Nov 212022
 

My IdealI confess I didn’t quite know how to approach Amos Lee’s My Ideal: A Tribute To Chet Baker Sings–with excitement and delight, or merely admiration. I get that this sounds grudging, but in my book Chet was not only one of the best two jazz trumpeters who ever strode this earth, he was also one of the very best singers. Alas, outside jazz circles, he never quite became the household name he could have been. Rock circles knew him best, perhaps, as the horn player on Elvis Costello’s own original version of “Shipbuilding,” arguably a quarter century past his peak. So anyone who can raise his profile, well, that’s fine by me.

Amos Lee has been around for a while, an associate of Norah Jones, and a purveyor of a bluesy folk hybrid style. That he has recorded his first five recordings for Blue Note might also suggest someone somewhere could hear a hint of something jazzier to his bow. Rather than offer any view to his previous, let’s stick with My Ideal, wherein he deigns to replicate the mood of the album Chet Baker Sings, backed by a trio of Philly’s finest. These comprise David Streim on piano and trumpet, Madison Rast on bass, with Anwar Marshall on the drum seat.
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Nov 122022
 

Live ForeverBillie Joe Shaver was one tough dude. The mere fact that he made it to 81 years old is a tribute as much to his constitution as to anything else, because his life and times read as if he wasn’t one much for compromise. Hell, too tough even for the Highwaymen, turning down the opportunity to be a member of that iconic grouping of his peers. As a performer he may not have been as celebrated as Waylon, Willie & Johnny, being very much in the gravel ‘n’ grits school of rough and ready, but his songs have gone right across the board and back again. You just might surprise yourself by how many you recognize on Live Forever: A Tribute to Billie Joe Shaver.
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Oct 142022
 

Here It IsWith peak anticipation building in lovers of the Bard of Montreal, here finally drops Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, the Larry Klein-helmed and Blue Note-imprinted all-star tribute we have been sneaking peeks at these past few months. We have been a little underwhelmed by James Taylor and then bowled over by Nate Rateliff, so what of the rest?

First, some background. Klein and Cohen were good buddies during the final decade and a half of the singer’s life, having been crossing paths a good deal longer. Klein himself has an interesting pedigree, a jazz bassist of some renown, starting his career off by playing with Joe Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. Becoming more mainstream, as rock drew out for the greater sophistication jazz might offer, he began to play with, most notably, Joni Mitchell, actually marrying her. Whilst that didn’t last, he became one of the go-to bassists. It is him on Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove, and Peter Gabriel’s So album, still keeping his hand in with older buddies like Herbie Hancock.

Adding the production arrow to his quiver, Klein went on to take charge of studio work by a throng of artists encompassing many, many genres. Who else can say they produced acts as varied as Holly Cole, Rodney Crowell, and (Jefferson) Starship? Not to mention Joni, even after their marriage dissolved, and the aforementioned Hancock, including his The Joni Letters, where those two worlds aligned.

Having spent a fair amount of time covering Cohen songs for other artists, Klein came up with the idea of assembling an album’s worth of new ones. He brought together a collection of his contacts and acquaintances, largely from the jazz world, or, as he himself put it: “a group of the most prescient and forward-looking musicians.” Thus the band here, which is led by unassuming guitar titan Bill Frisell, includes also saxman Immanuel Wilkins, Kevin Hays on piano, and the rhythm section of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nate Smith. Longtime Frisell associate and pedal steel player to the stars Greg Leisz also gets to play, as does Larry Goldings. So a crack band, and already catnip to the Blue Note label, even ahead the roll call of vocalists.
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Oct 092022
 

Brother BrothersIs there a more evocative term than sibling harmony? And we are here talking about singing, rather than the standard well-rehearsed tales of dysfunctional derring-do betwixt embattled brothers, that usually renders the phrase, at best, ironic. No, this is that sweet spot, blood on blood, wherein the gene pool confers a mystic closeness between voices: think Everly, Louvin, McGarrigle. There are a lot, many falling loosely into country genres.

As do these guys, Adam and David Moss, who go a step further and are identical twins. Illinois natives, they grew up with their Dad’s record collection, singing along and honing the precision between their voices. Sure, Don and Phil figured large in that collection, it not long before comparisons were being made. With a couple of well-received albums and an EP under their belts, and tours supporting the likes of Sarah Jarosz, now seemed as good as any to drop a slew of covers (well, two months ago, actually – apologies for the delay).

A quick glance at the list of song might raise slight concern; do we really need yet another “These Days,” for one? Well, you know, maybe we do. Really. Let’s investigate.
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Oct 062022
 

Being the child of a music legend is not without its challenges, especially if you’re trying to carve out a path in the same field as your famous parent.  There’s no right way to do it, but Vieux Farka Toure – son of the late guitarist and singer Ali Farka Toure, Mali’s “King of Desert Blues”– has handled it better than most. Rather than distancing himself from his father’s legacy, you could say that Vieux has expanded upon it, picking up where the elder Toure left off.

At first, Vieux’s dream of becoming a musician was opposed by Ali, who was acutely aware of the cutthroat nature of the music business. Vieux pressed on regardless, first learning the djembe before moving on to guitar, then enrolling at Mali’s prestigious National School of the Arts to receive professional tuition. Ali, perhaps impressed by his son’s tenacity, changed his stance, and in 2004 devoted himself to teaching his signature guitar style to Vieux. It wasn’t a moment too soon: within two years, Ali Farka Toure had passed away from cancer.

Vieux’s debut album arrived in 2007. Since then, he has walked a tightrope of staying true to his heritage while also pursuing innovative collaborations, such as the 2015 album Touristes with American singer Julia Easterlin, or his partnership with Israeli keyboardist and singer Idan Raichel in The Toure-Raichel Collective. 2022, however, has seen Vieux return to his roots. His album Les Racines, released earlier this year, specifically addresses the ongoing turmoil in his homeland of Mali. Taking things even closer to home, this new album, Ali, is an unabashed tribute to the music of his father.
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Sep 242022
 

Things Happen That WayLet’s start with a quick nod to the elephant in the room. Dr. John’s Things Happen That Way isn’t a cover album per se, given there are a number of Mac Rebennack originals on this posthumous release. But given the dude has released his 32nd studio album after having been gone these past two years, we’re of a mind to forgive that. Plus, with the otherwise wealth of covers included, heck, of course we had to review it. And for extra kudos, it is a splendid and unexpected joy, delving into the more country flavors of the N’Awlins voodoo meister.

It seems Mr. Mac was always a bit keen on classic country music. He talked about wanting to make this album long before he actually got to. Now, this here country music is none of your Americana or alt-country; this is the real deal, country that demands to be followed by “and Western.” Between 2017 and 2019, Rebennack and guitarist/producer Shane Theriot met up and made it happen. They enlisted several old buddies along the way, cutting tracks until Rebennack’s heart disease finally caught up with him.

However, with his demise, so too, it seemed, died the final say in what songs and which versions would be allowed to appear, this right now transferring to his estate. So what we get isn’t quite what Dr. John had concluded in his lifetime. Mastering took place later, with some of the versions tweaked to further fulfil, says his daughter, her father’s wishes. He re-recorded “I Walk On Guilded Splinters,” perhaps his best known song, with additional vocals from Rickie Lee Jones. They ditched this in favor of one with Lukas Nelson and his band. Which isn’t a bad thing, but both mayhap would have been better?

Anyhoo, with no further ado, what’s Things Happen That Way like?
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