Yvette Landry, No Man's Land. Straight outta Beaux Bridge, Louisiana comes Yvette Landry, a singer who knows her way around all the things that can make life a mysterious dance full of inspiration and intrigue. The way she handles the quiet and not-so-quiet warfare between man and woman sure makes it seem like she's been there, but who knows? Maybe it's just her fertile imagination and plenty of on-the-job observations. Landry's song titles alone say so much: "Dog House Blues," "Three Chords and a Bottle," "My Next Mr. Ex" and "This House Is Not a Home." Even the lone cover, "Lord, I Get High," is a seamless fit into her world. It's the kind of album that should be handed out at couples therapy and divorce court alike, and maybe even high school homemaking classes to let the youngsters in on what lies ahead.
The last song, "When I Die," is a sobering assessment of the hope that awaits everyone in the next life, and how it might be a blessing after all. When Yvette Landry sings of "the fighting being over," the chills run all the way to the bone while the weeping steel guitar drives the final nails in the coffin. There is a Southern fatalism that runs through the land below the Mason Dixon line. Producer Jim Dickinson used to say it was because the South "lost the war." Could be, or maybe it's just the way a sweet release from the struggles of living there is such a long time coming. Either way, Yvette Landry has a direct line on those struggles and that release. She stands up to the former and keeps pushing for the latter, showing what a Louisiana woman can be counted on to do. Yeah, you right.
Scott Hamilton, Remembering Billie. There is no better instrument than the tenor saxophone to evoke the passion and pain of a momentous singer like Billie Holiday. The horn can elicit emotions that remain buried in most of us, but the way the saxophone speaks it's like the purveyor of a very private language. In the hands of a master, the sky—or the valley—is the limit. Luckily Scott Hamilton is a true master, and clearly a devotee of Lady Day. He takes on some of the most classic recordings, like "Good Morning Heartache," "Them There Eyes" and "God Bless the Child," and while never surpassing her iconic vocals, is still able to turn them into gorgeous expressions of instrumental intensity.
The sax player concentrates on songs from the pre-World War II period, going for the light more than the darkness that would later take the singer all the way down. And Hamilton gives his swinging players plenty of room to move, too; there are deep solos by bassist Dave Zinno and unflagging rhythmic support from drummer Jim Gwin. Album producer Duke Robillard also breaks out his archtop acoustic guitar on two songs: "Fooling Myself" and "I'll Never Be the Same." It doesn't take long to realize this is a recording that Scott Hamilton has likely been thinking about for a long time. He previously made a series of releases with singer Rosemary Clooney, including one that was comprised of Billie Holiday classics, and it's a good bet he saw the blueprint for this collection then. Thank goodness he did too, because there is such a timelessness to all these songs that, with a superb saxophonist leading the charge, it feels like a blue dream come true.
The Pogues, The Very Best. Certain bands demand a category of their own. It's not that what they have created is absolutely unique; rather it's the way they live and approach their music. Nothing before it or anything after quite gets to the same place those bands come from. Surely the Pogues are one of those groups. They are born in the hell-bent Irish tradition of turning songs into projectiles of belief, and looking at boundaries as just another thing to pound into the ground and walk on. Of course, the Pogues' lead singer Shane MacGowan is often called the poster boy of excess, but in reality he's someone who lets life explode all around him, and if he has to be the one lighting the fuse, well, so be it.
The band began in 1982 and quickly caused a stir in London, as their 1984 debut album put traditional songs on a wildly enthusiastic collision course with originals that immediately captured the media's attention. And so it's gone for 30 years, as MacGowan and the Pogues have always captured that elusive quality that lives inside the heart, trampled and twisted as it may be, and defines what we strive for. Listening to these 18 songs is like taking a breathtaking excursion through every side of the human condition, whether it's "Dirty Old Town," "A Pair of Brown Eyes" or "Fairytale of New York." There is no way the Pogues will ever let us down. It's not in their blood. What they will do, however, is show how a racing pulse, flailing feet and supercharged soul is what being on the planet is all about, and that to settle for anything less is just a lowdown waste of time. Hail to the Pogues.