James CottonBaby, Don't You Tear My Clothes (Telarc)
Even though he's approaching 70 years old, James Cotton, who relocated to Austin several years ago, shows no signs of slowing down. The world-renowned harmonica player's Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes
is surely one of the top blues discs of the year. It features Cotton and his band, which includes Austin's finest bluesman in guitarist Derek O'Brien, with a series of vocalists. What makes this distinctive, however, is that the list of guests isn't exactly your everyday blues shouters. Cotton teams up with Dave Alvin, Marcia Ball, Odetta, Doc Watson, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Rowan, C.J. Chenier, Rory Block, and Bobby Rush on a mix of standards and originals that's delightfully different. For example, Chenier brings a funky zydeco feel to "Rainin' in My Heart," while Lauderdale lends two tons of country soul to Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home." Alvin's gritty take on "Stealin,' Stealin'" has a folkie edge to it that makes it sound like an outtake from his Grammy-winning folk album Public Domain
. Peter Rowan, meanwhile, highlights the fact that sometimes the blues and yodeling do mix on a sweet version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Muleskinner Blues." Throughout, Cotton's harp playing remains solid with a couple of instrumentals, most notably "Blues for Jacklyn" and "Coach's Better Days," prime examples of his latter-day chops, not to mention those of his top-notch band.