Soul’s Core was Atlanta singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins’ 1998 debut that had the folkie touring behind the surprise million-selling single “Lullaby.” In an extremely rare move, Mullins has re-recorded all 13 tracks of his 20-year old debut…twice. His self-released Soul’s Core Revival is a two-disc revisit wherein he interprets his own material with his current touring band and then, on Disc No. 2, solo acoustic. The second disc comes complete with him explaining the story behind each song. Producer/Drummer Gator Hansen has pumped up the volume for the band set, elongating, stretching and jamming out with master multi-instrumentalist all-star Randall Bramblett on Hammond organ, tenor sax and piano. Add bass, baritone sax, accordion, Wurlitzer, mandolin, 12-string guitar, trumpet, drums, background vocals and hand claps and you’ve got a party. “Anchored In You,” originally a waltz, is now a New Orleans parade. “You Mean Everything To Me” goes from a folk ballad to a gospel hymn. Kris Kristofferson’s 1969 “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (the greatest song ever written about a hangover) sounds great as sung by Mullins, whose voice throughout is strong and soulful, making each lyric totally believable.
It’s a great idea (if you can bring something new to the table as did Mullins). Now I’d love to see other 1998 albums like Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals, Aerosmith’s Little South Of Sanity, Cher’s Believe, Lenny Kravitz’s Five, Metallica’s Garage, Inc., King Crimson’s Absent Lovers, Rage Against The Machine’s Live And Rare, Hole’s Celebrity Skin, Ricky Martin’s Vuelve, Black Sabbath’s Reunion, Chris Isaak’s Speak Of The Devil, Gladys Knight’s Many Different Roads, Pearl Jam’s Yield, R.E.M.’s Up and Chaka Khan’s Come To My House redone in new and creative ways a la Mullins by their respective artists. It’d be an interesting trend.
Topics In American History (Blue Schist Records) by the Jentsch Group No Net is a wonderfully eclectic and rare history lesson of our country through a jazz lens tackling “1491,” “Manifest Destiny,” the “Lincoln-Douglas Debates” (in which trumpet and trombone get loud with each other) and that infamous ‘Meeting At Surratt’s” where Mary Surratt hosted Abraham Lincoln’s killer at her boarding house and, as a direct result, became the first executed American woman. This nonet (a nine-piece band) incorporates flute, clarinet, sax, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, piano, Jentsch’s electric guitar, acoustic bass and drums/percussion as conducted by J.C. Sanford. Highlight “Dominos” approximates the existential dread of the cold war amidst the theory that countries abroad will fall, one by one, to creeping Communism (the flawed main reason for the Vietnam fiasco). “Tempest-Tost” comes straight from the inscription on the Statue of Liberty about those “huddled masses yearning to be free.” “Suburban Diaspora” is a Baby Boomer celebration of what can be perceived of as their shared cultural birthright. It’s all very heady and if you listen long enough to this brilliant Brooklynite, it all starts to make sense.
For Indonesian guitarist/composer Dewa Budjana’s 11th album Mahandini (MoonJune Records), the fusion pioneer extraordinaire collaborates with Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante who wrote opener “Crowded,” sings and adds his signature guitar before “Queen Kanya” gets all crazy with Soimah Pancawati’s wildly percussive chant-vocals. Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess spills his liquidity all over the mix while guest guitarist Mike Stern spices up “ILW.” Stern’s ax is like a seismic eruption of molten lava. Remember when Miles Davis released those ‘80s albums of futuristic non-jazz that had all the critics groaning and bemoaning but that proved powerful and prescient in the long run? The shrieking lead guitar on those albums was Mike Stern. Here, he erupts like Mount Vesuvius.
Recorded in one long Los Angeles day, Mahandini traverses all roads leading to India and beyond and with the help of Joe Satriani’s drummer Marco Minnemann (a real monster) and Steve Vai’s bassist Mohini Dey (a funk-popping anchor), it transcends the entire concept of world music to crack open your skull with the kind of prog-rock that hasn’t been heard in years.
The Lion, Camel & Child (G-B Records) by the Johnny Griffith Quintet is a tour-de-force of invention. They’re out of Toronto with New York trumpeter Jeremy Pelt sharing the frontline with Griffith, a monster sax man. The two spiral up, up and away, buoyed by the presence of piano/bass/drums.
Best New Singer-Songwriter
Song Dogs (Little King Records) by Taylor Martin veers recklessly from Americana to roots rock to country to folk with a voice for the ages, a lowball swoon of authority that the man from North Carolina uses to great effect when covering Bob Dylan (“Sign On The Window”), Merle Haggard (“Kern River”) or Neil Young (“Music Arcade”). Yet it’s his insightful, poignant and memorable originals that are the highlights, especially “Eden Colorado” and “Hollywood.” Martin writes from the heart, evoking a pastoral serenity like gift-wrapping on the kind of down-deep feelings most of us shy away from.
Best New Dead Guy
Death always brings an artist a new level of profound appreciation. Maybe it started with Jimi and Janis in 1970, but I’ve always found an extra layer of profundity within the music of fallen greats. That’s why I always said there should be a radio format for the dead only. It would be the best music of all. Only bands with at least one dead guy would qualify.
British Progressive Rock Guitar Hero Allan Holdsworth was a real shredder whose ticker gave out last April 15 at the age of 70. He made his own beer, took jazz-rock fusion to new heights, practically rewrote the prog-rock handbook with his use of complex chording, altered scales, mixing in synthesized sounds and the kind of spider-walk fingerpicking that was hard to fathom. Whomever he played with, he made better. Before he ventured into jazz, his I.O.U. band blew everyone away, both audiences and the competition. Now Manifesto Records has released the kind of live album that will truly blow your mind with its dexterity, muscle, compositions and even his great Jack Bruce-inspired lead singer Paul Williams. Live In Japan 1984 sounds so good, you’d think it was a new studio recording. Guitarists like Santana, Zappa, McLaughlin, Satriani and Metheny have all sung this guy’s praises. Now you will. This is a worthy follow-up to 2017’s amazingly great 12-CD Allan Holdsworth boxed set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever.