Charlie Haden and Hank Jones
Charlie Haden & Hank Jones, Come Sunday. This is required listening for anyone who ever wanted to wander into a church and get lost in inner space. To proceed beyond religion and enter the otherworldly realm of belief that the best music induces, that's what profundo bassist Charlie Haden and pianist supreme Hank Jones create. There can be no doubt God is in this house.
Taking off from their first heavenly collaboration "Steal Away" in the '90s, the duo bring out the total grace in each other's playing. "Nearer My God to Thee," "Sweet House of Prayer" and the other celestial songs ring true with a singular beauty that is nothing less than awe-inspiring. It takes a lifetime to learn how to play like this, and even longer to learn what to leave out. The sound of silence in between the notes invokes the presence of the Lord, no matter what shape your spiritual stomach is in.
Charlie Haden has had the kind of musical career collaborating with others that seems like a fairy tale, including his early days with Ornette Coleman. His strength is he never stops, or looks the other way when it comes to the styles to explore. Hank Jones is one of America's most gifted pianists, part of a clan that includes brothers Thad and Elvin Jones. And, yes, the piano bench is empty now that Jones has passed on, but that doesn't mean he's gone. Listen to this album and know the man is forever here, come Sunday and every other day of the week. Glory be.
The Kentucky Headhunters, Dixie Lullabies. Sometimes it's plain hard being Southern. Even when hard-core fans hang tough and don't forget where they came from, a lot of other fair-weather fans can be swayed by the fickle finger of cool and move on when it turns the other way. That doesn't stop these revved-up renegades from continuing to do things their own way, whether it's chomping down hard on the boogie, blasting out a big-time backbeat or just raising hell in general. Their new album allows no less.
Singers Richard Thomas and Doug Phelps sound like they've just come back from running with the dogs after raccoons, their voices pure mountain passion. There is no way this sound can ever be learned; rather it's a gift of down home DNA. With gems like "Tumblin' Roses" and "Roll On Little Pretty," the Headhunters show other classic rockers how to age gracefully by simply being who they are and not what anyone thinks they should be. If there were real justice in the music world they'd be playing stadiums and spiking beer sales around the country.
Sometimes it's easy to miss the forest for the trees, but hopefully the Kentucky Headhunters won't get lost in the woods. They have too much to offer for those who are still wondering if the South is gonna do it again after all. For a band that did as much for muttonchops as Neil Young and coonskin caps as Davy Crockett, it's time to listen while they tear up Thunder Road with glass-pack guitars roaring. Closing song "Recollection Blues" is a last-chance weeper best heard when the sun is starting to rise and the grass is still wet from the night before. Only the strong survive, they say, and Kentucky's finest sound more than ready to be in that number.
Various Artists, Meet Me at Mardi Gras. This could easily be labeled as Insta-Party: Just Add Wine, because in collecting a dirty dozen songs somehow related to carnival season in New Orleans, there is simply no way to go wrong. As long as the knees hold up and the backfield is able to stay in motion, this music is a constant get-down from start to end.
The Soul Rebels, modern day bad boys of the funkified mess that is Crescent City sonic shenanigans at their best, get the party started with unqualified sass on "Say Na Hey." It's amazing how many New Orleans classics have syllable-challenged nonsensical words as titles. Don't worry: "Jockamo a.k.a. Iko-Iko" is just five tracks away. Mixed into more recent recordings are sly classics like Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers' jaunty "Goin' Back to New Orleans" and Professor Longhair's seminal stomp "Go to the Mardi Gras." But it's in Al Johnson's "Carnival Time" that bodily liftoff occurs after the the room starts spinning: "throw the baby out the window let the joint burn down." Now if that's not some 13th Ward wisdom then we're all in trouble deep. Somebody call Ernie K-Doe back from the other side quick.
Relative newbies like New Orleans Nightcrawlers and Rebirth Brass Band turn up the fire even more and make out like bandits in stirring the musical gumbo, well-aided by Cajun brethren Zachary Richard's mesmerizing "Mardi Gras Mambo" and Marcia Ball's scathing "Big Shot." At a certain point any high-stepping listener can only laugh out loud at this wild-eyed embarrassment of riches. It is music meant to heal the heart at the same time it sets the body and soul ablaze. Album producer Scott Billington has put in the years working in the city that care forgot and we're all stepping in high cotton now because of it. Throw some gris-gris on the la la, rotate the ya ya and then find the levee and burn it down.