by S. Victor Aaron
Sometimes when listening to music, neither jazz nor mainstream is right for the moment. Blues or something folky or rootsy is usually called upon to fill in that gap. And there’s been a number of new offerings coming out of these earthbound genres of late that soothes the soul like nothing else can. This roundup gets us caught up on some of those releases, many by acts we’ve chatted about here before, and one brand new one that’s been getting a lot of buzz over the last few months.
Here are the contestants for this installment of New Release Roundup 2010:
Trombone Shorty Backatown: Thanks to the HBO hit show Treme, this will most likely be this year’s most anticipated major label debut release by a newcomer. New Orleans born and bred and part of a family of musicians, Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty has probably soaked up more Big Easy music in his twenty-four years than many talented Nola-attuned musicians have done in a lifetime. But the local flavor merely serves as a starting point for Shorty’s idiosyncratic audial gumbo of jazz, funk, R&B, rock and maybe a smattering of other styles. The resulting composite has the distinction of sounding something just unfamiliar enough to sound fresh, but just familiar enough to give it instant crossover appeal. Although the jazz element is mostly decorative, even Wynton Marsalis is endorsing this kid; maybe it’s because the music is transcendent of genres. Shorty, a multi-talented fellow who can play trumpet, trombone (natch), sing and compose also seems to already have a good handle on commanding a stage, too. Highlights are “Right To Complain,” “Hurrican Season,” and “One Night Only” (see video below of this song performed on Letterman). I could see this guy becoming the city’s main music ambassador for decades to come if he can keep the fun coming.
Robert Randolph & The Family Band Walk This Road: Steel guitar master Robert Randolph has been making fans by the droves since he started touring less than a decade ago and each album adds more converts to his fluent blend of gospel, rock, r&b and folk. And he is continually honing his music. Perhaps that’s why he brought in T-Bone Burnett to produce Walk This Road. Burnett, who is the guy you call on when you want your record to sound like it’s 50 years old, this time perfectly blends the vintage with the contemporary. He makes room for the hip-hop groove of “Back To The Wall” as well as the unfiltered gospel-soul of “I Still Belong To Jesus,” and gives a freshened recasting of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama.” The best of this fine batch of covers and a few originals (and six “segues”) is a southern fried take of Bob Dylan‘s “Shot Of Love.” On that song, as is often the case, Randolph’s virtuosic pedal steel sets the tone and everything else feeds from that. He is a shining star in the early 21st century roots music scene, and Walk This Road only serves to justify that reputation.
Otis Taylor Clovis People, Vol. 3: I already declared that Taylor “might very well be the greatest bluesman of the 21st century” so I’m not going to let a new release of his go by without at least a mention. Only 11 months separates the release of Gary Moore for guest spots, and their distinctive cornet and electric guitar are becoming part of Taylor’s spare and ethereal soundprint. All of Taylor’s hallmarks are present: the hypnotic, one-note blues of “Rain So Hard,” the gritty folk of “Lee and Arnez,” and the Appalachian rock of “Babies Don’t Lie.” Not to mention Taylor’s singular ability to tell it like it is. Clovis People, Vol. 3 is a album by an artist who has already found his own signature sound and is now settling very comfortably into it.and Clovis People, Vol. 3, and with the short time between albums, Clovis represents more of a continuance of the former. Taylor also brings back trumpeter Ron Miles and
Jimmie Vaughan Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites: The former Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist hadn’t done many records since leaving the group in 1989, having made only four since his collaboration with brother Stevie Ray in 1990. Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites is his first in nine years. Except for a single instrumental, this one offers no new songs by Vaughan; as we recently saw, even
esn’t swing. So, we might have to wait a little bit longer before Jimmie Vaughan gives us an album of fresh new tunes, but wait no longer to listen to a new Vaughan album that’s worth listening to.
Elvin Bishop Red Dog Speaks: Elvin Bishop has long been the clown prince of the blues but since his days in Paul Butterfield’s original blues band some forty-five years ago, he’s also been a seriously good guitar player. This latest album of his is a tribute to the tool of his trade, a cherry red 1959 Gibson ES-345, dubbed “Red Dog.” After a talking blues where Bishop speaks in his trademark down-home country style comparing his relationship with his guitar to a man and his trusted hound-dog, he gets down to business cranking out one deep fried barroom blues tune after another, sometimes with originals, sometimes covers; sometimes letting John Nemeth handle the lead vocals and other times handling them himself. Each time, it still sounds like an Elvin Bishop song, and the substantial slide howling from Red Dog is a big reason why. Like the prior release The Blues Rolls On, he brings in some special guests, like Tommy Castro, Buckwheat Zydeco and pianist Bob Welsh. Like most Bishop records, it’s fun and engages listeners only a road warrior like Pigboy can. Good to see that he can still bring the goods this far into his career.
Anders Osborne American Patchwork: Remember when we covered Stanton Moore’s new CD Groove Alchemy In? That record has a strong connection to this one. New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Anders Osborne brought in both the drummer and his keyboardist Robert Walter to play on this record, and Moore even co-produced it, but the music could hardly be more different. The title and the music contained within shows you how much this Swede has absorbed and embraced the Home of the Free and Land of the Brave. Though those things invite comparisons to John Mellencamp, Osborne rocks harder, yet Moore and Walter’s presence pump in enough soul to keep this from sound like rowdy garage rock. The blues isn’t as explicit as it was when , but this one brings out both his rocking and songwriter sides that often hints of those blues. Whether he’s admonishing the bad habits of others (“On The Road To Charlie Parker”) or his own (“Echoes Of My Sins”), Osborne ably mixes in the choicest components of rock, folk, soul and sometimes even reggae (“Got Your Heart”) to make a a very American patchwork of styles that makes Osborne as much of a Yank as someone born and bred here.