A batch of welcome, unexpected reissues makes this week one of the year's best release weeks ever!
True, someone might take a look at some of the recordings below and note, My, how odd, a significant number of the spotlighted releases appear to be by well-established, sometimes legendary and sometimes dead artists rather than current label signings!
On the other hand, others might say, Wow, that newly signed Jessie James looks like she's gonna sound great!
But, as always, there's enough to go around for everyone!
So there's no point in thinking absolutely nothing of any interest is being released anymore! Because now that Soundscan is going to start considering T-shirts albums...everything has changed!
Tim Hardin, the Incredible String Band, and Bert Sommer, among others, who weren't previously showcased on past Woodstock retrospectives! That the producers would allow the massively long version of Canned Heat's "Woodstock Boogie" to finally be heard, for example, shows that their hearts were completely in the right place; likewise, so much more of Country Joe McDonald's set was more fascinating than the well known "Give me an F" of his "Fish Cheer," its airing here is a musical public service of the highest order! The excellent liner notes, the fascinating complete festival setlist--definitely an eye-opener--and the love that was put into this project 40 years after the fact is fairly remarkable! Though the anal-retentive record collector completists among us may have hoped for a clip from the historically under-represented Keef Hartley Band--who apparently opted out--the inclusion of tracks by Quill and the suprisingly good, previously-unheard Creedence Clearwater Revival material means that the all is right with the world! Combine that with the bonus LSD sprayed on the album's barcode, and you've got the package of the year!
George Strait: Twang (MCA Nashville) While it's long been known in Nashville that George Strait was an industry giant, it's hard to believe it's taken this long for the country legend to reveal that fact to the entire world! Yet here he is at last--pictured inside his colossal pick-up truck, playing a friend's guitar, delicately trying to not crush it with his giant fingers, attempting to look "just like one of the guys" despite being over 900 feet tall and trying to ignore that heart-rending fact just long enough to sings songs for us that will make us forget our own misery! Coming off his previous award-winning album Troubadour, Twang will touch all of us who know deep in our hearts that it isn't how big or small a man is--it's how on earth this guy found a hat that big!
Slaughterhouse: Slaughterhouse (E1 Music) When it comes to rap supergroups--and, truly, it always does--we could do much worse than Slaughterhouse, an admirably hatted quartet including Joe Budden, Royce Da 5'9", Crooked I and Joell Ortiz! Word is they may have had their ups and downs individually, but together they represent the best and brightest hope of contemporary hip-hop and graphic logo design! With production by the likes of The Alchemist and DJ Khalil, this fabulous set makes Ortiz's proclamation--"We did an entire album in 6 days!"--fascinating and entirely believable! Vegans beware!
Jessie James: Jessie James (Mercury) Like many of us, I often watch music videos while listening to other albums to save time! So it came as something of a surprise to me to finally hear Jessie James! You know how it is! What does she sound like? Well, she's written with and sung songs by the likes of Kara DioGuiardi, Katy Perry, and new country star Jamey Johnson, she's been previewed on Perez Hilton's website, she apparently sings "dance-rock scorchers" and "soulful blues" and counts among her biggest influences LeAnn Rimes, Christina Aguilera, Janis Joplin and Bobbie Gentry! Got that? In short, she appears capable of doing virtually anything--and as an added bonus, photographs remarkable well! Whew! We're lucky artists' looks are only an afterthought these days!
Willie Nelson: Lost Highway (Lost Highway) Despite the similar cover images, there's little chance fans of Jessie James will pick up this new Willie Nelson album and vice versa! It's the earrings! This fabulous 17-track compilation features country legend Nelson with a variety of guest singers--including Merle Haggard, Lee Ann Womack, Rob Thomas, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall--and track-for-track, in terms of raw sequencing, whether old material or new, this sounds like Nelson's strongest album in years! Closing tracks "Cowboys Are Secretly Fond Of Each Other" and "Ain't Goin' Down On Brokeback Mountain" certainly offer food for thought, but hey--who's hungry?
John Martyn: Solid Air (Deluxe Edition) (101 Distribution) One of the all-time great guitarist/vocalists to emerge from the UK--who sadly passed away earlier this year--John Martyn recorded many, many albums. Most of them--especially the early ones--were very, very good. Solid Air, originally released in 1973, was probably his best and certainly his most accessible. This welcome deluxe edition includes a second disc featuring alternate takes of album tracks, the odd single version and some live takes, and--even for those who cherish the original disc, which is remastered here--is absolutely worth your purchasing. The growing audience out there who've come to love Nick Drake--Martyn's friend and in fact the subject of this album's title track-- will find much here they'll love as well. Buy it now or be less than hip!
Robert Cray: This Time (Vanguard) If the mood is right, a new album by Robert Cray sometimes really hits the spot! Especially if you listen to it! His bazillionth---the man's been recording for years--sounds just as good as his first, but filled with the sort of subtlety you'd expect nearly 30 years of record-making to bring! As always playing a mixture of blues, R&B, and stuff that will never get played on the radio in a million years so what's the point but that's OK, Cray and band tear through tracks like "Chicken In The Kitchen," "Trouble & Pain" and "That's What Keeps Me Rockin'," then leave the studio, drive through town, and eventually stop at a restaurant. Once there, they order dinner! Outside, dark clouds gather!
The Nice: Fillmore East 1969 (EMD International import) I must say that in all my years as a rock critic--at least since 1998!--I have always parted company with my well-respected elders who have disrespectfully tossed the works of Keith Emerson's pre-Emerson, Lake & Palmer band the Nice into the same rubbish bin and declared them canonical inferiors to John David Souther, R.E.M. and, I dunno, Jay-Z! Dopes! Anyway, for two albums or so the Nice were one of the best bands ever--and this live package captures the fab flag-burners ripping through most of their best material in fine form! Perhaps it's time we re-evaluate all pop music history and decide whether or not we've all of us--as a people--been fed lies, gross distortions of...(fades)....Hey look! A train!
Anna Ternheim: Leaving On A Mayday (Verve Forecast) A great new album by Swedish songbird Ternheim, who's a big deal in her homeland--she won the Best New Artist Swedish Grammy for her 2004 album Something Outside--and will hopefully be a big deal here someday as well! It's a fair world! Great arrangements, interesting songs, cooly detached vocals, and just the sort of thing you'd hope for from a woman quoted as saying "If there's no pain, I have a hard time connecting to it"! Hopefully she wasn't talking about the Internet!