Bentley's Bandstand: Shelby Lynne, Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton, Etta James

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Shelby Lynne, Revelation Road. Be ready to adjust your ears when Revelation Road begins, because Shelby Lynne is ready to show us everything. This is the kind of album an artist usually gets to make only once. Lynne wrote, produced, sings and plays every note on it, and each one of them sounds like it comes directly from the center of her wide-open heart.

The road to revelation hasn't always been a smooth one for Shelby Lynne. The early trauma of losing her mother and father are part of a long line of challenges, both personal and professional, and it's probably a small miracle that Lynne has made it through with the undeniable strength she has. Still, these songs are miraculous on their own. They shine a light on the lady's search for love, something that often leads to heartbreak but never to giving up. That's where Revelation Road takes us: the realization that Shelby Lynne is a survivor with a smile and willingness to try again.

In a time when the cacophony of the world threatens to turn everything into white noise, it's the quiet sound of a fragile song that can strike with the most power. "I'll Hold Your Head," "Lead Me Love" and "I Won't Leave You" express a world where we've all been. And even if we might not want to go back again, there are lessons to learn and a certain sureness in knowing we've made it to the other side that allow life to glow. This woman knows.

Wynton-Marsalis-Eric-Clapton-Play-the-Blues-2011.jpgWynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton, Play the Blues. Music doesn't get much more free than this. In a match made in heaven-adjacent, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and guitar man Eric Clapton throw open the windows and let the sunshine in. It is such a joy to hear people play with no ulterior motive except this is what they love to do. The live concert recorded at Lincoln Center in New York could just have easily been performed at Eddie Bo's El Grande Lounge in New Orleans, because the inherent kicks living inside every song burst through on a mad dash to freedom.

The set list swings wildly from W.C. Handy classics to Howlin' Wolf showstoppers. Even more exciting is how everything fits together without fail. There is a deep lesson to be learned here, and that is left to its own devices American music can show the way to a soulful balance of life, where happiness and sadness are not seen as opposites but rather two sides of the same coin. Music has always been the great leveler, and these fine gentlemen get down to the real nitty gritty from the get go.

Marsalis' trumpet sounds like he's leading a parade right down Canal Street, with plenty of propulsion from Clapton's fiery guitar and hot chops clarinetist Victor Goines. The rest of the spirited players turn up the heat whether it's on ballads or barnburners, adjusting inner tempos as easily as a quickened stride and sure shake of the leg. By the time Taj Mahal shows up on a "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," it really does feel like sanctification is the natural next step towards musical nirvana. 

Etta James, Heart & Soul: A Retrospective. There aren't many soul singers who have created their own category, but Etta James surely has. She began singing professionally when she was barely a teenager, and by the time of the first hit single, "The Wallflower" in 1955, her fate was sealed. She was going to conquer the charts, tour the world and swivel listeners' heads like they didn't know what hit them. And it's still happening today. Sometimes wonders really do happen.

Born Jamesetta Hawkins in 1938, music became her destiny right away. Singing with schoolmates became a way to entertain themselves, and as soon as svengali Johnny Otis heard that voice and changed her name, history began. These four discs are an illuminating travel through a musical life with enough ups and downs to make a rollercoaster look tame, but what is most striking is that no matter what Etta James was going through the songs always arrived like a force of nature. The voice never let her down.

By the time she got to Muscle Shoals in the mid-'60s and recorded "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," one of the great two-sided singles of all time, James was floating on a cloud of shivering style. Everything got sprinkled with a gold dust that makes those sessions sound like they're touched by something celestial even today. Once the singer left Chess Records for other labels in the '70s, there were still plenty of surprises covering songs by Randy Newman, Alice Cooper and others. A lust for life found a different direction, but didn't stop.

Etta James got the nickname "Peaches" put on her when she was young, and has spent her life covering the waterfront. If you want to discover just what one woman can do with a great song, sympathetic band and arrangement and a mountain of soul, start right here. Heart & Soul is a full frontal view of musical achievement that doesn't happen very often, but when it does all bets are off. This living legend's road never ends.

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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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