represents the wrong side of the tracks and isn't just another code word for "gay." Now, disco is American History 101. Rhino Records is first and foremost in reissuing pop music, from the excruciatingly commercial to the obscure and marginalized. Like corny K-Tel records advertised late at night on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Rhino has always excelled at making the dance music of my generation available to the People. Now, after almost a decade of rehashed disco retro revisionism, Rhino offers this 2-CD compilation -- one of a series of goofy "Party Packs" -- to make rabid consumers out of the 17 people left who don't already have "Celebration," "Funkytown," or "Disco Inferno" on CD. Is it a good collection? Sure, but that's not the point. And neither is the debate over whether "disco" is a valid form of music. Of course it is. It's the soundtrack to an era, the music of the streets and clubs of the people now just coming of age to take over the world. Question is, what's the point of this 40-plus page pack offering details ("recipes! invitations! party games! decorations!") to create your own li'l Studio 54 in your studio apartment? With Rhino's stellar reputation and brilliant foresightedness (and the "shuffle" button on your CD player), there already exists an amazing catalog from which to cull a perfect party; try their chronological Disco Years series and K.C. & the Sunshine Dance Remixes collection created by remix master Albert Cabrera (C & C Music Factory, Madonna), instead. Seems the point of the Party Pack is merely Crass Formula Buy-me Bullshit -- as offensive as your dad in a leisure suit hitting on your best friend.
1.0 stars -- Kate X Messer
A Perfect Stranger: The Island Anthology (Island)
It's not enough that the single most compelling female rock & roll vocal ever recorded was Merry Clayton, under Mick Jagger's thumb, crying "Gimme Shelter." Right about the time Jagger unleashed that dark bit of life-affirming music in 1969, he was cutting loose then-girlfriend/junkie chanteuse Marianne Faithfull, the fallen Ophelia reborn as the living Sister Morphine. It would take Faithfull almost 10 years to recover her footing, and when she did, she delivered one of the best rock & roll albums ever, Broken English. Gone was the girlish voice that warbled Jagger's "As Tears Go By" in the Sixties; in its place was an unforgiving rasp. Career solidly in hand again, she blazed forth, too old to be the fragile beauty of her youth, but wearing the lines around her eyes with the pride of one who earned them like stripes. The last two decades have seen her record sporadically and even take on the occasional film role, but nothing she has recorded since Broken English carried its seething anger. A Perfect Stranger, on the other hand, is not only a definitive collection of her last 20 years, it percolates with irony, bitterness, fury, wonder, dreams, hope, and yes, pain. Disc 1 highlights the sessions from Broken English (1979), Dangerous Acquaintance (1981), and A Child's Adventure (1983), a body of work for which collaborator Barry Reynolds should get some credit. His plaintive ballads like "Guilt," "Truth Bitter Truth," "The Blue Millionaire," and "Times Square" are sublime vehicles for Marianne Faithfull's wrecked voice, its crumpled metal edges most sharp on Heathcote Williams' "Why'd Ya Do It?," the most wicked white-girl rant ever, and her version of "Sister Morphine" is as devastating for its proximity to truth as its throbbing addict's cry. Disc 2 has the sleeker Marianne from Strange Weather (1987), Blazing Away (1990), Faithfull (1994), and her efforts with composer Angelo Badalamenti from A Secret Life (1995), plus some unreleased tracks. It's an absolutely riveting oeuvre, from the cabaret-style performance of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht composition "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" to Tom Waits' "Strange Weather" and right back to Mick Jagger when she revisits "As Tears Go By" in that time-ravaged voice. And in the end, it's that voice and its ethereal loveliness on Badalamenti's "She," that when she sings, "She could be living in hell and not know someone loves her," it makes you want to take her in your arms and reassure her bruised heart that Marianne Faithfull is indeed loved.
