vrijdag 25 maart 2011

Selah Sue (2011)

When I started this music blog last year the first thing I posted  about was the EP Selah Sue released.
Her first full CD has been out for about a month now and I must say it fulfills all the expectations.
I also must remark that her (French) record label has given her the royal treatment in the PR stakes. TV exposure, in-store performances, press, etc.
While the first objective was to conquer Europe (read France) and tackle the UK and the US later on it's not every artists' prerogative to be flown out to Austin, Texas for just one promo gig at the SXSW festival and having your earlier EP rush released in the States for just that.
While her first album only recaps 'Raggamuffin' and 'Crazy Vibes' from said EP, it's still a mix of old and new.
'Mommy', for instance, is produced by Michelle Ndegocello but it retains the same sparse acoustic treatment it had from the beginning. 'Black Part Love' and 'Fyah Fyah' also come from the very start of her career.
As for her style, let's call it part dubstep. Superbly produced though.
The only real clunker is the most famous one. Cee-Lo Green's 'Please', also on his own latest CD is reprised here. What a dog.
She's from Belgium, folks. And I'm real proud here to reside in the same country as Selah Sue.
That's all.

zaterdag 5 februari 2011

Robert Belfour (Holly Springs, Mississippi)

Robert Belfour was born in 1940 in the middle of Mississippi Hill Country. It took him 59 years to get his first record released. Hill Country, as opposed to the Delta, is rough terrain where the poor survive by share cropping.
The music played there is by nature a rough and rural blues. Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Otah Turner's Fife and Drum Band all hail from the same area and they all got discovered in their later lives.
Otah saw his first record hitting the market when he was 90. The fife is is a  flute made out of cane.

Now Robert Belfour's father taught him to play the resonator guitar when not working out in the fields. He finally moved to Memphis where he worked construction for 35 years. But he didn't leave his music behind.
He has a unique style of playing combined with a deep booming voice. On all tracks you'll just hear his voice and guitar sometime a lone drummer.

Belfour may not be the biggest name out of the lot but  right now I think he's better than either Burnside or Kimbrough.

From 1996 onwards young white kids who lived among their black heroes took the tradition of Hill Stomp further and electrified it. The North Mississippi Allstars and brother band Hill Country Revue have been preaching their music the world over.

Oklahoma Blues - A tribute to J.J.Cale (2010)

To tell the truth friends I never was an acolyte of tribute albums. I am of the opinion that the artist in question knows best what to do with his/her own songs.
There are exceptions but not many. The only one that springs to mind is 'Por Vida - a tribute to Alejandro Escovedo'. It served a good cause as well. When Alejandro was down with hepatitis and couldn't pay his medical bills some of his friends got together and recorded this double cd. All the proceeds went to the artist who, I'm happy to say, is now back on track again.

You'll get to hear Lucinda Williams, Calxico, Howe Gelb, Jayhawks, Son Volt, M.Ward.

'Oklahoma Blues' is not your regular tribute. That is to say it's not the usual one song/one artist record.
A bunch of recording artists from the small Zoho blues label took it upon themselves to fill a disc with Cale songs. Some appear as much as five times, other do two or three songs.
'Money talks' for example appears here in two very different versions.

We all know the music of J.J.Cale is extremely laidback but I'm happy to say that is not noticeable on this record.
Here the versions range from swamp blues to southern rock to a-capella.
What drew me in the end were the artists, especially JJ Grey and Swamp Cabbage.
Now Swamp Cabbage hails from Florida just like Grey and with 'Honk' and 'Squeal' they already have two fantastic albums under their belt.
Here they perform five songs, one with JJ Grey singing and two with Wet Willie's Jimmy Hall. (Money talks, Don't cry sister, Sensitive kind, Cajun moon, Old blues).
Great versions, all of them.
Rufus Huff do Cocaine and Crazy Mama southern rock style and the veteran gospel band the Persuasions do I'll make love to you anytime and Travelin' light.
All of Oklahoma Blues is a great listening experience really showing what can be done with J.J. Cale songs in any other style.

zondag 9 januari 2011

2010 : the ones that (almost) fell thru the cracks

There were more than 10 albums in the past year that I really, really liked. Goes without saying.
Here's some that deserve an honorary mention.

Croatian Surf instrumentals. I kid you not. Incredible musicianship from this foreign quartet produced by Chris Eckman. I'm not averse to surf music, even get out some compilations a couple of times a year.
This album is far more than just surf. Eckman adds some strings, brass and Morricone touches but he uses them sparsely and wisely. There's often twin lead guitars involved.
Each tune has its own mood and I wouldn't be surprised if their music turns up in a Tarantino soundtrack sooner or later. Fantastic and at 39 minutes total just the right length.

