Hope Dunbar, Sweetheartland. The second full-length album from Nebraska-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Hope Dunbar pairs her passionate vocals with nine memorable original tunes that come loaded with quotable lyrics. The full-band backup on this follow-up to 2017’s Three Black Crows incorporates acoustic, electric, bass, and slide guitars plus banjo, harmonica, lap steel, keyboards, dobro, drums, and several background vocalists.
On the powerful “What Were You Thinking?”—one of several numbers that rock hard despite Dunbar’s billing as a folk singer—she limns a train wreck of a relationship with lines like, “A gift card to a gas station is not a valentine’s present” and “it turns out losing you only slightly decreases what I’ve got.” Then there’s “John Prine,” her tribute to the late, great singer/songwriter, in which she confesses, “I wish your songs were mine, wish I could steal one of your lines.” The admiration for Prine is understandable but Dunbar needn’t lift any lines from anyone; she’s got plenty of good ones of her own.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Live at Knebworth ’76. In October of 1977, a plane crash killed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines and seriously injured several other members of the band and its crew. A little over a year earlier, though, when these bluesy Southern rockers performed in Knebworth, England, as part of a daylong festival that the Rolling Stones headlined, they were at the peak of their career. They had scored hits with such songs as “Sweet Home Alabama,” an answer to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”; “Saturday Night Special,” which made a case for gun control; and “Free Bird,” the extended guitar showcase that became an FM radio staple. And they had what was arguably their strongest lineup, including Van Zant and Gaines as well as Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson, Artimus Pyle, and Billy Powell.
Wild & Blue, Restless. Wild & Blue, a California father-and-daughter act, have been performing for decades but have only recently gotten around to crafting this debut album, which is rooted in mainstream country and pop but evidences a touch of the blues. April Bennett contributes arresting lead vocals on seven of the tracks and provides harmony vocals on the other four, which are capably sung by Steve Bennett, the CD’s acoustic guitarist and author of nine of its songs. A backup crew adds fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel, piano, drums, bass organ, and electric guitar.
April says, “I personally can’t sing anything that I don’t feel,” and her emotional investment comes across in numbers like “Wedding Dress for Sale” and “Being There,” both of which actually do address her life. (Steve wrote the former about April wanting to get rid of a wedding dress after an engagement ended abruptly; he reported penned the latter about her now-husband, who helped her through another difficult time.) Also featured are likable covers of Kris Kristofferson’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends” and John Fogerty’s “Long as I Can See the Light.”
The Dinallos, The Dinallos. This self-titled debut from the Dinallos, a Nashville-based husband-and-wife band, benefits from the songwriting smarts and compelling vocal work of Juliet Simmons Dinallo, who penned more than half of the 16 songs, as well as the capable production and excellent guitar work of her husband, Michael Dinallo.
The best cuts will make you want to keep an eye out for album number two. Among them: Juliet’s bouncy “Purgatory Road” and wistful, beautifully sung “Time Machine”; the catchy “When the World Was Mine,” which she cowrote with Michael; and a countrified, fiddle-spiced cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Monday Morning.”
Allen Ginsberg, At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading of Howl & Other Poems. The Omnivore label has previously issued two noteworthy Allen Ginsberg albums, The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience (2017) and The Last Word on First Blues (2016), but nothing quite as fascinating as this CD. It features the first recorded reading of a portion of one of the best-known and most significant poems of the last century—one that triggered an obscenity trial and remade the language and rules of poetry as much as Bob Dylan’s early work transformed the landscape of rock and folk.
In the Feb. 14, 1956 reading, at Oregon’s Reed College, Ginsberg warms up with a handful of short poems, including “A Supermarket in California,” “Over Kansas,” and “A Dream Record,” then delivers most of Part I of the three-part “Howl.” Unfortunately, he ends his recitation a little more than a minute into Part II, saying, “I don’t really feel like reading anymore, I haven’t got any kind of steam. So I’d like to cut, do you mind?”
By this point, though, we’ve already heard enough on this well-restored recording to be reminded of why Ginsberg’s work helped to trigger a revolution in the world of poetry. For more on that, see this CD’s liner notes by Reed professor Dr. Pancho Sacewry, who writes about the history and development of “Howl” and discusses how the early version here varies from the final one that Lawrence Ferlinghetti published later in 1956.