Blitzen Trapper and Scott Miller return in this week’s new releases, Bob Dylan releases one from the gospel vaults, Tommy Emmanuel and David Grisman are pickin’, and Vincent Herring tells us about hard times. Read on…


BLITZEN TRAPPER, Wild & Reckless (CD/LP)
Tragic love, drug abuse, science fiction, and Americana: Blitzen Trapper managed to squeeze all that, and more, into their rock opera, Wild and Reckless, which was produced for the stage in their hometown of Portland, Ore., earlier this year. But that wasn’t enough for frontman Eric Earley and crew. Taking seven of the songs from the play and fleshing them out with five new numbers, they assembled an album of the same name. It’s a companion piece of sorts to the group’s lauded 2007 album for Sub Pop, Furr. But it stands on its own as a sprawling, sumptuous testament to Weird America.

SCOTT MILLER, Ladies Auxiliary (CD)
On “Ladies Auxiliary,” Virginia songwriter Scott Miller surrounds himself with all-female accompaniment to sing about the company of females, or more specifically, love — carnal love, poison love, the weight of love and the wait for love. It’s an endearing set. The songs are strong, as is a supporting cast that includes fiddler Rayna Gellert and multi-instrumentalist Anne McCue, who produced on the album. Miller’s sly humor is evident beginning with the opener “Epic Love,” which includes several punchlines and one cleverly disguised naughty word. Love of place is the inspiration for “Lo Siento, Spanishburg, WVa,” which covers a lot of ground in four minutes by touching on high school football, the opioid epidemic, the Iraq war and gentrification. The cover “Mother-In-Law” doesn’t live up to its promise, in part because it includes a kazoo, rarely a good idea. Better is Bill Monroe’s Appalachian blues “With Body and Soul,” which Miller nails. Miller would be better known if he played music full time, but he also has a gig as a cattle rancher, which explains the title of the hilarious closer, “Get Along, Everybody.” McCue breaks out the electric guitar to amplify the finale, but it still fits with the rest of the album as Miller sings about the love of labels.

BOB DYLAN, Trouble No More: Bootleg Series, Vol. 13: 1979-81 (2xCD)
Bob Dylan has gone through so many stages in his five-decade career that there’s bound to be some bumps along the way. Take your pick, there are several to choose from: the Self Portrait era, that period right before his late-career comeback, almost all of the ’80s. But no stretch is more outright rejected, and in some sense as misunderstood, as his Christian period of the late ’70s and early ’80s, when he released a trio of gospel albums that mostly confused longtime fans. After all, what was a 38-year-old Jewish guy doing converting to Christianity and preaching to fans about their sins? Friends were baffled. Fellow artists were perplexed. And those fans, for the most part, had little interest in hearing their generation’s greatest songwriter singing about being saved. Dylan’s excellent ongoing Bootleg Series tries to make sense of the era with the nine-disc Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981. Like the earlier Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), Trouble No More puts a neglected period into more perspective; unlike that earlier volume, this one mostly focuses on live material under the assumption that even if Dylan’s records weren’t all that great at the time, his concerts still were. Dylan speeds up some takes, slows down others and varies his performance from disc to disc (the box also includes a DVD). His gospel years were a work in progress, and the nightly shows, along with the three albums released during this period — Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) — confirm both his commitment to the material and to the subject at hand. By the time Dylan and his band played Toronto for three nights in April 1980 (documented here on two discs), they weren’t too far removed from the best groups he had taken on the road with him in the past. Live tracks make up the bulk of Trouble No More. In addition to the Toronto performances, the set includes two discs cherry-picked from various 1979-81 shows and a 1981 concert from Earl’s Court in London. (The Earl’s Court show is the only time earlier songs from Dylan’s career — like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone” — appear in the box.) Scattered throughout are a handful of previously unreleased songs (the scorching and self-reflecting “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody” is the best of them) that turned up in set lists night after night during this period. Even the two discs of rare and unreleased songs contain mostly live tracks, soundchecks or rehearsals, rather than studio outtakes (though there are 10 from the era included here). And it’s easy to hear why so much of Trouble No More‘s focus is put on stage recordings: Dylan came to life there — something he rarely did in the studio during this time. Just compare the breathless version of “Precious Angel” from Toronto with the relatively staid take found on Slow Train Coming.

Esteemed guitarist TOMMY EMMANUEL joins forces with celebrated bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman for a new collaborative album entitled Pickin’.  This marks the first recorded collaboration between these two musical titans and arrives on Grisman’s own Acoustic Disc record label. Known for his virtuosic fretwork, fiery fingerpicking, and airtight songcraft, Emmanuel continually shreds through boundaries with his acoustic guitar on these 12 new songs. Not only does Pickin’ reflect his signature classical, Americana, folk, and roots stylings, but it also artfully merges jazz rhythms, jamming, and unpredictability in the mix. Among many standouts, his playing seamlessly entwines with Grisman’s mandolin during the first single “Tipsy Gypsy” as nimble picking converges on hypnotic hummable melodies. Meanwhile, “Cinderella’s Fella” swings from a brusque and galloping opening into a passionate and poignant pastiche of harmonious technicality.

