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Ray Charles’ “Singular Genius” Shines Through on New 5-CD Box

6 Nov
 
This, in my humble opinion, is a long-overdue release. Florida native Ray Charles’ output while with the ABC-Paramount label was pretty extraordinary. And while his earlier Atlantic recordings placed him on our collective radar for the first time, his ABC singles allowed him to stretch out and reach for the stars. Country, soul, pop, R & B … it’s all here. And laid down in a way only Brother Ray could. In fact, I can think of no one else who could have pulled this kind of mix together in such a cohesive, effortless manner. 53 singles, 11 #1 hits. You call yourself a true fan of American Popular Music and Culture? Then you simply must own this historic collection.

 

RAY CHARLES’ SINGULAR GENIUS: THE COMPLETE ABC SINGLES,
AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 15 ON CONCORD RECORDS, COMPILES
HITS AND B-SIDES — MANY NEVER PREVIOUSLY ON ALBUM

106 recordings on five compact discs totaling 53 singles
are housed in handsome linen-textured collectors’ box

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — With the release of Ray Charles’ Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles, on November 15, 2011, Concord Records will make available for the first time the artist’s collection of ABC-Paramount singles during this prolific period (1960-1972).

The digitally remastered deluxe 106-song collection presents the A and B sides of 53 singles, including 11 #1 hits, such Grammy Award winners “Hit the Road Jack,” “Busted,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Crying Time,” “America the Beautiful,” and many more.

 

Twenty-one of the songs are making their digital debut, and 30 have never previously been available on CD. Liner notes were written by R&B recording artist and music historian Billy Vera and rare photographs are included.

According to Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation, “This compilation provides an opportunity to hear Ray’s evolution into a full-fledged artist and creative force. The song selection was based upon the interpretation he could bring to the music and not the genre. The ABC singles comprise an epoch of essential Ray Charles music and a window into how his genius evolved.”

John Burk, Concord Music Group’s Chief Creative Officer stated, “Ray Charles is one of America’s most iconic and treasured voices. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to present Ray’s historic ABC singles with the reverence and respect they deserve and continue our dynamic partnership and acclaimed reissue program with Valerie Ervin and everyone at the Ray Charles Foundation.”

By the time the singer released his first single for his new label affiliation, ABC-Paramount, in January 1960, he had crossed over into the stardom that show biz insiders had long known was his due. After several years of R&B hits on his previous label, Atlantic Records, he’d finally reached the coveted white teen market with his smash, “What’d I Say,” the simplest, most basic song of his career.

 

Charles’ contract was coming up for renewal and the Atlantic brass expected an easy negotiation. After all, most entertainers took a passive approach to their business, especially when things were going well. However, his agency, Shaw Artists, wanted to bring Charles to a broader audience, which they felt could be better delivered by a major record company.

One such company was ABC-Paramount, a newer major that had found success with teen idols Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian, while crossing Lloyd Price over into pop. ABC’s Larry Newton convinced label president Sam Clark that Ray Charles was the ideal artist to not only make hits but to attract other black acts to the fold. Charles was granted a magnanimous contract that included ownership of his masters after five years. Even Frank Sinatra, as Vera points out, did not have a deal like this.

 

Sid Feller became Charles’ A&R man and producer. Though as Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler once said, “You don’t produce Ray Charles; you just get out of the way and let him do his thing.”

After striking a rich deal, the Ray Charles/ABC relationship had a momentary setback when the first ABC single, “Who You Gonna Love” b/w “My Baby,” sold disappointingly. The second single, “Sticks and Stones,” a “What’d I Say” knockoff, went to #2 R&B and #540 pop. Finally, the third ABC single, “Georgia on My Mind,” culled from the album The Genius Hits the Road, reached #1 on the pop charts. With the overwhelming popularity of “Georgia on My Mind,” Charles was at last a full-fledged mainstream star, right up there with the Nat Coles and Peggy Lees. The company’s strategy was to cater to his new market while still releasing singles to serve his R&B base.

