Amy Black, The Muscle Shoals Sessions. It appears singers will always continue to head for northern Alabama to tap the inspiration found at Muscle Shoals. Amy Black settles into the FAME studio there to wrap the warmth of soul music around her. Her grandparents were from the area, so in a way this is much like going home. The fact that seminal keyboard player Spooner Oldham from the original Muscle Shoals musical gang lends a strong hand keeps everything on the right course, and Black’s voice fits right in.
There are songs by legendary people like Sam Cooke, Don Covay, Dan Penn, Bob Dylan and Arthur Alexander to ensure the way is not lost, but Black’s originals stand right up to them. The king here is groove, which is what the Muscle Shoals sound specializes in. That means the Black Keys’ “Tighten Up” gets Dixie-fried too. But the highlight just might be the majestic new take on the gospel classic “You Gotta Move.” It sounds like the song goes all the way back to the beginning of time. It has the strength of those who are caught in the depth of human misery yet somehow look up and see a way to another life, a scorching take on a music which gives hope to the future. Amy Black knows the trip is worth everything she’s had to do to get there, and that the next and best stop is up around the bend.
Mike Flanigin, The Drifter. An Austin-based Hammond organist who is the go-to player for artists like Jimmie Vaughan and ZZ Top, Mike Flanigin also has an incredibly compelling story of his own to tell. He’s been around the block a few times, and while he might not have a marquee name, for those who know he’s a major creative force. Still, it takes a lot of courage to jump off the deep end with your own album, let alone fill it full of guests that would do anyone proud. Here’s who Flanigin got: Billy Gibbons, Alejandro Escovedo, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan, Stephen Barber, Kat Edmonson and Reverend Gean West with the Relatives. Each performs on a song (Edmonson two) that take this tale into the outer limits of a man on a mission to find himself.
Gibbons’ version of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s title track “The Drifter” will have Topheads beaming. Escovedo’s “Fit to Be Tied” is a rock and roll tour de force, while Vaughan lights up the late-night lounge on “All Nite Long” like he’s been doing 50 years — with subtle soul and inside guitar. Clark’s ballad “Stop the World” is the kind of song that could make him even more famous, and Rev. West’s higher power exhortation might literally become a new prayer for those looking for the light. That leaves Edmonson, a singer who defies all odds and is absolutely original. Her two vocals here are love songs for those struggling to find a way not to fall. Mike Flanigin wrote all the songs on the album except one, and the only question now is where has this man been hiding all these years? The drifter has arrived.
Stephen Kalinich & Jon Tiven, Each Soul Has a Voice. Here’s a pair that belong together. Stephen Kalinich was a spoken word artist in beatnik L.A. starting in the mid-‘60s before joining Dennis and Brian Wilson to write songs for the Beach Boys. He succeeded, too. Jon Tiven has been a master musician and producer for enough years to have worked with almost everyone. Joined on these sessions by wife Sally Tiven on bass and the North Mississippi Allstars’ drummer Cody Dickinson, this is music from a distant planet that also hits directly home.
The songs ring with truth no matter what the price and an inner glow that spreads outwards. “Rude Awakenings,” “Explosions of Love” and, yes, “Life is a Fucking Zoo” show a troubadour on a mission to speak his innermost mind. Kalinich’s strong vocals guide the way, and have an uncanny ability to open wide the doors of perception. Tiven’s abilities on a variety of instruments let the music always live up to the task of spreading the word. Throw in guitar guests like Brian May and Steve Cropper, and the twisted southern soul of Stephen Kalinich’s mixture of Eastern and Western philosophies becomes an irresistible voyage into a brave new world. There isn’t anything like it anywhere, and thank goodness for that. Listen and be still.
