Korey Dane, Youngblood. It's not easy to find a new artist that feels like they're ready to go all the way. There are usually several qualifiers that make imminent success unlikely. Korey Dane defies those odds, even if his new album slipped out last fall a bit stealth-like. One listen, though, and it's obvious Dane could very well go the distance. He takes a ton of beatnik vibes and early '70s singer-songwriter strengths and bends them into a futuristic pretzel. Word-wise he has it knocked: definite Bob Dylan circa '66 influences, but an attitude all his own. And musically Korey Dane and producer Tony Berg are never less than their own men. Even the dark strains that percolate deep within these songs never take them down. His bio says his mother ended up in academia while his father took off for the desert. Both those disparate backgrounds collide in songs like "Jules Verne," "Pony & the Kid," and "Heaven Won't Let Me In," making for a revelation in a time when they're hard to come by. Dane is the man.
Dion, New York Is My Home. Dion has always had a real reverence for all things blues, and it comes through no matter what he sings: "The Wanderer," "Runaround Sue" on up to "Abraham, Martin and John." His voice cuts through straight to the soul, and he finds the heart-filled essence of everything he touches, no matter the style. Dion's new album is that times ten. Produced by guitar king Jimmy Vivino, this is music for all occasions. The album is put through the roof by the title song, a stunning duet with Paul Simon that immediately rises up there with "New York, New York" and "New York State of Mind" as a theme song for that urban Valhalla. But every song here brings home the truth that Dion DiMucci is one of America's permanent musical treasures, an artist who has stayed true to himself and continues to explore the sounds that make him who he is. Lou Reed said it best when he inducted the singer into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989: "Who could be hipper than Dion?" True then and even truer now. Listen and be amazed by what a real rock & roll pioneer can do.
The I Don't Cares, Wild Stab. Leave it to Paul Westerberg to make what will surely be one of the best albums of the year and not even put his name on it. The former Replacement teamed with singer Juliana Hatfield and recorded under the name The I Don't Cares (pure Westerberg ethos) and showed everyone how to make modern rock that feels timeless without hardly trying. Which proves that greatness doesn't need to be manipulated into anything beyond what it already is: songs that hit hard, like punches to the heart, and relay how life can twist and turn in a thousand directions but still hold eternal promise. Part of that is Westerberg's songs: they pay respect to the past but never sound old. They just sound perfect. Then there's his voice: cracked and often sounding like he's up on a tightrope, it is still something to believe in. Hatfield is right there with him, though only featured on a few songs, making this a collection not to miss. There are many, many highlights among these sweet 16 songs, and the last one, "Hands Together," gets added to the list of Paul Westerberg classics, something no one else alive can quite equal. The original bastard of young is back.
Los Jazz Vatos, El Jefe. Down in central Texas San Antonio/Austin way, drummer Ernie Durawa is most definitely El Jefe. He's been playing since grade school in the '50s, and was for many years seen as Doug Sahm's drummer du jour. Of course, there have been countless jazz gigs, a run as Delbert McClinton's preferred sticks man, and even a time on the throne with Joe "King" Carrasco's legendary outfit El Molino. Now Durawa runs one of the best jazz groups in the state, and makes albums that can hold their head high wherever they're played. His latest affair somehow tops them all, with sax and trumpet soloists who could walk onto any bandstand in the country and make a superb showing. Los Jazz Vatos are just bad-ass; that's all there is to it. There is plenty of Latin flair, but there's also bebop, straight ahead, and even a touch of fusion. In the end, it's how it's played and not what style it is that counts the most, and know that when Ernie Durawa steps behind his drum kit and calls a tune, things are going to happen. El Jefe is in the house.
