Rant ‘N’ Roll: From Texas, Georgia & Illinois To France And England – 2014 Best-Of Alternates

As in the act of compiling any Top 10, there’s plenty of stuff you forget, gloss over, didn’t hear in time or otherwise changed your mind about. The following are some examples.

The self-titled debut of Austin’s Tinnarose (Nine Mile Records) is a quirky pop delight. Seth Sherman harnessed his alcoholism and depression into a gem like “Emptiness” (about embracing such) while dredging up his favorite ‘70s icons like Fairport Convention (“Willie O’Winsbury”) and Steely Dan (“Monster” and “She Is My Maker”). Devon McDermott brings her blend of classically trained vocals with Irish, English and Appalachian folk strains as a full band fleshes out their ideas with guitars/bass/drums/autoharp/keyboards. Recorded in the farmhouse of a horse stable in Driftwood, Texas, Tinnarose is different. And that’s a good thing.

It’s High Time (Churchill-Nash Records), by Georgia’s Karl W. Davis and The Sweetpeas, is a mesmerizingly funky statement from a white guy who can sing like Al Green, write like Willie Dixon [1915-1992] and lead a band like Muddy Waters [1913-1983]. That’s probably because his family joined the African Methodist Church when he was nine and by his teens he was on the gospel chitlin’ circuit throughout the Southeast. In 2000, he blew ‘em away overseas to become a mainstay ever since of Euro pop fests. Charismatic, he shakes like a bowl of jelly and his piano player can play like Sunnyland Slim [1907-1995].

The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold (Stony Plain) has the Blues Hall Of Famer wrapping his considerable harmonica chops around originals and covers of Joe Tex (“A Mother’s Prayer”), B.B. King (“Worried Dream”) and Chuck Berry (“Nadine”), his band backed by the Roomful Of Blues horns and produced by Duke Robillard. Arnold, 69, is a true-life Chicago wonder, taught to play by Sonny Boy Williamson II [1912-1965]. His songs have been recorded by David Bowie and The Yardbirds. As a member of Bo Diddley’s band, his is the harmonica heard on Diddley’s classic “I’m A Man.” Here, he lets loose with a torrent of emotion, enough to imbue this project with star power. It only took him 14 years to follow-up his mighty Boogie ‘N’ Shuffle album. I just hope we don’t have to wait until 2029 for his next one!

French guitar maestro Stephan Forte channels his inner Yngwie on the all-instrumental neo-classical/metal Enigma Opera Black (Zeta Nemesis Records). With direct nods to players like Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, this wordless Opera is, thankfully, unlike the spate of masturbatory heavy metal ‘80s instrumental CDs. It’s entertaining, adventurous like Meshuggah, surprising, almost-funky (but not quite) and totally impressive.

When Otis Clay joined Johnny Rawls on his tribute CD to O.V. Wright last year (Remembering O.V.), the two must have hit it off because now we have Soul Brothers, an old-school soul-man project that’s so in the pocket, you’d need a pair of pliers to pull it out. Their voices are perfectly suited for each other Sam & Dave-style, so much so that it’s a wonder they haven’t hooked up before this. With originals plus covers of Dave Mason (“Only You Know And I Know”), Jimmy Ruffin (“What’s Become Of The Broken Hearted”) and Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back The Hands Of Time”), these two Soul Brothers get down with their bad selves! Sock it to me, baby!

Queen is Live At The Rainbow ’74 (Eagle Rock Entertainment) on this fascinating Blu-ray. Two years prior to superstardom, you see a band in the throes of self-discovery, on an important British stage, a 3,000-seater. The Queen album was out. The “Sheer Heart Attack” tour was their first headlining trek after just completing a stint as opening act for Mott The Hoople. You can’t take your eyes off of Freddie Mercury, his every twitch and movement conveying worlds of meaning. And that voice! Brian May shreds and totally looks the part of the half-emaciated Brit rockstar. Drummer Roger Taylor is still in Bonham/Moon bash mode. Between the three, you almost don’t notice bassist John Deacon. The material obviously avoids their later clichés. This is the Queen to see…while they were still hungry.