B.B. King, Blues is King. His blues changed the world, always for the better, and from the smallest ghetto bars to sprawling European palaces, B.B. King remained true to his heart and his guitar Lucille. The songs he played for blues lovers will never be bettered, and his recordings will forever be ours. This 1967 live album will always be the one to show who B.B. King really was, and its recent reissue is a cause for full-tilt celebration. With only a quartet for backing, including trumpet and tenor saxophone, the man from Berclair, Mississippi takes a boisterous and believing audience to the center of the blues cosmos. There are no overdone flourishes or offbeat song choices. The guitar solos are the kind played with the danger of a straight-edged razor, and come from a place of such pure grace they sound downright otherworldly. This is blues for those who can’t pay their electric bill, buy gasoline two gallons at a time, and are forever looking at the day’s mail as an endless succession of unpaid bills and bad news.
Before King crossed over to a more mainstream audience with 1969’s “The Thrill is Gone” hit single, he was a man who endlessly eased the pain of his followers with a soul-rushing succession of songs and shows. Sometimes he had large audiences and sometimes he’d hit a slow patch and play for a few dozen people. It never mattered, because B.B. King was there for those who needed him. His blues ran as deep as it ever gets. Listen to songs like “Gambler’s Blues,” “Buzz Me,” “Night Life” and especially “Don’t Answer the Door.” King’s voice is dealing in age-old wisdoms, while his big black Gibson electric guitar is a gift from above. This isn’t just music. This is salvation given from a bandstand, coming from way back in the alley. It is all we’ll ever need. Long live the King.
Charlie Musselwhite, “I Ain’t Lyin’ ” When the ground is shifting underneath and the walls all around look like they could fall down, the blues is a lifeline to hold onto. At its best, as sung and played by musical heroes like Charlie Musselwhite, there is no doubt help is on the way. Musselwhite, born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, took off for Chicago as a very young man to find better work. What he found was a life’s calling playing and singing blues. And what a life it’s been. This new album, recorded live in California wine country and Mississippi blues country, is a testament to everything this man is great at.
Musselwhite’s backing trio never plays an unneeded note, but they do bear down on nine originals right next to steaming covers of Elmore James' stomping “Done Somebody Wrong” and Duke Pearson’s chilling “Cristo Redentor.” Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica is a galaxy unto itself, at times soothing and assured and at other times burning and heading for the edge. He learned from the masters in the early ‘60s in South Side Chicago clubs like Pepper’s and Theresa’s, the kind of places in which a young white man then was a welcome explorer. He took those lessons to heart to make the so-called Mississippi saxophone his own personal calling card. This is music to hold off the mayhem outside the door from turning life upside down. For that alone Charlie Musselwhite should be given the keys to the highway and the pink slip for a new Cadillac. Don’t forget to boogie — it’s later than you think.
Graham Parker and the Rumour, Mystery Glue. Wishing for a full-blown comeback by a personal favorite is often a fool’s game, because really they’ve never been away. In the mid-‘70s rock music exploded again. Whether it was New Wave, punk or whatever critics were calling it, it appeared to be a whole new ballgame. The Ramones, Elvis Costello, the Clash, Talking Heads, Graham Parker: the list was nearly endless of those taking the basic structures of rock and roll and turning them into an exciting new pretzel.
That said, none had more promise than Parker and his unbeatable band the Rumour. His first few albums were filled with blood-tickling bodaciousness. Live, the man slayed. Period. As the ‘80s started it felt like his promise was starting to go unfulfilled. Sure, the music was good, but it no longer demanded our devotion. Today, Parker and the Rumour have retaken the fortress and even if the fire is turned down several notches, an undercurrent of all-time accomplishment prevails. His voice has that edge which soared 40 years ago, and song-wise the strut and sureness still thrive. Clearly, Graham Parker and the Rumour need each other; they spark what’s best in the other and have a unique way of tearing off on a song that will forever be theirs. The soul shoes are back on, and fit just fine.
Mark Proct with Nettie Reynolds, Home Today Gone Tomorrow. Imagine finding a few suitcases full of photographs documenting the world of Austin music starting 40 years ago. In that delightful discovery are a captivating collection of memories of a time gone by, one that changed the landscape of American music and rewrote a few rules in the rulebook of how careers needed to be built. Mark Proct was an aspiring steel guitarist who ventured from Massachusetts down to Texas to visit friends in 1973. He was never the same, and a few years later was living in Austin and working for Willie Nelson’s sound company. Lucky for history lovers, he also had a camera and was never shy about using it.
