Ray Charles, in “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” advised, “Ain’t no harm/To take a little nip/But don’t you fall down/And bust your lip.” The 28 various-artist tracks of Cheap Old Wine And Whiskey: Drinking Songs Straight From The Jukejoint (Koko Mojo Records, England) predates Ray’s 1966 #1. These amazing R&B tracks — excavated, dusted off and re-released from the 1950s — take that stoned sentiment to new heights. Every single song is laced with booze. Square Wilton has a “Bad Hangover.” Amos Milburn bemoans “Bad Bad Whiskey.” Johnny Wright is a “Wine Head.” Dave Bartholomew asks that musical question “Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear.” Wilbert Harrison is into “Gin And Coconut Milk.” Birmingham Jones is “Drinkin’ Again.” Jimmy Liggins swears “I’m Not Drunk.” Calvin Boze is “Looped.” Drink up!
Los Angeles singer/songwriter/guitarist/co-producer James Armstrong’s, Blues Been Good To Me (Catfish Records), is a solid effort of eight originals and two covers (the 1964 Marvin Gaye Motown hit, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” and Robert Palmer’s 1986, “Addicted To Love”). The originals burn with intensity both vocally and in his tense Albert Collins-influenced guitar playing. We’re lucky to even have him around stinging that ax after a 1997 home invasion where he was almost stabbed to death. His songs like “Early Grave,” “Shot Gun Wedding” and, especially, “Old Man In The Morning (Young Man At Night)” hit home hard. Armstrong, 60, veers soul, rock and gospel but all with a solid blues foundation.
It’s Not Dark Yet for sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. Their Silver Cross Records/Thirty Tigers debut is homespun yet splashy, traditional yet wildly progressive in its lyrical content, imbued with the kind of layered intertwining vocals that only siblings can achieve. These Alabama women have been to the end of the Earth and back, their collective heartbreak and resilient strength are at the heart of this, their first CD together after 24 albums between the two of them. Their poignant original, “Is It Too Much,” closes things out on a wistful note and, hopefully, points to their shared musical future. The nine covers are hardly the type of material country singers choose. Moorer may be more aligned with Nashville than the fiercely independent Lynne but they complement each other’s proclivities. This begs the question: why haven’t they embarked on a project like this earlier?
Merle Haggard (“Silver Wings”), the Louvin Brothers (“Every Time You Leave”) and Jessie Colter (“I’m Looking For Blue Eyes”) provide the tradition and they beautifully nail all three. The CD opens with “My List” by The Killers that Shelby had to be talked into recording. “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave and the Dylan title track actually transcend both originals into something better. “Lungs” by Townes Van Zandt is my personal highlight, but “Lithium” by Nirvana has to be heard. Now. What are you waiting for?
My Hero’s Daughter
Taj Mahal is my all-time blues hero. He wasn’t very nice to me when I met him but they do say to not meet your heroes for that exact reason. His daughter, Deva Mahal, has been sharing stages with him for years. She co-wrote a track with her dad on his 2008 Maestro CD. Next year, she will debut with Run Deep, produced by Coldplay producer Scott Jacoby. For now, though, we are teased with a three-song self-titled EP (Motema Music) that loudly and proudly introduces her brand of full-on frontal-assault soul music, uninhibited by genre restrictions and featuring two ballsy bluesy originals and a great version of her dad’s longtime staple, “Take A Giant Step,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
A big thank-you to Craft Recordings for finally putting out a worthy 5-CD boxed set in honor of the centennial of John Lee Hooker’s birth. King Of The Boogie spans six decades worth of The Hook and his preternatural boogie’n’blues. Live tracks, rarities, previously unreleased material, duets and all the hits are laid out to the point where the listener is hypnotized, mesmerized. They say that those who cannot feel the blues are forever condemned to think it simply repetitious but it’s that exact repetition that makes it so spiritual. He might be singing about whiskey and women but I swear, after digesting all five CDs in one sitting, I’ve been baptized anew.
The duets disc alone is worth the price of admission as Hooker is one of those rural bluesmen who came out of Mississippi to strike gold first in Detroit, then in Chicago, and finally internationally, winning the love and respect of not only the world but artists like Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, George Thorogood, Robert Cray, Jimmy Vaughan and BB King who fill up the final disc with superstar action.
Culled from over 100 albums, King Of The Boogie can be distilled into one sentiment: the night Hook was in bed and he heard his papa tell his mama, “It’s in him/And it’s got to come out/Let that boy boogie-woogie!” And man, did he ever!
A Stunning Masterpiece
Puerto de Buenas Aires 1933 (Zoho Music) by El Eco with Guillermo Nojechowicz puts into music the path taken by the drummer/composer’s father and grandmother when they left Poland for Argentina to escape the Nazis. Stunningly cinematic, wholly engrossing, El Eco features 13 musicians on 10 tracks that get more and more dramatic. Opener “Milonga Para Los Ninos” fuses folkloric rhythms from Uruguay with tango. The snare drum sound of “Europe 1933” is an echo of the forced death marches that those not lucky enough to leave Poland had to endure. The title track features an Argentinian rhythm known as chacarera, heard for decades as a rural counterpart to the more urban tango. “I Loved You Too,” with its vaguely Middle Eastern snake-charmer feel, is another highlight. Wholeheartedly recommended.