Return Of The Delta Lady Leon Russell wrote “Delta Lady” for his girlfriend Rita Coolidge, the beautiful Cherokee with the silky warm sensuous voice that captivated a generation. Coolidge, 73, has such a profound pedigree — singing with Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Cocker and Ray Charles — that I approached listening to her new Safe In The Arms Of Time (Blue Elan Records) with a certain trepidation. Yet on her own “Naked All Night” and on “Walking On Water” (a duet with blues man Keb Mo), as well as “Doing Fine Without You” (co-written by ex-boyfriend Graham Nash), that voice is still very much evident. And how smart of her to stay on the rock side of the road! Her band kicks, thus Safe In The Arms Of Time is one of 2018’s most pleasant and musically satisfying surprises.
Genre-Splicing Drummer/Composer/Producer/Vocalist Jonathan Barber has self-released and splash-landed Vision Ahead, the kind of genre-splicing debut that stands out immaculately on its own. Inspired by the 2016 tragic death of his brother, Barber got it together in his grief to look forward. His septet spirals upward in an escalating roller coaster of post-bop, funk and soul to the point where one doesn’t even realize where one genre ends and the other begins. The 12 tracks flow into each other with gorgeous abandon. From the 8:01 “Gone Away” and 8:06 “Doubt” to the 7:45 title-track and 7:49 “Mr. JB,” piano, Fender Rhodes, synth, guitar, alto sax, bass, drums and two super-fine female vocalists coalesce in achieving a stunning synthesis of jams that will make your head spin.
Honky-Tonk Hero Mike Zito is living a First Class Life on his new Ruf Records record. The hardcore Texas blues-rocker has never sounded better, even when he spearheaded the Royal Southern Brotherhood into an Allmans-styled fury, and even after his groundbreaking 2013 Gone To Texas. Zito beat addiction and is now right up there with fellow Texan Delbert McClinton as a tried ’n’ true Lone Star honky-tonker for the ages. Dude can sing up a storm and play some hard rock electric guitar with the best of ‘em. On a stage, he’s not only the real deal but one of the most exciting acts you could possibly witness. This totally rockin’ blues album with highlights “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treat Me),” “Mama Don’t Like No Wah-Wah” and “Old Black Graveyard” is up amongst the best of his career.
An Americana Gem Longtime Tennessee guitar hotshot Tony Keats has finally stepped out front on his optimistically-named Radio Sounds. Self-released, co-produced, he wrote 10 of 11, the sole cover being Van Morrison’s “Cleaning Windows.” His sextet is a hot one, colored by the dulcet tones of piano/organ/clavinet/pedal steel. Firmly in the Americana bread-basket, his voice is like a friendly new buddy telling his stories over a few cold ones at a local bar. He’s gathered up quite a few tales of “Love And Affection” and “East Nashville Fireflies” but it’s “Raining In New Orleans” that’s the highlight. Highly Recommended.
Let’s Hear It For The Girls The various females on Baby I’ve Got It: More Motown Girls (Ace Records) will woo you into a blissful state of zen. Recorded between 1961 and 1969, 16 of 24 are unissued (the remaining eight only out since 2014 as part of the Motown Unreleased project). The sexy opener “In My Heart I Know It’s Right” was the first Motown single from Gladys Knight & The Pips in ’65. She didn’t even want it out at all but was talked into it by her Pips. Brenda Holloway, Martha & The Vandellas, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, Kim Weston and even actress Barbara McNair (whose “You’ve Got Possibilities” adds sultry adult Vegas-styled pop to the mix) are included as is the hard-luck Liz Lands who recorded over 100 songs for the label in ’63 and ’64 with very few actual releases.
Dead Pioneer A prime motivator of the outlaw country movement that propelled Willie’n’Waylon to stardom, Steve Young [1942-2016], son of a poverty-stricken sharecropper, had to leave Georgia due to his vocal endorsement of civil rights. Landing in Los Angeles, he formed a band with Stephen Stills (The Gas Company), sang on the streets for chump change, worked in the same post office as poet Charles Bukowski, drank, drugged and recorded the seminal 1972 outlaw-country album Seven Bridges Road (which the Eagles co-opted in 1980). His songs have been recorded by Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Hank Williams, Jr. On his sixth album, 1981’s To Satisfy You, recently re-released by Ace Records, he returns the favor, covering nine — including Waylon (the title track), Buddy Holly (“Think It Over”), Rolling Stones (“No Expectations”) and Cat Stevens (“Wild World”) — while writing one absolutely gorgeous gem (“The River And The Swan.”)
Steve Young never truly got his rightful due as the godfather of outlaw-country which morphed into the popular Americana format. He quit his rough’n’rowdy ways, embraced Buddhism, and died at 73 in a Nashville hospice after a long and debilitating illness exacerbated by a severe head injury suffered in an accidental fall.
French Rockabilly It Feels So Good (Rhythm Bomb) by Eddie and the Head-Starts is one old-school punked-out rockabilly record from France where the tunes bop and stroll in an organic garage of independent action. Taking their cue from The Hillbilly Two who backed the very young Elvis Presley on guitar and bass, these Head-Starts need no drums to get their motor runnin’. Lead singer/rhythm guitarist “Fast” Eddie Gazel, spiffy lead guitarist Stephane Beaussart and slap-bassist Thibaut Chopin will get your gears grinding on great songs like the opening “Slow Boogie Rock,” “Rock Everybody,” “The Cramp” and nine more. They’ve got a rocket in their pocket and the fuse is lit!
Bonamassa’s British Blues The Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, John Mayall, Eric Clapton and Cream get the all-powerful Joe Bonamassa treatment on this rampaging, non-stop double-live helping of heaviness. British Blues Explosion Live (J&R Adventures) is action-packed enough to maintain a consistent level of excitement as Joe sings and stings his strings better than ever. His longtime producer Kevin Shirley makes sure every trebly detail is accentuated while still maintaining that satisfying bottom. The band, as usual, is sterling. Joe plays off his bass/keyboards/drums/rhythm guitar like the real pro he is. His love and mastery of the hard-rockin’ blues has always been a total delight and this one is no exception. Highlights include songs that have already been imbedded in my DNA like “Plynth,” “Spanish Boots,” “Swlabr” and “How Many More Times.”