Blues & Hues (Weber Works Entertainment Group) by San Francisco pianist-composer Clifford Lamb mashes up old and new to ingratiating effect. The brainchild of producer Jeffrey Weber, its eight tracks by 10 musicians—including such stars as drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana, bassist Buster Williams, and trumpeter Nicholas “Plays Like Miles” Payton—spans a universe in its wide-reaching eclecticism. A perfect example is “Peace Requiem,” which goes through a myriad of changes from a 17th Century gospel to a ‘70s McCoy Tyner jam on into hip-hop. Elsewhere, the title tune uses Nat Adderley’s 1960s “Jive Samba” classic as a jumping-off point. Similarly, “No Regrets” jumps off the diving board of a Manuel de Falla melody to splash right into an original before ending on an indie-rock note. “Me and You” fries Gershwin in the same pan as another original before snippets of movie music, samba, and worldbeat rear their heads. In this day and age of at least 24-track recordings, this one was done live in the studio using only two tracks. And it works beautifully.
A Guy Named Gurf
For a guy like Gurf Morlix—the Austin singer-songwriter and producer—death is the constant companion. His new album is Impossibly Blue, from Rootball Records. It’s his 10th solo effort after backing up a stellar list of others, including Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen. Those (like myself), enthralled by his main inspiration, John Prine, will love this guy. “Backbeat of the Dispossessed” is for drummer Michael Bannister, who was by Morlix’s side ever since high school, playing in bands, and migrating from Buffalo to Key West, and then to Los Angeles together. After losing touch, reconnecting, and then losing touch again when Bannister committed suicide, the line “I always knew I would see you again” is particularly haunting. In fact, Gurf’s songs have become more haunting since his 2016 heart attack. In one song, he sings “my head is throbbin’/my world keeps wobblin’/All the alarms are soundin’/But my heart keeps poundin’.” Then there’s the drowned lover at the “Bottom of the Musquash River.” In “2 Hearts Beating in Time,” he sings “there’s a bit more I want to do/Left unfinished a thing or two.” Let’s just hope he gets to do them.
A Gal Named Miho
It would be a pretty safe bet to call the incredible Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside Records) the most unusual big-band album out there. For her part, Miho Hazama doesn’t even like to use the word “orchestra.” She prefers “collective.” And true, its component parts shine in their respective roles. West African electric lead guitarist Lionel Loueke, for instance, charges up the outrageous “Somnombulent” with a Hendrixian solo that will blow the top of your head off. Hazama plays no instrument here. Yet her signature is all over this music, both compositionally, and as conductor and bandleader, getting the most out of alto, soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn, violin, viola, cello, vibraphone, guiro (a Latin American percussion instrument), shekere (a West African percussion instrument), piano, bass, drums, and eerie wordless vocals. All the colors are here! And the dexterity of the arrangements! The clarity of the production! The album twists and turns with surprising syncopation, and its flavors of classical, worldbeat, jazz, and film score (for a movie that doesn’t exist) insinuates itself into your soul where it remains long after the music stops.
An All-Star Gem of a Jam
Amour (Stony Plain), by Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson with the Tennessee Valentines, pairs two A-List guitarists for 10 covers spanning country, blues, rock ’n’ roll, and R & B with a pure roots Americana twist. Linden has been in the bands of Bob Dylan and Diana Krall. He’s the musical director of the hit TV show Nashville, and a frequent contributor to numerous projects of T-Bone Burnett. As a producer and multi-instrumentalist, he’s constantly in demand and has worked with The Band and Lucinda Williams. Dickinson is the North Mississippi Allstar with the searing lead guitar. Who but these two could coax “The Legendary” Billy Swan, as he’s credited, out of retirement to sing lead on his own “Lover Please”?
But it’s the songs themselves that are the stars. An electric gorgeous dobro/guitar instrumental of the 19th century folk song “Careless Love” sets the scene. From the 1958 Roy Hamilton hit “Don’t Let Go” and Jimmy Reed’s 1957 “Honest I Do” to Ray Price’s 1956 “Crazy Arms” and Kris Kristofferson’s 1968 “For the Good Times,” the songs roll by on a cloud of sentimental profundity. Plus, they just sound so damn good. These boys are masters, maestros, both at the top of their game. They’ve matched up the perfect singers for each song. When vocalist Ruby Amanfu wraps her swoon-worthy soul vocals around the Chuck Willis 1958 #1 hit “What Am I Living For,” it’s a moment of pure bliss. Upon first listen, I fell to my knees in sanctified exultation. It all ends with a 1955 Elvis rockabilly song by Charlie Feathers, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” which again, for me, must be what going to church is supposed to be like for believers.
“Wish I was in New Orleans working in a candy stand,” sings Andy B. on his recontextualization of Mississippi John Hurt’s 1928 “Candy Man.” Andy’s a master of taking from one era and putting it smack dab in the middle of modern-day Jersey. He writes humorous, entertaining, rollicking odes like “Incandescent Lightbulb” (“it don’t burn in Jersey no more”) about Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. “Check out that tattoo on Justine’s behind,” he slurs lasciviously on “Justine” while his band cranks up a goodtime jug band shuffle, like you’d find in a roadhouse honky-tonk off of some lost highway. In “Leavin’ Train,” he quotes the J. Geils Band (“love stinks”) while remembering “a girl will do a guy like a knife in the back.” It’s all on his second album, Look What The Cat Dragged In (IOA Records) by Andy B.AND featuring SoulFolk. His voice is a lowball swoon of grumbling proportions, as if Leon Redbone and David Bromberg had a baby.