There’s no avoiding the hard times. Every human being that’s walked this Earth has had his or her share of the blues, from the personal to the political, the local to the global. But with another ominous headline coming every day, with news alerts constantly erupting from our various devices, with social media facilitating vitriolic shouting matches between friends and strangers alike, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that our present era offers more than its fair share of challenges and burdens. Vincent Herring doesn’t have the answers to those issues any more than the rest of us. What he can offer is a tonic to help calm the turbulence of modern life, at least for an hour. With Hard Times, his third release for Smoke Sessions Records, the master saxophonist supplies the perfect musical response to our troubled existence–part escape, part defiance; part lament, part laughter. Over the course of these 11 songs, Herring and his stellar band both sing the blues and shake them off in ways both healing and infectious.

A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra features elegant and spirited arrangements of Roy’s best original vocal performances with the emotion and world-class musicianship of London s most beloved orchestra, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. A Love So Beautiful includes the timeless Roy tracks “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “You Got It”, “Crying” and more while breathing new life into fan favorites such as “Drove All Night” and the title track “A Love So Beautiful”. Additionally, the album will feature instrumental backing from “Roy’s boys”: his three sons Wesley, Roy Jr. and Alex; plus Roy’s grandson Roy Orbison III.

BIG HEAD TODD, New World Arisin (CD/LP)

BROOKLYN RIDER, Spontaneous Symbols (CD)

CHRIS BROWN, Heartbreak On A Full Moon (CD)


SAMANTHA FISH, Belle Of The West (CD/LP)


KID ROCK, Sweet Southern Sugar (CD)

BLAKE SHELTON, Texoma Shore (CD)

SAM SMITH, The Thrill Of It All (CD)












U-MEN, U-Men (CD/LP)
From 1983 to 1987, the U-Men were the kings of the Seattle underground. Their sludgy, twisted, hypnotic sound was akin to Melbourne’s Birthday Party and fellow American absurdists Butthole Surfers, but these north-western slime lizards had a malevolence and dark humour all their own. As Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm writes in the sleeve-notes, “The U-Men are one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. They were hypnotic, frenetic, powerful and compelling… They ruled a bleak backwater landscape populated by maybe 200 people.” Fanzine writer Bruce Pavitt released the U-Men’s first 12-inch EP on Bombshelter, and would have released their second on his fledgling Sub Pop label but was too broke. By the time their one album was released – 1988’s Step On A Bug – starvation and touring had done for bassist Jim Tillman, and the band, although still great, were never the same again.

SEPULTURA, Roots (Expanded Edition) (2xCD)
ROOTS: EXPANDED EDITION features a newly remastered version of the original album, plus 17 bonus tracks. Standouts include demos for “Dusted” and “Roots Bloody Roots,” instrumental versions of “Dictatorshit” and “Cutthroat,” a version of “Attitude” recorded live at Ozzfest, and the unreleased first take of “Kaiowas.


EVANESCENCE, Synthesis (11/10)

ELTON JOHN, Diamonds (11/10)


SEAL, Standards (11/10)


And don’t forget these STILL-NEW platters that matter!

These songs don’t wish to be labeled. They’re not pop, even though the singer is Madonna’s brother-in-law. You won’t hum to “Thrum.” They’re not country, Joe Henry’s genre early in his career. They’re not the blues or jazz or Americana — not with Henry channeling Rilke and Rimbaud. They’re just different, even by Henry’s standards, and fascinating. The Grammy-winning producer recorded his 14th solo album live in the studio direct-to-tape. The core combo was bass, drums and his acoustic guitar, with woodwinds by Henry’s son, Levon, and occasional keyboards. Blemishes include buzz, hiss and creaky furniture, but the immediacy of the edgy performances makes them as distinctive as the material. There are few hooks, solos, bridges or even choruses, leaving the emphasis properly on the words. Henry says he drew inspiration from dead poets, and the 11 songs have a literary bent as they wrestle with existential questions. He narrows his vocabulary and includes repeated references to darkness and light, hunger and time, rivers and cages, giving the album thematic continuity. He even repeats the word “writ.” The lyrics include flashes of humor and an appetite for the challenges of this world. But Henry has mortality on his mind and blood on the tracks. They warn us that life is a climb, letting go is part of the deal, and much of the rest is just a guess. Along the way, these songs can serve as a source of comfort. There’s a label that deserves to stick.

JULIEN BAKER, Turn Out The Lights (CD/LP)
It’s impossible to hear the cacophony happening inside other people’s minds. What we present to the world is usually misleadingly placid. The 22-year-old songwriter Julien Baker sees this not so much as an impossibility as a challenge to reconcile, daring her to make music in which she turns herself inside out. Her songs are sparse, internally focused, and radically intimate. “I know that you don’t understand, ’cause you don’t believe what you don’t see,” she sings on “Shadowboxing,” a particularly arresting song off her new album, Turn Out the Lights. “When you watch me throwing punches at the devil, it just looks like I’m fighting with me.” Baker’s songs are relentlessly sad but bleakly hopeful, if only for the reason that, if we are listening to them, it means she’s at least mustered the strength to sing them aloud. “Suggest that I talk to somebody again,” she sings on the devastating first single, “who knows how to help me get better and until then I should just try not to miss any more appointments.” The sound of isolation befits lyrics like these, and Baker (who produced the new album herself) usually populates her songs with little more than a piano or gently strummed electric guitar. Her finger-picking technique tends to favor the higher strings, which gives her playing a flickering, lightning-bug quality—a dash of incandescence that keeps her songs from growing too inert. Turn Out the Lights may be somber, but it’s also a reminder that light is not always a good thing; too much of it can be blinding. Julien Baker, so incisively, can see in the dark.

