Sunset Over Hope Street Ari Hest
Mercer / Downtown

Author:
KFM

Ari Hest is something of a poor-man's Pete Yorn: he's passably handsome, slightly sophisticated, rather romantic and entirely engaging. His music isn't particularly experimental nor particularly exemplary, but it perfectly evokes that moment in a romantic-comedy when the first, failed love has walked out on the protagonist.

Hest lists among his influences Paul Simon, The Beatles, U2, The Police and Nirvana, among others. Which is to say, he's influenced by every white guy who ever mattered in pop music. Little surprise, then, that "Sunset Over Hope Street," reminds this listener of, well, everything. That might sound like a diss, and in certain respects it is, but one also gets the sense that Hest knows exactly what he's doing. He isn't being flippant by pulling on the cloak of pop; Hest has every intention of making great music in the tradition that listed above.

So does "Sunset Over Hope Street" measure up to those lofty ambitions? Not entirely. The cunningly named title track seems to indicate a timely political theme—the fading light of America's fascination with Obama-era hopefulness—but delivers only another song of love-lost. The best songs on the album are the least wrought: "Down the Mountain" and "Business of America." Ari Hest has just embarked on an extremely extensive US tour of small venues and cafes: in such intimate settings he'll make great date music, and he's destined to make great music for Date Movies for years to come. "Sunset Over Hope Street" doesn't exactly tug on your heartstrings, but it hits all the right notes.

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Save it For a Rainy Day V/A
Starbucks/ UMG

Author:
Kyle Forrest

The idea of this, the latest in Starbucks' ongoing series of compilation albums, is that we all need music to feel glum to from time to time. It's a counter-intuitive concept, coming, as it does, from the corporation that brought 24-hour a day pep to America via the mochaccino-on-every-corner phenomenon. But, remember, when it's dumping, or you're in the dumps, you can hole up in any of those trillion convenient locations and listen to sad music piped in over camomile.

As rainy-day music goes, this collection is distinctive for bringing the hits. It kicks off with the Rufus Wainwright's quintessential cover of "Across the Universe"—a song so ubiquitous in during 2004-2005 that it may have lost it's emotional capacity to do more than evoke that, admittedly despondent, year. Before closing with Josh Ritter's devastatingly beautiful ode to his home-state, "Idaho," the compilation crosses such well-worn appropriately doleful musicians as Ryan Adams, The xx, Iron & Wine, and Sarah McLachlan. There are, in my opinion, some mis-steps as well: being subjected to Jack Johnson—even if the song is, in fact, about staying inside because of rain—is wont to switch my mood from sorrowful to enraged. Similarly, though Delta Spirit play a number of tearful tunes, the track included here is straight out of the early Lennon/ McCarthy songbook.

José González's Nick-Drakesque "Stay in the Shade" is more what I think of as gloomy and heartfelt, as is the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss song "Killing the Blues." The wise mix-tape makers at Starbucks throw some now-classic classical music in as well with Ciccolini's "Trois Gymnopédies: No. 1" and Yo-yo Ma's "Unaccumpanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: Prelude." This collection draws its name from a song by the Jayhawks, which is probably telling: the song is slightly sappy and slightly sad, but upbeat and leaves you feeling that the clouds are beginning to part.

Editor's Note: Another great work of art from the Universal Music Enterprises.

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(Icon) Barry White
Mercury / A&M / UMe

Author:
KFM

Today Barry White is most affectionately remembered as the smooth-talking sex-god of his mid-seventies mega-hits, but this greatest hits collection from Universal's "Icon" imprint is sure to remind old-fans and new listeners alike of the breadth of this musical legend. Afterall, White did make all those much emulated, often parodied, epic love-songs as "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me," and "You're The First,The Last,My Everything," but he also is, arguably responsible for the fusion of Motown-funk and electric-piano jazz that came to be known as "disco." 

That early disco sound is highlighted here via the inclusion of "Love's Theme" by White's band Love Unlimited Orchestra. Rare among billboard hits and an outlier among White's otherwise vocally-heavy hits, "Love's Theme" is all-instrumental, and slips into the familiar rhythm-centric, four-on-the-floor beat backed by symphonic harmonies about half-way through the track. Younger generations, including my own, will be pleasantly surprised by the variety and sophistication of these early forays into dance music. Indeed, despite being heavily mined by today's DJs and remix-artists, there are a number of often-overlooked treasures to find among White's prolific output.

