Greta Gaines hadn’t written a song in years but after last November’s surrealistic election, the seven compositions of her sixth CD Tumbleweed (on her own Big Air Records) came fast. Based in Nashville but more Chrissy Hynde than Martina McBride, Gaines, with longtime partner Eric Fritsch, explored themes of nostalgia, freedom and survival in a country gone mad. Picture Pat Benatar crossed with Lucinda Williams. Her brand of Southern Soul and rockin’ Americana, aided by Bob Dylan’s longtime steel guitarist Bucky Baxter, goes down easy. Dusty Springfield crossed with Sheryl Crow? Gaines is one fascinating female: besides being the 1992 Women’s Extreme Snowboarding Champion, an ESPN and MTV on-air personality, label owner and activist for the repeal of marijuana laws (proceeds from the closing cut “Light It Up” will benefit NORML), she is one hell of a solid singer/songwriter.


It’s been 14 years since the classic British rock band Procol Harum put out an album. That would be 2003’s underwhelming The Well’s On Fire. Truthfully, I thought they were finished. Novum (Eagle Records), though, shows there’s still life left in the old geezers. It’s their 13th effort and, yes, one of the best of their half-century as a band. Even the cover art references “Whiter Shade Of Pale.” And the lyrics are by Pete Brown who wrote all those great songs with Cream back in the day. Gary Brooker’s voice is still top-notch. The fraying around its edges just gives it a realness that time did not destroy. It’s Brooker’s show as his new bandmates (together since the ‘90s) play it straight. Bassist Matt Pegg survived Jethro Tull. Drummer Geoff Dunn survived Van Morrison (both Ian Anderson and Morrison are said to be notoriously tough bandleaders). Guitarist Geoff Whitehorn learned from Roger Daltrey while organist Josh Phillips learned from Pete Townshend (reportedly the two Who bosses are easy to work with on solo projects) . With lyrics good enough to chew over (“Last Chance Motel” is my highlight), and arrangements quirky enough to satisfy the alternative crowd, Novum rocks.


Trumpeter/Singer/Songwriter Nico Sarbanes is Live In Baltimore, his home town. These 2015 performances with such top-notch musicians as Antonio Hart, Warren Wolf, Winard Harper and Tim Green are pretty damn thrilling as Nico can blow, and blow big. His phrasing, his tone, his sense of dynamics and group jam-band interplay give this disc an electricity that will rattle around your brain and cause you to ask for more. The five elongated tracks bespeak a studied elegance that maintains a reverence for tradition yet is forward-thinking in approach. Opener “Isfahan” is a discussion with vibraphonist Wolf. The lone ballad is a reworking of a chestnut long discarded yet when Nico wraps his pipes around “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” (from the 1956 musical My Fair Lady), the old becomes new again (a supreme compliment). “Somethin’ Fo’ Smitty” is unvarnished blues, raw and palpable (dig that Green alto solo!). Highly recommended.


The three discs of The Authorized Bang Collection (Legacy Recordings) shows an embryonic Van Morrison in the throes of capturing his mojo. It’s fascinating. Coming on the heels of renewed interest in producer/songwriter/arranger Bert Berns (a longtime forgotten hero of rock’n’roll since his 1967 death at 38), it shows off Van’s propensity to get really dark (“TB Sheets”) and playfully romantic (“Brown Eyed Girl”). Disc #3 is absolutely hilarious. If #1 (“The Original Masters”) contains the finished product and Disc #2 (“Bang Sessions & Rarities”) contains the previously unreleased as well as alternate versions and jams, then Disc #3 (“Contractual Obligation Session”) is the kicker, for it is here, upon an ugly fall-out with Berns wherein Van still owed him one more album for Bang Records, Van’s mean-spirited sense of revenge is on full display. The 31 short songs on Disc #3 have been widely bootlegged but now have an official release in a much better sounding version. I can just picture Morrison thinking, “Bang wants one more album? I’ll give him one more album, alright!” Thus, “Twist And Shake” sounds just like “Shake And Roll” which sounds just like “Stomp And Holler” which sounds just like “Scream And Holler.” Van finds his sense of humor by track #13 (“Freaky If You Got This Far”) yet still has the temerity to do “Blowin’ Your Nose” and “Nose In Your Blow” as an affront to coke-wielding music-bizzers.


Keep an ear out for Sean Jones. He stems from a long line of trumpet gurus extending way back from Pops to Dizzy to Miles to Hubbard to Marsalis. Live from Jazz at the Bistro (Mack Avenue Records) is the St. Louis 38-year-old’s eighth effort. Its seven songs are split between quartet and, when saxophonist Brian Hogans joins, quintet. It’s tough to keep a core quartet alive and working for over a decade but pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire have stuck it out with Jones and the results are, in a word, astonishing. “Lost Then Found” has Jones playing in unison with the stark sound of soprano sax on a Latin Swing kinda thing. “BJ’s Tune” is what one might call Gospel Jazz. Throughout, Jones is exemplary. They used to say that Armstrong done bust his lip early on playing those high trills. The embouchure of Sean Jones is such that the relationship of his mouth to his horn almost makes it seem as if he’s singing, thus his sound is so human, vulnerable and empathetic that he comes off as a super-talented everyman. Thirty years from now, we just may be talkin’ ‘bout Mr. Jones as the post-bop arbiter of all things swing. He’s just that damn good.

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