Charles in the meantime launched a publishing arm, Tangerine Music, signing one of the greats of West Coast blues, Percy Mayfield. Mayfield brought with him a song he’d pitched to Specialty Records without success, “Hit the Road, Jack.” Ray’s version rose to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. It was followed by “Unchain My Heart.”

ABC-Paramount celebrated his grand success by giving Charles his own label, Tangerine, which he used to record some of his personal R&B heroes including Mayfield, Louis Jordan, and Little Jimmy Scott. At the same point in time, Charles became enamored of country music and recorded several country sides: “Take These Chains From My heart,” “Busted,” “That Old Lucky Sun,” and from Buck Owens, “Crying Time” and “Together Again.”

 

1966 saw the opening of Ray Charles’ own RPM Studios on Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles. The first song he recorded at the facility was “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a Coasters cover penned by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Jo Armistead.

The ABC-Paramount recordings continued into the late ’60s and early ’70s. In 1972 Charles cut a version of the New Seekers hit, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” but it was the B-side, “America the Beautiful,” that became a runaway hit, Grammy Award winner (one of five on this collection) and to a younger generation unfamiliar with his earlier major works, his signature song.

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Lauterbach’s Chitlin’ Circuit History Deserves Great Praise & a Wider Audience

28 Aug

Preston Lauterbach is a friend of mine — going back to my days in Memphis. Great guy, he is. And he knows a thing or two about music — and good eats. I was pretty impressed when he first mentioned that he was undertaking this project. It’s a big topic. But also a topic that has not been well documented in the recent past.

All that being said, I am even more impressed by the finished project. This is a well-researched and entertaining story. Preston has a way with words. His method is hip and engaging. He educates without sounding like a professor. I buzzed through this book in no time flat. I had long thought that I was well versed when it came to this shadowy corner of rock n’ roll history. Boy, was I wrong. So many wonderful nuggets of knowledge to be found — and savored.

This is a tasty pot of musical stew – and one I would suggest you dig into.

A definitive account of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin’ Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and larger-than-life promoters such as Denver Ferguson, the Indianapolis gambling chieftain who consolidated it in the 1940s. Charging from Memphis to Houston and now-obscure points in between, The Chitlin’ Circuit brings us into the sweaty back rooms where such stars as James Brown, B. B. King, and Little Richard got their start.

With his unforgettable portraits of unsung heroes including King Kolax, Sax Kari, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lauterbach writes of a world of clubs and con men that has managed to avoid much examination despite its wealth of brash characters, intriguing plotlines, and vulgar glory, and gives us an excavation of an underground musical America. 34 black-and-white illustrations

http://www.amazon.com/Chitlin-Circuit-Road-Rock-Roll/dp/0393076520

Concord Gives Evans, King and Davis The Respect They Deserve

10 Apr

All three of these collections are worth your time. How can you go wrong with Miles Davis? Or the legendary pianist Bill Evans. Or the mighty Albert King? These 2-CD sets include many of the well known recordings. There are also many more obscure tracks for your discovery and enjoyment.

Miles Davis was obviously a Jazz giant, but his most commercially successful LPs were recorded for Columbia Records. Albert King’s searing blue guitar and powerhouse vocal attack became the blueprint for a couple of artists named Clapton and Vaughan. Yes, those guys! Bill Evans’ piano mastery has always been a bit more off the beaten path. Yet those in the know will tell you how influential he was — and continues to be to this day. We encourage you to seek out these excellent compilations and make them a part of your collection. You’ll be a better person for it.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Concord Music Group has assembled three new titles in its ongoing Definitive series, one of which marks the series’ initial foray into CMG’s vast blues catalog. The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige; The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy; and The Definitive Albert King on Stax span a total of 60 years and include the music of two monumental figures in jazz and an equally influential figure in the blues. Each of the two-CD collections were released on April 5, 2011.

The two dozen tracks of The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige follow the creative evolution of the most revered trumpeter in the annals of jazz. Spanning the first half of the 1950s, the collection captures Miles at the beginning of his breakthrough to mainstream appeal, according to the liner notes by music journalist and historian Ashley Kahn.

