New albums from electric bass-slapping singer/songwriter Laura Love and former Roomful of Blues guitarist Ronnie Earl, plus an Etta James box set, stand out among this week's releases.
Also noteworthy this week are folk troubadour Larry Long's new album and reissues of classic material from legends Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters.
(Click here for a select list of this week's releases.)
The genre-pollinating Love creates unlikely musical hybrids bluegrass instrumentation and deep funk grooves, Appalachian yodels and Celtic melodies and can stomp like a hillbilly while plucking the bejeezus out of her red electric bass as if it were a rock guitar. As a child who survived foster homes while her single mother battled manic depression and schizophrenia, Love was often the only African-American girl in all-white schools. Consequently, she knows a thing or two about the unglamorous challenges of being different from the mainstream. Her songs address the dichotomies of relationships between men and women, children and parents, individuals and society, humans and the environment, citizens and the government.
On Fourteen Days, her first album via Rounder's independent Zoe imprint, she's backed by her core band guitarist Rod Cook, mandolinist/vocalist Jennifer Todd and drummer Chris Leighton as well as guests such as fiddler Barbara Lamb and Los Lobos sax player Steve Berlin. The 11 songs include a cover of Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" (RealAudio excerpt) and one of Love's typically stunning reinterpretations of a folk traditional, "Shenandoah" (RealAudio excerpt). Originals such as the socially conscious meditation "In Seattle" and the funky don't-ask-don't-tell protest "Hey Bigelow" (RealAudio excerpt) reflect Love's conscientious spirit.
Some Of The Greats
Boston bluesman Ronnie Earl's previous albums have earned him awards, acclaim and a solid following. Healing Time is his first outing with the Telarc label. It finds the former Roomful of Blues guitarist working the same contemporary blues fields, but with spiritual concerns on his mind. The 11-track collection opens with "Churchin' " and closes with "Amazing Grace." Songs sandwiched in between include "Blues on a Sunday," "Bella Donna," "Glimpses of Serenity" and Muddy Waters' "Catfish Blues."
The spirit of Woody Guthrie lives, and not just in multiple-artist tribute albums. Well May the World Go (Smithsonian/Folkways) is the seventh album from dedicated folk-troubadour Larry Long. The 12-song collection features 36 pages of detailed liner notes explaining the characters and stories who inspired individual songs, including people he met while working on various community projects. A former train-hopper and hitchhiker like Guthrie, the politically minded songwriter's lyrics reflect a global consciousness, while his arrangements reflect a world-music influence. Titles include "No Jobs in Texas," "Somalia," "Some Things Are Not for Sale" and "Down With the Ku Klux Klan."
Blues diva Etta James started singing gospel in the church choir at age 5, but by her teens she'd left home to seek fame as a bawdy R&B chanteuse. Her early career successes with the Chess label are chronicled in Chess Box (Uni/Chess), a generous three-disc box set. Many of James' hits from that era are R&B and pop classics songs like "A Sunday Kind of Love, "Stormy Weather," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and "At Last" (RealAudio excerpt), the studio version of which is accompanied here by a previously unreleased live version.
Other hit songs featured here include "Lover Man," "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," "842-3089 (Call My Name)," "W.O.M.A.N." (RealAudio excerpt), "Tell Mama," "I'd Rather Go Blind." Previously unreleased titles include "I Don't Want It," "Be Honest With Me," "You Got Me Where You Want Me," "Look Who's Blue" and "Light My Fire." The set also offers James' duets with then-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua; she teams with Sugar Pie DeSanto on "Do I Make Myself Clear" and "In the Basement, Part 1."
Utter the name "Muddy," and even non-blues fans have some notion of whom you're talking about. It's a measure of blues-giant Muddy Waters' importance to 20th-century American music that he looms so large, and not just in the blues. An essential influence on blues and folk artists as well as high-profile rockers such as, well, the Rolling Stones, who took their name from one of his songs, Waters' 50 recordings for the Chess label between 1947 and 1952 have been gathered and remastered in a new two-disc collection, Rollin' Stone Golden Anniversary (UNI/Chess Records). The first disc offers staples of his repertoire such as "Little Anna Mae," "Good Looking Woman," "I Can't Be Satisfied," "Burying Ground," "Down South Blues," and "Kind Hearted Woman." The second disc features "Country Boy," "Sad Letter Blues," "Howlin' Wolf," "Honey Bee" (RealAudio excerpt), "Early Morning Blues," plus original and alternate takes of "Rollin' Stone" and "All Night Long."
A Wonderful World Of Music
The musical influence of Louis Armstrong has touched blues, pop and rock as well as the jazz he revolutionized with his scat vocals and improvisational trumpet playing, while his earthy persona has passed into pop-culture folklore. Three of his mid-'50s records Satchmo the Great, Ambassador Satch and Satch Plays Fats (Legacy Recordings/Sony) are being reissued in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, and in preparation of a four-disc box set scheduled for an August release. All three of these discs include bonus tracks. 1955's Satch Plays Fats shows Armstrong tackling 20 tunes by the great Fats Waller, including "Honeysuckle Rose," "Ain't Misbehavin'," and original and alternate versions of "I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby."
Satchmo the Great is the soundtrack from the mid-'50s film that chronicled Armstrong's world tours, with a seven-minute interview given by Armstrong in Paris and narration extracts by Edward R. Murrow. Songs include "Mack the Knife," "Black and Blues," "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," plus a tear through "St. Louis Blues" on which Armstrong and his band team with Leonard Bernstein and a symphony orchestra.
Ambassador Satch's title plays on Armstrong's reputation as a goodwill ambassador. Recorded during his tour of western Europe in 1955, the 13-track disc offers "Tiger Rag," "All of Me," "West End Blues" and three bonus tracks: "Clarinet Marmalade," Armstrong's "Someday You'll Be Sorry" and "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along."