Government Mule:The Deep End, Vol. 1(ATO Records)
Ace guitar slinger Warren Haynes is probably best known for helping revive the Allman Brothers in the early '90s, but Government Mule, a power trio formed with his Allmans bass mate Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts, has long been the main outlet for his formidable songwriting chops. They are something of a throwback stylistically — a good old-fashioned blues-rock band, dedicated to long guitar solos and crunching power riffs but also capable of great delicacy. As a singer, Haynes is from the gruff Gregg Allman/Ronnie Van Zandt school, and his guitar playing is all over the map, from Hendrixy excursions to flashes of Clapton, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana — but put together in a remarkably coherent and original package; he's quite amazing. After Woody's death last year, Haynes and Abts decided to carry on, and this eclectic double-disc shows that there's still plenty of life in the Mule. Disc one features 13 songs, nearly 80 minutes of music, with a slew of guests filling in for Woody, including such bass notables as Jack Bruce, John Entwistle, Roger Glover, Flea, Larry Graham, Phish's Mike Gordon and others; and non-bassists such as guitarists John Scofield and Derek Trucks and keyboardists Gregg Allman and Chuck Leavell. Disc two is live with two different post-Woody lineups. Good, hard stuff, and the “Volume One” tag implies the obvious: There's more to come.
Producers: Warren Haynes and Michael Barbiero. Engineer: Michael Barbiero, with additional engineering by John Cutler, David Z and Ray Martin. Studios: The Theater 99 (NYC), with additional sessions at Sunset Sound (Hollywood), Fantasy Studios (Berkeley, CA), Water Music (Hoboken, NJ). Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound.
— Blair Jackson
Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid have a new label and a new producer…well, new to them anyway. With legendary Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey, The Proclaimers have expanded their sound with layers of acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars, honky tonk piano and punchy percussion. Musicians lending their talents to this release include keyboardist Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers, Stones), drummer Pete Thomas (Attractions) and bassist Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt). At the front of a full and fascinating combination of American and Scottish folk and pop music are the brothers' soulful harmonies and powerful songs. The twins' most recent chart success was more than a decade ago, when “(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles” made it to Number 3 on Billboard's Hot 100, and topped the Modern Rock chart. I don't know what category Persevere fits into now, but it's got all the originality, brilliance and bounce hit records should have.
Producer: Chris Kimsey. Recording engineers: Chris Kimsey, Tom Tucker Sr. Mixing engineer: Chris Kimsey. Pro Tools engineer: James “Fluff” Harley. Studio: Mastermix Studios (Minneapolis). Mastering: Chris Kimsey/Metropolis (London).
— Blair Jackson
Robert Earl KeenGravitational Forces(Lost Highway)
Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen is a darling of the No Depression set, and it's no wonder. His recordings are just country enough for Nashville, but quirky enough for college, with rhythmic guitar strumming and drumming that roll through the tracks like a train. This album has some pop leanings as well: Multitracked lead vocals and harmony on some songs enliven Keen's intimate, raw sound. The album's producer, Gurf Morlix, is a multitalented musician and technician who brings whatever's needed to his projects; on this release, his guitar playing, production and mix lend just the right balance of edge and sparkle to Keen's personal songs, and to some choice covers of Johnny Cash, Joe Dolce, Terry Allen and Townes Van Zandt.
Producer: Gurf Morlix, Ray Kennedy (one track). Recording engineer: Stuart Sullivan, Ray Kennedy (one track). Mixing engineer: Gurf Morlix, Chuck Ainlay (one track). Studios: Arlyn (Austin, Texas), Room and Board (Nashville), BackStage at Sound Stage Studios (Nashville). Mastering: Hank Williams and Gurf Morlix/MasterMix (Nashville).
— Blair Jackson
Tori AmosStrange Little Girls(Atlantic Recording)
Tori Amos is one of those artists who you need to see in order to hear the music. When I last saw her in concert, the lyrics' meaning and utter beauty of her voice came rushing through me like a little earthquake. At times, she strikes at the piano keys, sometimes moving between two pianos at a time, and at others, she is encircled in a 20% blue fog while she sings one of her more gut-wrenching pieces. But all the while, she is fascinating to listen to, and watch. Her new album, Strange Little Girls, took me right back to that concert — except she wasn't singing any of her songs. Comprising 12 cover tunes from a wonderfully diverse cast, Tori majestically transforms them into her own compositions — seen through the eyes of a woman — while keeping the original meat-and-potatoes of the tune intact; in fact, it took me a few hard listens to figure out who she was covering at first. Songs originally composed by Neil Young (“Heart of Gold”), The Stranglers (“Strange Little Girl”), Eminem (“'97 Bonnie & Clyde”), Depeche Mode (“Enjoy the Silence”), Slayer (“Raining Blood”), Joe Jackson (“Real Men”), The Beatles (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”) and many others are taken apart and put back together in her dark and gentle way. In fact, her cover of “'97 Bonnie & Clyde” is so chilling that you are forced to realize that it is a song about a man butchering his wife. On a happier note, Tori brought along some of her old friends to accompany her (drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassists Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Jon Evans), and surprising guest guitarist Adrian Belew (King Crimson, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Talking Heads), who appears on seven of the 12 tracks. A triumph of cover tunes, just another bizarre step for Tori. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.
Producer: Tori Amos. Executive producer: Natashya. All tracks recorded and mixed by Mark Hawley and Marcel van Limbeek at Amos' studio, Martian Engineering, (Cornwall, England), except for John Philip Shenale's contributions at The Nut Ranch (Los Angeles). Mastering by Jon Astley.
— Sarah Benzuly