CD RECOMMENDATIONS.

DELTA CROSSROADS

Robert Lockwood Jr.

This is as close to a modern Robert Johnson recording as one will get unless Robert’s deal with the devil included coming back from the dead at some point in the future! Robert Lockwood Jr. knew Robert Johnson and it shows. He covers no less than seven Johnson compositions including a previously unknown song “Mr. Downchild”. The exquisite accoustic guitar playing and Mr, Lockwood’s worne out yet warm voice will get into your ears, go down in your gut and come out through your heart. Pour yourself a mint julep and hang on to your bible belt. A beauty

FOLK SINGER

Muddy Waters

http://www.amazon.com/Folk-Singer-Muddy-Waters/dp/B00000JNOJ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1267194154&sr=1-1

Except for his fields recordings, this is the only accoustic album by the master of electric blues. If you are looking for a moment of peace amidst the hustle bustle of modern life, get this CD which features Muddy going back to his roots with some gorgeous accoustic guitar work and timeless songs. Muddy’s playing is sparse so that every note matters. His singing is soft and mysterious. This is American music at its best. It is also a wonderful record for guitar players who wish to practice their blues scales to pre-recorded music. Every song on the record is in the key of E…

THE KING OF ROCK’N ROLL: THE COMPLETE 50’s MASTERS (BOX SET)

Elvis Presley

http://www.amazon.com/King-Rock-Roll-Complete-Masters/dp/B000002WMH/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Bob Dylan said that hearing Elvis Presley for the first time felt like breaking out of jail…James Brown said that Elvis Presley taught white people how to get down…You will understand exactly what Bob and James meant when you listen to this monumental box set. No other artist has achieved such a perfect fusion of black and white music styles. Whether or not Elvis Presley invented rock’n roll is a pointless intellectual debate for, in the end, it is the sheer beauty of his work which matters. Whether in the electrifying rockers or in the ballads which are filled with a fragile sense of longing, he shows insanely perfect timing, phrasing, range and, most of all, an emotional depth which can only be matched by the greatest gospel or delta blues singers. This set makes it clear to me that outside of Opera and Jazz, Elvis Presley was, quite simply, the greatest singer who ever lived.

SUSPICIOUS MINDS

Elvis Presley

http://www.amazon.ca/Suspicious-Minds-Elvis-Presley/dp/B00000IFT8/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

It is quite astounding that a producer like Chips Moman and an artist like Elvis Presley would have chosen to release mixes of Presley’s most important recordings since the Sun sessions with absolutely no rhythmic center, having mixed the drums all the way to one side and the bass all the way to the other side in the stereo mix. Although these mixes do not sound too bad on ballads, they are simply atrocious on the rock and R&B songs like “Stranger in my hometown” and “Suspicious minds”. I was not aware that “The Memphis Record” offered different mixes until I read the reviews herein.I found it yesterday and it is infinitely better than this set. The drums and the bass are centered in the mix and some of the corny violin and horns are kept more in the back leaving Presley’s soaring, incredible voice way in the front as it should be.The drums also sound better. This set is still worth owning for Disc 2 and specifically the gorgeously sparser version of “without love” and bluesier version of “Power of my love”. But if you can’t afford to buy both, I suggest that you try and find “The Memphis Record”

WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES: THE ESSENTIAL SEVENTIES MASTERS (BOXSET)

Elvis Presley

http://www.amazon.ca/Walk-Mile-My-Shoes-Essential/dp/B000002WUD/ref=cm_aya_orig_subj

This boxset puts to rest the notion that in the 70s, Elvis was a “has been” who did not produce any good music. Unfortunately, the sequencing on this set (as on every 70s Presley RCA release) leaves a lot to be desired. Corny ballads are stuck next to great rockers. This criticism aside, this is one to own. In the 70s, when Elvis rocked, he did so with a great swamp blues feel as he does on the title track which is prefaced with an excerpt from a Hank Williams poem entitled “Men with broken hearts”. Listening to some of the songs on this set, one can only regret the fact that through most of the 60s an 70s, Elvis traded his creative drive for fried banana/bacon sandwiches. If only he had covered more John Fogerty or Bob Dylan…Indeed, when the old spark lights up, it produces fireworks. Gems on this compilation include a bluesy alternate version of “Amazing grace”, a studio version of “Tiger man”, an incredible slow version of “Stranger in my hometown” (which has, unfortunately, been edited because Elvis uses the word “Motherf…” while he improvises about going back to the 50s). Most other great 70s rockers are on this compilation, including “Burning love”, “Way down”, “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” and “Promised land”. However, RCA has yet to release a comprehensive and complete 70s rock/blues compilation. This set omits songs such as “Three corn patches”, “If you don’t come back” and “Blue eyes crying in the rain”. Why?

