When rock bands do the blues, it could come out terrible (Aerosmith’s Honkin’ On Bobo) or sublime (Eric Clapton’s From the Cradle). Colin James is a Canadian treasure. For his 18th album (Blue Highways on True North Records), his first all-blues effort has 13 classics infused with warmth, wit, chops and soul. Starting with Freddie King’s “Boogie Funk” and ending with Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal,” he hits all the right bases with Muddy Waters (“Gypsy Woman”), Memphis Slim (“Lonesome”), Junior Wells (“Hoodoo Man Blues”) and Blind Willie McTell (“Ain’t Long For Day”). He even mashes up Howling Wolf’s “Riding In The Moonlight” with Jimmy Reed’s “Mr. Luck”. I’m lovin’ this.


What more is there to say about Lou Reed [1942-2013]? With the release of the mammoth 17-disc boxed set (Lou Reed: The RCA & Arista Album Collection on Legacy Recordings), plenty. Talk about definitive! Reed himself was working on this project right up to his death from liver disease at the age of 71. It starts in 1972, two years after the break-up of his pioneering Velvet Underground band, and goes to 1986. His wife Laurie Anderson—the avant-garde performance artist—worked on it with him. In listening to masterpieces like Transformer—produced by David Bowie who sang background vocals—and his self-titled ’72 debut in 2016 is to be brought back to a time and a place in New York City that oozed with the awareness that anything was possible.

Berlin (’73) might be recognized by many as his greatest work but I dare say, after digesting this box whole, that albums like Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Heart (both ’76), Street Hassle (’78) and The Bells (what I consider ’79 jazz prog-rock) are his greatest. The works after that may not be all masterpieces like the aforementioned, but there are nuggets of pure gold extract that bring pleasures untold. I could’ve done without the awful Metal Machine Music (’75) but I think Reed released that as a big 63:59 of feedback as a fuck-you to the industry-at-large.

There’s also two live bursts. The first one, Rock N Roll Animal (’74), is worthy of repeated listenings and holds up sonically unlike most live albums from that era. It’s a jam-happy five-song hour that rocks hard. The other one, Take No Prisoners, is fascinating for a one-time listen only. Done at The Bottom Line with Reed name-checking Bruce Springsteen who was sitting at a table up-front, Reed is positively giddy with stories and remembrances to the point where his in-between song patter is more entertaining than the songs themselves.


Italy’s Obake—Eraldo Bernocchi, guitars/electronics; Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari, vocals/electronics; Colin Edwin, electric bass; Jacopo Pierazzuoli, drums—is on its third CD but Draugr (RareNoiseRecords) is its stateside debut. The band’s name—Obake—means “ghost of the departed” in Japanese. The CD’s title—Draugr—means “creature returning from the dead” in the family of Indo-European languages that stretch over the greater part of Europe and Asia into northern India. They politely touch on their doom and grindcore roots all the way 180% opposite in their ambient nothingness. Meanwhile, short bursts of jazz, prog rock and noise flash across the mix but don’t blink or you’ll miss it.


There’s a gorgeous area in North Carolina where the Smoky Mountains meet the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s known as the Balsam Range. Balsam Range is also the name of the award-winning bluegrass band from that area and on Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home Music Company), Buddy Melton (fiddle), Darren Nicholson (mandolin), Dr. Marc Pruett (banjo), Tim Surrett (bass/dobro) and Caleb Smith (guitar) make the most joyous jam-happy string-band acoustic noise you’re ever going to hear without drums. Since their 2007 inception, they seem to have taken over the mantle of what’s considered pure acoustic bluegrass music and, hey, who am I to argue? They all sing and can really get down with that “high lonesome” bluegrass vocal sound.


You gotta love when instrumentation gets crazy. When’s the last time you thrilled to a guitar/accordion/bass/drums quartet doing an instrumental version of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears or a gypsy-swing version of tango titan Astor Piazzolla’s “Escualo”? Go no further because on Infusion (Azica) guitarist Jason Vieaux and accordionist Julien Labro are here to make you grooooooove until the cows come home. Plus, they beautifully cover Pat Metheny’s “Antonia.”


Jeff Chaz rocks on This Silence Is Killing Me (JCP Records). He’s a New Orleans singer/songwriter/guitarist stalwart who leads a big-band here complete with bass, drums, percussion, keyboards (2), trumpet (2), saxophone (2) and violin on such blues-rock instant classics as “I Ain’t Nothin’ Nice,” “The Blues Is My Drug,” “Fried Chicken Store,” “Self Inflicted Wound” and the rollicking closer, “Creole Mustard Swing.” Highly Recommended.


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