4.0 stars -- Margaret Moser
Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (Columbia Legacy)
In the early Sixties, Bob Dylan brought the keen and probing intelligence of his folk roots to popular songwriting with scarcely more than a reedy voice, harmonica, and acoustic guitar. Folks noticed. It was when he plugged in that guitar a few years later, however, that the world of rock & roll was inextricably changed. When this concert was recorded in May, 1966 (in Manchester rather than in London's Royal Albert Hall), Dylan was in the midst of perhaps his most fecund period; the triumvirate of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde will forever stand in rock's pantheon. Moreover, these 1965-66 recordings marked a shift for Dylan from the socially conscious "protest" anthems of his folk days to more introspective visions ripe with biting sarcasm, surreal imagery, and morose humor. It was largely this material that Dylan performed on his ensuing world tour and is documented on this amazing 2-CD set. Prior to its official release, rare bootleg copies had long been a prize to collectors. The concert's first half features the solo acoustic side of Dylan. Armed with just guitar and harmonica, he had long performed in this manner and turns in masterful renditions of "Visions of Johanna," "Desolation Row," and "Mr. Tambourine Man." This was the Bob Dylan most people had come to see, but as soon as he plugged in, rock & roll history changed forever; his fans hated it. You can feel, and indeed, hear the air of confrontation as Dylan and the Hawks (then an unknown group who would soon emerge as The Band) slam into a raw, electrified second set that still sounds ferocious and gloriously cathartic 30 years later. Dylan may be wearing his modest folk/country/blues sensibilities on his sleeve, but his transformation to (counter)cultural icon begins here with this recording, as does the vital birthing of modern rock. You can debate whether this is the greatest live album of all time, but there's no denying it's one of the most important.
5.0 stars -- Jay Trachtenberg
West Texas Waltzes (Rainlight)
The Wind's Dominion (Rainlight)
BUTCH HANCOCK WITH MARCE LACOUTURE
Yella Rose (Rainlight)
Here in the Republic of Texas, ex-Flatlander, Terlingua resident, and Lubbock mafioso Butch Hancock is a bona fide national treasure. He's possibly the greatest songwriter the state has ever produced, and the only reason he hasn't been boosted to a more visible and mainstream level of international worship is that his talents are too many. He pursues alternate vocations of visual artist and architect, photographer and river guide, with much the same passion he approaches his music -- which doesn't cut into quality or import, but does frequently keep him out of the spotlight. And, until now, the music hasn't been readily available. In 1991, Sugar Hill records released Own and Own, a compilation that did a good job of representing Hancock's music from 1978 through 1987. But with Hancock, the greatest hits aren't enough. This year, he's taken four releases formerly available only on cassette from his Rainlight Records imprint and released them on CD. West Texas Waltzes ('78) is the first of them, and besides the title track (one of his best-known songs), it includes absolute gems like the charged Dylan-esque protest song "Dry Land Farm," the sublimely rural "Little Coyote Waltz" and "Dirt Road Song," and the chaotic classic "Just One Thunderstorm." The stage he sets is made of the rivers and the land, the sky and sand, and a singular human soul just taking it all in, shaking his head at the notion of capturing it all in word and music, though he gives it a hell of a shot anyway. The most powerful of the reissues is The Wind's Dominion. Where Waltzes is entirely solo acoustic, Dominion switches it up, adding folks like David Halle, Ponty Bone, Lloyd Maines and family, Joe Ely, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Hancock's voice and his words, too, are stronger; more forceful and more subtle at the same time. His metaphors flow smoother and his imagery is more striking. "Fightin' for My Life" is spellbinding, the title track a joy, while "Own and Own" and "Mario y Maria" are possibly two of the best tunes he's ever written. They command this album and foreshadow a style that Hancock has mastered and made his own, the beautifully worded Mobiüs-strip narrative songs that twist the end of a refrain to stretch on forever. Recorded in 1980 at the Alamo Hotel in Austin, Firewater offers, beyond a roadhouse romp through the title track, the classic "If You Were a Bluebird" in duet with Gilmore, and lively takes on "One Road More" and A.P. Carter's "No Hiding Place." The last of the reissues is the 1985 collaboration with singer Marce Lacouture, Yella Rose. It's a more polished studio effort with a full band, but considering that band is a veritable all-star lineup (Rhodes, Maines, and Ball are just a few of the surnames), and that Lacouture's full and wailing voice is well-matched to Hancock's hoarse, broken drawl, even the musical saw doesn't distract from Hancock's songs. These four CDs are only a small part of Hancock's catalog, but they're a wonderful way to scratch the surface.
