Bentley's Bandstand: Pieta Brown, Wilco, Elvis Presley

By , Columnist
Pieta Brown, Mercury. Ready for the magic? To possibly go to that quiet place where songs matter, and music can be our salvation? If so, Pieta Brown will take you. Sometimes the stars line up just like they should, and the sounds that pour from a person's heart are so pure and passionate it can almost be too personal to listen. It's like overhearing a private conversation by a couple in the next booth. But the way Brown offers these songs is so full of love we can't help but be immersed in her glow.
 
Recorded over three days in a studio an hour west of Nashville and produced by Brown and known alchemist Bo Ramsey, Mercury sounds like nothing else right now. There's a stark simplicity that works its way under the skin, where everything turns warm and wiggly.

Seriously, something is going on in this music that is beyond molecular structures. Musicians Richard Bennett, Glenn Worf, Chad Cromwell, David Mansfield and, on one song, Mark Knopfler, know their way around magic too, and come together on these sessions with stirring sensitivity.
 
Pieta Brown has made other albums, all with their unerring charms. This one, however, arrives from a separate place. She and her studio cohorts entered the barn-like building in Primm Springs, Tennessee likely not knowing exactly what was in store for them. They surely had faith, and likely also a huge amount of hope - which may be the same thing. When the last song was finished, the twenty empty acres of rolling land around them could have been smiling back, all realizing that something good had been accomplished. So true.
 
wilco-the-whole-love.jpgWilco, The Whole Love. Wilco albums are cause for celebration, because they're never exactly what is expected but always an exciting ride. The Whole Love sounds like it could have been recorded on Nurse Ratched's ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And that's a good thing, because there are surprises galore while at the same time enough known touchstones we're not left lost in space.

By now, the band isn't afraid of trying anything. They veer around and through different styles with deft precision while never losing sight that music should be satisfying for the soul. If singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy is Randle Patrick McMurphy leading the patients in high-minded revolts and inside information, then his musical cohorts are spurring him on into breathtaking turns on the tightrope. No band does it better these days.
 
The journey of Wilco reads like a morality play, where they took the ultimate gamble on themselves and came up with holding a royal flush. When their first company Reprise Records cut them loose, it's said the head of A&R there explained, "No more ugly bands on the label." So the group ended up giving away their new music online and soon enough found a happy home.

After a successful run on Nonesuch Records they've started their own label and it shows. The air of freedom that blows through The Whole Love feels like the whole truth, with a tingly thrill around every corner and enough mystery to keep listeners coming back with hopes up high.
 
The dozen songs on Disc 1 of the deluxe edition offer the perfect primer for Wilconians old and new. There are moments of ultimate beauty, with Tweedy's voice sounding like he's captured the crystaline secret of infinite life. There's also squawking blips and noisy effects that promise these players will never quit pushing at the outer edges of the big-ass sonic envelope they've constructed by hand with special care and tender mercy.

Disc 2 features four songs, including a cool cover of Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" and the startling "Speak Into the Rose." The album booklet contains artwork that could easily have been created by the Chief, Billy Bibit and some of the others on the ward fighting off the Combine; again a complete compliment. How often's it's the outsiders who show us the way to the promised land. Follow them we should.
 
cd_young_man_with_the_big_beat.jpgElvis Presley, Young Man with the Big Beat: the Complete '56 Masters. The world changed in the summer of 1956 when Elvis Presley's single "Hound Dog" exploded onto world consciousness. There had been other singles, obviously, by the Memphis singer before that, but this one, released July 13, sounded like a small neutron bomb. Rock & roll had been unleased and nothing would ever be the same. This five-compact disc collection of absolutely everything the King recorded that year is an over-the-top assembly of massive proportions, but when it comes to history why not go all the way?
 
Archival boxes are becoming an endangered species in a shrinking retail landscape, so there's a joyous feel to something as voluminous as Young Man with the Big Beat. Besides the music, which includes studio and live recordings along with a disc of outtakes, there's a series of interviews done then that show Presley is not only on the ball but deep in the groove of what's going on all around him. He's clearly a man on a mission.
 
With so many songs featured, the addition of an 80-page book with a day-by-day timeline takes things into never-never land. What's really amazing is just how busy Elvis Presley stayed, and shows that the overwhelming success that was building all around him was no accident. Manager Col. Tom Parker had learned during his days with the circus that when opportunity strikes you have to turn up the heat. By the end of 1956 his first movie, "Love Me Tender" premieres and America had succumbed completely to Presleymania. It couldn't last forever, but for the next two years there was no bigger presence in the country. Nothing would ever be the same again. This collection shows exactly why.
 

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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