Pete Anderson, Birds Above Guitarland. Professor Pete Anderson has pulled out a whole world of magic tricks for this new master class in guitarology and beyond. Known for his outsider country productions with Dwight Yoakam and others, Anderson is also a blues and soul music maven of all persuasions. Birds Above Guitarland allows him free-range roaming rights over every guitar style imaginable, played and sung with the kind of heart and soul we've come to expect from the man who helped invent how great music sounds for the past quarter century. What's most striking about these new recordings is how low-down in the alley Anderson can get. From note one on "Outta the Fire," it's like the curtains have parted for a glimpse into some serious bluesiness without any of the retro-itis that can affect too much of music today.
The key ingredient, obviously, is how Pete Anderson handles the guitar. Never forgetting his rhythm and blues roots in Detroit when he was growing up, the musician ignites these songs with full-on horn arrangements, the funkiest of drums, whirling keyboards and vocals that are no stranger to the dark end of the street. In a way, this sounds like the album that sets Anderson free to explore edgier soul inflections than past efforts, while at the same time staying way rooted to the ground. It's an intriguing blend, and in the end it is likely the man's strongest suit. He has found his voice, and it's clear Anderson is not letting go. "Red Sunset Blues" is like "Ghost Rider in the Sky" goes to the ghetto, while on the bonus track "Rock in My Shoe," he is joined by singer Bekka Bramlett and they take the song to the swampiest of swamps. Mama Roux has nothing on these two, and who knows, maybe there's a full album in their future. No doubt the alligators are already chomping.
Love Over Gold, Fall to Rise. Sometimes albums come from so far out of left field they land with a hushed surprise. Pieta Brown has a handful of prior releases, but as one half of Love Over Gold she sounds brand new. Teaming with Australian singer Lucie Thorne, it's like Brown has found her long-lost sister to complete a musical circle. The softness of the way each approaches a song makes a quiet power come alive, and captures all that is good in vocal collaborations. To hear two singers become one has a long tradition in music, and Love Over Gold seems like they've discovered their place in it. What they do together sounds like it was born around a shared loved of music, with hearts and guitars wide open. It's the kind of thing that can't be forced, and can never be over-thought. The songs have to flow, and the soul has to receive. These two young women excel at each.
Lucky the pair never let complexity through the front door when they were recording songs like "Then We Were Flying," "Causeway" and "To the Sun." The songs allow an audience to hold their breath as the melody and vocal blend strike home. It's exactly what made folk music so striking 50 years ago, and to find out the style has lost none of its power is like discovering a small gem. Lyrics that display a profound understanding of love, unique characters and even homelessness give a glimpse into an inspired creation. There might not be another album like this for awhile, and even if it took a pair of artists from two separate continents to come together to light that spark, it's also a good bet it won't be the last one. Love Over Gold is a group name that says it all. Just like their music.
ZZ Top, The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990. The mothership has landed with this box set of ten ZZ Top albums in their original down and dirty mixes, before digital gremlins took some of the grit off the grooves while striving to make them suitable for mature adults. This is the real deal, from when the band started recording in Tyler, Texas, and their songs once again sound cured in hickory smoke and backyard moonshine. When the little ol' band from Texas first hit, Nixon was president, the Vietnam war was at full tilt and it felt like the country was teetering on the edge of serious divide. Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard pushed all that aside, rewired the blues and injected it into beat-up Marshall amps and marinated drums to ride to the rescue. The three, with producer Bill Ham close by, brought rock back to the bone, and there was never any doubt the boys were going all the way. Early songs like "Squank," "Just Back from Baby's" and "Backdoor Love Affair" pointed to the past at the same time they embraced the future. ZZ Top called it abstract blues on their debut album, and truer words were never spoken.
Of course, the key to staying successful is always to be willing to move forward, and this bunch practically invented the attitude. By the time the '80s rolled around their album Eliminator had poured hot sauce on the synthesizers and, just to make sure the masses heard originals like ""Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man," they juiced up their videos in the early era of MTV. No one will ever forget the hot rods and pretty women, and right alongside that was a righteous bottom whipped out by Hill and Beard that let Gibbons' guitar and vocals weave a magic spell. On their final Warner Bros. album with the song "My Head's in Mississippi," surrealism reared its mesmerizing head and all bets were off. ZZ Top were going to outer space and ready to take willing passengers with them. By then the long beards and cooler-than-school hand jive had become their visual signatures, but in the end it has always been about the boogie that lives inside ZZ Top's soul. That's what makes it all work. It's in them, and it's got to come out.