PETER CASE, On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene (CD)
Peter Case has always been a pioneer. Genre-tripping through punk with The Nerves (“Hanging On The Telephone”), new wave/power pop with The Plimsouls (“A Million Miles Away”) and Americana with his Grammy®-nominated, self-titled solo debut. It is a career that is still going strong over 40 years later. On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On FolkScene the airwaves to catch up to him. This new album captures material from two live performances on the highly influential KPFK (Los Angeles) syndicated radio program in 1998 and 2000. The first half features material from his then, newly released Full Service, No Waiting—an album New York magazine called “stunning.” The latter half contains material from 2000’s Flying Saucer Blues, as well as songs from his earlier releases. Plus, some choice covers appear as well. Both intimate acoustic sets have remained unheard since their original broadcasts.

Mpenzi Wangu is the debut album by young trumpet player and composer, Matthias Beckmann. The title is Swahili, but anyone expecting a pure world music album will be left amazed right after they’ve hit the play button… MPENZI WANGU means “my darling” in English, and yes, it radiates the temperament, energy and African vitality which we associate with Tanzania. It’s also dedicated to a lady who means a great deal to the creator of this work. In other words, it’s a very personal album. Yet even with the intimate subject matter, musically it pulls out all the stops, especially in its African stylings. It’s an album which moves nimbly and light-footed, almost dancer-like, between a club sound and traditional jazz. Elements of funk, latin, rock, blues, soul, R&B, disco and pop fall naturally into place. They combine to form an amazing blend that makes you sit up and listen. It’s a complex mix which also provides for lasting vitality and thrills in inter- personal relationships as well. Matthias Beckmann provided the compositional framework, ideas for the arrangement, and the mood for each of the individual pieces. The seven fantastic musicians then polished them together and made them dazzle. It’s a septet which makes full and brilliant use of its tonal variety – where every musician has the chance to shine, without ever needing to compete with each other.

WILLIE NELSON, Teatro – The Complete Sessions (CD)
Location is everything. When Willie Nelson and album producer Daniel Lanois set out to create a cinematic-sounding album, Teatro, they took over a disused movie theatre in Oxnard, California, and pictured its dusty glory on the cover art. Recorded as-live in situ amid the red velvet seats, Teatro sees Nelson working extensively with his frequent collaborator Emmylou Harris, who joins him for duets and on backing vocals. The other major player is Daniel Lanois, who produces the album, plays guitar and bass, took the cover photo and wrote one of the album’s songs, “The Maker”, a stunning performance with glacier-thick vibe. Reinvention is key on Teatro, with Nelson revisiting a number of songs he first wrote in the 1960s, including 1968’s “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye” and 1962’s “I’ve Just Destroyed the World” and “Three Days”. Though the songs are familiar, the sounds aren’t: Teatro found Nelson experimenting with rhythms and flavors as never before, from the Spanish-influenced “Darkness On The Face Of The Earth” to the double-drum-kit percussive groove of “My Own Peculiar Way”. Originally released by Island Record in 1998, Teatro is issued here for the first time as a double disc set, including the original album plus 7 unreleased bonus tracks from the sessions. Disc two is a complete live performance of the album, directed by Wim Wenders, filmed during the album recording sessions and available here for the first time on DVD.

All of the essential singles from the Specials’ three albums are present on this 15-track collection. Not only the perfect starting point for the curious, the inclusion of B-sides and rarities, like an inspired cover of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” makes this essential for fans.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Blind Pig Records 40th Anniversary (2xCD)
With 34 classic tracks on 2 CDs, the collection spans 40 years of blues history. This wide-ranging compilation, which boasts more than 2 hours of music, is a study in the genre, from current titans like Popa Chubby, Albert Cummings and Victor Wainwright & The WildRoots — winners of Best Band at the 2016 Blues Musics — to no fewer than 13 legends enshrined in the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, with James Cotton, Otis Rush, Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Otis Clay and Magic Slim among them, not to mention a classic live recording by the one and only Muddy Waters.

World Wide Funk delivers pure, unpretentious funk, overflowing with the joy of creation, most obviously on the sentimental “A Salute to Bernie,” which pays moving tribute to fallen funkateer Bernie Worrell while making one long for more of the keyboardist’s mad-scientist spark. At its best—as on the standout slow jam “Worth My While,” which slyly bites back on Childish Gambino’s Funkadelic-biting “Redbone”—World Wide Funk is a timely and welcome reminder of Collins’s place in popular music. Long may he funk.


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