Rant ‘N’ Roll: The Best Of The Best

Gone To Texas (Ruf) by Mike Zito & The Wheel is a 13-track (no filler!) barrelhouse boogie ‘n’ blues Southern rock funkin’ honky-tonkin’ Louisiana soul party from this 43-year-old Missouri mauler. Zito keeps it real all the way through whether he’s boppin’ the alt country or the closing gospel track. Delbert McClinton sings and blows some badass blues-harp on “The Road Never Ends.” Sonny Landreth, one of those rare under-the-radar true guitar heroes, rocks it hard on “Rainbow Bridge.” This is Americana at its finest: gritty, visceral and downright scary (“Death Row”).

We’re party-hoppin’ now ‘cause I Didn’t Want To Do It (MamaRu) by Macy Blackman & The Mighty Fines is a New Orleans fest fit to knock yourself out to. Macy’s a Delaware piano prodigy since age 12 who got hip fast to The Crescent City’s pleasures when he met drummer Hungry Williams in New York. Now, listening to this cat is like stepping into the Dew Drop Inn circa 1955. The material? How ‘bout Allen Toussaint, Brook Benton, Otis Redding, Etta James, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ike & Tina Turner and Jackie Wilson? (Saxophonist Nancy Wright adds the female vocals.)

I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs Of Don Gibson (Cracker Barrel) by Mandy Barnett is everything country music should be in 2013 but isn’t. Hate to sound like a broken record but country radio today is pure garbage and what masquerades on television as country music is also pure garbage. I first met Mandy in the ‘90s when she portrayed Patsy Cline in a Nashville theatrical presentation that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Today, she’s the closest thing to Patsy there is. Her voice is a honey-laden sexy instrument of power and tenderness. Not since Linda Ronstadt has there been a female voice that could alternately sooth, purr and demand, oftentimes in the same lyric line. All these so-called female country stars today should just shut the hell up and listen to Mandy Barnett sing. She can make you cry with her vulnerability yet her pure power cannot be denied. Here, she even shows respect for country’s glorious past (something these current stars hardly ever do) by devoting an entire album to the classic songs of such a great songwriter as Don Gibson. To hear Mandy tear through “Oh Lonesome Me,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Sweet Dreams” and nine others is like hearing these gems for the first time. It’s captivating. And it’s recorded like the old “countrypolitan” days that became frowned upon when Waylon ‘n’ Willie rewrote the country rulebook in the 1970s. But now, compared to today’s drek, it sounds good again. I thought Shelby Lynne was my goddess. She’s going to have to share a place in my heart now with Mandy Barnett. God, this is beautiful!

Over The Bridge Of Time: A Paul Simon Retrospective 1964-2011 (Sony Legacy) is the first best-of to combine The Master’s material with and without Art Garfunkel so the first six are S&G standards and the last 14 are solo gems. The genius of it all is in picking only 20 songs from a six-decade career. Consider it an essential primer for those, unlike myself, who don’t already own everything my fellow Newark Jew ever did. Suffice it to say we go from New Orleans to New York City to Jamaica to Brazil to Africa here, all through a Simon blender of warm friendly vocals, brilliant poetry and his under-rated unbelievable way with a guitar. This cat plays but his manual dexterity on the frets has always been overshadowed by his words and melodies. It’s a surrealistic relationship I have with Paul Simon: he’s like a beloved uncle yet I’m a stranger to him. Should we ever talk, the love would be a one-way street. I remember mentioning this to Brian Wilson once on the phone and he was kind enough to tell me he felt the love. From all I’ve read about Paul Simon, he probably wouldn’t be so kind. They tell you not to meet your heroes.