Bentley's Bandstand: The Little Willies, Grateful Dead, Pan-Am Soundtrack

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The Little Willies

The Little Willies, For the Good Times. File this one under Big Fun, because Norah Jones and her friends sound like they're out for a night on the wild side of town, with sawdust on the dance floor and bright lights on the bandstand. Jones' voice can go from delightful to devastating depending on the song, and if there's a better singer performing Kris Kristofferson songs right now let them raise their hand high.

This New York outfit likely started as a way to blow off steam away from the spotlight that Ms. Jones found herself in when the success wave broke for her. Truth be told, nothing is more fun than taking over a small club, plugging in a couple of little amps and banning all tom-toms from the drum kit, then letting it rip. The Little Willies have become the masters of that pursuit, and this new release proves they haven't lost sight of the groove factor. Their set list alone, including gems by Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Lefty Frizell along with a few token originals, is worth the price of admission.

Still, it's in Norah Jones' vocals that the album makes its play for immortality. There is a purity of purpose that also includes a fine hint of darkness which sets her apart from almost everyone else. Everything comes out so natural and free it is impossible to resist what the woman can do. The days of calling Jones a jazz singer are long gone. Now, thankfully, she gets to be just Norah Jones. And that is more than enough.

Grateful Dead, The Grateful Dead Movie. Ten reasons to love this film:

1. The 1974 shows that were filmed were the end of the band's golden years.
2. Jerry Garcia played guitar like he had a direct link to the Creator, and sang like Mark Twain wrote.
3. The concert audience was still able to find fairly pure acid and danced accordingly.
4. Disc 2 has 95 minutes of various musical odds and ends, all in the soup.
5. Original drummer Bill Kreutzman's left hand was popping at full strength.
6. Last gasp of the group's monumental Wall of Sound rig.
7. The movie is in Blu-ray with a variety of audio mixes to choose from for Deadheads who have somehow managed not to lose their high-end entertainment equipment.
8. Grateful Dead stellar publicist/biographer Dennis McNally's essay rocks.
9. "Dark Star" is played.
10. There won't be anymore. Ever. The blissful counterstroke is over.

Various Artists, Pan Am: Music From and Inspired by the Original Series. While the television series could be going down, that doesn't mean the soundtrack can't find its own wings. With prime artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Shirley Horn, Count Basie, and others gathered to somehow evoke a time when people dressed up to fly and the airline employees all looked like they came out of a modeling agency, this collection goes airborne from the start.

The Jet Age was the last gasp of the '60s before the Beatles hit hard and youth culture's topsy turvy takeover turned the world upside down. For awhile, Buddy Greco still seemed to have a chance before the British Invasion laid waste to the Hit Parade forever. Musically, jazz wins out here, with Fitzgerald, Holiday, Horn, Basie, Stan Getz, Sergio Mendes, and Dinah Washington conveniently joined by label mates Greco, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee, Connie Francis, and Brenda Lee to make this set swing.

Interestingly enough there are two new artists added to the album, and they actually make sense. Grace Potter's striking voice never slides into being too obvious, turning "Fly Me to the Moon" into a just-right mix of retro and the present. Nikki Jean is wisely paired with the early Beatles original "Do You Want to Know a Secret," giving an inkling at what was awaiting the civility of the early '60s without throwing the soundtrack into too much turbulence. It's hard to imagine how "Strawberry Fields" would have worked. They called this era optimistic, but in truth it was a bubble that couldn't last. Reality is a real bitch sometimes.

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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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