Gary Clark, Jr., Bright Lights. Sometimes all it takes is a single song to really know, to feel that an artist is connected all the way through and is on a path to greatness. Words can get in the way of explaining it, so it's best to ride the sound waves and let the rest take care of itself. That's true for Gary Clark, Jr. more than just about any artist of the last few years. Four songs is enough on this extended-play disc to hear the future. It's all here.
The young singer-guitarist from Austin, Texas was initially heralded almost ten years ago in his mid-teens as the great new hope of the blues. That city keeps trying to hit one out of the park on that front, ever since losing Stevie Ray Vaughan on the doomed helicopter flight in Wisconsin.
But that's a losing game, because there just might not be another to get close to filling Vaughan's boots, and even if there was the sound and style would have to be completely different. Clark is his own person all the way, and while he may have originally been inspired by blues he takes it to places only he can find.
Title track "Bright Lights" is a bone-chilling stare into the future, one that flirts with finality but in the end opts for optimism. It's a call to arms for someone who has bet on themselves, and isn't looking back. Clark's voice captures the emotion of the ages, and invites us to go there with him. On guitar he lets the snakes out when it's time, and listeners beware. There may well be no better song released this year. "Don't Owe You a Thang" and "Things Are Changing" aren't far behind, and best of all are completely different.
"When My Train Pulls In" is like a tease what can also be, offering a chance for the Texan to take a solo spin. There are moments in music when the world tilts a bit, and a new face fills the screen. That has happened here, and it's going to be a ball seeing where Gary Clark, Jr. goes next. Wherever that is, it's going to be a wild trip.
Rockpile, Live at Montreux 1980. Rock and roll bands like this don't grow on trees, and Rockpile, for all their notoriety and acclaim, ended up being more a question mark than an institution. Maybe that's because their first few releases were either under Dave Edmunds' or Nick Lowe's names.
Contractually they couldn't call themselves Rockpile during the '70s. By the time of their first and only official release, Seconds of Pleasure in 1980, it ended almost by the time it started. Never mind the fact that album is about as fine a collection of rock ever recorded. For a willing audience, it hits perfection and then keeps going.
When Rockpile rolled into Montreux for this show they still hadn't unleashed their debut on the world. And while they were far from an unproven outfit, it's obvious in these songs that the foursome -- Edmunds, Lowe, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams -- knew exactly what kind of power was underneath the hood. It's like they burst from the starting gate with "Sweet Little Lisa" and just kept hurtling toward the finish line.
The 16-song set list includes a few classics, but also roams around the field and proves the quartet wasn't afraid to push the parameters. In Edmunds and Lowe they had two of the great English frontmen, and secret weapon Bremner adds the zesty surprise, Rockin' Sidney's "You Ain't Nothin' but Fine" like the worthy designated hitter he's always been. Throw in ace drummer Terry Williams and you have sonic heaven.
There is still mystery surrounding Rockpile's demise. Some say Dave Edmunds asked for a bigger cut, and then others citie Lowe's decision not to chase rock stardom past the point of no return. Either way it makes for a fine story of how a band can do it all, and then stop.
Now we have a live document of what once was, and even if the microphones sound like they weren't always in the right place to capture the singers quite right, Rockpile runs flat out and always deep. There will be no reunions so listen now and forever hold your peace.
Candye Kane, Sister Vagabond. This Southern California woman does not suffer any fools. She has survived cancer, been on enough record labels to start her own store and traveled the world long enough to know her way around countries we've never heard of. At the end of it all, though, Candye Kane is a singer's singer, someone who can fill a room with other musicians who want to feel the spirit. She started in the early '80s roots scene with the Blasters, Los Lobos, and X, and made the cut to keep going by finding her own voice.
When you're inspired by people like Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown, and Big Mama Thornton it's important to aim high. There is no way to entertain imitation in those circles, so Kane had to fashion her own style, one built on blues and rockabilly but in the end finding its own sound.
With guitarist Laura Chavez, Candye Kane found the perfect music partner. The razor-edged guitar leads and sassy rhythm playing makes this music slash and burn, but also allows the singer's voice to stay in front. It's what great duos are all about.
Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "I Love to Love You" opens the album in bad-ass glory, laying down a groove just this side of the alley. Nine Kane-Chavez originals show this is no retro show, and add a sultry cover of Brenda Lee's "Sweet Nothin's" and, yes, Jack Tempchin and Glen Frey's "Everybody's Gonna Love Somebody Tonight," a bigger picture of where Ms. Kane's talents can take her starts to emerge.
Then there's "Down with the Blues" by Steve White, who died during the making of the album from throat cancer. Life keeps speeding by, but what music like this reminds us is that it's in all the small moments where we can hold on to the beauty.