Cherry Glazerr, Haxel Princess. Maybe there should be a law that only teenagers are allowed to play rock and roll. There is such an innocence of intent when it happens, it turns the more ponderous wailings of, shall we say, almost everyone else obsolete. Cherry Glazerr is the perfect case in point. Clementine Creevy, Hannah Uribe and Sophia Muller are probably sweating the SAT right about now, or worrying if their fake IDs look real enough. Along with elder bassist Sean Redman (all of 22), they have turned homemade songs like "Grilled Cheese" and "White's Not My Color This Evening" into mini-anthems of whatever it means to grow up today.
In a world increasingly devolving into small-screen addiction and social media hell of the highest order, Cherry Glazerr show what a guitar, bass and drums can come up with all by themselves. In a way, it's not unlike when the Velvet Underground tore up the rule book and decided to write a new one for rockers following them to read. The purity of purpose involved comes through like gangbusters on every song, even if it takes turning the brainwaves down a notch or two at the start. Isn't that solution what psychiatrists have been trying to hide since Sigmund Freud ran the best scam in town? There is now a rousing alternative: take two Cherry Glazerrs and call the morning after. Turn it up first.
Eric Clapton & Friends, The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale. Take away the frills and spills of music, and often there is a glaring light of greatness in an artist's inspiration that allows everything extraneous to fall away. That's what Eric Clapton and his musical sidekicks have done on an album of JJ Cale songs. The history of Clapton's love of Cale's creations, well-documented on hits like "Cocaine" and "After Midnight," ruled the airwaves 40 years ago, but in truth the Englishman's allegiance to the Oklahoman goes way past that. In the overwhelming subtlety of the way Cale sneaks up on the guitar is a stark declaration of genius, which is exactly why so many other notable players list him as their favorite. Getting his songs right is next to impossible, but somehow it has happened this time around.
Along for the ride with Clapton are Mark Knopfler, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Don White and John Mayer, not to mention drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Nathan East and keyboardist Walt Richmond. That nobody dares to show off is the most salient accomplishment of all. It's almost like the dearly departed JJ Cale is looking in on them with his unimpressed eye of reality. In person, Cale could easily pass for one of the regulars standing in front of the neighborhood 7-11, watching the world turn as day inevitably drifts into night. Surely he's smiling as some of his standards and even a few off-road picks get turned into a jubilant dance of what makes rock and roll remain our national currency. Long may he smile.
Cowboy Jack Clement, For Once and For All. There is no need to obscure a true fact — Cowboy Jack Clement was not only one of the most loved figures in country, but he helped invent much of what has become popular music for the past 60 years, starting with being the first to record Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison at Sun Records in Memphis, and continuing all the way to working with U2, Chris Isaak and others. Clement pretty much did it all, and when he died in 2013 a lot of lights were turned off in Nashville and beyond.
This imaginative album of musical collaborations has been a long time coming, but absolutely worth the wait. The list of artists not on it would be shorter than the one of those who are, but best of all at heart it's a Cowboy Jack Clement album. His voice, a warm and trusted friend who could always be counted on to tell the truth, feels now like a favorite shirt, one that always fits and never needs ironing. It just works, without calling any special attention to itself. The players? Well, like the previously mentioned long list of participants, they are the people who play country music because they love it, and not just because they're paid to. And though his always-listed telephone number (615-383-0330) is now disconnected, Cowboy Jack Clement continues to come through on a million watts of musical love.
L.C. Cooke, The Complete SAR Records Recordings. The Class of Cooke might have always been rightfully dominated by older brother Sam, but L.C. Cooke could more than hold his own in a recording studio. The younger Cooke had recorded a full album ready for release on SAR Records in 1964 when his brother was shot and killed in Los Angeles. Now, 50 years later, that wrong has been righted, with eight additional songs added to the original ten. L.C. Cooke most assuredly has the family genes in his voice. There is a mellowness tempered by a streetwise strut, much like his brother, and having Sam Cooke write a lot of your songs sure doesn't hurt either. It's like finding buried treasure when collections like this appear.
Sure, there were singles available from the past, but having songs like "Put Me Down Easy," "Take Me for What I Am" and "If I Could Only Hear" on one disc is a real gift. Make no mistake — L.C. Cooke is a soul man of the first degree, and who knows what could have happened if his brother had lived and given him the chance to make it on his own. These recordings were right at the start of soul, and point to what was ahead. Peter Guralnick's astute liner notes tell the story in a way that won't be soon forgotten. Hearing and reading are believing.
Brigitte DeMeyer, Savanah Road. It doesn't always matter where you're from. Instead, more relevant is where the spirit calls home. Though raised in California, singer-songwriter Brigitte DeMeyer is surely a woman of the South. On her sixth album, she goes to the center of that mysterious part of the country to chase the ghosts around the graveyard and try and grab hold of the night. The way DeMeyer strips away anything that is not needed, marrying her sound with words as sharp as ear studs, shows just how far she's come to find her way home.
There is a liberating breathiness in the woman's voice that conjures cloudy nights and summer rainstorms in a land where the clocks run slower and, so very often, passion runs hotter. It only takes one song to hear that Brigitte DeMeyer has finally found her way to the other side of the bridge, a new location where all her efforts are paying off and she can blow more freely in the breeze. The land of Dixie has been good to DeMeyer, and her to us as she pushes forward with the music she was meant to live and share.