As with all the releases from Universal's Icon imprint, this collection is a great way to find the essentials of a modern-master at a great price. Hardcore fans will doubtless prefer the flow of songs as they were originally released on White's multi-platinum hit records, but if what you need is simply White's smooth, dripping voice and sybaritic tunes, look no further than this disc.

Editor's Note: as the former editor of Rock & Soul Magazine (1980-1990) I listened to Barry White many, many times. I always tried to have that deep, sexy voice that was White's and White's alone. I thought for sure that would help me pick up women wherever I traveled. I didn't work: my anxiety got the best of me. The image of the man himself, looming over his grand piano, was too much to compete with. You're givin' your love to me babe was just too much for me.

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You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll Twisted Sister
Armory / Eagle Rock

Author:
KFM

"You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll" was the second full-length release from glam-metal gods Twisted Sister, and the record that witnesses the Long Island natives on the cusp of greatness. Originally released in 1983, a mere year before their mega-hit "We're Not Gonna Take It" would sweep the airwaves and dominate MTV, "You Can't Stop..." has the markings is a timepiece that truly attests to the chops and the hunger of the band.

The title track and "The Kids Are Back," are remembered by fans as the stand-out tracks, but re-listening also brings "You're Not Alone (Suzette's Song)" to the fore: an epic rock-ballad, obligitory for the era, it is actually carefully conceived, and prefigures G n' R's later mastery of the form with a mixture of harmonic vocals, squeeling guitar solos and still-pounding drum beats that have been taken down with in the post-production mix.

The newly re-issued record contains three bonus tracks, all of them recordings from the orginal sessions that didn't make the album, but will be a rare treat for die-hard fans. Here digitially remastered for the first time, it is a quintessential addition to any collection of the golden era of heavy metal.

Editor's Note: Dee Snider, a Long Island biker in clown make-up and a lion's mane, bellowed against the oppressive forces holding him down. And nobody has done it better since.

MIGHTY, MIGHTY!

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The Long Surrender Over the Rhine
GSD

Author:
KFM

The band Over the Rhine take their name from the neighborhood Over the Rhine, a historic district in Cincinnati Ohio. It's the city they live and play music in, but it still might seem presumptuous for one couple to lay claim to the moniker of the single largest historic district in the United States. It might seem presumptuous, that is, until you realize that practically the whole neighborhood seems to have had a hand in the making of this record. And until you hear the record you won't be able to believe that one little record can pack in the sound of an entire part of town.

Which isn't to say that this record sounds like the mid-west, per se. Sure, there are some bluesey piano tinkling and a slightly subdued twang of a slide guitar, but "The Long Surrender" is more west-bank than Americana, more old-country than Country. The record oozes sophistication from all of its varied instrumentation. And though there are a dozen plus musicians performing on some of the tracks, each and every one maintains the intimacy for which the husband and wife team at the core of OtR has become known for. And as if the thirteen original songs recorded weren't perfectly capable of garnering attention on their own, Lucinda Williams sits in on the fifth track, "Undamned."

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

Single of the Week: Infamous Love Song

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self-titled Josh Slone & CoalTown
Rural Rhythm

Author:
KFM

On this, their debut album, Josh Slone and CoalTown bring the warm, old-timey sounds of bluegrass into the mix of big time country music to great effect. Backed by a stand-out band and the sure-fire songwriting of Mike Wells, frontman Josh Slone's resonant Kentucky voice is matched by his accomplished finger-picking. The band lends tightly harmonized backing vocals on tracks that are expertly produced by Slone himself, making prudent use of compression and reverb.

The winningest tracks include the first single released, "Virginia Bound," which movingly updates the familiar "Long Black Veil" story by complicating it with the death of the narrator's girlfriend's husband in a coal mining accident. Another favorite is "Bluegrass and Me," wherein Slone sings his own praises with convincing simplicity: "college boy there by her side with his hand on her knee, he'll soon be an ole' used-to-be.. she's fallin' for bluegrass and me..."

