Miss Lavelle White
Various Artists, Home is Where the Music Is: A Celebration of Miss Lavelle White. For those who once worshiped at the shrine of Houston's Duke Records, Miss Lavelle White is a real presence. She had R&B hits for that cornerstone label, as well as writing many songs made famous by other singers — which wasn't happening often by a woman in label owner Don Robey's cutthroat world of the record business. Like a lot of long-time music veterans, modern life hasn't always been kind to Lavelle White, and when she found herself in a financial jam last year, the lady couldn't find affordable housing. Like the good Texans they are, several Austinites circled White to help out, and before you could say "put it in the alley" came up with this knocked-out album of 15 songs mostly written or co-written by the woman, and recorded one magical night at Antone's nightclub in Austin.
What a lineup it is too, ranging from Sarah Hickman to Carolyn Wonderland, and including token male W.C. Clark, a wondrous Central Texas bluesman who once shared a '70s band with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton called Triple Threat Revue. What's best about the collection is the variety of feelings spread over 15 songs. There is light and darkness, ballads and barn burners and everything in between, with several songs living in stunner territory. Ruthie Foster's "Lead Me On" is a complete chillbumper, right up there with Bobby Bland's version, and Emily Gimble and Marcia Ball's dueling piano and vocals on "Wootie Boogie" is enough to turn a 7-11 into a backwoods roadhouse. By the end of the album when Lavelle White steps up to tear down "I've Never Found a Man (To Love Me Like You Do)," what has obviously been a super-charged evening threatens to run right off the rails all the way up to heaven. The best news of all is that White is now securely ensconced in her own place, proving once again that music is not only a healing force, it's also a home-providing force. Hallelujah.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Old Yellow Moon. Nothing can take the place of time in making a musical partnership glow. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are four decades running as they go around the world spinning songs and telling tales. By now, it's like two halves of a whole when they come together, and Old Yellow Moon feels like it's arrived right on time. To see them smiling together on the inside cover is to look joy right in the face, and realize friendship is a sacred gift no matter where it comes from. When it's in the service of music, well, all the better because the pair's ability to share all they've learned seems endless. The way they gather songs by writers like Hank DeVito, Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller, Matraca Berg and others shows an unerring instinct for what makes country music chill the bones and turn on the lovelight. That's not to overlook Crowell's own original jewels, especially "Open Season on My Heart," where he looks in the mirror and knows something has gone incredibly wrong, likely for good.
The ace in the hole on the album is, once again, producer Brian Ahern. Like a lot of past collaborations, Ahern is able to fine-tune a sound that is already a perfect blend of heartache and happiness. The ability to do that shows what an astute producer is there for, and the way he makes every vocal and instrument seem absolutely essential is the high mark of learning what to leave in and what to take out. By the end of the album it's impossible to point out one false move, which means a new classic has been born. Crowell and Harris might go on to many more sessions together or this may be it. Either way, these dozen songs are going to be here for a very long time, always inspiring those who look to music to take them to a new place, even if it's one they've been to before. Years ago, when they first met and he played in her band, Rodney Crowell wrote "Bluebird Wine," and now Emmylou Harris has finally recorded it with him. And if that isn't the circle being unbroken, then what is?
Sam Samudio, Sam Hard and Heavy. It's hard to take anything away from the man who recorded "Wooly Bully" and "Rang Dang Doo." It really is. And no doubt this 1971 album must have seemed like a burst of inspiration when it was first planned. Sam Samudio, aka Sam the Sham, was a bona fide Southern man, ready to zero in on rhythm and blues classics, way-interesting covers including Boz Scaggs' recently recorded "Sweet Release," and a couple of real odds and ends. The Dixie Flyers couldn't have been a more simpatico backing band, cradled and cured in Memphis for years before taking off for Miami and Criteria Studios to record behind people like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Even supreme guitarist Duane Allman gets the call on a few tracks. Who needed the Pharaohs? Add on producer Tom Dowd, who'd worked with almost everyone, and Sam Samudio was set up for a grand slam release of epic proportions. The only problem is that Samudio's voice wasn't really up for the ride. "Li'l Red Riding Hood?" Surely. But not something dripping with heaviosity like Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue" or Randy Newman's "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield," where a vocal deep and strong is necessary to bring the lyrics all the way home.
Luckily, Samudio fares better on originals like "Starchild," "Don't Put Me On" and "15 Degrees ASC." There's something very freeing when singing songs never heard; there's nothing to compare them to and the chance to color in all the nuances for the first time allows a lot of freedom. He even veered into country territory on the bonus track "Me and Bobby McGee." Domingo Samudio had started playing in Texas and Louisiana when he was young, and he learned the advantages of being able to roll with the punches in front of crowds of all colors. By the time he hit Memphis in 1963 there were no walls left to knock down and once he donned a turban and zoomed to the top of the charts with "Wooly Bully," it seems like the singer was unstoppable. Unfortunately, this solo release all but stopped the singer's career, even though it won a Grammy award for best liner notes in 1971. Figure that one out. Sam Samudio went on to preaching and teaching and continues to hold a candle in the wind wherever fine rock and roll is played, never falling prey to getting anywhere close to being L7. Bully for him.