Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘n’ Roll

A Gal Named Anoushka

Listening to Reflections (Deutsche Grammophon), by Anoushka Shankar, brought me back to when I saw her dad Ravi perform at Woodstock. True story: I went so wild over the sound of my first live sitar, the guy on my left leaned into me and said, “relax, he’s just tuning up.” The sound of the sitar seems to have always been imbedded in my hippie soul. It’s organically psychedelic. These are exquisite hand-picked 15 tracks from five of her eight albums in 20 years, including those with her dad and her sister, singer Norah Jones. She revisits her Indian classical roots with “Jod, Jhala,” based on a Ravi raga. She wrote opener “The Sun Won’t Set” as her dad was dying. “My father’s name, Ravi, means `sun’ in Sanskrit, and this song was a way for me to express my feelings in his final months,” she writes in the liner notes. Collaborations ensue in an entertaining jig-jag manner with everyone from a Spanish Flamenco star, Austrian harp player, German-Turkish singer-songwriter, American folksinger and producer, Israeli vocalist, and even with British actress-activist Vanessa Redgrave reciting poetry. Her sitar wafts amongst the progressivism like small darting birds in the sky, adding a lilt and a beauty that only this one very special instrument can invoke.

Polly Wanna Scat

Polly Gibbons isn’t the first singer to turn Horace Silver’s 1969 “Permit Me To Introduce You To Yourself” into a jazz-soul stunner (Dee Dee Bridgewater masterfully interpreted it on her 1995 Silver tribute album). But when Gibbons opens All I Can Do (Resonance Records) with it, the sultry British chanteuse stretches and reshapes the song anew like a craftsman. She does that throughout on material by a wide array of diverse composers, thus making these wildly disparate songs righteously her own (no small feat). Tackling Al Jarreau takes guts but her “Good Hands Tonight” is impressive, as are her originals. She even has the power to bring Cole Porter’s 1934 dead-dog of a song “Anything Goes” back to life. Ditto for Duke Ellington’s 1945 “I’m Just A Lucky So And So.” She saves the best for last, however. Her version of Prince’s 1985 “Nothing Compares 2 U” equals Sinead O’Connor’s haunting 1990 cover. Bessie Smith’s totally sexual 1931 “(I Need A Little) Sugar In My Bowl” was famously covered by Nina Simone in 1967. Here, Gibbons wrings every last drop of raunch out of the song, but she does it with class, verve, and sophistication.


Juliet Wanna Croon

Juliet Simmons Dinallo is the Dream Girl (Audium BFD) of Michael Dinallo’s visions. As her husband, co-producer, co-songwriter, and guitarist, his fingerprints are all over this sweetly swaying Americana gem. It’s country music without artifice. Worldly yet homespun, rustic yet sophisticated. Organic. Acoustic. And totally lovely. The lady can sing.


Viva Vito!

Rick Vito added punch as a full member of Fleetwood Mac between ’87 and ’91, but no one group can hold him for long. That’s his slide guitar you hear every time Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” plays. You hear him when you listen to recordings by Raitt, Fogerty, Mayall, Parton, Prine, Orbison and Rundgren. Dude’s constantly in-demand as a guitarist, composer, and producer. For his ninth solo album, Soulshaker (VizzTone Label Group), he shakes the blues on 10 originals and wrings the neck of the 1960 Jackie Wilson hit “Doggin’ Around” and Sam Cooke’s 1964 “A Change Is Gonna Come” (a song, I dare say, which is on the short list to replace that awful “Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem). His guitar, bass and keyboards are all over Soulshaker with but two drummers and two organists providing the musical bed upon which he sings up a storm. Highlights include “World On Fire,” “Dancin’ Little Sister” and “I’m Going To Heaven.” This guy can do no wrong.  


Louisiana Does It Better

Why are musicians always better when they come from New Orleans? Could be in the water? Down on Rampart Street in the French Quarter, there’s street cats who, if in New York, would be good enough to play Carnegie Hall. Meet Josh Hyde. He is totally Into The Soul (JHR Records). His 2017 The Call Of The Night debut was solid-good—but this one? Man! Blues-funk. Country-sweetness. Roadhouse rock. Backwater bayou soul. Raw emotion. Hyde’s one of those triple-threat guys. He sings like an angel, plays guitar like a’ringin’ a bell, and writes insightful, thought-provoking songs that will make you move and think at the same time. Recorded on an analog reel-to-reel like the greats of previous generations (no Pro Tools for him!), he gathered some A-Listers (including Joe Walsh’s keyboard player Jimmy Wallace), bought Robert Plant’s console, wrote 11 catchy tunes that will stick to the innards of your brain like a tattoo, and sings ‘em so sexy that the little girls will understand. “For You I Ache” and “Down On Bourbon Street” are the highlights but they all move and groove in an understated, relaxed sway that gets under your skin. What I wouldn’t give to see this guy live!


Ex-Pat Returns Home

Big Daddy Wilson wanted no part of being black in America. Thus, he became an ex-patriot and had a successful recording and touring career in Europe for the last 25 years. For the follow-up to his 2017 Neck Bone Stew, the former North Carolinian has come back home to record his masterpiece. Deep In My Soul (Ruf Records) puts him right up there with some of the greats like Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge,  Joe Tex, or Sam & Dave. His difference is in his smoothness, his bluesiness and, of course, his modernity. He’s absolutely electric. And to get that classic soul sound, he went to Alabama at the famed Muscle Shoals studio where Etta James sang and Duane Allman played. And he got legendary producer Jim Gaines to produce. Thus, the horns be pumpin’, the wah-wah guitar speaks volumes, and the funky reggae adds a Caribbean lilt. His lyrics cut to the bone. In “Voodoo,” a holy man comes to the realization that he loves a woman who has cast an evil spell on him. “Hold On To Our Love” is about a mixed-race couple and the reactions thereof from those around them who have nothing better to do than hate. Welcome home, Big Daddy.