New releases for the week of Aug. 15:
Dave Alvin, Public Domain: Songs From the Wild Land (HighTone) With his first album of covers, the onetime Blaster turned Americana icon shines the spotlight on the inspirations of his youth and a sterling crew of musicians who seamlessly blend blues, folk, country, R&B and mountain music. Fifteen tracks, including "Shenandoah" (RealAudio excerpt), "Murder of the Lawson Family" and a gloriously greasy, groove-laden "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down."
Balfa Toujours, Live at Whiskey River Landing (Rounder) Captures the traditional Cajun band's friendly stage appeal, which isn't always reflected in their more dramatic studio recordings. Led by Christine Balfa daughter of legendary Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa and her husband Dirk Powell, the band waltzes and reels through a 15-song dance set, including "Le two-step de Bon Cafe," "The Tow Truck Blues" and "La valse de Belizaire."
Joe Beard, For Real and Dealin' (AudioQuest) Two albums from the Mississippi-raised guitarist whose fame has been restricted largely to upstate New York over the past several decades, despite associations with Muddy Waters, Son House and Matt "Guitar" Murphy. For Real was originally released in 1998; its 13 tracks include John Lee Hooker's "Dirty Groundhog," Lightnin' Hopkins' "CC Rider" and "Airplane Blues," Guitar Slim's "The Things I Used to Do" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talking."
Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Night Tide (HighTone) The popular roots-scene band's blend of "hillbilly boogie" and western swing comes wrapped in smooth harmonies and lyrics that turn darker than usual especially on "When Sleep Won't Come (Blues for Spade)," about the infamous 1940s country-and-western swing singer Spade Cooley, who murdered his wife.
Blue Rider Trio, Harp, Steel and Guts (Mapleshade) Thirteen tracks of gritty blues, including "Salty Dog," "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor," "Sweet Home Kokomo," "Two Trains Running" and the classic "Stagolee."
The Brothers Four, Songbook/The Big Folk Hits (Collectables Records) The former University of Washington frat brothers were a squeaky-clean hit in the '60s; this disc collects 24 of their golden moments, including "Rock Island Line," "Goodnight, Irene," "Ole Smokey," "Tarrytown," "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," "500 Miles," "If I Had a Hammer" and "El Paso."
The Byrds, Greatest Hits (Sony/Columbia) Remastered reissue of their jangly mid-'60s hits that helped musically define that era, including "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Have You Seen Her Face," "Eight Miles High," "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)," "So You Want To Be a Rock 'N Roll Star" and "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," plus bonus tracks.
Capercaillie, Dusk Till Dawn Best of Capercaillie (Valley Entertainment) Compilation collecting the cream of the award-winning Scottish band's six-album crop of music, distinguished by the striking vocals of Karen Matheson. Showing how they've moved in more progressive directions from their traditional roots, the disc includes the Gaelic single "Coisich a Ruin'," the theme song from the film "Rob Roy," and a 1998 version of "Inexile" featuring African singer Sibeba.
Robert Crenshaw, Victory Songs (Gadfly) Marshall Crenshaw's little brother hooks up with pals Don Dixon, Marti Jones and Jamie Hoover for this 11-song outing. Titles include "Blues Sometimes," "When I Get the Bomb," "Eatin' Crow and Drinkin' the Blues."
John Denver, Best of John Denver Live (Sony/Columbia) Sixteen-track reissue has the hard-working entertainer performing melodic hits such as "Rocky Mountain High," "Country Roads," "Matthew," "Wild Montana Skies," "Annie's Song" and "Sunshine on My Shoulders," plus previously unreleased versions of "I'm Sorry" and "I'd Rather Be a Cowboy (Lady's Chains)."
Dirty Blues, Dirty Blues (Columbia River) Two-disc, 32-track compilation of euphemistic blues, including "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" (Lightnin' Hopkins), "I'll Keep Sittin' on It (If I Can't Sell It)" (Georgia White), "Empty Bed Blues" (Bessie Smith), "Ants in My Pants" (Bo Carter), "I Wonder Who's Boogien' My Woogie Now" (Oscar's Chicago Swingers), "What's That Smells Like Fish" (Blind Boy Fuller), "I Got the Best Jelly Roll in Town" (Lonnie Johnson), "Two Old Maids in a Folding Bed" (Monette Moore).
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (Vanguard) Soundtrack to the documentary helmed by Elliott's daughter, Aiyana Elliott, features previously unreleased duets of Elliott with former ramblin' mate Woody Guthrie as well as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, plus some humorous spoken anecdotes from Elliott himself. Songs include Guthrie's "Hard Travelin'," Cash's "Take Me Home," Dylan's "Don't Think Twice."
Lightnin' Hopkins, Blues Masters: The Very Best of Lightnin' Hopkins (Rhino) Compilation honoring choice selections from the widely influential country-blues guitarist's output between the mid-'40s and early '60s. The 16 tracks include Hopkins' '50s R&B hits "Give Me Central 209 (Hello Central)," "Coffee Blues," "Shotgun Blues" as well as "Katie Mae Blues," "Penitentiary Blues," "Baby Please Don't Go."
Last Forever, Trainfare Home (Nonesuch) The cover photo of a train shrouded in steam and smoke sets the mood for 13 folk-oriented songs, including "Casey Jones," "Duke of Earl," "John Doe #24," "Louis Collins/Spike Driver Blues."
Matthew Ryan, East Autumn Grin (Uni/A&M) Gruff-voiced, literate and pessimistic singer-songwriter follows up his greatly praised 1997 Mayday debut with this somewhat delayed 13-track offering. Songs include "The World Is on Fire," "3rd of October" and the "hidden" track "August Summer Dress." Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner tries his hand at trumpet on "Ballad of a Limping Man," and Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano and David & David's David Ricketts also guest.
Sons of the Never Wrong, One if by Hand (Gadfly) Billed by their label as "nouveau-folksters," the Chicago acoustic trio's trademark harmonies highlight 13 songs of humor and heart, including "My Last Boyfriend," "Jonah" and "Magnetic Poetry."
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Absolutely the Best Of (Fuel 2000/Varese) Fourteen digitally remastered tracks from the venerated blues duo, including three "Right on That Shore," "Early Morning Blues" and "Blues for Gamblers" that feature Lightnin' Hopkins and Big Joe Williams. Other tracks include "Down by the Riverside," "Blowin' the Fuses," "Trouble in Mind," "Dirty Mistreater."
Various artists, Alan Lomax Collection: Italian Treasury (Rounder) Compilation of Italian folk songs murder ballads, lullabies, hymns, dance music, songs of cart drivers, fishermen, peasants, salt and sulfur miners as collected by Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella in 1954.
The Whites, A Lifetime in the Making (Skaggs Family Records/Ceili Music) Produced by Jerry Douglas, this welcome return from the White family sisters Cheryl and Sharon and father Buck features guest appearances by Douglas and Emmylou Harris, and a harmonious blend of bluegrass, folk and swing on 12 songs including "Fair and Tender Ladies," "Texas to a 'T'," "Key to the Kingdom," "The Cowboy Lives Forever."
Victoria Williams, Water To Drink (Atlantic) The whimsical singer-songwriter is joined by hubby Mark Olson and friends such as violinist Petra Haden, multi-instrumentalists Greg Leisz and Phil Parlapiano, drummers Don Heffington and John Convertino, X's D.J. Bonebrake and string arranger Van Dyke Parks on this 12-song mix of standards and originals, which Williams co-produced with keyboardist J.C. Hopkins.