Josh Slone and CoalTown look to be the kind of big, tough white boys from Kentucky who'd as soon take real jobs as play on the radio. They're touring in support of this record right now, and if it's your cup of tea I recommend going to see them. Their label, Rural Rhythm, has a good ear for talent and went to bat for these fellas with production (setting aside the typoes and crummy layout of the album insert), but this is the kind of band that you might not see around much: if the festival circuit doesn't work out, there's always more money to be made digging coal back home.

NEW ARTIST OF THE WEEK

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It's A Sin Cousin Harley
Little Pig

Author:
KFM

Cousin Harley is stripped-down, speed-demon, blood-on-the-fret-board rock-and-roll. No pretensions and no bluffing about a record that combines hot-lick guitar work, hip-swinging stand-up bass and frenetically paced one-two-one-two drum beats with affable lyrics about women, booze, guitars and trains: this album announces itself with its opening notes and stays true-to-course through thirteen tracks.

Cousin Harley is the preferred persona of prolific Vancouver based guitarist Paul Pigat. As Cousin Harley listeners are treated to Pigat putting Rockabilly up-front, thematically, aesthetically and, for the most part musically. But don't be too quick to write Pigat or Cousin Harley off as just another greaser: any guy plays who can record guitar tracks for Neko Case albums one week and Jim Byrnes the next deserves a couple of listenings. And it's on the second listening that Cousin Harley really shines on "It's a Sin:" listening to it over and over can't be a bad idea either!

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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In From the Cold The Cooper Brothers
Gunshy productions

Author:
KE

To me, Canada has always symbolized a kind of heaven, the place you go to flee from death, either through dodging the draft or getting health care.  But apparently many Canadians would rather be in Alabama.  Some of our most iconic Southern rock—The Band, Neil Young-- has been secretly Canadian.  The Cooper Brothers are another link in this conspiracy.

The hit on “In from the Cold” is “That’s What Makes Us Great” a tongue in cheek anthemic boogie rock song where “us” is Canadians.  Yes, it could double as a beer commercial, but that’s the point.  It nicely makes fun of itself and of the faux blue collar patriotic Americanisms that new Country has come to embrace.  The song was inspired by a group of Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan, and the lyrics show a pride in Canadian stoicism and an annoyance at American bellicosity, and yes, the thing that redeems it all, a love of beer:

Sometimes we get a little down
Like when hockey season’s done
But random gunplay and dodging bullets
Ain’t our idea of fun
We’ve got the coldest beer, the hottest women
So much to celebrate
Nobody parties quite like we do
That’s what makes us great.

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Safe Return to Earth The Jefferson
Burn City Burn

Author:
KFM

Rich production, tonal variety and mid-tempoed emotive rock characterize this, the debut release from Australian rock/pop group The Jefferson. These are songs that are keenly honed to affect certain listeners: a particular mix of urgency, vibrato and scrambled phrasing that finds its way into fans heart's with vaguely pressing specificity despite the songs being about nothing-in-particular. It is a tradition that found its origins in the post-grunge heyday of handsome boy hard-rock with bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Bush but was probably most perfected by the groups that most directly inspire The Jefferson— the Snow Patrol and Stereophonics.

Which isn't to say that The Jefferson are purely derivative. The clear, dolorous vocals of front man Geoff Rana exude a pathos that, all alone, would make a lesser band's career. He is backed by crisp, pithy band that relishes their ability to switch, convincingly, from emo-influenced distortion and drum-fills to quiet, acousticly minded ballads. And in a genre that scorns ugly faces, these four handsome boys from Sydney have a future as bright as their sound: their few official videos and lovingly designed album display tight-jeaned would-be heartthrobs that may have come a bit late to the American pop/rock party, but are sure to make a splash now that they're here.