“The purpose of this collection is to deliver a full, definitive overview of that very special period in Miles’s career,” says Kahn. “Its focus covers the nearly six-year period when the trumpeter was signed exclusively to Prestige. Disc 1 offers the best of his 1951 to ’56 sessions primarily as a leader of various ad hoc all-star ensembles. Disc 2 provides a generous sampling of Miles the bandleader, in ’55 and ’56, at the helm of one of the most groundbreaking groups of the day.”

The collection also chronicles Miles’s dramatic artistic growth over a relatively short time, says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group’s Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the collection. “The years between 1951 and 1956 are not a huge amount of time, but the development by Miles—as a musician and as a bandleader—is pretty astonishing in this period,” says Phillips. “This culminates in what ended up being one of the most legendary groups in jazz, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring John Coltrane.”

The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy tracks more than two decades of recordings by a highly influential figure in jazz piano. “It would be difficult to think of a major jazz pianist emerging after 1960 who did not take Bill Evans as a model,” says jazz journalist Doug Ramsey, who wrote the liner notes for the 25-song collection that begins in the mid-1950s and ends in 1977. “Indeed, many seasoned pianists who preceded Evans altered their styles after hearing him.”

What’s more, “Evans had a profound effect on how musicians play jazz and how listeners hear it,” says Ramsey. “He is so much a part of the jazz atmosphere that many musicians — regardless of instrument—who came of age in the 21st century are not conscious that his concepts helped form them.”

The collection also gives proper attention on the second disc to Evans’s Fantasy-era recordings of the mid-1970s, says Phillips, who also produced the Evans collection. “Because the Riverside sessions are so acclaimed and so legendary, the Fantasy tracks are often overshadowed,” he says. “But in listening to this collection, you realize that Evans was still creating some amazing recordings throughout the Fantasy period with some high- caliber musicians, like Eddie Gomez, Kenny Burrell, Lee Konitz, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, and Philly Joe Jones.”

The Definitive Albert King on Stax follows 15 years worth of recordings—from 1961 to 1975, plus a final track from 1984—by a bluesman who’d spent the early part of his career playing to an African-American fan base in the roadhouses and theaters of the chitlin’ circuit. But by the latter half of the 1960s, the genre “was now attracting the rapt interest of young white listeners, their sensibilities opened wide by the muscular, in-your- face blues rock of the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix,” says roots music historian Bill Dahl in his liner notes for the collection. “These new converts were gravitating to the best the idiom had to offer. No single blues guitarist made a more stunning impact during that tumultuous timeframe than Albert King.”

“For as paradoxical as it might sound, you could make the case that Albert King was a cheery blues guy,” says Chris Clough, Concord’s manager of catalog development and producer of the Albert King collection. “He had that wry smile, and he often smoked a pipe. He was always well dressed and dapper. He was genuinely interested in putting on a show for his audience, and that sensibility comes through on these tracks.”

Dahl suggests that the years between 1966 and 1975 were a “Golden Decade” for King. “He was with Stax that entire time,” he says, “right up to the Memphis label’s unfortunate demise, cutting one enduring blues classic after another as he scaled the charts over and over again. In the process, King deeply influenced countless up-and-coming blues axemen, even though the ringing licks he coaxed out of his futuristic Gibson Flying V were all but impossible to accurately recreate.”

www.concordmusicgroup.com

“The Definitive Sonny Rollins” Does the Mighty Saxophone Colossus Justice

2 Apr

The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary came out a few weeks ahead of Rollins’ 80th birthday on September 7, 2010. This Sonny Rollins set covers almost an entire decade, from a December 1951 session in New York for Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet to an October 1958 session in Los Angeles for Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

“That was such a significant period in the development of jazz in general, and Sonny Rollins was at the heart of all that was going on during that decade,” says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group’s Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the Definitive series. “Just look at the Miles Davis session where he recorded `Airegin,’ `Doxy’ and `Oleo,’ for example. Those are all tunes that he penned, and all remain indelible jazz standards. That’s a whole lot of jazz history that was made on just a single day in the summer of 1954.”

