Bentley's Bandstand: Amy LeVere, The Creole Choir of Cuba, Grateful Dead

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Amy LaVere, Stranger Me. The great Memphis music maestro Jim Dickinson was one of the first to spot the bright sparkle of singer-songwriter Amy LaVere. And when Dickinson spoke, it was a good bet to listen. LaVere comes from that place where influences melt into each other, and what gets created becomes its own species. Nowhere is that more true than on Stranger Me. This lady has entered the outer edges of the twilight zone, and not a minute too soon.
 
Gone are the rootsy vestiges of being a stand-up bass player who sings her own songs. On earlier albums, Amy LaVere seemed like she was struggling to break free of those bonds, and find a way to run through the open spaces of wherever her imagination took her. Well, she's sure done it here. Producer Craig Silvey, who engineered Arcade Fire's recent winner Suburbs, wiped the slate clean and lets LaVere craft a brand new sound. There are odd noises finding their way onto the tape, but they somehow fit. The magic of a Memphis mojo comes through again.
 
It's said you can't judge a book by the cover, but you most definitely can judge a singer by their covers. In this case, the singer comes through with flying colors. First up is an alluring take on Captain Beefheart's "Candle Mambo." It may be sweetened up a bit and the good Captain's peculiar curves straightened out a notch, but there's no mistaking the curious aura at the song's core. It all works like a charm.

Album closer "Let Yourself Go (Come On)" by Louisiana legend Bobby Charles is a gorgeous ballad that brings the album, and Amy LaVere, full circle. It's the voice of an angel speaking to itself, and luckily we get to listen in. Whew.
 
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The Creole Choir of Cuba, Tande-La. When things get wild in Cuba, apparently, they really get wild. This vocal group, comprised of six men and four women between the ages of 27 and 61, are a study in the music of the spheres coming down to earth. Most of the songs are the stories of the choir's Haitian ancestors who were brought to Cuba to work in near-slave conditions on the sugar and coffee plantations. They way these singers have overcome their own long odds to make their way in the world is a glory in itself.
 
One of the Choir's strengths is a dedication of spirit in telling the stories of their people, and how they sing in Creole, Cuba's second language. The twice-exiled people never gave up, keeping their community roots strong and singing of hardship and hope whenever they had a chance. The way they use Caribbean rhythms to keep the lyrics moving is irresistible, with different lead voices luring listeners into the tales. Even in another language, the power of what the Creoles have experienced never fails to inspire.
 
World music is an ever evolving wonder, and just about the time everything seems to have been discovered, a brand new strain appears. That is the Creole Choir of Cuba. If you think it's all been heard, the songs "Neg Anwo," "Fey," or "Chen Nan" will sail in on a carpet of newness and float right through the head. The group has just started their first tour of the U.S., and what is already amazing on disc is sure to be even more wondrous in person. So go.
 
Grateful Dead-Europe 72-Vol 2-Cover.jpgGrateful Dead, Europe '72 Vol. 2. The blissful counterstroke is humming full-speed, with neural synapses blasting into the red zone and remaining memory banks running over with happy ooze. The Grateful Dead, long gone since mastermind Jerry Garcia's demise all those years ago, keep spinning into the present from a tape library the size of Mount Rushmore.

This double disc collection from the band's vaunted 1972 tour of Europe takes up right where the first volume left off, and it's an unmitigated delight of Dead frolics and induced fantasy.
 
It could easily be argued that after the band came home from this tour they never hit the note quite the same again. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan wasn't long for the world, and the group's shift into their second phase soon began. But Lordy, these shows sound like they were totally in the soup, exploring the outer edges of the musical cosmos as the intrepid pioneers they always were.
 
"The Other One" veers between tenderness and sonic terror, a wild ride of hallucinogenic joy. Then there's Garcia's elegant guitar "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad," sounding like someone wearing a tuxedo in the middle of a barroom brawl. It doesn't get any finer. For lingering doubters, "Dark Star" brings it all home: the mothership has landed. When the Orange Sunshine starts to dissolve in the brainstream and the nowhere mine disappears behind big white clouds, the Grateful  Dead will be there, playing for the true believers. The thoughtwaves sent from above promise to take the children of Uncle John's Band all the way home, with Cowboy Neal at the wheel on the bus to never ever land.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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