Otis Taylor – My World is Gone (Telarc) With a cover shot that could have come from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown’s seminal 1970 book of Native American history, Otis Taylor’s 13th studio album, not surprisingly, embraces some of the same topics. Aided and inspired by friend and Indigenous frontman Mato Nanji, Taylor applies his unorthodox style of trance blues to stories dealing with the world of hardship found on the rez that’s oblivious to the mainstream world (the organ-kissed “Never Been to the Reservation”) to one of the more shameful incidents in America (a mournful “Sand Creek Massacre Mourning.”) Not unlike the better-known Taj Mahal, Taylor possesses gruff vocals that are a perfect fit for singing blues music. Likewise, his creative approach thankfully skips over trite Southside Chicago posturing and instead leans heavily on repetitive riffing and hypnotic vamping coupled with the use of non-blues instruments like tuba, banjo, cornet and fiddle. It works particularly well on “The Wind Comes In,” a John Lee Hooker-like lament of an alcoholic quitting and trying to woo his true love back as well as “Sit Across Your Table,” a song of domestic bliss full of chugging beats and dancing hooks that would fit perfectly into Gary Clark, Jr’s creative wheelhouse. Otis Taylor’s tinkering with the blues is helping it evolve beyond hidebound approaches that threaten to make it stagnant.
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – This Is 40 (Capitol) Music has always been crucial to filmmaker Judd Apatow’s craft whether it was his gently poking fun of Asia in 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin or spoofing Johnny Cash in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. So it goes with his latest This Is 40, which is set for DVD release after being in the theaters barely two months ago. This quasi sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up finds Paul Rudd’s Paul as the owner of a struggling record label that’s home to a number of alt-rock artists including Graham Parker, who plays himself.
As such, the soundtrack’s line-up fits the theme. Ryan Adams sounds like Jackson Browne on a live reworked version of his “Lucky Now” and new track “Shining Through the Dark” while a rejuvenated Lindsey Buckingham weighs in with a trio of Jon Brion-produced gems (including the stellar Norah Jones collaboration “Brother & Sister.) Parker also shows up with a twangy Punch Brothers collaboration “What Do You Like?” and his own “Watch the Moon Come Down” while Boomers get to sup on Paul McCartney revisiting Venus and Mars for the instrumental outtake “Lunch Box/Odd Sox.” And while Buckingham’s “Sick of You” carries a patina of cynicism, Wilco enlists Jones and the Punch Brothers for their old-timey “I Got You (End of the Century)” while the Avett Brothers perfectly sum it all up with the winsome and endearing “Live and Die.”
Taj Mahal – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy) Far more than a mere bluesman, Taj Mahal is a musicologist whose gritty vocals and multi-dimensional grasp of genres has found him collaborating with a who’s who of talent including Ali Farka Toure, Bonnie Raittand Captain Beefheart. This versatility is clear throughout the 13 albums that make up this hefty box set.
Starting with the Rising Sons, the obscure mid-’60s supergroup he co-helmed with fellow musical square peg Ry Cooder that only released one official single, Mahal was never content to stay within the narrow confines of one genre. Even though his self-titled 1968 debut found him funneling covers of Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James through a Cream-like sieve with help from Cooder and longtime sideman Jesse Ed Davis, Mahal’s creative wanderlust only expanded going forward.
Various Artists – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 (Rhino) A musical Rosetta Stone for latter-day punk and garage rock scenes, Nuggets was originally compiled by a pre-Patti Smith Group Lenny Kaye. Pitched to then-Elektra Records president Jac Holzman, Kaye’s project eventually became a double-album with singles culled from across the rock and roll spectrum. Most of these groups qualify as one-hit wonders and a number of their hits will be recognizable to oldies fans—The Standells’ Boston sports franchise anthem “Dirty Water,” the Knickerbockers’ Fab Four ripoff “Lies” and the Castaways’ Farfisa-soaked gem “Liar, Liar.” To Kaye’s credit, he didn’t always go for a group’s biggest hit—The Amboy Dukes are represented by their reading of the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go” versus “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” Likewise the Strangeloves bypassed the better-known “I Want Candy” for the raucous stomper “Night Time.” Then there are artists whose earliest forays into recording music are represented. Garage rock legend Roky Erickson’s Thirteenth Floor Elevators are here with the jittery “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and Todd Rundgren’s Nazz flat-out steals the opening riff from The Who’s “Can’t Explain” for the irresistible earworm “Open My Eyes.” Best of all is a pre-Mountain Leslie West fronting The Vagrants, who had the misfortune of cutting a paint-peeling cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that was released a month before Aretha Franklin’s defining version.
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