(West Texas Waltzes) 4.0 stars
(The Wind's Dominion) 4.0 stars
(Firewater) 4.0 stars
(Yella Rose) 3.5 stars -- Christopher Hess
In Progress & In Motion: 1965-1998 (Columbia/Legacy)
If there are ever days when you feel like you just don't have enough soul, it's probably because Taj Mahal got your share. Got some other folks' shares, too, by the sound of things. Here's a man who can lay in and drive a groove like it was a lime-green '57 Mercury with chrome reverse wheels and whitewall tires, and bring it home with the shine still on it. For starters, he's got that soulful, sly, and sexy voice, which bends every tune until it's completely his own. Then there's the music he lays down beneath it, serene, satisfying, and blissfully imprecise, a tuneful blend of Mahal and some damn fine helping hands (Ry Cooder, Howard Johnson, and Jesse Ed Davis among them). Put the two together and things get gracious, as becomes clear over the 3-CD In Progress & In Motion. The compilation concentrates on Mahal's early stuff, and rightly so, because the late Sixties and early Seventies were inarguably the best-sounding stretch of his long and varied career. In those years, he was a new face in folk blues, reinterpreting the African-American tradition not with the studied reverence of his peers, but with a loose jubilance that played to the dynamic roots of the form. Mahal was as likely to slip a little Caribbean wind into his tunes or tour with four tubas, as he did in 1971, as he was to make like the second coming of Jimmy Reed. Many of his signature tunes from those years ("Fishin' Blues," "Take a Giant Step," "Cakewalk Into Town") stand up as classics, sounding surprisingly fresh from 30 years out. Most of the old favorites are included here, partnered with lesser lights and a healthy smattering of live cuts (many of them previously unreleased). Later years found Mahal meandering from the West Indies to the Pacific Rim to downtown Memphis and back, and while those wanderings produced some great songs, they never stood up to the casual brilliance of his first 10 years. In Progress reflects as much: 41 of the 54 songs were laid down by 1975, and much of the later stuff is collected on the clearly inferior third disc. A few missteps, perhaps, but nothing that can't be forgiven: In Progress & In Motion confirms Taj Mahal's reputation as a master of the modern blues, uniquely suited to finding the sweet spot at the center of a song's soul.
3.5 stars -- Jay Hardwig
Blues the Most (Prestige)
Red's Blues (Prestige)
Moanin' Blues (Prestige)
The blues is the wellspring from which jazz has traditionally found sustenance. Here are three legendary pianists, hailing from markedly different regional locales, who put their own distinct stamp on the blues during the Golden Age of the mid-Fifties/mid-Sixties. Of this trio, Los Angeleno Hampton Hawes is the least known, in part because he remained on the West Coast. While still in his teens, he became a mainstay of the Central Ave. post-war be-bop explosion and a frequent after-hours jam-mate of Charlie Parker. Hawes brought the riveting intensity of bop plus a deep emotional resonance to his blues interpretations. Having a father who was a minister helped to ground him in the gospel tradition as "The Sermon" and "Hampton's Pulpit" readily attest. But it's the driving and seamless liquidity of his playing demonstrated on "Up Blues," "Yardbird Suite," and the title track that Hampton Hawes will most be remembered for. Red Garland, a Dallas native, is best known for his work in one of the foremost jazz groups of all time -- the late-Fifties Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane. A stylist of the first order, Garland's delicate and refined touch and impeccable taste brought a distinctive elegance to the blues. In fact, in using today's musical parlance, he would be considered the quintessential "lounge" pianist, minus the schmaltz, of course. Most of this set finds Garland in cozy trio settings, but several tracks include the addition of legendary saxmen like Coleman Hawkins, fellow Texan Arnette Cobb, and Coltrane to add an extra touch of class. This is an utterly delightful collection that sounds particularly good late at night. Bobby Timmons, who hailed from Philadelphia, was one of the primary exponents of "soul jazz" with a style steeped in blues and gospel tradition. His compositions, "Moanin'," "Dat Dere," and "This Here," all included in this collection, immediately became standards of the genre and remain so to this day. His playing throughout, especially on these three classics, exudes the soulful swing that made him among the most highly regarded young pianists of his day. Of the trio of blues stylists covered here, Timmons occupies the middle ground between Hawes' urgency and Garland's urbanity. And, indeed, he digs the deepest groove of all.