Liner notes for The Definitive Sonny Rollins are provided by music journalist Bob Blumenthal, co-author with photographer John Abbott of the forthcoming book, Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins.

“That the marks of [Rollins’] genius were fully apparent in the music he made over a half-century ago has been obvious to all who have followed the trajectory of his unprecedented career,” says Blumenthal. “As a contract artist with Prestige Records between 1951 and 1956, and through his work on various labels from 1957 until the beginning of an extended sabbatical two years later, Rollins laid the foundation for his status as a master improviser, saxophonist and composer; an influence far beyond his chosen instrument and idiom; and a living icon of affirmative creativity. Concord Music Group is the steward of many of the finest Rollins performances of the ’50s, and has culled them well in presenting this short course in what made Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins.”

www.concordmusicgroup.com

Ray Charles Live In Concert to be Re-issued by Concord Music Group

22 Mar

In the half-century between his earliest recordings in the 1950s and his death in 2004, Ray Charles ascended to icon status by leaving his mark on virtually every form of American popular music that emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. Nowhere was this more evident than in his live performances, where one was likely to hear shades of blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, country, and more in a single evening – indeed, sometimes in a single song. To put it simply, the Right Reverend did it all.

 All of these subtle shades and styles are evident in Concord Music Group’s reissue of Ray Charles Live in Concert. Originally released as a 12-song LP on ABC-Paramount in early 1965, Live in Concert captured Ray at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in September 1964. More than four decades later, the CD reissue brings additional depth and perspective to the 1964 recording with the help of 24-bit remastering, seven previously unreleased tracks and extensive new liner notes that provide additional historical context to what is already considered a pivotal recording in Ray’s overall body of work.

“There could be no more uplifting live musical experience than digging Ray Charles and his mighty orchestra in their prime,” says roots music historian Bill Dahl. Indeed, the 15-piece orchestra backing Ray on this date – assembled just a few years earlier in 1961 – boasted no less than a dozen horns, including formidable saxophonists David “Fathead” Newman, Hank Crawford, and Leroy “Hog” Cooper, all of whom had been with Ray since his days as a leader of smaller combos. “This amazing aggregation,” says Dahl, “was every bit as conversant with the intricacies of modern jazz as with the gospel-blues synthesis that Brother Ray pioneered during the mid-1950s, when he began accruing serious cred as the father of what would soon become known as soul music.”

Chris Clough, Concord’s manager of catalog development and producer of the Live in Concert reissue, notes that the Shrine Auditorium performance took place at a transitional moment in Ray’s career, just as he was transcending the confines of R&B and entering the mainstream by demonstrating a firm grasp of various other genres. “He’d made his ascendance in the early ’60s, and he had the world at his feet by this time,” says Clough. “He’d basically invented soul, he’d done R&B, he’d conquered country and he was on his way to becoming an American icon.”

In the span of 19 songs, Live in Concert illuminates the route to that destination. Ray wastes no time taking his audience on a ride from jazzy big band groove of “Swing a Little Taste” to the Latin-flavored “One Mint Julep” to the blues-gospel hybrid of his classic “I Got a Woman.” Although his live rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” on this date didn’t make the cut on the original LP, the song is a standout track on the reissue, thanks to his complex organ runs and the flute lines moving in counterpoint with his rich vocals.

Clough considers the yearning “You Don’t Know Me” and the previously unreleased “That Lucky Old Sun” to be among the high points of the recording. “It sounds like he’s really baring his soul on those two tracks, and they just sound incredible,” says Clough, noting that Ray was unaware that tape was rolling during this performance. “This particular date was at the end of their tour, and the performance seems a little loose as a result – in a good way, and in a less slick way.”

Further in, the rousing “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” is driven by a gospel groove and embellished with a sax solo by Newman that closely mirrors the original 1957 recording. The result is a familiar hit for an audience that’s more than ready to reinforce Ray’s foot-stomping beat with handclaps.

