Thursday, November 29, 2007

Casual Listening 11-30-07

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 30, 2007

New releases slow to a trickle after Thanksgiving, so Casual Listening will be home to special features over the next few weeks to help wind up the year.

Seven Blues Albums That’ll Change Your Life

Blues is the granddaddy of all modern American music. In the blues you can see rock, hip hop, R&B, jazz, gospel, and house music all stripped down naked and beguiling. At first glance, it’s not much to look at – kind of scraggly and out of shape, not as young as it used to be – in a word, real, like the rest of us. From that realness pours steam heat fueled by years of shameless living. Once you’ve breathed it, you’ll never be able to put it out of your mind.

Blues is an attitude, a tone of voice that grabs you by the shoulders and shakes your body down. Blues doesn’t hide behind electronics, overdubs, and slick production. All it has to hook you with is a wail, shout, and moan. For the best blues singers, that’s more than enough. A skilled blues player can take a harmonica or slide guitar and make it cry so sad you’d swear it were alive.

Blues is the opposite of transcendent. Its songs are pasted together from the stuff of this world – pleasure and pain, sex, death, and heartache. Its lessons aren’t fancy or glib, but they run miles deep and generations long. Here are seven of the best you’ll ever hear:

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Ten Days Out

When this guitar prodigy turned 30 last year, he packed up a band and a film crew and headed for blues country to play with some of the last living blues legends, many approaching three times his age. They recorded in kitchens, backyard barbecues, and juke joints, capturing styles old and new in their natural surroundings. This album is a ticket to a private concert with some of the finest blues artists you’ve never heard of and may never hear again. Four of the musicians that appear here are no longer with us.

Buddy Guy – Live! The Real Deal

Ask any Chicago Blues fan about the greatest concert they’ve ever seen, and you’ll get the same response: seeing Buddy Guy play live at his club. Screaming electric blues from one of the greatest showmen in the business, Buddy’s live sets can only be described as a religious experience. Having G. E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band behind him raises the wattage on this mind-blowing performance.

Paul Reddick and the Sidemen – Rattlebag

If there were even three touring bands today that sounded as tight as this, no one would spend sleepless nights worrying about the future of the blues. Reddick’s swagger animates a broad assortment of styles that reach across decades, and keeps it simple enough to let the raw soul of the music speak for itself.

Junior Wells – Hoodoo Man Blues

Nothing comes close to this set in terms of pure badassedness. Wells channels the funk of James Brown and the cool of Miles Davis with a thick streak of cocked-hat attitude. His singing and harmonica playing are barely restrained, like a tiger on a leash that’ll snap at any moment.

Howlin’ Wolf – His Best

Possibly the most distinctive voice ever committed to wax, to the point of making actual wolves jealous. From the heyday of 1950’s Chicago blues, Wolf’s growl burns tread marks on the inside of your skull while the band stomps alongside.

Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers

Taylor plays frenetic slide guitar through the world’s oldest amplifier – I’ve gotten higher fidelity from two tin cans tied together with string – which is, of course, what makes his sound so delicious. Bruce Iglauer started a record label just so he could record Hound Dog Taylor, and I’d be surprised if after hearing this album you wouldn’t do the same.

Mississippi Fred McDowell – You’ve Got To Move

This is old school, some of the deepest blues there is, nothing but a slide guitar and the voice of the apocalypse. McDowell plays the Mississippi delta style common in the 1930’s, recorded thirty years later when technology let you hear the music instead of just the hiss and pop of aging phonograph records. I had a chance to meet the once-young blues fan that took a microphone to McDowell’s living room to bring back these diamonds, and thanked him for ensuring that my grandchildren will one day have the chance to hear and love this music.

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