"Soul" seems to be the watchword among this week's new releases, including new projects from earthy folk artist Greg Brown, rocking blues guitarist Bernard Allison and a collaboration between soul legends Irma Thomas and Dan Penn.
A live album recorded before the 1999 death of lusty zydeco accordionist Beau Jocque also is due this week, as is a Grateful Dead tribute album on which 14 rock and roots artists pay their respects to the band's eclecticism and heart.
(Click here for a select list of this week's releases.)
New Orleans R&B queen Irma Thomas renowned for her enduring 1960s interpretations of songs such as "It's Raining" and "Time Is on My Side" (which was swiftly covered by the then-young Rolling Stones) has performed songs written by Muscle Shoals recording studio vet Dan Penn throughout the four decades of her career.
But it wasn't until producer Scott Billington saw a crew of Memphis, Tenn., musicians back Thomas at a festival in Italy that the idea was conceived to bring the two soul legends together in a Memphis studio. My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn (Rounder) is the fruit of that inspiration.
Co-produced by Billington and Penn, it features "I'm Your Puppet," "Woman Left Lonely" (RealAudio excerpt) and "I Do," from the treasured Penn/Spooner Oldham songbook, plus their co-write with Donnie Fritts, "Zero Willpower." The remaining nine songs are new Penn co-writes with a variety of collaborators including Thomas herself on "Irma's Song" (RealAudio excerpt) and the ingratiating "Keep It Simple."
An Ounce Of Humor
The distinctive voice of Iowa singer/songwriter Greg Brown has been compared to everything from a bullfrog to a foghorn, but his songwriting is unique unto itself. Claiming inspiration from the likes of bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, Brown's music has roots in the blues, but his poetically worded, shrewdly observed lyrics carry the imprint of classic folk in their stories about the everyday lives and temptations of working-class people.
Produced by longtime collaborator and slide guitarist Bo Ramsey, Covenant (Red House) is Brown's 15th album. It features 11 songs (and one hidden funky folk-rap track) delivered with a self-deprecating, earthy humor and zingers both sweet and stinging. Titles include the sobering "Rexroth's Daughter," "Blues Go Walking," "Living in a Prayer" and the urgent "Dream City."
Allison learned the intricacies of performance from his father, the late electric bluesman Luther Allison, but he was also greatly influenced by his work experiences in Koko Taylor's Blues Machine which he joined fresh out of high school and Willie Dixon's Blues All-Stars. Texas guitar-slingers Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter were also generous in sharing musical pointers with the aspiring blues artist. In the 1980s, Bernard moved to Paris with his father, where he toured the extensive festival and club circuit and began his recording career.
Across the Water (Tone-Cool) is his sixth album, though it's only his second U.S. release. Produced by Jim Gaines, the 11-track disc's thoughtful titles include "Meet Me Half Way," "Love Is Free," "Change Your Way of Living," "Higher Love" and "Work It Out."
Beau Jocque was a big man with a big, seductive voice and a dynamic performing style. He was also a late bloomer he didn't learn to play Cajun music until he was partially paralyzed by an accident in 1987. He picked up his father's button accordion while he was convalescing and taught himself to play in an aggressive, beat-heavy style that was closer to his modern tastes than the more traditional sounds he'd grown up hearing.
His subsequent incorporation of funk, rock and hip-hop rhythms had a galvanizing effect on the zydeco community and helped establish him as a distinctive artist in the field. Just before he died of a heart attack last year at age 47, it seemed his career was about to break wide open and renew widespread interest in zydeco.
Give Him Cornbread: Live (Rounder) captures Jocque and his Zydeco Hi-Rollers on stages throughout south Louisiana and east Texas. With an introduction by Lawrence Ardoin, the 12-track disc features some of the most popular numbers in Jocque's repertoire, including the title tune, "Beau Jocque Boogie," "Brownskin Woman," "Boogie Chillen" and "Do It All Night."
Tribute Honors Dead's Diversity
The instrumentation and rhythmic bounce of the late Jerry Garcia's beloved bluegrass melded with rock, blues, folk, country and the improvisatory inclinations of jazz in the music of his genre-defying brainchild the Grateful Dead. An assortment of artists who also like to color outside the lines of neat genre limitations are heard on Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead (Arista), a 14-track tribute that speaks eloquently to the Dead's musical diversity.
The collection includes six previously unreleased tracks, including live performances by Bob Dylan ("Friend of the Devil") and Elvis Costello ("Ship of Fools/It Must Have Been the Roses"). Other artists include the Patti Smith Band ("Black Peter"), esteemed California bluegrass band Cache Valley Drifters ("Cumberland Blues"), the Bobs ("Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion"), the Persuasions ("Black Muddy River"), mandolin wizard David Grisman's Quintet ("Dark Star"), the Pontiac Brothers ("Brown-Eyed Women"), Wartime featuring brooding rocker Henry Rollins ("Franklin's Tower"), newgrass/jam-band festival faves Leftover Salmon ("Pasta on the Mountain") and Widespread Panic ("Cream Puff War").