Carlene Carter, Carter Girl. She comes from a musical dynasty second to none, was married to British rock royalty member Nick Lowe and has been singing since before she could walk. All that said, Carlene Carter has made the album of her life, and to hear her find herself so completely is a near-religious experience. She gathers a dozen songs from her extensive background, including many by founding family member A.P. Carter, and sings them with the kind of knowing depth that only comes from having lived a full and often challenging life. The lady has the glow, and it shows.
Her mother, June Carter Cash, and father, country singing star Carl Smith, might have given her the genes, but Carlene Carter took that and found her own way. This album, produced by Don Was, featuring some of the finest players on the planet and including all-time Carlene Carter original "Me and the Wildwood Rose," will hopefully allow the stellar singer to reach her deserving place on the history roll call, and prove once and for all this circle will surely remain unbroken.
The Clash, The Rise and Fall. Not only one of the greatest rock bands ever, the Clash forged a trail for music that had not been there before. They injected a belief system into their songs that turned fans into true acolytes, and gave hope that the future held endless promise for those who entered the Clash's world. From humble beginnings the quartet ruled the road for a few years, but then it went south. Way south, as this mesmerizing documentary shows.
Once drummer Topper Headon got relieved of his sticks and Mick Jones soon followed suit, the Clash were essentially over. Yes, Joe Strummer carried on—bless his heart—but the soul of the group was gone. It's all told with heartbreaking clarity in this film, including the often overlooked shenanigans of manager Bernie Rhodes, and by the end of the band's run it feels like the world is little emptier in their absence. But boy, while it lasted the Clash changed everything. Find out how here.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes. Sometimes new bands appear like they've arrived right out of the ether, but at the same time they're so good that those groups couldn't have happened overnight. Hurray for the Riff Raff is anchored in New Orleans, and sounds like they run those streets—from the French Quarter way past uptown all the way out into the swamps—by inner instinct and endless inquisitiveness. The Crescent City post-Katrina has become even more of an artist's haven, fueled by pioneer spirit and powered by bohemian bravery.
Singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra is leading the charge of young New Orleans bands that have captured the elusiveness that blows in the wind there, and she seems ready to begin a whole new legacy for the city that care forgot. It's folkie but never derivative, and also has equal parts blues and rock so everything careens like mad. She is a star waiting to burn, and whether it happens with this debut album or takes one or two more, it's going to happen. Segarra's voice has ancient wisdom at its center, and with that there are no boundaries. The juju hand has spoken.
Flaco & Max, Legends & Legacies. Flaco Jimenez needs no introduction — he has popularized conjunto music and the accordion around the world. His father was one of the first Mexican-Americans in south Texas to take the instrument into uncharted musical waters, and then Flaco Jimenez teamed up with rockers like Sir Douglas Sahm and his later "Tex-Mex Beatles" the Texas Tornados and Ry Cooder, not to mention Dwight Yoakam and the Rolling Stones, to make sure the accordion got its proper props.
This stripped-down collaboration with Jimenez's long-time bajo sexto player Max Baca is a time trip into all things Tejano. It's a spirited excursion to a time when music like this was a non-stop joy, played for dancers and listeners alike, and never failed to tip an audience into sonic ecstasy. The Smithsonian Folkways label spares no effort in the information department: a 44-page booklet is a primer to what first seems like a disappearing musical style, but in reality is one that lives and breathes in Mexican-American communities all over the United States. Viva Flaco forever.
Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits. Yet another excellent example of an overnight sensation that has actually been playing together for eight years and has made a handful of previous albums. But it only takes one YouTube clip to break open the sky, and the one LSD did for the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" turned the trick for the Boston-based band. They'd met at the New England Conservatory of Music, and besides being semi-jazzbos, gracefully gravitated to an R&B-tinged take on American music.
Lead singer Rachel Price is such a natural that the camera wraps itself around her, and with earthy backing by bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist and trumpet player Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese, Lake Street Dive could be the breakout band of 2014. Price's voice is their secret weapon; it mixes Muscle Shoals earthiness with uptown swagger, and never backs down. This woman can sing, and she knows it. Between original songs and musical chops, Lake Street Dive is moving uptown and taking their winning grit with them.
Paul Rodgers, The Royal Sessions. Memphis sounds like it's pouring on the hot sauce again, as singers from far and wide are heading for Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio to grab some of that deep southern feeling. Mitchell, of course, recorded all the Hi Records releases there, from Al Green to O.V. Wright to Ann Peebles to Syl Johnson. It's one of the most influential studios in soul music, but often gets overlooked. Not for much longer. Mitchell has moved on to the other side, but musicians seeking that down home beauty know exactly where to look.
