New Music Monday: Dar Williams, Hank III, Donovan, the Grateful Dead, Lurrie Bell

Pull up a chair; there’s piping hot newness in store from the likes of Dar Williams, Duke Robillard, Hank Williams III, Jon Cleary and Lurrie Bell, as well as sizzling reissues and concert souvenirs from Blue Oyster Cult, Cowboy Junkies, Donovan, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin — not to mention the Tom Moulton remixes of favorite cuts from Philadelphia International. Also new to store shelves and Web sites this week is Amanda Ruzza, Andrew Swift, Bunny Sigler, Dragonforce, Eivind Opsvik, Genhard Ullman, Paul Rishell and Primal Rock Rebellion, to go with many, many others.

AND NOW, NEW MUSIC MONDAY FOR THE WEEK OF APRIL 16, 2012 …

Alan JacksonThe Essential Alan Jackson (Country)

AMANDA RUZZA – THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED (JAZZ): Crisp, artistic and harmonious, this represents intelligent fusion jazz by a newcomer who, with her first time out, is giving the veterans a lot to think about. Move over, Victor Wooten. Step aside, Tal Wilkenfeld. Make room for another electric bass wunderkind, Amanda Ruzza. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

ANDREW SWIFT – SWIFT KICK (JAZZ): Back in 1984, I purchased my first McCoy Tyner album, Dimensions, his current release at the time. My favorite song, one I still revisit from time to time to this day, is an original called “Understanding.” So, when I was checking out this CD, I nearly fell out my chair when the introductory chords of “Understanding” started playing on the very last track. There is no mistaking that grand sounding entrance. Which version is better? I’m always going to be partial to the original, but there’s some cool things going on in the new version. We always like it when someone agrees with us. I’m glad that Andrew Swift found this hidden gem very attractive, too. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

Ari ErevA Handful of Changes (Jazz)
Aretha FranklinWho’s Zoomin’ Who? [Deluxe Edition] (R&B)
Billy Boy ArnoldBilly Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy (Blues)

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BLUE OYSTER CULT – THE ESSENTIAL BLUE OYSTER CULT (POP/ROCK): Everybody remembers Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” — and I admit, I’ve always been a fan of the song’s false ending, followed by Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s super-sly return. But, for me, the better song remains “Burnin’ For You,” which spent three weeks stuck at No. 40 in 1981. That tough little track, part of this new 2-CD Legacy Recordings compilation, couldn’t be further from the dreamscape wonder, the weird guitar symphony, the ever-lovin’ cowbell of BÖC’s career-making tune of five years before. Whereas “Reaper” argued that we should accept our fates with a dreamy, whirling certitude, here we’re exhorted to “Burn out the day, burn out the night!” There was a suicidal passion to their initial hit, while this one sounds like a balled-up fist of steely determination. (More here.) — Nick Deriso

Brooks and DunnThe Essential Brooks and Dunn (Country)

BUNNY SIGLER – FROM BUNNY WITH LOVE (R&B): Bunny Sigler, an architect of the classic Philly sound, is back with a blast of straight-forward funk and sweet soul, following his gospel-themed 2008 release The Lord’s Prayer. This new project is actually subtitled … And a Little Soul, and that perfectly sums things up. It’s a complete return to R&B form for the four-time Grammy winner, who has collaborated as singer and songwriter with such legends as the O’Jays, Curtis Mayfield, Patti LaBelle, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and many others. Later, of course, hip hop acts sampled Sigler’s music or worked with him in the studio. But From Bunny With Love doesn’t focus on anything so modern. This is steadfastly, refreshingly old-school stuff — with tangy sounds that connect directly back to the old Gamble and Huff vibe. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe (Vocals)
Chris BottiImpressions (Jazz)

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COWBOY JUNKIES – NOMAD SERIES (POP/ROCK): The Cowboy Junkies completed this four-CD Nomad Series in March, capping a remarkably productive 18-month period with the release of The Wilderness. Available separately, the four albums are now being released as a box set, with a bonus disc. This quartet of recordings began with 2010′s Renmin Park, inspired by a visit to China and called “their most ambitious yet” by The Boston Herald. The Cowboy Junkies followed that up with two 2011 projects: Demons, a collection that NPR called “a loving tribute” to the late Vic Chesnutt; and then Sing In My Meadow, which Metromix said revealed “yet another side of one of the most versatile, underrated bands of the last 25 years.” The most recent disc was both capstone and game changer, maybe their best effort since The Trinity Sessions. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

DAR WILLIAMS – IN THE TIME OF GODS (POP/ROCK): Williams might be one of the few singer-songwriters around who could take the age-old fables surrounding Zeus and Aphrodite, and smartly connect them to our current state of affairs. Her latest album ends up underscoring both the universal truths found in the mythology of our youth, and also the cyclic nature of our troubles. The more you listen, the more her larger points start to make sense. But don’t get the idea that it’s easy. That wouldn’t be giving Williams, or her able cast of collaborators, enough credit. Through it all, her steady, insightful voice helps us understand the surrounding vistas — to complete the circle back to today’s world. A brilliant effort. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