The sly and swaggering “Makin’ Whoopee” is delivered completely off the cuff, with drummer Wilbert Hogan, bassist Edgar Willis, and guitarist Sonny Forriest improvising an accompaniment behind what Dahl calls “Ray’s luxurious piano and breathy, supremely knowing vocals.” By all accounts, Ray spontaneously inserted the song into the set in response to the negative press he’d received overseas about his private life.

In the home stretch, Ray introduces the Raeletts, the female backing vocalists who served as his foil for some of his biggest hits. Together they work their way through “Don’t Set Me Free” (with Lillian Fort stepping forward for a duet with Ray), the comical “Two Ton Tessie” and the torchy “My Baby” before climaxing with the churning “What’d I Say,” a song tailor-made to stoke any room to a fever pitch.

A huge piece of the Ray Charles legacy is his mastery of any style he touched, and his ability to make it his own in a way that no other artist could – powers that can only come from an innate sense of adventure and spontaneity that are fully evident in Ray Charles Live in Concert.

“Few performers were less predictable onstage than Ray Charles,” says Dahl. “And nobody did it better.”

www.concordmusicgroup.com

Frank Sinatra’s “Best of Vegas” — I’m All In!

31 Jan

A new Sinatra release is always a cause for celebration. That is especially true when you’re talking about LIVE recordings. Better yet if the live material includes performances from the ’50s and ’60s (my favorite era of Frank’s stellar career). The first 9 tracks on this collection fall into that friendly territory. The initial 3 tunes (following the introduction) were recorded at The Sands in 1961 — ring a ding ding! Tracks 5-9 are even better, thanks to the participation of conductor Quincy Jones and the amazing Count Basie Orchestra.

The music swings throughout this 17-track live collection and boasts several 1980’s performances captured at Caesar’s Palace and the Golden Nugget. Nuggets found here include Pennies from Heaven and New York New York. Have the earmuffs ready as Old Blue Eyes employs some salty language during his sometimes lengthy and always engaging between song stage patter. Hey, Frankie had some great pipes … but he wasn’t exactly a choir boy.

In the span of a few years, Las Vegas refueled Frank Sinatra’s career and Sinatra in turn became the lead figure in the city’s ascendance. It was a synergistic relationship that has since become legendary in the annals of 20th century entertainment.

Some of the finest moments in that legendary symbiosis are captured in Frank Sinatra: Best of Vegas, a series of live recordings presented by Concord Records. The 14-song set, under license from Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE), captures Sinatra in concert at the Sands, Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas between 1961 and 1987. The collection is a distillation of highlights from Sinatra: Vegas, the five-disc boxed set (4 CD/1 DVD) of live recordings released by Reprise Records in 2006.

 

“From his debut at the Desert Inn in September 1951, no entertainer was ever more synonymous with the city of Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra,” says Charles Pignone, author of The Sinatra Treasures, in his comprehensive liner notes to the Best of Vegas CD. “It has been said that next to legalized gambling, nothing has been more beneficial and profitable to Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra.”

All the Sinatra classics are here, performed live before adoring crowds at some of the most prestigious venues in the history of Vegas. “The Lady Is a Tramp” (The Sands, 1961); “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (The Sands, 1966); “All or Nothing at All” (Caesars Palace, 1982); “Pennies From Heaven” (The Golden Nugget, 1987); and of course, the “Theme From New York, New York” (Caesars Palace, 1982) are just some of the gems in the Best of Vegas collection. 

“If you were in Las Vegas at the same time as Sinatra, there was nothing else that could compare,” says Pignone. “Even when the entertainment in town was changing from headliners to magic and production shows, Sinatra was still the ‘main event.'”

Or in the words of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, Sinatra was “the destination’s most enduring icon, an inimitable original who was influential in shaping Las Vegas’ image and entertainment scene.”

Sinatra returned to Vegas in December with the opening of Sinatra Dance With Me, at the Wynn Las Vegas. Conceived, choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, Sinatra Dance With Me features original recorded masters of Frank Sinatra with a big band and 14 of the world’s finest dancers.

www.sinatrafamily.com

Hot Club of Cowtown Does Bob Wills Proud

10 Jan

Great new CD — first rate Western Swing from Austin, TX trio.

