Bentley's Bandstand: The Blues Broads, Little Hurricane, Booker T. & the MGs

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The Blues Broads

The Blues Broads. This lively crew of Clean-Up Women called the Blues Broads are four female singers that have every single style you need to make your monkey nerve well-satisfied for the foreseeable future. Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Annie Sampson and Angela Strehli have been there, sung that and now come together to bring the big spirit in the sky right down to earth. Hearing is believing, because there's a magic that happens when just the right combination of voice and spirit come together like it does here.

Each of these singers have had stellar solo careers going back long enough to be before seatbelt laws and car stereos. Dorothy Morrison was the lead vocalist in the Edwin Hawkin Singers, setting hearts free on the hit "Oh Happy Day" and other soaring spirituals. Annie Sampson was a founding member with ex-Beau Brummel Sal Valentino of Stoneground and has also spent her fair share of time in gospel groups. Tracy Nelson is a blues belter supreme and her years in San Francisco favorites Mother Earth are still talked about. And Angela Strehli may just be the secret weapon of the quartet, cutting her teeth in Austin blues clubs like the One Knite and Antone's before taking that roaring voice to the world. Put together, the soul boggles.

For this ten-song collection, complete with live DVD, the women reach deep into their backgrounds to assemble songs that bear down on the blues and don't give an inch. It's hard to point out highlights, because in reality they all are. Even better, Strehli, Sampson, Nelson and Morrison are highly individualistic singers quite different from each other, but back-to-back they cover the blues waterfront with heart-bending strength and body-warming power. No matter what condition your life is in, The Blues Broads will turn on the love light and let it shine.

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Little Hurricane, Homewrecker. Two-person bands can be quite the thing—try the White Stripes and the Black Keys. At this rate, the next band will be the White Keys or the Black Stripes. But for now, for musical duos that get the gris-gris right, try Little Hurricane. Tone Catalano on guitar and C.C. Spina on drums fill their songs with a dangerous air just this side of jail, like there's a chance the whole thing could run off the rails and head for the abyss. Maybe it's the tension between the two, or perhaps the San Diego pair have absorbed some of the Tijuana treachery in the air and it's gotten inside their songs.

"Crocodile Tears," "Lies" and especially "Haunted Heart" could come from anywhere in the past 40 years of American blues-rock. This is a band that might have opened for Big Brother & the Holding Company in 1966 and given Janis Joplin a run for her money. They have learned that blues doesn't need to be imitated, but rather it's something that must be lived and made new. That's the trick Canned Heat, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the Jeff Beck Group and ZZ Top always excelled at in their prime. They played from their backgrounds and didn't try to become someone else. Little Hurricane do that all day long.

For a debut album, Homewrecker is a knockout. Neither of the two players are completely outstanding on their instruments, but when they combine a certain alchemy occurs where everything becomes bigger, deeper and more electric. It's actually better that way, because what they have is called chemistry. These two are a walking reaction, as Catalano's guitar finds a spooky spot and stays there, and Spina's fervent pounding becomes hypnotic. Two-piece groups usually expand as their success grows, but here's hoping Little Hurricane stays little as they get bigger. Long may they blow.

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Booker T. & the MGs, Green Onions. Oh, how to begin. For instrumental rhythm and blues combos, Booker T. & the MGs really are in a class by themselves. They were the house band at Stax Records studio in Memphis during the '60s, and backed everyone from Rufus Thomas to Otis Redding. Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, Jr. and Lewis Steinberg (soon to be replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn) came to fame almost accidentally, recording the blow-mind "Green Onions" instrumental hit as an afterthought at the end of a session. Needless to say, once disc jockeys around the country heard the song it's like a wildfire was lit that simply would not go out. While the band's first album doesn't contain anything quite as explosive as that song, it's also one of those nonstop grooveathons that can spark a party or quiet a night.

The entire Green Onions album is driven by Jackson's unerring beat, something so strong that it actually feels like it has taken up residence inside the body. Cropper's lead lines sound like he's slicing off apple wedges with a straight-razor blade. Jones uses a Hammond organ as the perfect lead instrument, never straying too far from the funk but also remembering melody is still king. Steinberg's Fender bass, the electric instrument still fairly new to the recording studio in '62, locks in with the bass drum and is never less than right there. It's like Booker T. & the MGs were writing the blueprint for an entire genre of bands which followed, and at the same time having the time of their life. Cover songs like "Can't Sit Down," "Twist and Shout," and yes, Mr. Acker Bilk's "Stranger on the Shore" show that the not-always mellow fellows knew their songbook but could also get close enough to the gutter to capture the smell.

The sonic restoration of these 12 songs brings them a brightness without losing the gritty bottom that makes them Memphis. Each instrument now sounds pinpoint perfect, almost like we're right in the old movie theatre on McLemore Avenue in summer 1962 when the four young men were creating history. The feeling is so relaxed that you almost feel the hot night air seeping through the walls. For bonus tracks, two tracks recorded at the 5/4 Ballroom in Los Angeles in 1965 are added, and are deluxe smokers. Cropper gets to take the gloves off and semi-shred, as Jackson turns up the heat even more. By then, Dunn is thumping on bass (one that he didn't change the strings on for 30 years, thank goodness). As for the keyboard man — burn, Booker, burn.

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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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