Proct’s career trajectory is a wonder, moving from Nelson’s world to working with a number of well-known bands and then managing the Fabulous Thunderbirds right on time for their “Tuff Enuff” mega-success. And that was just the start. All along the way Proct’s trusty camera was right there with him, including tour stops with the Grateful Dead and many, many Stevie Ray Vaughan excursions onstage and in the studio. That’s just the start, really. In the end, this is a book of priceless photographs and Proct’s unerring recall about a musical life well spent. Looking through these 155 pages is like taking a time trip through days that won’t come again. The last photo is of Vaughan’s statue in Austin, and is a perfect coda — what once started as a divine inspiration becomes world-changing forever. Wow.
The Revelers, Get Ready. What happens when the Red Stick Ramblers and Pine Leaf Boys jump into an institutional-size gumbo pot for a good old-fashioned Louisiana get-down? The Revelers happen, that’s what, and because of their pedigree they can zero in on Cajun music and all its outgrowths with an easeful take on heritage. There is no showing off here, just a loose and endearing attack on everything great about the Pelican state.
It’s obvious from note one that the band’s background starts on the dance floor, a smart move in places like Beau Bridge and Lafayette. It’s also no accident that the quintet has a way with songs, since they write originals that would do their musical ancestors proud. It’s the accordion and fiddle of Blake Miller that add a lot of the spice to the Revelers’ sound. No mystery there: this man is a maestro of bayou beauty. And even if there are no huge surprises on their new album, this is an outfit that’s gotten past the urge to fill in all the blanks. Instead, the band excels at less-is-more and shows that by keeping the tension up to maximum the gumbo’s going to come out burning. Yeah, you right.
Terre Roche, Imprint. Singer-songwriter Terre Roche has been in the right place at the right time so often she might consider going into real estate. That would be music’s loss, though, because this illustrious member of sister trio the Roches has found a most impressive manner to go it alone. Her new album is a joyous call to individuality, and while it’s only a duo affair with bassist Jay Anderson, it is so composed of life and living nothing else is needed.
Maybe that’s because Roche finds methods to illuminate every part of what it means to be a human being in 2015, and also how she turns that simplicity into such a rich representation of where she’s been and where she might go. Anderson’s bass helps push her there, into the dusty corners of emotional loss and those other pesky questions of time’s passage. Whether it’s “No Sleep Full Moon” or “You Hold the Story in Your Eyes,” Terre Roche has cracked the code of what a singer-songwriter must always do — make their world our world. If “I Saw a Lady” doesn’t turn the heart upside down then there’s nothing left to say. Here’s to Ms. Roche, a woman so full of wisdom she knows to keep her prayer beads handy at all times.
Shinyribs, Okra Candy. Take a walk into the woods, and when the branches get too thick to see anything but green, keep going. Make it to the river, and though it’s too wide to cross, somehow logs appear to enable the way to the other side. Then find the biggest hill in sight and walk to the top. Once there, the sound of Shinyribs’ newest opus will ring loud with the sound of personal freedom and psychic vibrations. Because there is no one on Planet Earth like him.
Fresh from the Gourds’ sayonara, Shinyribs jumps on the solo train and travels all the way to the pinnacle. These are songs that bring a new shimmer to the day, and a twinkling glow to the dark. Shinyribs’ voice has the grit of East Texas and the shine of the Gulf Coast. At heart, the man is a street-strolling magician, and will undoubtedly continue this quest for a confluence of the sublime and the stratospheric. That he named his record label Mustard Lid shows he isn’t afraid of making a mess all over himself. Life without fear remains the only lane to living in a kingdom of heavenly sounds. It’s time everyone realizes the right reverend Shinyribs will be ruling the pulpit there for the foreseeable future. Amen to that—and so much more.