Check it out, y’all!

HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN

Since their first recording in 1998, Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown have grown to be the most globe-trotting, hardest-swinging Western swing trio on the planet. The first American band to tour Azerbaijan, they have opened stadiums for such artists as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and continue to bring their brand of Western swing to a wide range of festival audiences all over the world. But for guitarist Whit Smith, fiddler Elana James and bassist Jake Erwin, it has always been about staying true to their roots.

Remaining willfully out of the musical mainstream, Hot Club of Cowtown have created an international cult following for their sonic personification of joy and unique sound inspired by their namesakes: “Hot Club” from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli’s Hot Club of France, and “Cowtown” from the Western swing influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Though Wills’ pre-WWII recordings have always been the fundamental inspiration for Hot Club of Cowtown’s repetoire and style, it has taken the band a dozen years to fully honor the King of Western Swing. A fortuitous tour in England in the spring of 2010 led them to London’s Specific Sound studio, where they spent two days recording a 14-song marathon of Bob Wills tunes. The result, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to the American music icon, respecting Wills’ legendary music while putting Hot Club’s own signature on each song. “We have been meaning to make this album for a long time,” says James.

“This is music from the days when guys toured and sat on a bus with no air conditioning, no real food, for days. We heard a story of a fiddler the Wills band picked up in California and by the time they had driven to the Midwest, he was dead and nobody even knew his name. They pried his rigor mortis’d body off of the bus and left him under a lamppost somewhere in Kansas,” says James, “It was a different time. These guys were pretty hardcore.”

What Makes Bob Holler presents the most convincing evidence yet that Hot Club of Cowtown may be on to something. By digging even deeper into their roots and refusing to modernize, the band offers up one of their most exciting recordings to date. The disc is an imaginative pairing of obscure B-sides with some of Wills’ most popular work. Tunes like “Big Balls in Cowtown” and “Stay a Little Longer” are numbers that “people always love when we play them live,” says James, “so it was was a no-brainer to gather them into a record.” Others, like “Osage Stomp” and “The Devil Ain’t Lazy,” might not be as well known, but they are in the spirit of what originally attracted Smith and James to this music. “We’re playing what knocked us out about Western swing in the first place — the early fiery energy and jazzy improvisations,” says James.

What Makes Bob Holler may have taken two days to record, but the band has played these songs on tour for years. The album reflects the same spirited live vibe and offers the band a terrific platform to show off their ace musicianship and flaunt these inspirations: Smith’s hot electric guitar played through a vintage 1936 Gibson amplifier, James’ sometimes gorgeous, sometimes frenetic fiddle, and Erwin’s jaw-dropping slap bass, all mixed with three-part harmony vocals.

Smith (Cape Cod, MA) and James (Prairie Village, KS), originally met through an ad in the classified music section of The Village Voice in 1994, and played together in New York City before relocating to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. By 1998, they had relocated to Austin, Texas and in 2000 added Jake Erwin (originally from Tulsa, OK) on bass, finalizing the Hot Club’s lineup.

Like any scrappy modern band, Hot Club dwells between the daily grind of touring and the euphoria of its live shows. Years of crisscrossing the USA in a silver Ford van through a landscape where local traditions are becoming more and more diluted, and modern life more electronic, have galvanized this Texas trio who are more devoted than ever to keeping their music sincere, free of irony, and focused on a simpler time.

What Makes Bob Holler arrives on the heels of 2009’s more eclectic Wishful Thinking, an Americana radio Top 100 album lauded by the Austin Chronicle’s Jim Caliguiri as “the Cowtowners at their peak,” and David Eldridge, in the Washington Times, as “one of the year’s most unexpected listening pleasures.”

While What Makes Bob Holler focuses exclusively on Bob Wills music, Hot Club of Cowtown’s live show will remain an engaging mix of what the band does best — whatever moves it at the moment, setlists be damned. “We have faith in the system that is the band. This energy that we plug into and it takes us away,” says James. Smith describes their shows as “like a rock ’n’ roll show . . . people pick up on the energy and the sincerity.”