Toumani & Sidiki Diabate, Toumani & Sidiki. Like father, like son. Sort of. Toumani Diabate is one of the world's most superb kora players, which is a 21-string harp from West Africa. Sidiki Diabate is his son, and most of the time he concentrates on recording modern hip-hop. But he also is no stranger to the kora, and hearing how the two men play together is like an answered prayer. There is such a sense of open space and unhurried sonics that the glorious results verge on the cosmic. To hear these Mande griots flow into their instrumental duets is to fall into outer space, where the normal constraints of modern life are of no use or importance.
Just the mention of a few songs titles helps loosen the brainstrings immediately: "Hamadoun Toure," "Lampedusa," Taijaniya" and "Bansang." Try pronouncing those fast five times in a row and the world stars to spin a little slower. This is an album to be played early and often, whenever there is even a hint of anxiety in the air. Toumani and Sidiki Diabate might be father and son, but when they come together like they do now, there can be no doubt the Holy Ghost is waiting right around the corner.
John Hiatt, Terms of My Surrender. Here's a good musical challenge: pick one song from each of John Hiatt's 22 studio albums and turn those choices into a single set. Because on every one of those previous releases, there is at least one song that soars for the skies, taking words and melody and weaving it into a magical ride through the music of the spheres. On his new album, that track would have to be "Long Time Coming." It is one those Hiatt originals that stops time, and makes life come into focus like very few things do. There is a weathered weariness to his voice, but not an ounce of wavering to the task of the living what lies ahead.
Not many artists get to that glowing place of grace like John Hiatt does, especially when he's recorded an all-timer like this song. No wonder it starts this fine new album, which wanders through a lit-up path of personal revelation in a way few can match. The great thing about John Hiatt is that he plays for keeps, and can be as hard on himself as anyone else. The final destination of this kind of journey might not always be the happiest location in the world, but is most definitely always worth it. The way the man uses the blues to heighten his own devices reveals the ability of a master. One the finest revelations about Hiatt's music is that he was great at the start of his long career, and continues to get even better. And that's for always.
Frank Lisciandro, Jim Morrsison: Friends Gathered Together. The Doors' music makes the most sense in the Los Angeles night. Their sound is born in the darkness in the hills and the lights looking down from the mountains. It's in those views that "Light My Fire," "Strange Days" and especially "When the Music's Over" really come alive. It's no accident Charles Manson did his damage there too. For years, Jim Morrison has taken the rap for the Doors, being tagged as the Bad Boy of the band who spent his glory years on a downhill slide into the depths of the city before decamping for an early death in Paris.
Like a lot of myths, there's a lot more to Morrison's story than ever got told, especially the parts that made him a human being. The press is in the business of helping manufacture new gods only to soon blow them apart. Luckily Frank Lisciandro, who first met Jim Morrison when both were students at UCLA's film school, interviewed a dozen of the singer's close friends and co-workers in an effort to present the full picture of just who Jim Morrison was. That this book succeeds so thoroughly is mostly due to Lisciandro's devotion. He lets his subjects go deep, and isn't afraid of including it all. Some might sense a high dose of repetition in the interviews, but for anyone who ever wanted to know who the real Jim Morrison was, start right here.
Bobby Patterson, I Got More Soul! When a soul guru enters the spotlight, all bets are off. There is something about these singers which simply cannot be equaled. They consume a stage, turning it into a shrine to their own power. From Ray Charles to Otis Redding to Al Green, the roll call contains some of the greatest artists of the past half-century. Even the lesser lights, those who toiled mightily but never quite got the attention of a mass audience, deserve our respect. Put Dallas's Bobby Patterson in that column, because he has lived the ups and downs of show business. There were charting singles, years as a radio DJ, concert promoter and whatever else it took to keep the suit clean and shoes shined. Today, though, it's all come home with the kind of album that sometimes seems impossible to make.
There is a depth of feeling on each song, emotions that represent everything awesome about rhythm and blues, but at the same time there is an adventurous modern spirit which keeps the music away from the retro lane. Patterson's voice lives for those who need someone to speak for them, people who can't quite get the breaks they need to get over. He hits those notes for those who need a hand. Along with co-producer Zach Ernst, Bobby Patterson has rolled out the red carpet for himself and shows us all that soul music still burns, with the kind of band (featuring guitarist Denny Freeman!) which puts the power where it needs to be and proves that hope is everywhere.
Billy Joe Shaver, Long in the Tooth. In the early '70s, when the whole country and western outlaw movement was just finding its legs, Billy Joe Shaver cast a long and fearsome shadow. He had written a handful of classic songs, but until he threatened Waylon Jennings with bodily harm if he didn't record some, not much was happening for Shaver. Soon enough, Nashville realized they had a mythical songwriter in their midst, and fell in line. Kris Kristofferson produced Billy Joe Shaver's debut album, while Tom T. Hall wrote the laudatory liner notes. Little did they know what they'd help birth, because without a doubt out of all of them, Shaver was the true outlaw. He scared the rest of them away, and try as he might just could not launch a successful solo career during the '70s or '80s.
Flash forward 25 years, and Billy Joe Shaver has not only outlasted almost all the other so-called outlaws, he is doing some of the best work of his life. This new album is a hard-fought blast of brilliance. No doubt these incredible songs didn't write themselves, and a lot of hard living and learning went into each and every one. New stunners like "The Git Go," "I'll Love You as Much as I Can" and "I'm in Love" feel like music that will live forever, with Shaver singing like someone whose life depends on it. Which it probably does. When it comes to listing all the true country music heroes from that time of Waylon and Willie and the boys, put Billy Joe Shaver right at the top of the pack. He earns it every time he opens his mouth—and heart.