Sunday, January 22, 2012
REGGAE—If there was any real excitement in the Reggae scene last year, I missed it. New albums by Etana, Gyptian, various new young voices… ho hum. Tribute anthologies honoring vocal greats Beres Hammond and recently dead Gregory Isaacs, and Country Music (huh?). The “JamRock” single by one of Marley’s many sons… was that in 2011? Well, I did enjoy We Remember Gregory (VP Records VPCD 1927) with one CD devoted to remakes of Isaacs’ familiar hits--by Tarrus Riley, Duane Stephenson, Chris Boomer, Natel, Etana, Busy Signal, Jah Cure, and many others—and a second CD of old-style instrumental versions (not dubs) of the same tracks, driven by the reeds of old warhorse sax soloist-turned-producer Dean Fraser. (That second CD is pretty much superfluous, however, polite but lacking in pizzazz.)
Then reaching back into the past, back to 1980, I also picked up the grandly expanded 2010 reissue of UB40’s amazing debut, that dole-card package called
ROCK—I suppose the gradual re-emergence of Brian Wilson made this set inevitable… and hooray for that. Not Smiley Smile (truncated bastard stepchild LP), not Brian Wilson’s Smile (or whatever the remake from 2009 was called), but the real thing, the original Smile Sessions recorded by the Beach Boys as they were, a
SOUL/R&B—For a couple of decades the Kent/Ace group of labels over in England has been compiling or reissuing great Southern Black Music of the Fifties to Eighties—James Carr, Percy Sledge, George Jackson, artists issued on small local labels and on Modern and Dootone out in L.A., all the best sessions of the Memphis to Muscle Shoals recording studio circuit. The set I’d name their crowning achievement came
Musician-turned-producer Rick Hall had “big ears” and some hard-earned luck, white Southern Soul and an indomitable will, and he turned a small studio in a small corner of Northern Alabama into an influential musical empire. Aspiring session musicians and songwriters flocked to cap-F Fame, where they gained sufficient small-f fame to move on to other studios and/or major careers in Memphis and Nashville. (Most prominent among those cool cats were the longtime main rhythm section of Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, and Roger Hawkins, songwriting session men Dan Penn and Spencer Oldham, and regular guitarists Joe South, Duane Allman, and Travis Wammack.)
In the meantime artists and producers eagerly made the trek to Muscle Shoals, anticipating that on-the-spot head arrangements, Hall’s canny luck, and the funky
SOUNDTRACKS—Supposedly there are between three and five thousand crazed/dedicated/collector-serious film score fans scattered around the States and the globe (Golden or not), and a half-dozen or so specialty labels dedicated to issuing/
BEYOND CATEGORY—Which section gets the music of Kurt Weill? Classical or Show Tunes? Pop Music or Jazz? The album I’m recommending belongs in all four.
WORLD—Many record stores and on-line sellers lump (white) Cajun and (Black Creole) Zydeco in with World Music. True, it was started by French Acadiens chased from the Canadian Maritimes, who settled eventually in South Central Louisiana; but it quickly absorbed elements of Country and Caribbean Music, New Orleans
Well, forget it. Look for the Swallow and Maison du Soul, Valcour and La Louisianne labels for the sounds of Southwest prairies and swamps—plus Rounder Records for its amazing roster and classic albums. Dig into three generations of Ardoins (from Amade to Chris); the Balfa and Delafose families; anything with mad fiddler Michael Doucet or cranky accordion-maker Mark Savoy; friends and rivals (little) Boozoo Chavis and (huge) Beau Jocque; white guys Steve Riley and Bruce Daigrepont and black guys Nathan Williams and Buckwheat Zydeco; old-time Cajun accordionist Nathan Abshire and modern Zydeco accordionist Clifton Chenier (who pretty much created it). And after you’ve absorbed
But in the spirit of year’s best lists everywhere, I want to recommend the one excellent anthology I found that was actually issued in 2011--The Rough Guide to Cajun & Zydeco (World Music Network RGNET1265CD), a 15-track, hour-plus sampler of the hottest current or recent performers—which also comes with a no-number bonus CD: Bayou Road by Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, presumably an earlier set from last year's Grammy-winning Carrier group. But the Rough Guide compilation takes the prize for its currency, quality, and variety. Exciting young bands Feufollet, Pine Leaf Boys, Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers, and Kyle Huval and the Dixie Club Ramblers vie for attention with solidly established acts like Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole, Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie (that's
“Rough Guide,” you say? Not really; it’s a lot sharper than that.