The Warren Hood Band. When an artist starts so young, a full-scale album release can often seem like a long time coming. Considering that Warren Hood began playing at age 11, taking up violin and eventually winning awards at Berklee School of Music in Boston, his first album is still a knocked-out delight. He skirts the shortfall of staying pegged too closely to the roots music of his central Texas background, but at the same time turns up the burn on country-inspired songs way past the boiling point. What's most striking are the original songs: Hood had a hand in writing all but two, and for someone now in their mid-20s to be so good but also basically unknown outside a small circle of devoted followers arrives as something of a shock. The two he wrote alone, "Alright" and "What Everybody Wants," which start and end the album, are possibly the set's highlights. And while he may have played with artists like Elvis Costello, Bob Weir, Gillian Welch and Little Feat, the album Warren Hood has made will have newcomers wondering where he's been for so long.
Hood is so full of surprises it's not even funny. His music is a free-range celebration of all things American, starting with virtuoso fiddle playing and arriving at a warmhearted take on living life to the limit. Of course, he comes by all this talent naturally. His father, Champ Hood, was a long-loved member of Austin's rich music community, having performed in Uncle Walt's Band with Walter Hyatt and David Ball for most of the '70s before going out on his own. Warren Hood covers his father's "Last One to Know" and Hyatt's "Motor City Man" here, doing them total justice. His band are a locked-in groove, too, finding the sweet spot on every single song. Add on Emily Gimble's vocals on three songs and Charlie Sexton's vibrant production, and The Warren Hood Band instantly becomes one of the best albums of a year we're not even half-through now. Wow.
Delbert & Glen, Blind, Crippled & Crazy. Surely Delbert McClinton needs little introduction. He's been performing professionally over 50 years, and between hit singles, a staggeringly great live show and a suitcase full of original classics, McClinton is one of the greatest Texas exports ever. Glen Clark might not have had quite the same solo career, but he's right up there in the inspiration department. In the early '70s the two joined together as Delbert & Glen, and though they made two fine, fine albums nothing really happened and they went their separate ways. No more. The pair are back together and, thankfully, it's as if they never split. Even better, it's not like they've hopped on the retro line either, because their new album features recently written songs, and with co-producer Gary Nicholson, has accomplished the near-impossible. They've actually improved on the past.
It's obvious when masters are in the room. Their music sounds like it was made on a long Saturday afternoon; the pressure is off and they're playing for themselves. The instant vibe of real songs cuts through everything, and before the first track, "Been Around a Long Time," is finished, there is absolutely no doubt that Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark have come to burn down the cornfield. Without flash or fireworks, the rhythm section digs right in, guitarists Bob Britt and James Pennebaker have hit the note and the whole band is blasting off. What unfolds over the next 11 songs is a face-splitter, spreading smiles and raising the heartbeat simultaneously. These two have found a place in life where the post-60s years appear to be as much as fun as earlier wild ones, with a far greater chance of enjoying them too. In fact, if AARP doesn't adopt these two Texans as poster boys they're missing a good lick. And a tip: Joe Cocker needs to cover "Just When I Need You the Most" right away. It's a hit just waiting to happen. Listen now.
George Jones, The Complete United Artists Solo Singles. Take 16 singles with both sides included, put them on one album and then get out of the way. When the singer is George Jones, and those singles are ones he recorded for United Artists Records between 1962-1966, there is no doubt country music doesn't get any better. The first song, "She Thinks I Still Care," stands as a peak for Jones, which is really saying something, and the last, "A Good Old Fashioned Cry," is right behind it. Sure, he had bigger hits for Starday and Mercury before signing to UA, and would go on to even more acclaim later, but this long overdue collection of a magical time in the Possum's life comes across as a very cool vindication for Jonesaholics. Even overlooked gems like "Geronimo," "Lonely Christmas Call" and "You Comb Her Hair," shine right next to chart toppers "A Girl I Used to Know" and "The Race Is On."
What has always made George Jones a party of one is the voice. He captures despair and pain better than any other singer of his lifetime. It's like he was born to share a house of hurt, and never looked back. From start to finish in a wild ride of ups and downs, Jones gave the gift of walking the tightrope of life and taking on the arrows of romantic wreckage. Even in those moments of monumental heartbreak he always found a certain glory. Jones got past the pity and took the high road to heaven, no matter what it cost him or those around him. Right up to his recent death, the man could not be stopped. Hear him in the first part of the '60s, when the South stood strong in its traditions and Nashville wasn't really known as a home to musical freedom. George Jones could go into a studio and change the world. Here are 32 ways how.