“What the trio has is a rare thing,” says Smith, “There’s a chemistry that’s unmistakable.”

As Bob Wills might say, “Aaaaaaaaaah Haaaaaaaaaaah!”

www.hotclubofcowtown.com

STAX unveils “Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan in Session” CD/DVD Package

27 Oct

While there is no denying the immeasurable debt that modern blues and rock musicians owe to T-Bone Walker, the first bluesman to plug a guitar into an amplifier, and to B.B. King, who added sustained feedback and more to Walker’s innovations, Albert King was clearly the most influential blues guitar stylist from the mid-1960s on. Born April 25, 1923, Albert had begun his career as B.B. King disciple and, for a time, even claimed to be B.B.’s brother. (Both men were born in Indianola, Mississippi.)

By the time Albert signed with Stax Records in 1966, however, he had developed a highly personal guitar style marked by economical, rhythmically propulsive single-note lines and a razor-sharp tone produced by picking with his left thumb while bending wildly with his right fingers on the strings of a right-handed Flying V guitar turned upside down and tuned to an open E minor chord. His ground-breaking, soul-imbued recordings for the Memphis record company from 1966 to 1973 defined the state of modern blues during that period and had a vast impact on guitar players on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only did Albert’s signature style alter the approaches of such already established blues guitarists as Otis Rush and Albert Collins, but it had a tremendous impact on younger players like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and particularly Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Stevie was born (October 3, 1954) and raised in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, the same part of town in which T-Bone had grown up decades earlier. Stevie idolized Albert. Even before he was in his teens, Stevie had been captivated by the Mississippi guitar masher’s torrid tone, incisive phrasing, even the rocket-like shape of Albert’s instrument. The boy had other musical heroes–most notably older brother Jimmie Vaughan, as well as Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix–but it was Albert’s influence that would remain the most pervasive throughout Stevie’s career.

One of 13 children, Albert was raised by his mother in Forrest City, Arkansas. His first “guitar” consisted of a wire nailed to the wall of his house; he picked it with a bottle. Later, he bought an acoustic guitar for $1.25 and eventually graduated to an electric model purchased for $125 at a pawnshop in Little Rock. After practicing for a few years, he began sitting in around Osceola, Arkansas with a group called Yancey’s Band. “They learned me my chords and what key was what,” Albert recalled 1983. “I didn’t know but two or three songs.”

Driving a bulldozer during the day, Albert soon formed his own band, the In the Groove Boys. “I learned ’em those three songs that I knew,” he explained with a chuckle, “and we’d play ’em fast, slow, and medium, but we got over.”

After singing gospel with the Harmony Kings in South Bend, Indiana and playing drums for Jimmy Reed in Gary, Albert made his first record, “Bad Luck Blues,” for the Parrot label in Chicago in 1953. The title proved prophetic, however, and he returned to Osceola for a while, then settled in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he began recording for Bobbin in 1959. He scored his first national hit, “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” two years later on the Cincinnati-based King label.

Albert didn’t return to the charts until 1966, when his Stax recording of “Laundromat Blues” became one of that year’s biggest blues hits. The innovative melding of Albert’s dry, husky baritone voice and incendiary lead guitar with the Memphis firm’s crack rhythm and horn sections brought blues into the soul era. His seminal Stax singles, which also included “Crosscut Saw” and “Born Under a Bad Sign,” were initially bought primarily by African Americans. With the introduction of “underground” FM radio in 1967, Albert began attracting white listeners—who had been primed by Eric Clapton’s incorporation of Albert’s licks and even entire solos into his popular sides with Cream—in increasingly large numbers. His 1968 debut at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium solidified his crossover following. “People had been waiting to hear me play a long time before I even showed my face out there,” recalled Albert, who remained until his death one of the few blues artists to consistently attract substantial numbers of both black and white fans.