THE CHESS BOX: CHUCK BERRY (BOX SET)

Chuck Berry

http://www.amazon.com/Chess-Box-Chuck-Berry/dp/B000002Q3Z/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Unless you want to splurge for the recently released box sets of Berry’s complete 50’s and 60’s Chess Masters, this is the best (and the only) comprehensive release of Chuck Berry’s classics and of some lesser known (but just as beautiful) ballads and jazzy numbers such as “Havana moon” and “A deuce” in what was otherwise the most mismanaged CD release catalog in the history of rock’n roll. This set clearly shows that, although Presley may have instinctively invented rock’n roll by speeding up old blues songs and recording them with a country arrangement, Chuck Berry was the true father of rock’n roll songwriting and of modern rock’n roll guitar. The poetry of his lyrics, as well as their rythm, have no equal. His gritty “double string” guitar riffs have been studied (and lifted) by every serious rock’n roll guitarist. Speaking of lifting, however, it is interesting to note that Chuck’s famous guitar intro to Johnny Bee Goode can be found on Louis Jordan’s recording of “Ain’t just like a woman” which, I believe, came out long before Chuck’s first record…Unfortunately, this set completely ignores Chuck Berry’s 70’s recordings (save for the wonderful “Bio” and a handful of other tunes) which, believe it or not, have yet to be released on CD (“Back Home”, “San Francisco Dues”, “Bio” and “Chuck Berry 75”). However, you can find, as an import, on this site the wonderful “Rock it” (Chuck’s last Studio effort from 1979)which makes for a wonderful companion piece to this set. Put on you Hi Heel Sneakers and get ready to rock!

SHAKE HANDS WITH SHORTY

North Mississippi Allstars

http://www.amazon.com/Shake-Hands-Shorty-Mississippi-Allstars/dp/B00004T0EE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1267192555&sr=1-1-spell

The North Mississippi All Stars accomplish on this exquisite album what Elvis Presley did on his Sun Sessions; a perfect fusion of black and white music styles. The difference is that whereas Elvis merged the blues with 50’s country and pop , the All Stars merge the blues with rock’n roll as it has evolved since Elvis “invented” it on those Sun sessions. One can hear traces of modern country, 60’s rock and even hip hop rythms on the first cut, Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Shake’em down”. The most amazing thing about this CD is that none of the songs are originals. They are all covers of great blues classics by Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside or Junior Kimbaugh and yet, they sound nothing like the originals. Another common trait with the King’s Sun recordings. It is no accident that two of the band members are relatives (sons?) of one of the greatest southern American musician and producer, Jim Dickinson. These guys obviously know their roots.The guitar playing is stunning and mixes electric and accoustic in perfect harmony. This is music at its best. Raw, gritty, creative, fun, deep…superb.

PERFECT DAY

Chris Whitley

 
Great music sometimes does not fit in any category. What Chris Whitley achieves here is a moody fusion of rock, jazz and blues through covers of great blues (Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”) and rock (DYLAN’s “Spanish Harlem Incident”) songs. You will be hard pressed to recognize the songs which is why this album is so beautiful. Creativity through musicianship and feeling instead of songwriting. Chris Whitley has obviously come to terms with certain personal demons in order to come up with such peaceful music. His accoustic guitar playing is as good as ever, only more subtle. The great jazz rythm section acts as his only support and he does not need any more. His singing is so soulful and vulnerable that he moves, with this record from ace guitar slinger to complete artist. A truly superb effort.

BADLANDS: A TRIBUTE TO BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S NEBRASKA

Bruce Springsteen (Tribute)

In the musical wasteland of the eighties which (for the most part) was filled with overblown synthesized arrangements, Bruce Springsteen committed the unthinkable when he released “Nebraska”, a stark collection of songs recorded in his living room on a 4 track cassette recorder. Accompanying himself with an accoustic guitar and a harmonica, Springsteen produced a brilliant chronicle of the American working class. Like a modern day Woody Guthrie, he captured our broken dreams, our dark side and our quest for a better life with deceptively simple words and melodies. This apparent simplicity imbued “Nebraska” with an eerieness reminiscent of Robert Johnson’s recordings or Presley’s Sun recordings. The magic of “Badlands” is that, in part because the producer insisted that all the artists had to record their song on no more than 4 tracks, the eerieness of the original was updated but preserved. Synthezisers and drums were used this time around, but only to add a touch to the music, not to take it over. Stand out tracks include Hank Williams III’s hillbilly revamp of “Atlantic City”, Crooked Fingers’ haunting version of “Mansion on the Hill” (the lead singer’s voice is strikingly similar to Springsteen’s), Los Lobos’ cajun treatment of “Johnny 99” and Aimee Mann & Michael Penn’s magnificent cover of “Reason to believe”, one of Springsteen’s finest songs. “Badlands” also offers three bonus tracks which Springsteen wrote during the “Nebraska” sessions but did not release until later on, including a stunning reading of “I’m on fire” by Johnny Cash. How fitting that one of Springsteen’s own heroes should look back and pay tribute to his “student”. When he delivers the line “I can take you higher, I’m on fire”, it takes a somehow different meaning than that intended by Springsteen which shows how perfectly crafted Springsteen’s songs were. Not so simple after all.This is music for the long run and a perfect companion to the original album. Sheer beauty…