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I and Love and You The Avett Brothers
American / Columbia / Sony

Author:
KE

 

The Avett Brothers’ “I and Love and You” offers an array of comforts: at once mature and naïve, gentle and grand.  It’s brimming with comforting hooks and gentle reminders of your favorite albums by The Band, Neil Young, Iron and Wine, and the rootsy favorites of your favorites.  The album is comfortingly familiar, the brothers Scott and Seth, and their bandmate Bob Crawford bring us into their family and suffuse us with jangly country picking and swelling warm chords.  The album comforts, too, by granting you permission to appreciate your contradictions--your maturity, contentment with small, domestic pleasures—your youthful naivety, the ability to experience emotions purely and freshly. 

 

 

This form of comfort acknowledges that we want it all, cornbread and cupcakes.  The Avett brothers bring together gritty and rootsy bluegrass with Rick Rubin’s smooth production.  You can see this working out of contradictions in the song “Perfect Space,” that begins with a warm anthemic tribute to a quiet life and peaceful death:
 

I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.

But this peace is the peace of the not-yet.  Comfort, peace, competes with the world as it is, where we suffer, strain and rail against the barriers to contentment. The brothers break off from their melodic lullaby into a jagged punky power pop riff:


Okay part two now clear the house.
The party’s over take the shouting and the people,
get out.
I have some business and a promise that I have to hold to.
I do not care what you assume or what the people told you.

 

This harsher note is not exactly raw, but rather a different kind of familiarity, a bringing us back to our own world where the comfort most frequently available to us is anger.  Still, this is a familiar world, with plenty of hooks and catchiness to ease the pain.

Sometimes you want an album that will take you far away.  Sometimes, instead, you want an album like this, that will bring you home. 

Single of the Week: "Kick Drum Heart"

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This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Vol. 1 Woody Guthrie
Smitsonian Folkways

Author:
KFM

Like the territory that his most famous song refers to, Woody Guthrie became a cultural commons before his own claims on his life had even expired. More than simply another legendary figure, Guthrie has been enshrined in a halo of working-class romance since about the time he had to stop recording his songs himself.

The only problem with being a cultural commons and all is that commonly held culture tends to mean different things to different people. Now the historical record is pretty clear about Woody's politics. He was something of a marxist, but not a member of the Communist Party: a fellow-traveler who did some hard-traveling. And yet, "This Land is Your Land" has been white-washed to the point that you'd hardly know it had any politics. Much like the Carter Family (from whom Guthrie lifted the melody for "This Land"), Woody Guthrie can sometimes seem to mean all things to all people.

The Asch recordings have never done that much to change that problem, but they go a long way to let Guthrie sing out his own meanings. Volume one, the first of four that have become indispensible parts of any collection of folk music, ranks alongside "Dust Bowl Ballads" as the must-have Guthrie recordings.

Buy it now, and have the man and the myth for your very own: this Woody Guthrie is your Woody Guthrie, this Woody Guthrie is my Woody Guthrie...

Editor's Note: Woody recorded with absolute fidelity, wit, and grace, the struggles and celebrations of the working class.

 

Political Album of the Week

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Eastern Standard Time The Reese Project
In the Groove / Allegro

Author:
KE

The Reese Project’s “Eastern Standard Time” combines jazz standards and original compositions, creating a mellow, Latin tinged atmosphere.  Some of the best tracks foreground Reese’s flute playing, a delicate and warm groove, conjuring Herbie Mann.  The classic standard “Meditation” was one of my favorite tracks, featuring Johnny 'Bravo' Acevedo’s jamming percussion and Reese’s groovy flute.  Guitarist Bobby Brewer’s wife passed away during the making of the album. And the hauntingly beautiful “Moment in Blue” was written for her.   

This album is very cool, very mellow, great for afternoon cocktails, or even a glass of Chablis in front of the fire, if that’s your thing.  The album has the retro look and feel of sixties Atlantic or Blue Note records, allowing you to get lost in a different, simpler era.  And then boom, the final song title, “Altoid Junkie,” reminds you that we’re here in 2011, and the coolness endures. 

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Tanita NuRiya
Musica Almaya

Author:
KE

 Nuriya draws on her eclectic heritage for her wailing, Latin, Middle Eastern fusion mix.  She is the modern nomad of a certain sort, her family initially immigrated from Iraq and Syria to Mexico and she now trains and tours in Mexico, LA, New York, Israel, Europe.  “Tanita,” the title of this album means “little gypsy” and it lives up to its name.  

