Terrific new CDs crossed my desk last week from all forms of music—from historic R&B and 1920s jazz to fusion and prog rock. In fact, there were so many I could only deal with seven here. More to follow. Here are my most recent favorites...
The "5" Royales—Soul & Swagger: 1951-1967 (Rockbeat). The history of R&B and rock and roll would be incomplete without a careful analysis of the "5 Royales. The Winston-Salem, N.C., group neatly merged gospel, jump blues and vocal harmony in a flurry of hits between 1952 and 1953 that set the stage for just about everything that followed. Many of their hits in the 1950s and '60s came from the talented pen of guitarist Lowman "Pete" Pauling. A good number (including Dedicated to the One I Love and Think) were covered by other artists years later. Finally, here's the group's complete singles on a five-CD box. Sample Baby Don't Do It and Crazy, Crazy, Crazy and hear how this vocal group smoothed out R&B and set the stage for its transformation into rock and roll.
Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne (Music Road). Jackson Browne has long been one of the most respected folk-rock songwriters in the business. The singer-songwriter joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the mid-1960s and contributed to Chelsea Girls, singer Nico's debut album in 1967, playing guitar on several tracks. Leadership albums followed and Browne's songs quickly became iconic—splendid stories set to smart music. The brainstorm of Kelcy Warren of Music Road Records, this album unites a range of leading artists from Don Henley and Lyle Lovett to Bruce Spingsteen and JD Souther who record favorite Browne songs. This is a double-CD, and every track is a must-listen.
Ian Anderson—Homo Erraticus (Kscope). Jethro Tull is widely considered one of the first successful progressive rock bands. Back in the early 1970s, the group took rock and infused it with early English music, turning songs into earthy rock symphonies laced with flute, organ and guitar solos. Recently, Ian Anderson—Jethro Tull's co-founder, songwriter and lead singer— announced that the band would cease to be, deciding instead to move forward with a solo career. This album is an expression of the new sound, which is sort of like the older one he created—only updated. The result is a breath of fresh air compared to the techno-metal-synth stuff so dominant today. Acoustic and electric guitars, a flute and vocals you can understand. How radical.
Gene Ludwig-Pat Martino Trio—Young Guns (High Note). The Hammond organ had its heyday in the late 1960s and early '70s, thanks largely to Prestige Records, which had been featuring the instrument on small-group sessions since the early '60s. One of Prestige's most incendiary recording artists at the time was guitarist Pat Martino, especially when teamed with a knockout organist. He found his match in organist Gene Ludwig. Both artists were cookers and seemed to have an unlimited amount of blistering ideas. Fortunately, Martino made tapes of his gigs and one of those reels has just been released, featuring Ludwig and drummer Randy Gelispie in 1968 and '69. Ludwig isn't too well known today, since he spent much of his time gigging in Pennsylvania and Ohio instead of recording. But if you dig the '60s guitar-organ sound, you'll flip for this one. Dig Who Can I Turn To, Sam Sack and Watch What Happens. Fried funk meets groovy grease.
The Puppeteers (Puppet's). This quartet features Arturo O'Farrill on piano, Bill Ware on vibes, Alex Blake on bass and Jamie Affoumado on drums. All four are veterans of Brooklyn's now-defunct Puppet's Jazz club and together throw off enormous heat. The sound is Modern Jazz Quartet but a lot less chamber and much more fusion sizzle. Teamed up, Ware and O'Farrill stir enormous heat, and their drive on songs like On the Spot and In Whom is tremendously exciting. Even on Peaceful Moment, the album's sole ballad, there's an intensity reminscent of Chick Corea and Gary Burton.
The Fat Babies—18th & Racine (Delmark). This septet pays tribute to jazz of the 1920s and '30s so effectively that they conjure up images of car running boards and bootleg booze. The band features Andy Schumm on cornet and alto sax, John Otto on clarinet and alto sax, Dave Bock on trombone, Paul Asaro on piano, Beau Sample on string bass, Jake Sanders on tenor banjo and Alex Hall on drums, with most arrangements handled by Schumm. The pre-Swing Era syncopation was hard labor but these guys make it all sound easy and appealing. Sample any of the tracks for the addictive flapper sound.
Carlene Carter—Carter Girl (Rounder). Carter, 58, is daughter of June Carter and her first husband, Carl Smith, and she was married to British New Waver Nick Lowe. Carter has had her ups and downs (Wikipedia can fill you in) and you can hear plenty of anguish in her pistol-packin' country voice, which is spectacular here. But it's her conviction and beacon-like tone that touched my soul and make this album both tender and forceful. Most of the songs were written by Carter Family founder A.P. Carter and other family members. Sample I'll Be All Smiles Tonight and Gold Watch and Chain. Music for driving South in the summer.