AMERICAN III: SOLITARY MAN

Johnny Cash

This is the third Johnny Cash album on Rick Rubin’s American label. I strongly urge you to buy all six CDs from this collection for after his 50’s Sun recordings and until genius producer Rick Rubin embarked on this journey with Johnny Cash (that lasted all the way to the death of the Man in Black and even beyond since the fifth and sixth albums were released posthumously, Cash’s work had suffered from corny Nashville production throughout the sixties and early seventies when he formed the Highwaymen with outlaw pals Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson & Waylon Jennings, essentially creating what has become known as alternative country music. Like the first Rick Rubin collaboration “American Recordings”, this CD does not bother with big production, letting the man in black sing to you like he is in your living room. But whereas “American Recordings” was a solo album with Johnny Cash accompanying himself on guitar (he had limited guitar skills), “Solitary man” features beautiful accoustic guitar by the likes of Norman Blake, Mike Campbell, Randy Scruggs, Larry Perkins and Marty Stuart, delicate piano, organ and harmonium by Benmont Tench, fiddle by Laura Cash and accordion by Sheryl Crow. Whereas on “American Recordings the songs were varied in themes, the choice of songs here focuses almost exclusively on the reflections and the wisdom of a man who has done just about everything he set out to do and is now facing his demise. (He is seriously ill). From the opening line of Tom Petty’s hit “I won’t back down”(“I won’t back down, you can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down, gonna’ stand my ground”)to the exquisite traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” which closes the album, this is a stark, yet tender, deeply moving collection(Cash’s rendition of Nick Cave’s “Mercy seat”-a song about a capital execution- is just chilling). Mr. Cash also has the ability to give hair raising intensity to the most simple words and to take a song which has been covered by just about everyone,like “Lucky old sun” and send chills down your spine with his rendition. He covers artists as varied as U2, Neil Diamond and David Allan Coe and yet this collection makes complete sense! He wrote one beautiful new song “Before my time” in which he reflects on his youth with a melancholy that never falls into regret. Special guests Tom Petty, Will Oldham Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and June Carter Cash sing harmony without ever intruding on the undiminished, deep, rugged, yet vulnerable baritone of this true American master.

TIME OUT OF MIND

Bob Dylan

Just as we were afraid of losing “The Poet” (this is apparently how Samuel Beckett referred to him) who had fallen ill due to a rare heart infection,  he surprised us once again with his best work since “Blood on the tracks”. The superb writing and Daniel Lanois’s moody production create a sound full of longing, spiritual searching and bitter dreams. “Not dark yet” stands with Dylan’s greatest ballads as he confronts impending doom. The ace rockabilly of “Dirt road blues” (the riff was lifted from an old Sun records song) fits right in with Dylan’s obvious desire to sit alongside older American legends Jimmy Rodgers, Woodie Guthrie, Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley. Let’s hope for our sake that he will wait a long while before he joins them for, as this album once again shows, not only will he sit by their side, but I have a feeling that when they finally meet him, they will point him to the head of the table…
 

 
Hot Messiah (MP3 Download)
 
Kill Henry Sugar
 
 This is one of those rare album that is sheer perfection. The songwriting, the musicianship, the production, the singing and the mood bring you into a world of storytelling that mixes reality with poetic images that will stay with you for a very long time and demand repeated listening. The music has elements of folk, rock, blues and even jazzy vaudeville (“Time is just a piece of paper”). Standout ballads are the magnificent “Against the stars”, “London Town” (sung A Capella), “Bewildered” and the unforgettable closing Waitsian track “Within my lifetime”. Standout rockers are the bluesy “Long Ago” with superb guitar and vocals, the Buddy Hollyesque “Age of man” and “Spinning world” which is tinted with rockabilly guitar. Superb album…
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