Nuriya shows mastery of a broad range of world music styles and genres.  The swelling multi-layered, cross cultural percussive sounds range from flamenco to afro-cuban drumming to Hebrew and Arabic melodies.  These are weaved into a sensual, expertly crafted, virtuosic fabric of complex harmonies and rhythms.  This music is not for everyone.  If you are looking for world music that is tied to specific, organic cultures and traditions, or that show the rougher, grittier side of folk music, this is not for you. 

This is an album that perhaps, gives you more world flavor than world substance.  However, if you like a little rousing, spicy exotica in your life, if you came away from the Buena Vista Social Club film feeling uplifted and joyous, then this album will give you more of the same.

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Freedom Jackie Bristow
Burnside

Author:
KE

The meaning of “country girl” shifts in the age of globalization, where a young New Zealand girl grows into her dreamy adolescence to the same radio hits as teens in Texas, L.A. London or Shanghai.  “Freedom” was recorded between Austin and Sydney and Jackie is thrilled to be living the fantasy of both “southern girl” (south of Australia!) and global soul. 

My favorite songs on Freedom were the ballads “Running” and “River.”  Bristow’s voice is rich, full but not too big, sometimes approaching the utter loveliness of Martha Wainwright.  These songs are the most innocent and personal-- even though she is backed up by a gospel choir, I picture her singing to herself, alone in her bedroom.  The album is influenced by American pop and country, (with many little touches of Olivia Newton John!).  And then she totally surprises you, bringing in Aboriginal language and hints of didgeridoo.  What other surprises could Bristow have in store for us?

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amourettes les chauds lapins
Barbes

Author:
KE

"Human passion seems fantastical, unreal—yet it's what drives us to kiss, to embrace, to undress, to do a thousand good and bad things.” So says Kurt Hoffman of  Les Chauds Lapins.  This pursuit of romance drove him and his partner Meg Reichhardt, the central members of the band,  down rarified paths of art rock, Americana, until they happened on the figure of Charles Trenet, a singer/songwriter who combined American big band swing with French chanson.  As they continued mining the riches of early 20th century French chanson, they developed their own versions of these sexy, jazzy pop songs. 

The songs on Amourettes are romantic, whimsical.  They are both nostalgic and new, with original arrangements combining strings and horns, fretted instruments, including the banjo ukulele, a hybrid instrument with a distinctive earthy, percussive sound.  Reichhardt’s voice is swoony and light, with breathless, subtle phrasing that conveys the romance and flirtatiousness of the songs, even if your French is as lapsed as mine.

Editor's Note: any American who can sing convincingly in French—and sound like Edith Piaf—is more than fine with me.

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the shape of things Josh Johnston
Shandon

Author:
KE

Irish pianist/singer/songwriter Josh Johnston is a nocturnal pianist: “I actually play much better in the dark.  It takes more concentration and there are absolutely no distractions.  I feel like I am in a meditative trance.  I am totally communing with the music.  I also find it very relaxing.  The perfect method for me is to take a theme I have established and then get as creative as possible improvising around it.”

Johnston’s solo piano album “The Shape of Things” is tactile, meditative and serene.  It stretches languidly between jazz and new age genres.   It was recorded all in one day on a Steinway grand piano in the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Church of Ireland in the middle of a freezing icy winter. And it sounds that way: monastic, warm and lonely. 

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All that Glitters Mimi Betinis
AEAA

Author:
KE

Okay, former frontman of the power pop Pezband, Mimi Betinis has convinced me.  Paul McCartney is the best Beatle.  I used to be all earnest and think that John was the more serious, soul searching Beatle, the working class hero, the martyr.  And Paul?  Paul was just that guy who gave up and cheesed out in Wings.  But Bitinis’ catchy, soupy, poppy, orchestral, loungy Beatlesesque “All that Glitters” makes a good case that much of the pleasure of the Beatles is slightly cheesy. 

