Cool Spins

Various ArtistsHigher Ground Hurricane Relief BenefitEMI Dr. John & The Lower 911Sippiana HericaneBlue Note Both of these fine CDs were created to raise

Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit
Sippiana Hericane
Blue Note
Both of these fine CDs were created to raise money for groups aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina, but are worthy releases even without the good intentions. New Orleans R&B legend Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) weighs in with a suite of songs — some instrumental, a few with vocals — that were directly inspired by the hurricane. There is sadness and anger, but also rays of hope in the deep blues and funky R&B that Dr. John and his three-piece band lay down. It's a moving, if dark, portrayal of troubled times from one of the city's favorite sons.

Higher Ground, which features highlights from an all-star concert at New York City's Lincoln Center a few months ago, also has a strong New Orleans pedigree: The executive producer was Wynton Marsalis, whose Hot Seven band offers a smokin' version of Satchmo's “Dippermouth Blues,” and then there are sterling tracks by local New Orleans greats such as Art and Aaron Neville (a rollicking “Go the Mardi Gras”), Terence Blanchard (a moody piece called “Over There”), Buckwheat Zydeco (“I'm Gonna Love You Anyway'), trumpeter Irvin Mayfield (a stirring “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”) and the Jordan Family (“Here's to Life”). There are also superb contributions by artists that include gospel belter Shirley Caesar, James Taylor, Bette Midler (fronting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra), the Marcus Roberts Trio, and jazz singers Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, the ubiquitous Diana Krall and Norah Jones, whose solo take on Randy Newman's “I Think It's Going to Rain Today” is breathtaking. It's diverse and all quite magnificent, full of heart and soul.

Sippiana Hericane producer: Mac Rebennack. Engineer: Ray Bardani. Studios: Bearsville (Woodstock, N.Y.), Sound on Sound (New York City). Mastering: Vic Anesini/Sony N.Y. Higher Ground producers: Andre Kimo Stone Guess, Michael Cuscuna. Recording: Frederick P. Rose Hall (New York City) by John Harris and Rob Macomber/Effanel Music. Mixed at Bennett Studios (Englewood, N.J.). Mastering: Kurt Lundvall.
Blair Jackson

The Art of Virtue
Addiebelle Music

Adrienne Young quotes the Quakers and cites Ben Franklin's Thirteen Virtues as inspiration, but still manages to keep the music fresh on her sophomore disc. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist mixes folk/pop originals with American roots traditionals, and they sit together like kindred spirits. The Young-penned title track and “Jump the Broom” will keep toes tapping, while “Hills & Hollers” brings awareness about our blacktop-coated landscape. Some of Nashville's ace roots musicians chime in for a rousing “Don't Get Weary” by Uncle Dave Macon and a spot-on “Bonaparte's Retreat” from Kentucky fiddler William Hamilton Stepp. Young's sweet voice, backed occasionally by multi-gifted co-producer Will Kimbrough, tie it all together in one environmentally and personally conscious package.

Producers: Young, Will Kimbrough, Gary Paczosa. Engineers: Paczosa, Adam Bednarik, John Deaderick. Studios: House of David, Minutia Sound, Deaderick Studios, Nashville.
Heather Johnson

Luna Rossa
Justin Time

The name is Spanish, the musicians are Germans and a Brit, and the music that this quartet (reeds, acoustic guitar, accordion, bass) plays is all over the map. On this disc alone (actually their first, from 1997, but new in the U.S.), this very international ensemble dips into music from Italy, Germany, Argentina, Venezuela and America, and also offers a handful of originals that sound like they were lifted from some European or Latin café. There's a cool version of “Nature Boy” (popularized by Django Reinhardt) and the lovely “Our Spanish Love Song” by jazz bassist Charlie Haden. There are tangos, a bolero and waltzes with Cuban and French accents. It's sensuous, sonorous and mellow enough to accompany a romantic dinner, but there is also a palpable feeling of adventure and discovery in the arrangements. It's a bold but strangely familiar fusion.

Producers: Quadro Nuevo. Engineer: Wolfgang Lohmeier. Studio: Tonstudio Schlag. Mastering: Guido Hieronymus.
Blair Jackson

All the Way to the Sun
Mayhem Records

It's hard to believe that heavy arena rock could come out of just two performers: TNT's Tony Harnell (vocals) and Ronnie LeTekro (guitars), finally get the nod they deserve with their eighth studio album. Packed with soaring guitars and Robert Plant — like vocals, All the Way to the Sun is a fabulous tribute to the Golden Era of rock: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Queen and many others, whose influence is clearly amplified in this fine release. Backed by drummer Diesel Dahl, whose back beat remains solid, ATWTTS shines, from its classic-sounding rock grooves (“A Fix,” title track and “Black Butterfly”) to more modern-day sensibilities (“Driving” and “Ready to Fly”). It's classic '70s metal with a modern twist.

Producers: Ronni LeTekro, Tony Harnell. Engineers: Erland Hvalby, Kjartan Hesthagen, Bruno Ravel (vocals). Mixed and mastered by Tommy Hansen. Studios: StudioStudio (Norway), Soundcheckers Studio (NYC).
Sarah Benzuly

(Double Crown)

I confess to ignorance of the illustrious pasts of Bill Bonney and Pete “Buzz” Miller, who were part of two successful early '60s British bands, The Fentones and The Jaywalkers. No matter; this disc of deliciously retro rock instrumentals instantly brings me up to date (or back to the past). It's all here: the lonely twangy guitar leads (Miller), insistent bass lines that alternately throb and sing (Bonney), bright melodies, solid hooks and a few slow-dance numbers. There are plenty of cool guitar textures, thanks to copious overdubbing, but it all still feels like a band at work. There are echoes of artists such as The Ventures, Duane Eddy and other early '60s purveyors of instrumentals, but it's not just nostalgia. The recording is crisp, clean and modern-sounding, even with the occasional ladled-on reverb and some glorious tape hiss. A rollicking good time!

Producer/engineer: Pete Miller. Studio: Ocean beach (S.F).
Blair Jackson