In Tribute

  Was there ever a more enigmatic American songwriter than Fred Neil? Born in Ohio, raised in Florida, he died at age 65 in 2001 from skin cancer. As a Brill Building composer, his songs were recorded by Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. His most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’”, was taken to the top of the charts by Harry Nilsson in 1969 after it was used in the film Midnight Cowboy. When it hit No. 1, instead of capitalizing upon its success, he quit music, never toured, and became a champion of dolphins when he formed The Dolphin Research Project in 1970 with conservationist Ric O’Barry and Stephen Stills to eradicate their killing and exploitation for commercial purposes.

  Folksinger Eric Andersen (with John Sebastian on harmonica) leads off Everybody’s Talkin’: A Tribute To Fred Neil (Y&T Music/Alliance Entertainment) with “The Dolphins.” Rodney Crowell’s succinct “Candyman” and Bob Ingram’s “A Little Bit Of Rain” are the only songs previously released out of 13 (“The Dolphins” is reprised as the closer). As the songs fly by with a host of Americana artists, a sense of Neil’s wit and wisdom seeps through the mix. From “Bleecker & MacDougal” to the “Dade County Jail”, Neil’s songs key in on the ever optimistic human spirit in the face of grave circumstances. Maybe the release of this tribute will spur interest in the still-dormant recordings he made with pioneering ‘60s San Francisco hippie band Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Decidedly Delicious

  Drummer/Composer Samuel Martinelli is Crossing Paths with a legend on his self-released debut. The legend in question is Claudio Roditi, 72, the Brazilian trumpeter. The Martinelli mix ’n’ match musical style pours folkloric Brazilian rhythms and jazz into a beautiful blender. He wrote six of eight, covering Dizzy Gillespie’s 1951 “Birks Works” and Sonny Rollins’s 1956 “St. Thomas” (based on a traditional British folk song). Roditi adds his signature trumpet plus flugelhorn as bassist Marcus McLaurine and pianist Tomoko Ohno try to keep up. And boy, do they ever! McLaurine played in the Count Basie Orchestra and with trumpeter Clark Terry for 25 years. Martinelli is one of those poly-rhythmic drummers equally adept at bossa-nova, swing and post-bop. From the opening cascading notes of “Samba Echoes” on through the oxy-moronic “Whispering Loud”, this samba-jazz pairing is decidedly delicious.

Spliff-Worthy

  Lit up a fat spliff and get down to this re-release of a true-life Jamaican kingpin:  Come Straight by Ronnie Davis and Idren originally came out in 1996 on the Nighthawk label. When Omnivore swallowed up Nighthawk recently, it set in motion a stunning series of re-releases that reggae fans should be going nuts over. Davis, who died last year at age 66, enjoyed so many hits on so many labels with so many producers that by the late ‘70s, he was one of the most well-known reggae men on the planet. As a member of The Itals, he toured the States prodigiously before going solo in the ‘80s. Come Straight is his masterpiece, now remixed, remastered and complete with bonus tracks, rare photos and fascinating liner notes. Wholeheartedly Recommended.

 

Courtesy of Amy Brat

Blues-Rock Power Trio

  After seven years as the lead guitarist for Alan Parsons, Alastair Greene lets loose with what he does best:  heavy and hard rockin’ versions of the blues with his Creamy power trio. Bassist Jim Rankin and drummer Austin Beede are the perfect foil for his flights of fancy, guitar-stinging and singing like a California version of ZZ Top. Live From The 805 (Rip Cat Records) is a ballsy two-disc hometown Santa Barbara concert with 20 songs culled from his five studio albums (best of which is his 2017 Dream Train). He covers Jimmy Reed (“Big Boss Man”) and Albert King (“Love So Strong”) but mostly concentrates on his intense originals. Get down!

The Other Yes

  With two versions of Yes criss-crossing the globe, you need a scorecard to figure out which Yes is Yes. There’s the one with guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and that Buggle, keyboardist Geoff Downes, with vocals/bass. I vote, though, for the Yes with singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Trevor Rabin and keyboardist Rick Wakeman (with drums/bass). This latter configuration is in fine form on Eagle Vision’s 50th Anniversary: Live At The Apollo, recently released on CD, vinyl and visual formats.

  The Manchester, England Apollo crowd is ecstatic but thankfully unobtrusive. I couldn’t have picked a more power-packed set list myself and, man, Anderson amazingly sounds better than ever. (He’s the main reason this Yes gets the nod.) The obvious choices are slightly rearranged for maximum prog jams. The deeper cuts are deep enough that it’s all new again. Wakeman’s still a force of nature. Shrooming into the stratosphere with psychedelic finger fur, he doesn’t so much as play as have his 10 digits dance on the keys. Rabin’s the six-stringed revelation, though. Who knew he could do that? I stopped seeing Yes back when they were one and Chris Squire was wearing his white lab coat and Anderson was trying to get 18,000+ rowdies at the Garden to meditate.

 

Courtesy of Bob Merlis

These Blues Make You Feel Good

  ZZ Top’s Billy F Gibbons has now morphed into that which he first emulated: a tried’n’true blues hero like Waters, Wolf, Reed, King, King or King. He has a certain cute little way of flirtin’ that brings out the tradition yet adds a rock ’n’ roll sheen like the restoration of a classic ‘64 Mustang. The Big Bad Blues (Concord Records) is the best ZZ Top album in years. Well, actually, it’s his second solo record after 2015’s delicious Perfectomundo. But this one is stone cold rockin’ blues made even more delectable with that aged-whiskey voice, harp and stuttering electric guitar on hot action by Bo Diddley, some Muddy (of course), his own wife and his own pen. It feels good.

Tempestuous Torch Songs

  I would bend over backwards just to hear Mandy Barnett sing hello to me. Back when Patsy Cline was reincarnated in her body, I fell in love with her. It was the ‘90s and nobody sang Patsy better than Mandy. When we sat on the bed in a Nashville hotel room, I fell into her beautiful eyes and asked if there was life after Cline. (She was starring as the dead legend on the Opry stage at the time.) Seven albums later (with a five-year silence since her dead-on 2013 Don Gibson tribute I Can’t Stop Loving You), she returns with Strange Conversation (Thirty Tigers/Dame Productions). It’s her masterpiece, recorded in Muscle Shoals, dark like good swamp rock.
  This is what Americana is all about. With a voice as warm, inviting, soulful and husky as, say, Rosanne Cash, she takes “More Lovin’” by the legendary “Able” Mabel John and makes it her own. Stepping outside her Nashville comfort zone, she plays Cher to John Hiatt’s Sonny on “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done”. She even takes “Puttin’ On The Dog” by Tom Waits(!) and makes it irresistible, sexy and demanding to be played over and over and over.

  I just hope it’s not another five years before we get to hear her honeyed voice on CD again.

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