Meet Ghalia

She’s a total rock star, carrying around a hip flask of whiskey which she can be seen offering the listener on the cover of her down ‘n’ dirty Mississippi Blend (Ruf Records). If her 2017 Let The Demons Out breakthrough channeled the joyousness of New Orleans, this follow-up, recorded at Cody and Luther Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, MS with legendary locals like Cedric Burnside, Watermelon Slim, Lightnin’ Malcolm and, of course, members of one of the best damn touring rock ‘n’ roll band’s in the country, The North Mississippi All-Stars, has the grit of mud caked into the grooves.

Ghalia, born in Brussels, busked in Belgium before taking off to soak up the vibes of Chicago, Memphis, and Nashville. She’s a singer/songwriter/guitarist with punk rock in her blood, and a ton of stories. Writing about the excesses of greedy capitalism in “Why Don’t You Sell Your Children,” writing about lust in “Squeeze,” about herself in “Gypsy Lady,” and about a devastating break-up in “First Time I Died,” she lets it all hang out while playing a masterful slide guitar and dobro. 

The Gorgeousness Of Minnesota

Minnesota, the state, is truly beautiful. So is Minnesota, the self-released album, by singer/songwriter Alice Peacock. Her 2009 Love Remains showed a lot of promise. Then life interfered. She had three kids and moved to Ohio to be a mom. But anybody who can write such a profound song as “Resting In The Quiet” where she softly intones, “we don’t have to talk about it/We don’t have to say a word/We can wrap ourselves in silence/‘Cause I’ve already heard everything your eyes are saying” (one of Minnesota’s highlights), knows in their soul that music is eternal and she had to get back to where she once belonged. So Emmylou Harris loaned Peacock her Red Dirt Boys and the result is Americana Extraordinaire, a seamless pastiche of nostalgia for her home state (the title song), stress (“Paranoid”), independence (“Free And Wild”), and faith (“God Be Near Me”). And she sings ‘em just as pretty as she writes ‘em.    

Pure Pop

Live At The Power Station, the self-released EP by Bandits on the Run, was honed to perfection by late-night harmonizing in the subways of New York City. It’s a unique trio what with cello by Bonanza Jellyfish, the guitar of Roy Dodger, and accordion by the clairvoyant Clarissa. Three-part harmony abounds on this banditry and it’s tough to say what influenced them more, Britpop or Motown. You can call it indie-folk if you want. Their live shows are filled with puppetry, costumes, and party favors for the audience. The mere four songs end with a scintillating cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black.” Can’t wait for the inevitable full-length. 

Classic Country & Folk Music

Canada has given us Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, k.d. lang, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams (we’ll forgive them for that one), 80 percent of The Band, Rush, and so many more that it’s easy to overlook one of that country’s most celebrated folk-music duos, Ian & Sylvia. National treasures during the sixties and seventies, Ian & Sylvia epitomized the folk aesthetic on 13 albums and dozens of tours (including campaigning south of their border for Lyndon Johnson in 1964). Now Stony Plain Records has released Ian & Sylvia: The Lost Tapes and it’s amazing and fascinating to discover their never-before-heard concert versions of blues, country, gospel, R&B, and rock ‘n’ roll from The Carter Family, Jerry Lee Lewis, Don Gibson, Robert Johnson, Jimmie Rodgers, Rick Nelson, Tom Paxton, Lefty Frizzell, Buck Owens, and Wanda Jackson. The crowd goes certifiably crazy. Their appeal seems limitless. Active from ’59 to ’75 (when they divorced), they even pioneered country rock in the U.S. when they relocated to Nashville for a spell to put out groundbreaking original music just months before The Byrds did Sweethearts Of The Rodeo in ’68. This double-album should help restore their legend.

Texas Stew

This boogie-woogie/R&B/rock ‘n’ roll is served up hot and ready to go. The 40 Acre Mule wish you Good Night & Good Luck (State Fair Records). Throw in the blues, a pinch of rockabilly, and even some hard-crust country, and this four-year-old Dallas quintet—who got their start when the righteous rocker Reverend Horton Heat tapped them as his Lone Star State opening act—has boiled a jumbo sound stew complete with multi-keyboards and smokin’ sax. Still, it wouldn’t work as well as it does without the twang of rock-solid vocalist J. Isaiah Evans. Cat can sing! And you can tell he’s having fun by the way he diddly-bops over the mix adding his exhortations. Please come North!

These Two Guys

Avishai Cohen and Yonathan Avishai are Playing The Room on their new ECM Records release. Actually, they’re doing much more than that. Cohen’s a trumpeter, Avishai’s a pianist. With no drums or bass, their music floats ethereal like a gathering cloud. They’ve been jamming together since high school in Tel Aviv. Recorded within the wood-walled recital room in the austere surroundings of Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano, Switzerland, built for chamber music, their 30-year Israeli history together has resulted in a chemistry so finely attuned, they finish each other’s musical thoughts. Avishai has also played with his partner’s brilliant sister, clarinetist Anat Cohen, whose Luminosa was one of the best jazz albums of 2015.

It’s a dialogue. Cohen concentrates on the middle and lower register of his horn when he interprets Duke Ellington’s 1961 “Azalea,” John Coltrane’s 1964 “Crescent,” Ornette Coleman’s 1965 “Dee Dee” and Stevie Wonder’s 1976 “Sir Duke.” Avishai’s piano is a hovering presence, adding skipping hops and jumps at a moment’s notice that sparks the mix into another stratosphere. Add originals, a blues, and a lullaby, and you’ve got quite the atmospheric program. Highlight has to be their stunning interpretation of “Kofifi Blue” by South African pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim, 6:29 of such feel-good intensity and roundabout extremism that I wish it could be the ring tone for my phone. 

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