Emmylou Harris Anthology - The Warner/Reprise years
[Rhino] *** 1/2
Emmylou Harris was unbelievably prolific from 1975 to 1990, the golden age of a career that still conspires beautifully. To select 44 tracks from 20-plus albums during this period and call it an anthology begs trouble. A better term would be sampler. For every "Beneath Still Waters" that makes the cut, there's a "Pancho & Lefty" conspicuously missing. The breadth of this artist's labors during this period demands at least a boxed set.
For those unfamiliar with this artist's legendary albums, this anthology is a good scratch of the surface. Harris, forever known for a voice so pure, sweet and earnest that it penetrates the gnarliest of hearts, reconnected country to its roots and made the connection to a generation turned off by the conservatism of Nashville's formulaic elite.
These Warner/Reprise albums were eclectic gems that made the work of the Louvin Brothers seem at home with that of Gram Parsons, Billy Sherrill, the Beatles, Kitty Wells and Phil Spector. The transition from song to song was seamless and sure, even the most skeptical of listener reassured by Harris' angelic voice blurring the boundaries so exquisitely.
Anthology plusses include Delbert McClinton's "Two More Bottles of Wine"; "Boulder to Birmingham," Harris' tribute to her mentor, Gram Parsons; "If I Needed You," a duet with Don Williams on the Townes Van Zandt heartacher; Chuck Berry's "(You Never Can Tell) C'est La Vie" and "Heartbreak Hill," a latter work of brilliant bluegrass and a little more.
Stinkers include "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again," a flaccid duet with the late Roy Orbison, and a lackluster version of Paul Simon's "The Boxer." But why quibble in the company of so much greatness?
- Randy Rodda
Live at Yoshi's
[Blue Note] ***
Brother Jack McDuff
[Concord Jazz] *** 1/2
What each new jazz generation has been discovering for the last half-century is that nobody swings harder or plays funkier blues in current jazz than the organ groups. That's where Pat Martino - the most powerfully swinging guitar player in current jazz - learned his high-energy trade. Illness and life difficulties took him off the scene for many years. To celebrate the fact that his chops are finally and fully back to their former preternatural form, Martino has been recording lately with two of the best jazz organists - Joey DeFrancesco on his own barn-burning "Live at Yoshi's" and with the late Jack McDuff on what turned out to be McDuff's final record "Brotherly Love."
"Live at Yoshi's" presents as compatible and hard-charging a threesome as any organ group I've ever heard - Martino, DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart. The tunes are either Martino's own or the most standard of jazz standards by Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. The playing is formidable in every way. What was unique about Martino in his early prime - and what is unique again in his fully restored present - is a blistering velocity that is achieved with precious few smears and glissandos. He likes to hit notes fully and cleanly at NASCAR tempos. And DeFrancesco clearly relishes the company. He and Hart support Martino ferociously and when the time comes for DeFrancesco to solo, he and Hart are a two-man power station. The ballads are fine but on up tempos, this trio is spectacular.
The first six cuts on what turned out to be a posthumous Jack McDuff tribute disc are solid workmanlike organ group jazz with Martino and McDuff. Things start to become exceptional on an eight-minute drummerless trio blues with Martino, McDuff and his longtime tenor mate Red Holloway called "Time is Marching On." On the final two tracks, Martino drops out and DeFrancesco shows up for some wild, orgiastic double-organ group performances with McDuff at the 1996 Concord Jazz Festival that may get you to give them a standing ovation in your own living room. This is sweet Hammond B-3 frenzy, the sort of jazz that, since Jimmy Smith recreated the Hammond B-3 as a jazz instrument, has been reaching out, grabbing successive generations by the ears and saying "wouldn't you just love to be able to play like this?"