Paul Rodgers is the Englishman who fronted Free and Bad Company, and it's clear in the first song his heart belongs to soul music. He covers Sam & Dave, Albert King, Otis Redding and even the Temptations and Dionne Warwick, always finding the funky side of the street to spread the groove. And not only is Rodgers' heart in the right place, so is every aspect of this music. He sounds like a true believer on a storybook holiday, seeking out the sounds that inspired him to sing in the first place. Mission accomplished, and for soul brothers and sisters of all persuasions, well, let the parade begin.
Leon Russell, Life Journey. There are very few musicians that bridge every rock and roll decade since the madness first began in the '50s. To say that Leon Russell has been there is a severe understatement. This Oklahoma legend just will not stop, and why should he? He's got his eye on the end, as one quick read of this album's liner notes reveals, but that doesn't mean he's going quietly into that good night. Not by a long shot. This is someone who is called "the master of time and space" for good reason, and these dozens songs just prove that truer words were never spoken.
Sure, Russell's voice might take a little leap of faith to groove to, but groove you must because he's still got the goods. With a rock and roll scream equal to Roky Erickson's and a funkified feeling spilling over into every song, this is everything Leon Russell's recent outing with Elton John wasn't. Which is to say it's music that could swing Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa or the Palladium in Hollywood without missing a beat, and is a testimony to one man's belief in the power of rock, and the ability of the piano to speak the music of the spheres.
Sid Selvidge, The Cold of the Morning. Underground legends continually add to the intrigue of modern music. Memphian Sid Selvidge is one of those names. In the '70s he looked to have a real chance at staking his flag in the music business. He had moved into the New York firmament for a minute and the New York Times critic John Rockwell predicted the future held endless promise for Selvidge. But then it didn't happen. It really didn't. His 1976 album on the newly-formed Peabody Records looked to unlock the doors and it even made the Cashbox best-seller chart. But then the company folded. Then Rolling Stones Records offered him a deal. In Southern Gothic fashion, Selvidge thought they wouldn't allow him the artistic freedom he needed and turned them down. That showed them.
Naturally, not much else happened and soon enough he was back to day laboring and trying to patch together a career in music. He went on to record for local outfits, always displaying an especially astute understanding of acoustic blues and heartfelt vocals. Still, the '76 album, produced by Jim Dickinson, continued to weave its special magic all these years and finally gets a proper reissue, including six bonus tracks. Sid Selvidge was always a one-man musical ambassador for all things Memphis and his birth state Mississippi, whether on his own or part of the legendary Bluff City band Mud Boy and the Neutrons. Now the world has a chance to finally find out exactly why, and it'd be a big mistake to pass it by. His death last year means there won't be any new recordings, but with what he left behind Sid Selvidge's light will always shine.
Various Artists, Looking into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne. As often cited, tribute albums are extremely iffy affairs. Trying to redo songs that are already seared in the public mind (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, etc.) is an impossible task. By going a little more off-road, though, the chances rise for doing something memorable. On this overwhelmingly great tribute to Jackson Browne, 22 different artists find the exciting essence of one of the world's best singer-songwriters, and point the light on those songs in such a wonderful way that they somehow sound brand new.
Singer after singer contributes to what may well be the best tribute album ever recorded, and surely one that will enthrall Browne fans and newcomers alike. Of course, having some of the most moving rock songs ever written is a great place to start, but that doesn't always ensure the end results will be that strong. On this two-disc set, that's no problem. Artists like Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Paul Thorn, Keb' Mo', Lyle Lovett (who gets two songs) and Joan Osborne just plain soar. From "These Days," written when Jackson Browne was only 16, to "My Opening Farewell," be prepared for thrills and chills that don't happen often enough anymore. Timelessness has never sounded so timely.
Nick Waterhouse, Holly. There are a lot of musicians working the rhythm and blues style right now, but no one is doing it better than Nick Waterhouse. A Southern California native who interned in a used record store in San Francisco during his college years, Waterhouse zones in quickly on what makes all those vinyl platters so vivacious. They have heart. He has gathered some very like-minded musicians on his sophomore album and actually taken a big leap into the future without every sacrificing the strengths which brought him where he is.
He's got an affecting voice that let's him be himself, and records in a way that steers well clear of the retro ghetto. This guy swings hard, and knows exactly who plays in a way that helps him get there. Nick Waterhouse also picks way cool covers, from Ty Segall and Mose Allison to the Young-Holt Trio, and makes sure the fire stays on full-tilt no matter what he's doing. Watch for mucho action from all things Waterhouse — from the Big Orange to the Big Apple and beyond is right around the corner.