I'm sorry to say that my 5-star favorite Amy Millan didn't release an album this year. However, Holly Miranda's debut more than makes up for this.
Eerie, opaque dream sequences around her quiet soulful voice. Lots of synths and treated guitar are the work of TV on the Radio's David Sitek.
Perhaps you're familiar with Forest Green Oh Forest Green, the opener on The Magician's Private Library?
If not, that's a good place to start.

Barely 20 years old and already her second album. This one is British and already a bit of a star.
Comparing the new one to her debut "Alas I cannot swim"  it's darker in mood and totally steeped in 70's English Folk. Marling doesn't pretend to be the new Sandy Denny -her voice is totally different- but walks the same path as did Sandy in her early solo years.
A truly enjoyable cd.

A 'Best of'', yes. But easily the best compilation I've heard in years. Why? Because its songs are well chosen and ordered to flow in perfection.
Never been a big fan of the Triffids and never understood the fuss for 'Born Sandy Devotional' either.
A 10 cd box was released on the same day as 'Wide Open Road' but the casual fan will just need this one disc.
And it contains my all time favorite song of theirs: 'Bury me deep in love'.

Move over Allison Krauss & Union Station, heeeere's the Steeldrivers! Second album from my new modern day Bluegrass heroes!
A band without a drummer where fiddle and banjo are the lead instruments. And still they rock like a urethane bowling ball on dry lane conditions. There's no duff track on this one just like on their eponymous debut from 2008.  What a great rockin' band in such a traditional genre.

A rehabilitation and return to form on Bingham's third. Ray Lamontagne just edged him out of my top 10 I guess.
This one goes back to 2007's 'Mescalito' and is worth a sigh of relief after the riff riddled 'Roadhouse Sun' where producer Marc Ford drenched everything in Black Crowes like heavy soloing. Now I like both the Crowes and Ford's solo stuff but it really was out of place on a countrified americana album where Bingham's strength lies.

zondag 26 december 2010

The Shadow's 2010 End of Year list

10. Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart

2008's In The Future, their second album, was one of the absolute highlights for that year. Don't be fooled because the Canadians' new one is just as good even though the songs may be a little more compact.
Heavy prog rock with some acoustic interludes thrown in for good measure. Honestly, I'm looking forward to some new product from their doomier offshoot Lightning Dust.
Essential tracks : The Hair Song, Rollercoaster, Let Spirits ride.

9. Ray Lamontagne - God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise

Music wise Ray's 4th release leans close to his debut 'Trouble'. Back to his acoustic roots after the dark 'Till the Sun Turns Black' and 'Gossip in the Grain' where he lost the plot somewhat.
Recorded in his home with a small backing band, the songs and his voice shine like liquid silver.
Good to see the appearance of Greg Leisz on pedal steel. On of the greatest sidemen ever.
Essential tracks : Repo Man, This Love Is over, Beg Steal or Borrow.

8. Eli 'Paperboy' Reed - Come and Get It

White boy retro soul but what a stupid cd cover. Reed's official second are once more original tunes that wouldn't sound out of place in the late 60's catalogues from Stax or Atlantic.
He sings, he shouts, he growls just like the late Wilson Pickett. 'Come and get it' has a smoother production than the previous 'Roll with it' but that shouldn't spoil the fun. Groovin', funky and some mean ballads too.
Essential tracks : Name Calling, Time Will Tell, Pick A Number.

7. Los Lobos - Tin Can Trust

Los Lobos never made a bad album and that's a fact. These East L.A.'ers have been going for 32 years now and on their latest they're tackling the financial meltdown of America. Never let it be said they are not political aware and they certainly don't hesitate to defend the poor.
I nominate them this year not only for this album but, in fact, for their entire oeuvre. Richly deserved.
Essential tracks : Burn It Down, West L.A. Fadeaway.

6. Woven Hand - The Treshingfloor

Noone will ever take away David Eugene Edwards' crown as the emperor of doom. Not Nick Cave, not Leonard Cohen.
Whether he goes under the moniker of 16 Horsepower or Woven Hand his dark preachings and strong religious lyrics will remain my absolute favorite.
No surprises here, genius songs as usual.
Essental tracks : all of them really.

5. Black Country Communion

OK so forget the supergroup tag for a minute and let's call it this year's Wolfmother album. Solid Seventies hard rock with a modern twist. No sign of fatigue in Glenn Hughes' voice and this album gives Joe Bonamassa an excellent chance to shine outside the blues genre. And shine he does.
Even if BCC proves to be just a one album project they certainly delivered and already added a classic to the genre.
Essential tracks : One Last Soul, Beggarman, Song of Yesterday, No Time, Medusa.

4. Tony Joe White - The Shine

Now this was a very nice surprise. Simply the best album White's made in the last 30 years of his long career. Very directly recorded, no fancy production tricks from his son Jody this time. Voice all to the fore instruments far in the back. Intimate, warm, White's voice a swampy growl, primitive backing and fantastic songs. I'm impressed!
TJ may very well never write another hit but I don't care. He's done enough of that in his 67 years.
Essential tracks : Season Man, Roll Train Roll, All.