At the In Session taping, 60-year-old Albert ruled over the proceedings like a benevolent father, retaining control while allowing his 29-year-old guest loads of solo space in which to display his awesome command of the electric guitar. Stevie avoided flaunting his prowess, however, and instead delivered some of the most deliciously restrained playing of his career, laying back when his mentor dictated, turning up the heat only when Albert deemed it appropriate. The interplay between the two blues masters is uncannily empathetic, and Albert’s fans will find special pleasure in hearing him play rhythm parts at such length. At one point between tunes, Albert complained about problems with his guitar strings, then told Stevie, “I’m about ready to turn it over to you…. I’ve got to sit back and watch you.”

Albert was, in a sense, passing the torch to Stevie. The following month, in January 1984, Albert and his band traveled to Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California to record I’m in a Phone Booth, Baby. It would be his final album. He never did retire from the road, however, and continued touring until his death from a massive heart attack in Memphis on December 21, 1992. Albert was 69 and had enjoyed a full life in the blues.

Stevie wasn’t as fortunate. At the height of his career, on August 27, 1990, he was killed in a helicopter crash at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. He was 35.

In Session is the only known recording of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan performing together. Its long-overdue commercial release stands as a fitting tribute to the genius of two of the greatest musicians ever to have played the blues on electric guitar.

Albert King died December 21, 1992.

Concord Continues String of Great Jazz Reissues with Classic Recordings from Bill Evans & Wes Montgomery

21 Oct

WES MONTGOMERY – “BOSS GUITAR”

Wes Montgomery began his incredible series of recordings for Riverside in the organ trio context that he employed on gigs in his native Indianapolis. After a series of acclaimed albums featuring pianists, Montgomery ended his Riverside run by reuniting with Hammond B-3 master Melvin Rhyne on several sessions.

The first, Boss Guitar, featured Jimmy Cobb on drums, and the Miles Davis veteran (and future Montgomery working partner) inspired the guitarist and organist to their greatest recorded work together. Highlights include a cooking 6/8 version of “Besame Mucho,” the funky Montgomery blues “Fried Pies,” and Montgomery’s dazzling showpiece “The Trick Bag,” (each heard in both master and alternate takes.

BILL EVANS TRIO – “WALTZ FOR DEBBY”

This is the fourth and final album by one of the most influential groups in jazz history, a unit that redefined the notion of the piano trio. Recorded (like its companion volume Sunday at the Village Vanguard) just days before the highway accident that took bassist Scott LaFaro’s life, it summarizes the level of creative interaction that made the Bill Evans Trio a harbinger of jazz possibilities in the coming decades. Evans, LaFaro, and Paul Motian play with astounding freedom in these performances, maintaining all the while a keen balance and a pervasive sense of beauty. The flow of tempos and moods underscores the depth of the trio’s concept, casting a spell that remains undimmed some 50 years later.

www.concordmusicgroup.com

Two Terrific New Jazz Reissues from Concord Music

21 Oct

Chet Baker’s first sessions for Riverside form an East Coast counterpart to the Los Angeles quartet recordings that launched his career as a vocalist. They reveal less innocence and more soul than the earlier recordings, while still displaying the vulnerability that had already made Baker an icon beyond the realm of jazz singers and jazz trumpeters.

Working with musicians who were simultaneously contributing to the discoveries of Miles, Mingus, Dizzy, and Cannonball, focusing on some of the era’s greatest standards, and scatting for the first time on record, Baker displayed an innate musicianship in which voice and horn are complementary sides of the same unforgettable conception. Four bonus tracks add further value to one of Baker’s most memorable recordings.

This album was originally intended as an early Stateside acknowledgment of the power of Brazilian bossa nova, and it remains one of the best examples of early jazz samba. Guaraldi selected classic themes from the acclaimed film Black Orpheus, applying the superior sense of presentation that had already made him a leading trio pianist. The lasting impact of the album, however, can be traced to the incredibly popular Guaraldi original that led off the original LP’s contrasting second side of trio music. “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” became that rare phenomenon, an instrumental jazz hit single, and made Guaraldi a household name among jazz fans even before his Charlie Brown scores.

The best modern jazz classics are revisited in the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. Each title in the series features 24-bit remastering, original AND new liner notes, fully restored artwork, and bonus tracks (when available).

www.concordmusicgroup.com