DONOVAN – THE ESSENTIAL DONOVAN (POP/ROCK): Several of Donovan’s early Epic recordings featured a who’s who of rock royalty: Jimmy Page is featured on a number of Donovan singles and, on at least one of them, “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” he is backed by all of what would become Led Zeppelin with the sole exception of Robert Plant. Likewise, on the song “Bababajagal (Love Is Hot),” Donovan is backed by the original Jeff Beck Group, with only Rod Stewart missing. These great songs, along with all of his most memorable sides for his original label Pye Records, are featured in this comprehensive 36-song collection of Donovan’s seminal period of 1965-73. Included are everything from his earliest, folkier songs like “Catch The Wind” and “Colours” to the mid-1960s, Mickie Most produced psychedelic pop of songs like “Sunshine Superman,” “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” “Mellow Yellow” and “Atlantis.” (More here.) — Glen Boyd

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DRAGONFORCE – THE POWER WITHIN (POP/ROCK): New singer, same cheesy wankery. — Fred Phillips

DUKE ROBILLARD JAZZ TRIO – WOBBLE WALKIN’ (JAZZ): Don’t look for the lip-smacking blues licks that have become associated with Duke Robillard for so long. Instead, the former co-founder of Roomful of Blues settles into an infectiously listenable, decidedly in-the-pocket tempo for much of his forthcoming new jazz trio project Wobble Walkin’. That’s perhaps best heard on the title track, as Robillard echoes the low-key feel of an after-midnight club stage — all while staying well away from the Tin Pan Alley cliche. The rest of the project, alas, isn’t always so involving, as Robillard reexamines a series of familiar but occasionally time-worn chestnuts. Despite the threadbare nature of some of the material, however, Robillard’s playing is a consistent delight — by turns whip smart, deeply romantic, twinkling and humorous, then sweetly approachable. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Earl Hooker2 Bugs and a Roach (Blues)
Edmar CastanedaDouble Portion (Jazz)
Enrico CrivellaroFreewheelin’ (Blues)
Eric HutchinsonMoving Up Living Down (Pop/Rock)

EIVIND OPSVIK – OVERSEAS IV (JAZZ): Currently in New York but hailing from Asker, Norway, this prodigious bassist skillfully sketches out a vision for experimental jazz that’s way out in the forefront precisely because he reaches way back to the golden era of European chamber music, i.e., the late 18th century and the 19th century. Though IV isn’t intended to be a classical jazz record — and it isn’t even close to that taken as a whole, actually — Opsvik sought to evoke cultural references to an era that happened to be resplendent with classical music. At the same time, his music lives firmly in the present scenes of the progressive fringes of both rock and jazz, accentuated with touches of ambient and electronica. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

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GEBHARD ULLMAN – BASSX3: TRANSATLANTIC; THE CLARINET TRIO: 4 (JAZZ): There’s a couple of common threads running through these two records, besides the leadership of Ullmann: These are both percussion-less records and they are played very much in the Ullmann style of experimental music that obliterates the lines between artificially defined genres, and using traditional music (jazz and otherwise) merely as a jumping off point into the abyss of improvised music. The BassX3 disc, their second one following a 2005 self-titled release, is what I can best describe as “organic avant-ambient” music. By contrast, the Clarinet Trio’s latest offering relies more on conventional music forms to create its sounds but contorts and transforms those forms into something that’s fresh and original. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

Gordon LightfootAll Live (Pop/Rock)

GRATEFUL DEAD – ALL THE YEARS COMBINE: THE DVD COLLECTION (POP/ROCK): A monumental 14-DVD box, to be released by Shout! Factory in collaboration with Rhino, this set includes 12 concert films — with the oldest originally issued in 1977 and the most recent from 1991. Highlights include “The Grateful Dead Movie,” a theatrical release focusing on a 1974 performance; and a 1985 set titled “So Far” that has never before been issued on DVD. There’s a 40-page book containing rare photos and new liner notes, along with an exclusive bonus disc containing five previously unreleased live performances from “Backstage Pass,” the 1992 documentary; along with a brand-new interview with Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux. Memorable moments abound, from the New Year’s Eve 1978 show that closed down the legendary Winterland venue to a 1990 show that would mark the final tour with Brent Mydland.