- Jeff Simon
Red Allen, featuring Frank Wakefield
The Folkways Years 1964-1983
[Smithsonian Folkways] *** 1/2
The Country Gentlemen
On The Road (and More)
[Smithsonian Folkways] ***
The Country Gentlemen, Red Allen and Frank Wakefield are bluegrass musicians who carried the high-and-lonesome sound a few more milestones down its relatively brief evolutionary highway.
The Country Gentlemen, based in Washington, D.C., entered the field in the late 1950s, when the names of bluegrass groups were some derivative of ". . . Mountain Boys." The group - Charlie Walker, John Duffey, Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray - eschewed the pinched American Gothic for a more urbane sophistication on stage.
Take "Ain't Got No Home," a novelty song, for sure, in which the Gents manage to bend genders, quack like a duck and frog it up during a live recording at Ohio's Antioch College in 1963. The Sacred Mushroom, a coffeehouse off-campus at Ohio State University, and "Sing Out!" Magazine Hootenanny concert in Carnegie Hall are early '60s live-recording settings for the group's eclectic bluegrass fare, which served to open up the beauties of bluegrass to folks who otherwise wouldn't have given it a second glance.
About the same time the Country Gentlemen were mining the folk vein on college campuses, brilliant bluegrass strategists Red Allen and Frank Wakefield were winding down an eminently fruitful collaboration. This 28-song retrospective reprises the brilliance of "Bluegrass," a 1964 Folkways release of Allen and mandolinist Wakefield at their finest, as well as Allen's later work with multiple amalgams. Allen, a native of Pigeon's Roost, Ky., who died in 1993, is known for his distinctive vocal delivery that putting the singer in command of bluegrass's instrumental juggernaut, instead of being just a passenger.
- Randy Rodda
311's sunny blend of reggae, funk, rock and hip-hop rose above the Omaha horizon years before KoRn was sowed, Fred Durst's Bizkit became Limp or Linkin fell off the monkey bars in the Park. Today, the rap-metal genre it helped spawn is as much a part of pop culture as new-school boy bands and Britney Spears. What separates 311 from its angst-driven peers is a positive outlook that is equal parts Bob Marley and Bad Brains.
The band's tenth release, "From Chaos," keeps the good vibes flowing. But some frustration lies beneath the bliss. "You're cryin' bout your life/I think it is absurd/what could be so bad/you come from the suburbs," vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum sings to screeching front men everywhere on the confrontational "Sick Tight." Hexum continues to sling barbed lyrics backed by Tim Mahoney's chugging guitar riffs, video-game effects and the smooth delivery of co-vocalist S.A. Martinez on "Full Ride," "From Chaos" and "Hostile Apostle."
When the anger subsides, however, Hexum crafts tuneful melodies during "Amber," "I'll Be Here Awhile" and "Champagne," which bubbles in the summer air like the drink it's named after. Sonically, "Chaos" has order. It is more focused than 311's past two releases - possibly due to the return of producer Ron Saint Germain - and it flirts with new styles such as the steady drum 'n' bass beats and spy-groove of "Uncalm." But don't expect anything revolutionary here. Overall, this is more of the same baked and blunted sound 311 fans have grown to expect.
- Andrew Parks
Blink of an Eye
Blink of an Eye is a studio band inspired by the progressive rock groups of the 1970s. Carl Cino (guitars, bass and vocals), Steve Thurston (keyboards), Bob Enger (guitars) and Greg Garber (drums, electronic percussion) capture that spirit on the quartet's debut, "Until Then." Fans of Yes, Pink Floyd and similar acts will get into these eight lengthy tracks forged from the musician's jazz, fusion and rock background. Others may find the songs too long and a bit too serious. Songs including "You've Come a Long Way" and "Cradle to the Grave" weave a nice progressive sound that's easy on the ears. The melodic "Long Haul" moves along nice and slow with a cool touch of jazz. The ethereal "Babylon" floats along on a really good groove. Closing the CD is the nine-minute title track, an open and dreamy epic that lulls the listener into a comfortable zone. www.blink-of-an-eye.com
- Toni Ruberto