He Smoked!

Luther Allison smoked, died and bursts forth again on a live release

Allison proved his worth time and again, night after night, onstage and in the studio. Live in Chicago serves only to place an exclamation point on how tragic the loss of this man was to the blues world.

Another revealing look into the greatness of a dead guy: Rykodisc's JACK KEROUAC Reads On the Road presents the father of the Beats reading sections from his most celebrated novel. This long-sought-after recording was finally discovered on some mislabeled acetates in the Kerouac archives and is presented here for the first time—along with selected readings that have newly added musical backing (including the previously unreleased poem "Washington D.C. Blues"), Kerouac singing, plus a Tom Waits interpretation of On the Road.

Of these, Kerouac's near-30-minute-long, unaccompanied On the Road reading holds the most interest. The jazz-like, rhythmic cadence of Kerouac's voice is spectacularly hypnotic, adding new dimensions of imagery to this renowned work. Also fascinating is Kerouac's singing: he had no pitch and was technically a horrible vocalist, but his phrasing—including some highly inventive and amusing scatting—is, again, a marvel of accentuation and rhythmic instinct. There's at once a humor and world-weary sadness to Kerouac's voice that entices and fascinates; you can almost smell the smoldering cigarettes and hear the ice cubes tinkling in the bourbon.

Meanwhile, the musical accompaniment by longtime Kerouac friend and collaborator David Amram is well-intentioned but ultimately distracting. Waits embarrasses himself, as usual, with a fourth-rate Captain Beefheart impersonation that falls far from the spirit of the author's vision. It's no wonder Kerouac chose to work—and die—alone.

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