Maybe it’s because I just ate a lot of jelly beans, but I find this album totally satisfying.  Sweet and sour, carefully crafted, funny, eclectic, a little cheesy, but in a good way.  The production is a little rough and stripped down, oddly resonating with new trends in low-fi home recording, although probably not consciously.  It’s the outsider art of outsider art.  That’s how inside it is.   

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Alright Now David Mallett
North Road

Author:
KE

David Mallett has been creating  and playing music for four decades.  His songs have been recorded by more than 150 artists, including Arlo Guthrie, Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, Alison Krauss, John Denver, Emmylou Harris, and yes, the Muppets.  He is steadily productive and reliably a favorite, having recorded 14 albums, appearing in major venues, festivals, and on "Prairie Home Companion" and winning the Folkwax readers Artist of the Year in 2003. 

 

 

 

“Alright Now” captures the casual, wise spontaneity, the easy mix of eternal and topical themes that folkies of a certain age achieve.  Here is folkie experience in the words of Pete Seeger: "you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't."  Mallett’s strong, straightforward voice, use of classic folk motifs and melodies speaks of a ripened, centered sensibility, and a modest sense of self, a moment in life where “belief is bigger than our doubt/ time to begin/ this is where the North Meets South."

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Bells Laura Jensen
Decca / Universal

Author:
KFM

Gifted with an impressive vocal range and a impeccable pop-sensibility, it isn't hard to see why Laura Jensen is a favorite act at LA's infamous Hotel Café. Up to now, however, even the small sliver of US audiences who have exposed to Jensen have likely only heard her singles "Single Girls" and "Trauma." Of the ten songs on "Bells" —her debut that released in 2009 in Europe but is just now emerging in the States—"Single Girls" is without question the least interesting. All of the other tracks pair Jensen's pitch-perfect voice with engaging, slightly quirky songwriting and confident piano. Backed throughout by some excellent studio musicians, the record is largely compelling and piques interest through songs such as "Soljah," and the title track "Bells."

Jensen tends to fall back on religious clichés that appear at odds with the sexy-smart image that she projects through her stage presence and her internet persona. Fortunately, this uncomfortable contradiction comes to the fore only occasionally on "Bells," —in songs such as "Single Girls" and "Elijah" that can't decide if they are aimed at an alt-pop audience or at Christian radio. On the whole this is a record that witnesses the emergence of a talented songwriter and a gifted performer: look for this one and look out for more from this up-and-comer.

ARTIST TO WATCH

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In Session—CD and DVD Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaugan
Stax / Concord Music Group

Author:
KFM

Hearing a guitarist play with his or her musical hero is something of a treat; hearing a guitar hero play with his hero will make you stand up and sit back down again. That's the experience of hearing Stevie Ra Vaughan backing up the great Albert King in these live sessions from 1983. Though he was at the top of his tragically short career, the name "Stevie Ray Vaughan" didn't ring any bells for King when Stax asked the two to play a session together for Canadian television. Only when he realized that Vaughan was, in fact, "Little Stevie," —the skinny white boy who King let sit-in at Texas shows in the '70s— did King take notice of the offer, and agreed to play the set. Between toe-tapping, funky electric blues tracks King and Vaughan relate these stories and more in conversations that are marked by King's easy-going anecdotes and reverential tone.

 

Albert King was known as "the Velvet Bulldozer," and though these recordings are somewhat late in his illustrious career, it's easy to see why: King lays soft and doleful vocals on top of some of the most screaming, minimalist Chicago blues that hit like a ton of bricks. Capably driving the songs and leading an expert backing band, King is also careful to carve out spaces for Vaughan to show off his chops. The two combine for affable and memorable takes on the standards of King's set as well as a take on Vaughan's "Pride and Joy."

Included with the record here is a DVD of the original 1983 television broadcast. It features many of the same songs as the record, but also killer takes on "Born Under a Bad Sign," and "I'm Gonna More to the Outskirts of Town." Modern viewers will marvel at King's charisma and Vaughan's unabashedly ridiculous outfit, and anyone can take joy in the dynamic between these two great guitarists, now gone.

Editor's Note: Among the generation of blues guitarists who came of age in the early eighties, only Robert Cray approaches the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's skill and influence. Merging with Albert King is more than we deserve.

BEST ALBUM OF THE WEEK

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