News cds, old sounds:

NORTON BUFFALO, King of the Highway (Blind Pig). Once upon a time, this guy blew ferocious harp with Commander Cody, wrote a definitive trucker anthem in “18 Wheels,” opened shows for Tom Waits, and released a neglected classic called Lovin' in the Valley of the Moon. Then he became a member of the Steve Miller Band for many years. Now he's released a “blues” album—which makes you nostalgic for Steve Miller music. SHEMEKIA COPELAND, Wicked (Alligator). Sophomore jinx, mai yass. Copeland showed great promise on her debut a couple of years ago but was greener'n Shane McGowan's molars. Here, she sounds ready to ascend the thrones of Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Ruth Brown combined. Lovely. DEKE DICKERSON N THE ECCO-FONICS, Rhythm Rhyme and Truth (HMG). In the liner notes, Deke says he's been sick and kinda depressed, feeling all icky and existential-angsty. If that's the case, may all rockabilly musicians be struck immediately with bipolar disorder and a spastic colon because no one in the 'billy crowd can touch him as a singer, as a songwriter and particularly as a guitarist. As happy-assed as he is virtuosic, Deke can't even sound down when he's apparently trying to—and you will smile to this stuff. JOE ELY, Live @ Antone's (Rounder). I've never been the Joe Ely fanatic everyone seems to think I ought to be, and I've never understood the basis of his mythical rep as the World's Greatest Live Honky-Tonk Performer. Then again, I'm not from Texas, and I'm kinda glad about that. But this album is pretty Ely-definitive, even if it gets typically heavy-handed in spots, and, yessir, I think I'll hang on to it for a while and maybe even give it a few more listens. The Ely faithful, meanwhile, shall doubtless cream in their coffee. BARBARA LYNN, Hot Night Tonight (Texas Music Group). In 1962, Lynn scored a Top 10 smash with “You'll Lose a Good Thing” and was more or less never heard from again. This comeback album places the Gulf Coast-raised singer firmly in the deep-soul mold, and she sings with a breathy, emotional succulence that bring tears to the eyes. Docked half a star for the untenable inclusion of her rapping son on the opening track; nepotism was never more insufferable. GEOFF MULDAUR, Password (Hightone). One of the original cast of folkies/ blues revivalists from the early '60s, Muldaur disappeared for years along with such contemporaries as Eric Von Schmidt, Danny Kalb, Spider John Koerner and Dave Van Ronk. On this, his second comeback album, Muldaur tackles a set of deeply personal, honest and unaffected originals and covers. The result is a quietly dignified and very enjoyable set that includes such guests as Dave Alvin, Van Dyke Parks and John Sebastian. ERNEST RANGLIN, Modern Answers to Old Problems (Telarc). As an early collaborator with Prince Buster, Jamaican guitarist Ranglin was an architect of first-wave ska, but for years he has been seamlessly incorporating cerebral jazz with celebratory Afro-pop as a solo artist. This is a typically fine effort—equally suitable for listening or dancing—hallmarked by circular chord progressions, jaunty rhythms, and tricky-but-tasteful picking. GEORGE SHEARING, The Best of George Shearing (Telarc). It's been decades since he's recorded anything remotely innovative, but now in his 80s, jazz pianist Shearing's chops remain sharp—his playing tasteful and economical yet eminently sophisticated. Highlights in this collection of recent recordings (mostly in trio format) include a literal take on Nat King Cole's “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” a pretty, near-classic solo version of “My Favorite Things,” and a swingin' rendition of Milt Jackson's “Bags' Groove.” JIMMY THACKERY N THE DRIVERS, Sinner Street (Blind Pig). This guy is fast becoming one of my fave guitarists, whether playing blues, soul, funk, 'billy, surf, or hard-assed rock N roll. The title tune of this album—a greasy, sax-filled cinematic instrumental on the order of “Peter Gunn” or “Harlem Nocturne”—is worth the price of admission alone. DWIGHT YOAKAM, Tomorrow's Sounds Today (Reprise). This is Yoakam's best album in quite a spell, a mostly up-tempo collection of honky-tonk, rockabilly and Tex-Mex fare with the usual pop flourishes, plus two bonus duets with Buck Owens. Predictably, it's a little overproduced, but the heart and soul of the music kicks through the layers of studio slickery all the same. Quite nice.

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