A Rock Masterpiece

Ricky Byrd has made his masterpiece. The New York City rock ’n’ roll hero — who has plied his craft for decades with Southside Johnny, Ian Hunter, Roger Daltrey and Joan Jett — has made a concept album so poignant and so righteously dedicated to its cause, that it sent chills down my spine. Clean Getaway (Recovery Troubadour Records) starts with a kick-ass version of the 1966 Mann/Weil classic, “Kicks,” before devolving into a litany of addiction horror stories. Byrd, who’s been clean for 30 years, enlisted the aid of greats like composers Richie Supa (Aerosmith) and Mark Hudson (Nilsson). They’ve written an album so ferociously rockin’ that even if the lyrics somehow get past you, the music itself stands alone. From Stax-styled soul to the kind of looseness that the Stones and the Faces pioneered, Byrd’s never sounded better, both vocally and on his slashing brand of lead guitar. And what a great band:  Drummer Steve Holley (Wings), bassist Bob Stander (The Platters), keyboardists Bobby Whitlock (Derek & The Dominos) and Andy Burton (Steve Van Zandt), the Asbury Jukes horn section and red hot mama Christine Ohlman (Saturday Night Live band). The highlight has to be “Addict’s Prayer,” an instant Americana classic featuring accordionist Jeff Kazee on, arguably, Byrd’s greatest song. (Partial proceeds will benefit Byrd’s Clean Getaway non-profit helping those in recovery.)


Cowboys and Frenchmen

     Cowboys and Frenchmen are Bluer Than You Think (Outside In Music) on the follow-up to their highly entertaining 2015 Rodeo debut. The New York City quintet is led by sax men, Owen Broder and Ethan Helm, who write genre-bending instrumentals backed by a right-on-time piano/bass/drums rhythm section. Surprises abound. “Beasts” has conflicting melodies while “Companion Plan” has conflicting meters. This gives the music a daring edge and an element of dramatic syntax. From their quirky take on the title cut’s blues to their terrific “C&F Jam” (thought of while stopped at a Manhattan traffic light noticing conflicting car stereos), this is a band that will make you think as much as groove. It’s all in the conflict.


Juvenile Monk

Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander’s No. 1 influence has always been Thelonious Monk. After two promising studio CDs, Joey Monk Live (Motema Music) was recorded at New York City’s prestigious Lincoln Center last June with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Willie Jones III. Monk is notoriously difficult music to cover but Alexander breezes through seven of the master’s most popular compositions with flair and syncopated aplomb. Two of seven eschew his sidemen completely, thus freeing him to run rampant and fly high solo-style. The breadth and width of his imagination knows no boundaries. Joey, it should be noted, is 14.


Fusion Extraordinaire

     Agrima, in Sanscrit, means “next.” Pakistani alto saxophonist/composer/bandleader, Rudresh Mahanthappa, leads his Indo-Pak Coalition through eight circuitous — and totally delightful — meanderings combining folk, world, jazz, classical and electronica. Drummer Dan Weiss — a former metal dude — is also a whiz on tabla, plus he adds oh-so-cool effects and the folkloric rhythms of India to his arsenal. Ru is a Princeton prof. whose alto echo, delay and laptop apps are akin to guitarist Rez Abbasi’s wah-wah pedals and fuzz-tone. The title cut, with its synthesized loops and cracked beats, is an anthem for the adventurous. More than one track has a shifting foundation. Imagine a building built on a foundation of sand that moves to and fro with the wind as if it’s going to all come down at any moment. This heightened sense of anticipation makes Agrima an instant alt classic.


Stax Box

     Soulsville USA:  A Celebration of Stax (Craft Recordings) is a 60-song trip on three CDs documenting the legendary record label Stax out of Memphis. From Otis Redding, Booker T & The MGs and Sam & Dave to Albert King, The Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes, Stax set the ‘60s standard for soul. Plus, it had the hippest house band in the land. If Motown is The Beatles, then Stax is the Stones:  looser, funkier and much grittier. I would’ve weighed heavier on the earlier years but why quibble? Disc #3 still has a high percentage of great-sounding punch. Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff,” Johnny Taylor’s “Cheaper To Keep Her” and Frederick Knight’s “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long” are but three that sound as vital in 2017 as when they were first released. Most of this boxed set packs a Major League wallop, especially when played real loud while driving down the highway.


Supermodel Samba

Blame it on the bossa-nova but Bianca Rossini, on her third CD, can give up her day jobs. She’s the Brazilian actress, poet, author, singer, songwriter, supermodel, television host and columnist whose Vento do Norte (Apaixonada Music/BDM Music) is so mellifluous and sensual that it’s bound to be an international hit. This is a gal who knows whereof she came, thus she namechecks the greatest samba of them all — Antonio Carlos Jobim’s 1964 “Girl From Ipanema” — in her own “Ipanema Paraiso,” a bold move if you can’t back it up…and she does, in spades. (It helps to have the silken tone of tenor saxophonist Jimmy Roberts adding a sailing solo.) She’s also brave enough to openly write of lust in her “Tic Tac do Amor.” The 10 playful beach-ready tracks utilize different rhythm sections for segues that sound as passionate as they do soulful. My only confusion is “Paris In Beverly Hills” where she sings the title line in English, begging the question of why Paris without the pay-off of an answer in the verses which are sung in Portuguese. Still, this is a sensuous and seductive keeper.


Canadian Bar Band Heaven

    Andre Bisson’s self-produced and self-released Break is a hot little record you’ll want your DJ to play, filled with funky soul and bluesy rock ’n’ roll. Utilizing 20 instruments all self-arranged to perfection to squeeze out every last drop of funk, the 12 tracks end with a bonus live rave-up (“Nothing At All”). With influences ranging from gospel, Motown and blues to big-band, rock ’n’ roll and Beatles (dig his “Eleanor Rigby”), Bisson’s like a charging buffalo. If that last track is any indication, I’ve gotta see this dude in concert!