Joan Osborne, Bring It on Home. If you're a singer, soul music is the most powerful magnet there is. The songs that live in that sultry and seething world are impossible to resist, and eventually they'll pull you in and take over everything. Joan Osborne is no stranger to soul. She started singing in New York dog bars like Dan Lynch's, making the music of Memphis, New Orleans, and Houston all her own. Big hits put her on another path, but she never left what really rang her bell. First love is like that.
For Bring It on Home, it looks like Osborne was given a musical blank check and allowed to take it all the way. Her choices on these dozen songs is an illuminative look inside her heart, and offer plenty of surprises on what lives there: Clarence Carter, Betty Wright, John Mayall, Bill Withers, Sonny Boy Williamson II and, yes, Olive Brown run right alongside Ray Charles, Ike & Tina Turner, Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo, Otis Redding, and Al Green. It's a full house, that's for sure, and just the songs alone turn the chillbumper meter up to the stun setting.
Best of all, though, is what the singer and musicians do with all these treasures. Osborne's voice goes from chilling to a clarion call to live life to the fullest. There aren't many modern artists who really get the past, but also will never be tied down by it. All the soul heroes from the '50s and '60s were in the trenches, crisscrossing the country mixing a moving message of pain and pleasure for fans who absolutely lived for the power found within. It changed America, and thankfully because of Osborne and others, still can. Home is where the heart is, and this lady's is all the way open.
Rocco DeLuca, Drugs 'n Hymns. There is some music that exists outside the boundaries. It begins in a private place within the player, growing there like an exotic plant until it's ready to bloom. After that, it takes practice, patience, and eventually, pure passion to expose it to the world. Rocco DeLuca is one of those people. Born in Southern California, when he performs he immediately becomes a citizen of the planet, pulling in influences from far and wide.
Capturing that kind of creativity in a recording studio isn't easy. Luckily for DeLuca, he found a patron saint in producer Daniel Lanois, who helped him learn a new way to approach the soundboard. Drugs 'n Hymns is like a sonic puzzle, drifting from recognizable song patterns to sonic excursions into the void. For those with an ear for adventure, there is no end. This is one road that truly does keep on going.
Grounded, perhaps, in acoustic blues, the real beauty of Rocco DeLuca's music is how he turns that seminal style upside down into something not that far from backwoods gospel. Maybe that's because he's clearly a true believer in the human spirit, from the highest to the lowest forms, and is going to make that spirit shine. Going into this man's world is a fearless excursion to the other side. Once there, it is hard to ever come back.
Various Artists, The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Africa. Acid in Africa? Why not, at least for musicians who are looking for inspiration wherever it can be found. Four decades ago, many of the players in the motherland were feeling the vibrations coming from California, where psychedelic pioneers had blown apart normal musical constructs and were waving the freak flag high. Way high. Africans took these rock explorations and fused them into soul and jazz grooves, coming up with an infectious blend of all three—and then some.
Circular guitar lines, bouncing percussion and hazy-daisy vocals emanated from bandstands around the continent, as aggregations like Rali Band, Balla Et Ses Balladins, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo and others set dance floors ablaze. It was the sound of a new day, as so many of the nations there also struggled to find a new freedom. The way music was able to capture what was in the air and turn it into a soundtrack for an entire continent hasn't been equaled since. Listening now, all these songs—from "Let Yourself Go" to "Wate Numa Lombaliya"—still sound unstoppable.
Rough Guide has always been a series headed by excavation experts. Their staff straps on miner's helmets and digs into styles from around the world, coming up with collections that feel as exciting as they are educational. Usually full of never heard before selections, or maybe songs that were once clued to the turntable but got lost to the winds of time, all the label's releases have hallelujah moments scattered throughout. Here it's Victor Uwaifo's "Guitar Boy," a rollicking strut from 1966 by a Nigerian guitar maestro who sounds like he's just discovered the keys to the kingdom. That Uwaifo was the first African to ever receive a gold record just shows there is justice after all. Dr. Timothy Leary is surely smiling somewhere.