Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, after having produced Dr. John last year, has turned his attention to Bombino, 33, whose Nomad (Nonesuch) is bringing the singer/songwriter/guitarist international fame for the first time beyond Saharan Africa. Bombino’s from a tribe in Niger, a tribe that’s been fighting their government over their civil rights for years. In and out of exile, one of his tribe’s freedom fighters left behind a guitar. Then, as a teen living in Libya, he discovered Hendrix and Mark Knopfler. He’d sit for hours at his job as a herder watching the animals and practicing, eventually jamming with bands where his six-string wizardry earned him barroom hotshot honors. In 2009, filmmaker Ron Wyman made it his business to track down the local legend (it took him a year). Bombino, at the time, was in hiding after two of his bandmates were killed in a rebellion. Wyman wound up including Bombino in a documentary film, plus he produced Bombino’s 2011 solo CD, Agadez. And now we have Nomad: mysterious, soulful, percussive, with his coarse-to-fine sandpaper voice singing in his native language. With its trippy, jam-happy Afro-pop sheen, punctuated by Bombino’s electric bursts, Nomad might make a few critic Top 10 lists this year.


The music of Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans on Great Day In The Morning (ManHatTone) is good for you. It’s the aural equivalent of fresh, local organic produce grown with no pesticides or antibiotics: sweet ‘n’ bluesy jug band music with a good-time feel-good back-porch acoustic vibe like on Tampa Red’s “Anna Lou Blues,” some early folk music, swing and rags. The fiddles are flyin’, the upright bass is plucked provocatively, there’s handclaps, even a little double-sax action on the aptly-named opener “Little Gem” and others. You got your banjo and electric bass when needed, some dobro, drums and, of course, Brad’s vocals and big-time bottleneck guitar playing which is all over this, his fourth and best album yet.


Kelly Richey, where have you been all my life? For her 15th album, Sweet Spirit (Sweet Lucy), the ballsy blues rocker gives the kind of performance leaving blood, sweat and other bodily fluids on the floor. This girl is bad! She wrote all 10 songs, plays lead guitar like Jimmy Page, sings like Big Mama Thornton and, with the help of bass/drums/two percussionists/three keyboardists, has fashioned an album that would be AC/DC in its primal aggression but is so much more in its blues-soaked soul. “Hard Workin’ Woman” sums it all up as a fitting closer. And you can tell in the song titles themselves—“I Went Down Easy,” “Leavin’ It All Behind,” “Fast Drivin’ Mama,” “Dyin’” and “One Way Ticket” being the best of the batch—that this gal won’t take any guff. So love her or leave her alone. I opt to love her from now on.


Since I keep telling everybody to turn off country radio and the crap it promotes, it’s only fair—since I love country music—to turn folks on to the real deal. A Million Stars (Home Perm) by the ultra-talented Ashleigh Flynn won’t get played by the corporations but it’s worth seeking out if you want real homespun ballsy compositions with resolve, conviction and sweetness. The gal can write and sing with the best of them. She’s out of Oregon and this fourth on her own label, produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists, could be construed as a modern alternative/Americana classic. She sings of the mythic Cattle Annie in the title-track who had to disguise herself as a man to gain access to the Wild West by riding the outlaw trails. She goes Dixieland in telling the story of mysterious bootlegger “Prohibition Rose.” Todd Snider helps out on “See That Light,” a song with a strong moral. She reaches back to 1928 Ma Rainey for “Prove It On Me.” Bluegrass is represented by “Dirty Hands Dirty Feet.” She’s got a rebel-yell about her and she’s not above some well-placed profanity and even a little proselytizing (very little, don’t worry) in a mid-song gay-rights rap. You go, girl!


Pierce My Heart (self-released, paulpierceproject.webs.com) by The Paul Pierce Project is the best Steely Dan album since the Dan’s Everything Must Go in 2003. It’s a fascinating musical excursion when you consider the fact that Pierce, a singer/songwriter/drummer, uses the Dan template—the funk, the lyrics, the vocals, the arrangements—in which to present his originals. Hey, I’m not complaining. It’s a keeper. I wonder if Donald Fagen’s heard it.

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