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels, I Long to See You. Credit Charles Lloyd with being one of the first jazz players to bring that mind-blowing music to the burgeoning counterculture in the Haight-Ashbury during the mid-'60s. His early shows there at the Fillmore Auditorium opened the door to jazz for an audience brand new to it. Lloyd's tenor sax was the perfect instrument to free psychedelicized hippie minds, which he did with ultimate ease, spreading the power of pure improvisation. The good news is that he's continued that quest for the past 50 years, and somehow managed to just get better and better. His new release is a pure joy, an inspired pairing of Charles Lloyd's saxophone and flute with Bill Frisell's guitars and Greg Leisz's pedal steel, along with a burning rhythm section. The combination of all these different strains blends beautifully to the max, creating an ethereal nirvana not heard much these days. Even the album opener of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" reaches for the stars. And gets there.
Bob Margolin, My Road. The road might go on forever, but there often comes a bend where things change. For blues guitarist Bob Margolin that was when he left Muddy Waters band in 1980 and went out on his own. It's been over 35 years, and with his new recording Margolin finally feels like he's landed right where he belongs. There is a burnished maturity to these songs, like the man really had to look in the mirror and reach all the way inside to see where this blues life had taken him. Fortunately, Bob Margolin found that those reflections carried him to a place of solid strength and creative liberation. He's still a bluesman, and always will be, but it doesn't end there now. Everything Margolin has lived and learned comes full circle, allowing him to write the kind of personal songs that he probably wasn't ready for before. He also handpicks a few friends and heroes' songs he's always wanted to cover, telling of a journey that really began as a child and led right up to today. In a time when almost all the original urban bluesmen have left the planet, this is one person who's stepping up to fill that void with a true blues with a feeling. Right on.
Buddy Miller & Friends', Cayamo Sessions at Sea. How's this for an intriguing way to rock the boat? Gather up a ship full of musical friends, drag on some working recording equipment, and then hit the high seas. That's what the extremely gifted musician-producer Buddy Miller does once a year, and listeners are the lucky ones for it. Here are the guests: Kris Kristofferson, Lee Ann Womack, Lucinda Williams, Kacey Musgraves, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, Nikki Lane, Brandi Carlile, the Lone Bellow, and Doug Seegers. All kinds of musical mayhem breaks out aboard the boat, and by the time the week-long journey is up memories and an album have been made. The wonder of it is how fun and fresh all the songs sound, like they were recast in a rarified air of sublime contentment. Even something like Kristofferson's sadly beautiful "Sunday Morning Coming Down" gets a bit of a lilt in its step. Maybe that's because of the sea air, or maybe it's the camaraderie of being away from the bustle of regular show business. Here's hoping this release is only Volume 1 in a long line of live collections. And the boat keeps sailing forever.
Words & Music by Alan Price, Savaloy Dip. God bless Warner Bros. Records and all who sail with it. The Burbank-based label became crusaders for artistic freedom since first signing Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead during the '60s, so by the time Alan Price recorded this album in 1974 pretty much anything was possible. Except it wasn't, not really, because besides a brief two-week period the release escaped solely on an 8-track tape, only to quickly disappear. Forever, up until now. No one at the record company could explain what happened, except that the former keyboard player for the Animals quickly dispatched another new set of recordings to take this long-player's place. Surely it couldn't have been lack of effort on Price's part that got his music mothballed, because these songs groove hard and fine. There's plenty of fire, and lots of uniqueness to what Alan Price accomplished here. The fact that almost zero people have heard it makes it a mystery solved. Hooray.
Sidestepper, Supernatural Love. When it's time to call in the crew for some scintillating electro-cumbia, dial up Sidestepper without hesitation. Based in Bogota, Colombia, this aggregation consists of Rich, Eka, Teto, Guajiro, and Chango. No other names needed. Their deep-seated grooves are so irresistible that words can't begin to capture what they do. Let it be said that beat scientists around the world go to school on Sidestepper's sound, and find ways to explore sonic worlds that before could only be guessed at. For their latest excursion the group went to the source of what makes audiences dance: warm beats, soulful chants, and above all a dedication to linking the dance floor to the beat of the heart. They recorded this music at La Candelaria, Bogota's most historic barrio, and called upon the ghosts of eras past to come visit the sounds and take them to a brand new place. Africa is never far away, and Jupiter lies just beyond their grasp, but somewhere in-between Sidestepper has found the center of the universe.