So many new music discs arrive in stores today! Let's scoop the cream of the crop.
Soul Power: Two classic Philly Soul stylists are represented with new (or at least, new to the public) releases. The authentically fresh set is "Like A Fire" (Shout! Factory, B+) from Solomon Burke - the one-time West Philly kid preacher turned secular singer who's still finding a happy medium between the two, five-plus decades later. His voice seems more weathered this time, though that shouldn't bother the roots-rock loving crowd that's also embraced Burke in recent years.
The anti-materialist "We Don't Need It" really jumped out and bit me. Other vital life lessons were specially written for the artist and this set by admirers Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Keb' Mo' and Jesse Harris.
Another product of West Philly, Soul Diva Patti LaBelle is telling it like it was on "Live In Washington, D.C." (Philadelphia International/Legacy, B). This one's been hiding in the vaults since 1982, and when you hear it, you'll know why. LaBelle schmoozes with the crowd almost as much as she sings. Sure it's cool to hear (once) that she was supposed to record "If You Don't Know Me By Now" before Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes snatched it away. But will such anecdotes and LOTS of casual banter with fans really hold up under repeated plays?
A better bet for repeated listening, also out today, is the double disc, multi-label sourced "The Essential Patti LaBelle" (P.I./Legacy, A) blessed with hits and rarities stretching from the 1960s, an alternative live take of Patti & The Blue Belles first hit "(I Sold) My Heart to the Junkman" to 1997's "When You Talk About Love."
The Boys Are Back in Town: Having worked a similar number on Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, producer Rick Rubin has now performed reductionist surgery on Jakob Dylan, stripping The Wallflowers' front guy down to a solo man-and-his-guitar act on "Seeing Things" (Columbia, B). Hey, that used to be good enough for his dad, and does allow the younger Dylan's lyrical side to shine on the war-themed "Valley of the Low Sun," the tender "Something Good This Way Comes" and the growing up is hard to do "On Up the Mountain."
Brassy horns and loopy, cha-cha-cha rhythms were an integral part of the soul scene of the 1960s, as celebrated by artists like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Ray Charles. Now those effervescent party sounds are alive again in the unabashedly retro music of James Hunter, challenging the status quo "The Hard Way" (Hear Music, B+.) This time around his affinity to living souls Van Morrison and Mose Allison also pops out, respectively, on the finger-snapping "Hand It Over" and bemused " 'Til The End."
Veteran producer Bob Rock knows how all the biggest, best vocal and band sounds are created in the studio, and he's applied that knowledge to former Bush-man Gavin Rossdale's tuneful, anthemic "Wanderlust" (Interscope, B.) Think Peter Gabriel, U2 and (on the reggae-lite "Future World") Sting fronting The Police. Not that original, yet often arresting.
Joseph Arthur keeps his music edgy, dark and slightly out of focus on "Crazy Rain" (Lonely Astronaut, B).
Josh Fix brings a flamboyant vocal and piano-based pop rock sense that builds on the best of Freddie Mercury and Ben Folds. Get your Fix on "Free At Last" (1650, B).
Group Motion: There's been activity locally on the baroque folk/rock front, with groups like Espers acknowledging the influence of 1970s British bands Pentangle, Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. Now a Seattle band is checking in with exquisitely refined variations on the theme on their self-titled debut "Fleet Foxes" (Sub Pop, A) - the CD "find" of the week. Every wispy vocal, word and instrumental note seems perfectly nuanced and important on the set, which also suggests (without overtly copying) a education in the best of West Coast psychedelic pop (from Love to mid-period Beach Boys), Phil Spector's wall of sound productions and top tier troubadours Neil Young and Simon & Garfunkel.
The British neo-psychedelic pop rock band Sloan also got me humming on the short but sweet "Parallel Play" (Yep Rock, B).
Dan Zanes (of The Del Fuegos and family music fame) collaborates with a variety of folkloric Latin artists on the zesty and rhythmically diverse "Nueva York!" (Festival Five, B). Fun for all.
Consumate pickers, fiddler and singers The Infamous Stringbusters smartly mow the nuevo-bluegrass on their self-titled album (Sugar Hill, B+).
Bad Times/Good Music: A soured romance has gotten Alanis Morissette off her duff to write and record again with "Flavors of Entanglement" (Warner Bros, B.) The tune "Torch" burns hardest for a guy who's gone, while "In Praise of the Vulnerable Man" suggests what she's looking for next time - in language phrased strange as she only can.
Emmylou Harris also is on a rueful streak on "All I Intended to Be" (Nonesuch, B+). But oh, what beautiful sorrow she exudes on this delicately wrought alt- country set, featuring new numbers by Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Tracy Chapman and Patty Griffin.
Martha Wainwright is the child of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. And an apple who's not fallen far from the tree - combining the parlor pop refinement of her mom and the psychiatrist's couch lyrical frankness of her dad, with a tremulous, cabaret-tuned voice that reflects a bit of both.
While Martha's kinda quirky and an acquired taste, the elements come together quite well on her new set laced with jilted love laments, "I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too" (Zoe/Rounder, A-).
Standard Time: Everything that's old is new again in three vital new jazz releases.
On the aptly named "Loverly" (Blue Note, A-), Cassandra Wilson repeatedly lights a fire with her ruminative, slow-burn vocals on the likes of "The Very Thought of You," "Gone With The Wind" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."
"Beyond Standard" (Telarc CD/SACD, B) finds jazz pianist Hiromi and her spunky group Sonicbloom bringing fresh instrumental ideas to bear on the likes of "My Favorite Things," "Caravan" and the classical air "Clair De Lune."
A mixed bag of golden oldies - from "Skylark" to "Lil' Darlin'" to the theme from "The Odd Couple" (!) come alive, anew on "Freternity"(P3 Music, B). World class jazz guitarist Martin Taylor is the leader, trading licks with a dynamic small ensemble that also boasts trumpeter Guy Barger, pianist David Newton, and singer Alison Burns. *