3. JJ Grey & Mofro - Georgia Warhorse

From the Louisiana Swamp Fox to the swamps of Florida. Grey's actually from North Florida but who gives? This man goes from strength to strenght and again his 5th album is full of back porch soul, swamp country and a certain kind of southern rock. Majestic music. Grey will probably never be big but you could do worse than check out his music. Your foot will keep tapping I assure you.
Essential tracks : King Hummingbird, Diyo Dayo, Georgia Warhorse, Slow hot & Sweaty.

2. Bruce Springsteen - The Promise

You simply cannot call this a reissue. The songs are over 30 years old but never saw an official release and, above all, come from the best period of his entire career.
Bands could build entire careers with songs like these. Bruce considered them not fit enough to be heard by us. I agree to the fact that only a couple would have fit onto 'Darkness' but there's enough to have made up an album between 'Born to run' and 'Darkness' especially since a lot have that big sound so well knows from the former. A proper historical document that's what 'The Promise' really is.
Essential tracks : Because The Night, Rendezvous, Talk To Me, The Little Things, Ain't Good Enough For You.

1. The Black Keys - Brothers

 First place goes to The Black Keys for - and I quote myself - "Lifting the genre of plodding blues rock to new and exciting heights".
When Dan Auerbach's solo album came out I was thinking hey! I hope he does something similar for the band. And now he did it too.
The Black Keys are no longer simply a guitar/drums duo but have expanded their sound while staying true to their chosen genre. The falsetto voice helps as well.
Plus, and that's a big plus, the whole cd is full of fantastic songs.
While I've been a fan from the beginning I honestly never imagined they would one year take the top spot.
Essential tracks : Everlasting Light, Next Girl, Tighten Up, Howlin' For You, The Only One, Sinister Kid, The Go Getter, I'm Not The One.

donderdag 16 december 2010

Black Dub - Black Dub (2010)

Another supergroup of sorts. Daniel Lanois, top producer and acclaimed musician's musician, put together his new project with Brain Blade on drums (Norah Jones, Wayne Shorter) and Louisiana bassist Daryl Johnson (Neville Brothers).
They are joined by 23 year old Trixie Whitley, daughter of Chris. Her Belgian mother is the sister of dEUS' bassist.

It's especially her voice that brings this project off. Pure but raw enough to entertain.
The name Black Dub is well chosen because the music incorporates several elements of the dub culture on the one hand. On the other there's Lanois' voodoo soundscapes that sizzle and crackle like a tumbleweed trown on a hot barbeque pit.
The production is outstanding, crystal clear drum sound and heavy basslines without being overintruding.
But then one wouldn't expect anything less from Lanois.
The songs. There's pure gospel in 'Canaan', 'I believe in you' is a dub heavy excersise while 'Surely' is a purely sexy ballad brought off by Trixie's unbelievable voice.
In some songs I can even hear influences of T-Bone Burnett even though he wasn't at the sessions.
You'll also find two Lanois instrumentals 'Slow baby' and 'Sirens' that have his trademark deep haunting waves of electronic guitar.

Black Dub, the album, came out rather late in the year and I won't change my personal top 10 of the year for it. Still, truth be told, it deserves a place in it.
Not your everyday pop music this but a very laidback album to enjoy.

dinsdag 7 december 2010

Tony Joe White - The Shine (2010)

That's the cover.
I need to tell you about this album, friends. Came out about a month ago and it is definitely the best work he's done in almost 20 years.
Others have made his early songs into worldwide superhits so let's not go there. The royalties from those alone were probably enough for Tony Joe to buy up half the properties in his home state of Louisiana.
During the 80's he only made a few albums that were not up to par with his earlier work but then he got a second break. Tina Turner recorded a couple of his new songs ('Steamy windows' anyone?) and suddenly TJ got a new management and recording deal out of it.

That's his 1991 comeback album and worth every cent it was too. His own version of 'Windows', 'Undercover agent for the blues' and two of the best songs he ever wrote: 'Tunica motel' and 'Closer to the truth'.
After that a steady stream of recorded work followed with another highlight being:

 where TJ duets with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Jessie Colter, Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne and daughter Michelle.
All of his work has that swamp sound, hot and brooding and in his guitar parts you can clearly hear where Mark Knopfler got his ideas from.
But back to 'The Shine'.
There's something real special about this album. While the sound is warm and direct you'll have to listen close to hear the voice. White almost whispers his lyrics and the sparse backing is even further in the background.
Some songs have just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, there's hardly any electric lead to be heard.
I counted exactly one up tempo ('Strange night')  the rest are formidable in their laid backness.
The best here? 'Season man', classical Tony Joe White. 'Roll train roll', Delta folk blues. 'Ain't doin' nobody no good', a swamp blues drone.
A most satisfying album from the 67 year old Swamp Fox.