BOB WILLS AND HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS
Legends of Country Music
I've gone through Bob Wills periods before — about once every decade or so, I rediscover the great Texas fiddler and bandleader. I listen obsessively for a while and then, for whatever reason, forget about him again. But now, Legacy's magnificent new four-CD, 104-track retrospective has really gotten under my skin. It covers the entire arc of his career, from his first recordings with the Fort Worth Doughboys in 1932, through his influential late-'30s and '40s sides fronting the Texas Playboys, which established him as the King of Western Swing, all the way up to his last session in the early '70s. The first two discs, especially, are mind-blowing: This is the crossroads where blues, old-time country, Tin Pan Alley pop, Hawaiian and early jazz meet and were fused into a distinctive sound that transcended both race and style. Most of it is dance music — first and foremost, this was a great live band that loved to get people up and dancing. The virtuosity of the group is often astonishing: It's a crime that steel guitar titan Leon McAuliffe, guitarist Eldon Shamblin and pianist Al Stricklin are not better known. The solos are spread generously around the band, as Wills plays the genial leader and emcee, punctuating tunes with his famous “aw-haaa!” or “Play it, Leon!” Tommy Duncan is the main singer through the decades — another underrated figure— but I also love the mischievous twang in Wills' vocals. This is good-time music through and through — a real treasure trove.
Original producers: Art Satherly (and a handful of others). No engineers listed. Recordings made in un-named studios in Dallas, Chicago, Hollywood, Fort Worth and Nashville. Compilation producer: Greg Geller. Mastering: Vic Anesini/Sony Music Studios (New York City).
— Blair Jackson
LINDA RONSTADT AND ANN SAVOY
Adieu False Heart
What a heavenly match: Ann Savoy is a singer known for her wonderful Cajun-flavored music in the Savoy-Ducet Band and the Magnolia Sisters. Linda Ronstadt is, well, Linda Ronstadt — she brings magnificent chops, great taste and an authenticity to any project she tackles. This splendid collection of nouveau Cajun and acoustic roots music features tunes by the likes of Richard Thompson, Julie Miller, Bill Monroe and even a gorgeous reworking of “Walk Away Rene,” and every second of it rings true. The way the singers' voices blend, the always tasteful accompaniment by guitar, fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, bass and an occasional mini-string section is just about perfect. This is music of longing and sorrow mostly, but it's also achingly beautiful. A true gem.
Producer: Steve Buckingham. Recorded and mixed by Gary Paczosa; additional engineering by Brandon Bell. Studios: Cypress House on Bayou Tesche (Parks, La.); Minutia (Nashville); The Plant (Sausalito). Mastering: Doug Sax with Sunny Nam/Mastering Lab (Ojai, Calif.).
— Blair Jackson
THE RED JUMPSUIT APPARATUS
Don't You Fake It
This CD's staying on Repeat. The breakthrough album by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus charges out of the gate with a feel that's hard to categorize — they deftly merge screaming metal riffs with layered harmonies, bringing a mature and pop-ish sensibility to good ol' rock 'n' roll. While frontman Ronnie Winter does a fine job of keeping up with the scorching guitars of Duke Kitchens and Elias Reidy, I'd like to see him toughen his stance a bit. The rhythm section of bassist Joey Westwood and drummer Jon Wilkes keeps the energy high throughout. Producer David Bendeth (Breaking Benjamin, Hawthorne Heights) lends his subtle expertise, but clearly wants to allow the young group to go where their musical tastes take them.
Producer/mixer: Bendeth. Engineer/digital editing: Dan Korneff, John Bender, Kato Khandwala. Studios: Water Music (Hoboken, N.J.), Right Track (New York City). Mastering: Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound (New York City).
— Sarah Benzuly
Gold and Wax
“Mesmerizing” is the word for this second eclectic collaboration between the stunning Ethiopian chanteuse Gigi (Ejigayehu Shibabaw) and the always adventurous and creative New York producer Bill Laswell. I don't speak Amharic, but so much is communicated through Gigi's hypnotic, carefully layered vocals and the spellbinding arrangements, which — typical of Laswell — run the gamut from soulful funk, to “world music” touches from India and West Africa, to jazzy and spacy excursions. It's a wonderful recording, with each layer of percussion, keyboards of unending variety, airy guitar atmospherics, peppery horns and swelling string patches given its own place in the spacious but present mix. Above it and through it all, Gigi's vocals dance and glide — a glorious instrument, too. A rich, poly-cultural brew.
Producer: Laswell. Engineer: Robert Musso. Additional recording: Abegasu Shiota. Studios: Orange (Orange, N.J.), Kabena (Springfield, Va.). Mastering: Michael Fossenkemper/Turtletone (New York City).
— Blair Jackson
His name isn't a household word, but PF Sloan holds an essential piece of the American musical puzzle. In the 1960s, he played on recordings by The Mamas & The Papas and wrote Johnny Rivers' hit “Secret Agent Man,” as well as one of the most powerful anthems of that era: “Eve of Destruction.” That song still resonates, and Sloan reclaims it on his first U.S. album in 30 years, Sailover. This release features superb original songs, strong vocals and guest appearances by Lucinda Williams, Frank Black and Buddy Miller. Sloan bridges the gap between his early days in the L.A. folk scene and his present state of mind, and shows us he's lost none of his edge and none of his brilliance.
Producer: Jon Tiven. Engineers: Tiven, Jake Burns, Earl Drake, Miles Wilson, Matt Yelton, Eric Corne, Dusty Wakeman, Fran Kowalski, John Hurley, Paul Gannon. Studios: Hormone Studios, Loud Studios, Big Ears Studio, Sound & Video Creations (all in Nashville); Mower Studios, Mad Dog Studios (L.A). Mastering: Jim Demain/Yes-Master! (Nashville).
— Barbara Schultz