Hank MobleyNewark 1953 (Jazz)

HANK WILLIAMS III – LONG GONE DADDY (COUNTRY): Another cash grab from Curb Records, which now seems eager to release III’s albums following his departure from the label. This collects some outtakes from recording sessions for his earliest records and some stuff that appeared on compilations. It will be mostly in the neo-traditional vein, so fans that like his first two albums should find something to enjoy here. — Fred Phillips

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JD McPhersonSigns and Signifiers (Folk)
Jack JohnsonJack Johnson and Friends: Best of Kokua Festival (Pop/Rock)

JANIS JOPLIN – THE PEARL SESSIONS (POP/ROCK): A definitive, newly curated two-disc edition of her final studio project — including a series of newly discovered studio outtakes, live performances and other rarities like the single mono mixes for “Cry Baby,” “Get It While You Can” and “Me and Bobby McGee”. Originally released three months after Joplin’s early passing on Oct. 4, 1970, Pearl was the only album she ever recorded with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, her then-current touring ensemble. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and remained there for nine weeks on the strength of Joplin’s moving rendition of Kris Kirstofferson’s “Bobby McGee” and her off-the-cuff acappella offering “Mercedes Benz.” This new set was produced by Paul Rothschild, perhaps best known for producing the first five Doors albums.

Jason MrazLove Is a Four Letter Word (Pop/Rock)
Jazz Soul SevenImpressions of Curtis Mayfield (Jazz)

JON CLEARY – OCCAPELLA (R&B): Cleary is a big enough fan, and an accomplished enough musician, to mix it up on this tribute record — which is smartly subtitled “Having Fun with the Songs of Allen Toussaint.” In many ways, the album has the feel of an internal dialogue on one of Cleary’s most lasting musical influences. That means it will rise or fall based almost entirely on the multi-instrumentalist’s inventiveness and passion. And rise, it most certainly does. In the end, Occapella becomes that rarest of tribute albums, it amplifies everything that made Toussaint’s music so memorable, even as it adds frisky new shadings. Best of all, in keeping with Cleary’s stated intentions, it’s a whole lot of fun. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Little RichardHere’s Little Richard (Pop/Rock)
Little Willie JohnComplete Hit Singles A’s & B’s (Blues)
Loudon Wainwright IIIOlder Than My Old Man Now (Folk)

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LURRIE BELL – THE DEVIL AIN’T GOT NO MUSIC (POP/ROCK): The two idioms of blues and gospel have coexisted for decades in an uneasy truce — life-long neighbors who sit on either side of a seemingly impassable divide. But Bell, having always known one and grown to so deeply love another, sees no problem in marrying them. Recording with a terrific amalgam of shared experience, including Billy Branch, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Bill Sims Jr. and Joe Louis Walker, Bell fashions a majestic melding of praise music and easy-rocking soul, plucking tracks that are both bone-deep familiar (“Swing Low,” “Peace in the Valley”) and intriguingly contemporary (the new title track, written by producer Matthew Skoller; and “I’ll Get to Heaven on My Own,” from Walker’s 1989 project Blue Soul). (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Luther VandrossHidden Gems (R&B)
Nat King Cole TrioAFRS King Cole Time Volume 2 (Vocals)
Neon TreesPicture Show (Pop/Rock)

PAUL RISHELL – TALKING GUITAR (BLUES): Featuring interpretations of pre-war songs by Lead Belly, Skip James and Blind Lemon Jefferson, along with a pair of originals, this is Rishell’s first solo album since a 1993 Handy Award-winning effort — and his first all-acoustic project ever. Rishell, who played with Son House, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker, among others, appears with Annie Raines as his musical partner of the past 18 years guests on harmonica for three songs — including “Big Road Blues” and the rousing original “I’m Gonna Jump and Shout.” The duo has played on A Prairie Home Companion and PBS’s Arthur, and Rishell has performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Pete SeegerThe Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960 (Folk)
Peter Karp and Sue FoleyBeyond the Crossroads (Blues)

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Phantom Blues BandInside Out (Blues)

PRIMAL ROCK REBELLION – AWOKEN BROKEN (POP/ROCK): This is an interesting project from Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith. He teams up with members of a band called SikTh, which I’m unfamiliar with. It’s a mix of modern nu-metallish bounce and classic metal melody. Sometimes it’s cool, sometimes a mess. — Fred Phillips

Quintus McCormickStill Called The Blues (Blues)
SWVI Missed Us (R&B)
Sheb WooleyWhite Lightnin’: Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight (Country)
SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light (Pop/Rock)
Terry RobbMuddyvishnu (Blues)
The Rockin’ Johnny BandGrim Reaper (Blues)
Thousand Foot KrutchThe End Is Where We Begin (Pop/Rock)
TrainCalifornia 37 (Pop/Rock)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL: TOM MOULTON REMIXES (R&B): The Sound of Philadelphia, as constructed by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell in the 1970s, worked as an affirmation for African Americans still struggling through the last vestiges of Jim Crow, and also a soul-lifting complexity for a broader American public — then making the switch from AM to FM — that had grown bored with the aging Motown hit factory. There remains a coherent feel that made each of these sides of a piece. You knew a Gamble and Huff single, you knew any Philadelphia International Records project, without bothering to check the liner notes. Here’s a chance to experience that in a brand-new way, as 31 full-length classics are remixed by Moulton on four CDs, in a deluxe package featuring a 16-page booklet that celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Philadelphia International Records. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Wooden WandThe Briarwood (Pop/Rock)

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