Bentley's Bandstand: Jimmie Vaughan, The Help Soundtrack, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Aretha

By , Columnist

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

Jimmie Vaughan, Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites. By now it's common knowledge guitarist Jimmie Vaughan plays second to no one. His guitar has a voice of its own, and whether he's keeping it low down and dirty or letting it strut its stuff uptown, the Fender Stratocaster is a one-of-a-kind treasure. Even better, Vaughan's vocals now cast their own spell, something that just did not happen when he was steering the ship with his previous band the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Today, though, the Texan is a singing fool.
Jimmie Vaughan Plays More Blues.jpgThe follow-up release to, what else, last year's Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites takes things a step or two further, swinging from Gene Autry songs to a Jivin' Gene chestnut. Vaughan has always been of the mind that music is a steaming gumbo, and to try and label what's what is not only a waste of precious time but an idiot's game to begin with. Vaughan says it best with his right-on song selection: find what you love to play and then play it flat-out.
His band is a wonder of spirit, with ace drummer George Rains' snare keeping everyone jumping. Also onboard is another Austin legend, singer Lou Ann Barton, showing up in high heat on several songs including the rousing "No Use Knocking." Saving quite possibly the best for last is a fevered version of Big Sambo's "The Rains Came," restored to beautiful ballad form after being jacked to the max by the Sir Douglas Quintet's hit cover in 1966. There aren't enough combos like this running around the country, so count ourselves lucky Jimmie Vaughan is still going full-tilt and twirling the night away.
The Help soundtrack.jpgVarious Artists, The Help Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Set in '60s Mississippi, The Help shows the way movie soundtracks often rise to the occasion. This inspired collection also perfectly illustrates how the times were a-changin' back then, and music was so much the better for it. Radio playlists during that era were free-range zones of discovery, with very little stylistic parameters to get in the way of groovacious listening get-downs. 

Consider the artists rounded up here to bring home the force of what was happening all across the country's airwaves: Johnny Cash, Frankie Valli, Webb Pierce, the Orlons, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Chubby Checker, Mavis Staples, Lloyd Price and gospel great Dorothy Norwood. And, of course, no self-respecting modern soundtrack would miss out on the opportunity to have a hit with a new song, so Mary J. Blige offers up a knockout called "The Living Proof."

All this music goes by way of helping tell the story of African-American domestic workers who set the tone for what was going on raising children for white families in the Deep South. The moviemakers got it right too: the music is what turned up the social tempo and got everyone bopping with each other. If you can't get your backfield in motion to "The Wah Watusi," then something is seriously wrong with your lower region.

Whoever was turned loose to choose songs for The Help should be given a small medal, because all areas are covered and there isn't a whiff of marketing trickery among the bunch. Any soundtrack that has Webb Pierce and Bo Diddley bumped up next to each other is doing something mighty right, and by bringing the music together is leading the way to a greater day, even if it is 2011. It's never too late.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator. Talk about the first couple of rootsy blues-rock: Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks form a perfect union, all sweet-tinged sassy vocals and snakey slide guitar. In many ways this is a marriage made in musical heaven, and their first album together is a bold step to the front of the class. What makes it so impressive is the depth of expression, and the way their voices and guitars answer each other so effortlessly.
This is no small aggregation either. The eleven players come from various backgrounds, but each have the essence of nights spent on roadhouse bandstands learning the lessons of how to land a sonic punch. Add up all that experience and the sound is pretty devastating - but never overstated. That's the glory of what happens when a group starts really hitting the note; there are no histrionics or wasted efforts. Instead, things gel quick and only get better.
Susan Tedeschi has been one of the music's great new hopes for awhile now, while Derek Trucks is simply the most expressive guitarist of his generation. Listen to his solos on "Midnight in Harlem" to hear everything the slide guitar can do, and even where it is going. That he comes out of the Allman Brothers Band gene pool and is named after Derek of Dominos' fame is no accident. This young man is a monster on his instrument, and the blue sky is the limit. Go there with him now.
Aretha Franklin, Take A Look: Complete on Columbia. Box sets like this make a digital-only landscape seem like some sort of post-nuclear wasteland where the world has been stripped of all color and the wonder of life reduced to bytes and pieces. For the Queen of Soul's 1960-1965 work, featured on 12 compact discs, Columbia Records has opened the curatorial floodgates and gone crazy.

Each album is featured in its original artwork, and if that's not enough, there are bonus tracks, mono mixes, alternate takes, studio conversations and a DVD of rare televised performances from the Steve Allen Show. Obviously this isn't a Crackerjacks box with a prize in the bottom. Rather, this is the mother lode look at Aretha Franklin's first act, before she moved to Atlantic Records and set upon her scored-earth assault on listeners' hearts.
What is so surprising about Franklin's early work is how strong it really is. Her very first album, released in 1961 and recorded with the Ray Bryant Combo, is so seductively swinging it's almost criminal it was largely overlooked. All the amazing talent later captured on gems like "I Never Loved a Man," "Think," and "Ain't No Way," to name only a few, is in full flower here.

On "Maybe I'm a Fool" and "Won't Be Long," recorded when the singer was still a teenager, it's a revelation to hear the heights she hits and blues she already understands. This is clearly no mere mortal, but someone who sees life all the way through and can turn those feelings into words that take us with her to the end of the line.
Celebrating the singer's golden recording anniversary, Take A Look is required listening for anyone who wants to hear how one of the music's all-time greatest singers got her start, and worked her way through different styles and settings to make a place for herself in history. Taking that ride with her is a rare chance to see how it's done - and then some.

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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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