Singer/songwriter Dar Williams and masterful bluesman Pinetop Perkins lead this week's releases.
Also noteworthy are a folk- and blues-oriented tribute to the songs of John Hiatt, a reissue of a 1972 album by late Mississippi bluesman Scott Dunbar and new albums from Peggy Seeger and the old-school R&B duo of Roscoe Shelton and Earl Gaines.
(Click here for a select list of this week's releases.)
Über-folkie Williams' "When I Was a Boy" made her the toast of the singer/songwriter crowd when AAA radio embraced the song in 1994. The 11-track The Green World is her long-awaited follow-up, showcasing Williams' distinctive, quavery vocals as well as the instrumental contributions of popular right-hand men Steuart Smith (Shawn Colvin's longtime guitarist) and former Hooter Rob Hyman (the keyboardist who was prominently featured on Joan Osborne's 1995 Relish disc).
Otis Spann's successor in Muddy Waters' band, 87-year-old Pinetop Perkins, is regarded as one of the elder statesmen of the blues. Born in Mississippi but also central in the Chicago blues scene where Waters was king, Perkins is an essential, living repository of the genre's history.
On Live at Antone's, Vol. 1 (Antone's), the first in a projected two-volume set, the boogie-woogie pianist who started out as a guitarist is heard at a show he gave at the legendary Austin, Texas, blues club in 1995, accompanied by fellow Waters band veterans Calvin Jones (bass) and Willie Smith (drums), as well as guests such as Fabulous Thunderbird harpist Kim Wilson.
Their rambunctious set includes Waters' "Got My Mojo Working" and "Hoochie Coochie Man," as well as a couple of Perkins originals and a clutch of classic blues romps.
Hiatt Receives Tribute
As entertaining and musically satisfying as his concerts are, John Hiatt's greatest gift is songwriting. It's that rich, earthy talent to which a diverse crew of blues and folk artists pay tribute on Rollin' Into Memphis: Songs of John Hiatt (Telarc). The 12-track disc offers performances by James Cotton, Chris Smither, Patty Larkin, Irma Thomas, Odetta, Kenny Neal and C.J. Chenier, among others, and a backing band that includes guitarist G.E. Smith of the "Saturday Night Live" band.
With the exception of Larkin's performance of "Have a Little Faith in Me," from Hiatt's career-making 1987 album Bring the Family, and Colin Linden's cover of the elegiac "The River Knows Your Name," from 1995's Walk On, the songs are drawn from deep in Hiatt's tremendous catalogue. Chenier turns in the sardonically titled "Falling Up," while fellow zydeco veteran Terrance Simien jumps into "It Hasn't Happened Yet."
Thomas and Odetta apply their formidable interpretative talents to "Old Habits Are Hard To Break" and "Listening to Old Voices," respectively.
As the half-sister of Pete Seeger and widow of leading British folklorist Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger has been on the front lines of the folk revival on both sides of the Atlantic. Her new album Love Will ... Linger On (Appleseed) is a 13-track collection of "romantic love songs" in folk settings, including six written or co-written by Seeger herself. It opens with a gentle reading of MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" Peggy Seeger was reportedly the "face" to whom he addressed the lyric.
Scott Dunbar's From Lake Mary (Fat Possum), an album of backwoods blues, was originally released in 1972. Dunbar, who died almost six years ago, was the illiterate son of an ex-slave. He spent his life fishing, working as a guide on Lake Mary and playing the blues in the surrounding area of rural Wilkinson County, Miss.
According to Kari Michael Wolfe's liner notes, when Dunbar was 8, he fashioned a guitar from a cigar box, wire and a broomstick. When he was 10, he got a genuine guitar and taught himself how to play. After his parents died, a local fiddler recruited him for a band on the other side of the lake.
Wolfe further notes: "He taught himself to play accompanying the old people on the plantation. ... His guitar playing is strong and loud, and he keeps time with a stomping boot-heel; this is an adaptation to a lifetime of playing not so much for as with riotous, noisy audiences with unamplified instruments and voice."
Let's Work Together (Cannonball) marks a return to the blues-based R&B of Roscoe Shelton and Earl Gaines' heyday. Shelton started his career performing gospel with the Fairfield Four in the late '40s, until service in the Air Force interrupted his musical career. Gaines sang on the million-selling "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)" with Louis Brooks & the Hi Toppers his first record.
Recording separately for the Excello/Nashboro label in the '50s and '60s, the two men struck up a friendship. R&B's lack of popularity in the '70s persuaded them to seek out more secure, less musical employment, but appreciative European audiences drew them out of retirement in the early '90s.
Their new, 13-track disc features them singing together on the title track, "Someday Things Are Gonna Change," "Rock Me One More Time" and "Be Good or Be Gone." Shelton's solo songs include "Blue and Miserably Unhappy" and "Why Do You Worry Me," while Gaines takes on "Mercy on the Soul" and "Best of Luck."