(All) 4.0 stars -- Jay Trachtenberg
Despite the title, there's no Jimmie Rodgers on this 2-CD set (available separately). On the other hand, there's no shortage of classic, early-1900s material that fans of the tubercular trainman wouldn't eat up like an ol' tipsy-cake. Close to 50 tracks cleaned up from old 78rpm "nonbreakable" records comprise this collection of "Early American Rural Music, Badman Ballads and Hellraising Songs," and there are a number of corkers, the best dealing with Prohibition and the tragic efforts of folks trying to find alternative highs during those years. Between the songs of (Big) Bill Broonzy, Vernon Dalhart, Dock Boggs, and other soloists and combos whose names may or may not ring a distant bell, you'll also find tales of thieves and ne'er-do-wells from the days of men named Stack-o-Lee (aka Stagger Lee) and women named Frankie (partner of Johnny). The choices are good, handpicked by people who know their business, with the basic prerequisites being that in each song, somebody's gotta steal, cheat, drink bad likker, bust outta jail, or bemoan the sorry state they're in, and in the days of the Depression and Prohibition, there was plenty to moan about -- whether it be Dick Justice's lament about "Cocaine" or the Hickory Nuts' tale of the plight of the "Louisville Burglar." The sound is great, considering the sources (the hiss and more-than-occasional snap, crackle, pop only lends authenticity to the songs' vintage), and the complete liner notes for the set are included with each disc, though a dearth of surviving information about many of the acts included makes for occasionally frustrating reading, as one gets their appetite whetted for more information that simply doesn't exist. Both discs make for excellent history lessons, but if you're a casual listener dipping into this music for the first time, I recommend disc one as the more lively of the pair.
3.5 stars -- Ken Lieck
PRECIOUS MEMORIES: FAVORITES FROM GOSPEL'S WOMEN OF SONG
OVER IN GLORY: FAVORITES FROM CLASSIC GOSPEL GROUPS
THROUGH THE YEARS: A COLLECTION OF SONGS FROM GREAT GOSPEL CHOIRS
THE DIXIE HUMMINGBIRDS: THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DIXIE HUMMINGBIRDS
Joe Ligon, lead singer for the Mighty Clouds of Joy, was said to invest his music with an "almighty roar" -- more than simply singing his leads, he announced and delivered them, his righteous rasping baritone soaring in sanctified lead over the Clouds' soul-sweet harmonies. Listening to his music, there's no doubt he meant it, as did his contemporaries in the thriving gospel movement of the Fifties and Sixties. There's a sense of mission to the music, a shout-it-from-the-rooftops celebration, delivered from folks who took the Lord's instructions in Psalm 100 to heart: Make a joyful noise. Perhaps no label caught as much of that joyful noise on vinyl as Don Robey's Peacock Records, a Houston outfit that built a reputation as one of the finest gospel labels in the land, boasting a roster that included the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Dixie Hummingbirds, and Mahalia Jackson. Long savored by gospel fans, most of the Peacock catalog has long been out-of-print. Most of it still is, in fact, but to fill the void, MCA and Peacock have released a series of compilations featuring some of the gems in that treasure chest. We Are Soldiers is a collection of gospel's great male leads, including Ligon, James Cleveland, Cleophus Robinson, and a dozen others; Precious Memories features Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, and the legendary women of gospel; Over in Glory recalls the classic gospel groups, the Five Blind Boys, the Soul Stirrers, and the Staple Singers among them; Through the Years visits those original roof-raisers, the mass gospel choirs; and Thank You for One More Day is a 14-song retrospective on South Carolina's Dixie Hummingbirds, giants from the a capella gospel tradition. On all the discs, listeners will find the hallmarks of classic gospel music, from the rich harmonies to the cascading rhythms to a vamping, raised-sixth urgency that gives the music its undeniable power. It's a driving, intense, insistent music, and when the singing devolves to shouting, it can try the very tranquility it counsels, but you can't blame a bunch for wanting it so bad. The unconverted might tire -- of the subject matter, the occasionally weak production, the absence of any real liner notes, the preponderance of tambourines -- but fans of the form expect as much, and for those fans, the Peacock compilations are good news indeed. Sixty songs' worth of old-time gospel, all-told, enough to chase the devil out of even the most unrepentant, backsliding, whiskey-tipplers among us. An impressive feat, delivered with an almighty roar.
(All) 4.0 stars -- Jay Hardwig
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