Shelby Lynne, Thanks. Sometimes it's necessary just to say thanks. For life. For music. For the sunshine. For the moon. For everything. Shelby Lynne has been singing for so long that it's a blessing she keeps at it. No doubt there are times when the way forward might look a little murky, but the woman knows when to sit still and catch her breath, and this EP does just that. It lets Lynne look within and express a gratitude that surely doesn't come easy, but once it arrives never leaves. This is gospel music that comes from the hard places but always takes listeners a little higher. The lady knows.
Joe King Carrasco & El Molino, Tlaquepaque. There's not a lot of bands applying for jobs in the Tex-Mex sector. Employment in those ranks is down since the Sir Douglas Quintet entered the ozone years ago. Fortunately, Joe King Carrasco has refired his seminal '70s band El Molino for one more run for the border, and it sure sounds like all involved are up to the earballs in excitement. Carrasco is a semi-demented Texan who always goes too far without losing the laughter in the journey. He now has a tamale cart on Mexico's Pacific coast, but found enough original El Molino members for a quorum in recording this new album, and it's a ball all the way through. Nobody can mix all the elements quite like Joe King Carrasco, and make the concerns of tomorrow feel like an unnecessary distraction. Buena!
Amos Lee, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. One of the great modern singer-songwriters rounds up some Nashville cats for a brooding reflection on romance. It's not always an easy ride, and that's the point — Lee is ready to give it up for love even if he doesn't know how or why. Very few present day musicians can get to that dark spot with such unerring instincts, and while the masses might not have signed up for his new songs, that would be a shame. He's captured the elusiveness of how the heart works and shown us a way forward. Good for Mr. Lee.
Myron & E, Broadway. What'll kids do next? Myron & E are a dynamic duo who have torn up the rule book for funk and decided to write their own rules. They're having such a ball doing it that youngsters and oldsters alike should tune in to this craziness. It might sometimes feel like it's being beamed from the outer edges, but that's often where the real kicks live. While some might call this dance music, don't be fooled. If Soul Brother Number One were still treading the boards he'd no doubt have Myron & E in the opening slot. These men not only know how to get down, they also are quite adept at getting way up. Listen.
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, Under the Covers Vol. 3. How about this for fun: take too highly experienced rockers from the '80s, let them loose in the modern songbook and wait for the dust to clear. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs have zeroed in on classics like Bryan Ferry's "More Than This," Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" and Elvis Costello's "Girls Talk," among others, and proven that there are songs from that era which will live forever. As a duo, they've got a quiet magic that weaves the perfect spell, and both know their way around a studio well enough to make sure nothing is ever overcooked. Which means Volume 4 in 2014 is one already on the wish list.
Billy Thompson, Friend. Often the real way to burn the house down is to invite some hot-to-go musicians into the studio, write some new songs that tip the hat to the past but also know the present is really where it's at, and then turn on the tape machines. That's what blues dude Billy Thompson does, and with buddies like Kenny Gradney, Mike Finnigan, Hutch Hutchinson and Billy Payne, he's got a group long on grooves and hot on inspiration. And when Thompson pulls out Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine," it's clear the man is not kidding. Thompson's guitar is a blues-burner, and he has the taste to know when to turn it on and when to let the silence do the talking. He also can sing with the pain and power of the survivor he is. It's all there.
J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Howl. What is it about Chicago that inspires reflective regeneration, but also allows its inhabitants to defy the long odds and always shoulder forward? How else to explain J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound, a youngish aggregation that bumps guitars and horns together so thick it can't be stirred with a stick, and turns singer J.C. Brooks loose on a fiery load of original songs strong enough to check exactly what year they were written. This crowd will not take no for an answer, and the Windy City is supportive enough to keep them tearing up and down the road to spread the good news wherever they land. But then again, the whole history of that city is a musical delight, whether it was early jazz, urban blues or opening its arms for the Wilco brigade. Brooks and band have taken the upper hand to make sure that history thrives.
Amos Garrett Jazz Trio, Jazz Blues. There aren't many guitar players who can claim credits with Ian & Sylvia, Paul Butterfield, Doug Sahm and dozens of other seminal greats like Amos Garrett can. His most famous single solo might be on Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis," but don't be fooled. There are hundreds of others that are just waiting to be discovered, and many of them are on this highly swinging hybrid album of jazz and blues. From Miles Davis' "All Blues" to Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso," Garrett's guitar is true wonder. The musician never overplays, but also never lets there be a second of doubt he's got real greatness in his hands. Coming out of Canada like so many other musical revelations over the past 50 years, Amos Garrett proves there really might be something in the melted snow up there that sparks this kind of music. Believe it.
Various Artists, It's a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba. Just when it seemed like it was safe to go back into the box set section of whatever music stores remain alive, along comes a knocked-out collection like this to prove there are real beating hearts still alive in the music business, those types who come up with a left-field idea and go full-tilt until it's finished. How else to explain a two-CD compilation titled "The Latin-Jewish Music Story: 1940s-1980s." God bless 'em, too. Even better, the musical synthesis makes perfect sense when it includes artists like Tito Puente, Herb Alpert, La Lupe, Mark Weinstein, Ray Barretto and, yes, Mickey Katz and His Orchestra. Seriously, these songs turn and burn all over the place, and any doubters are directed squarely to Los Lobos' Steve Berlin's perfect liner notes to make believers of us all. Released by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, compilations like this prove that the United States continues to offer an endless treasure of sonic surprises, and there are companies out there who remain committed to staying on the good foot until the last plug gets pulled. Oy boy.