Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology (Rhino)
A Gram Parsons anthology is such a great idea I tried it myself more than 20 years ago, when I assembled a 100-minute tape of my favorite Gram Parsons songs from the International Submarine Band, The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and his solo albums. Well, Rhino has now done the job much better with this very generous two-disc set that beautifully shows the range of Parsons' genius. No doubt, on the surface Parsons must not seem like an exceptional talent — his voice was thin and slightly unsure, a long way from George Jones and Merle Haggard and the many other country singers he so admired. But he sang with tremendous conviction, and his songs were almost uniformly brilliant; even the ones he wrote when he was 21 years old in the International Submarine Band show a maturity far beyond his years, and his writing just got better as he got older. By the time he made his early '70s solo albums — GP and his true masterpiece, Grievous Angel — Parsons had truly found his songwriting voice, and the tunes he was producing were every bit as soulful and moving as the covers by country greats that always occupied a place on his records and in his live repertoire. Gram Parsons died way too early (1973) and way too young (27), but he left behind an impressive body of work — a legacy that continues to influence and inspire young and veteran musicians alike.
Compilation Producers: James Austin, Patrick Mulligan, Gary Stewart. Original Producers: Suzi Jane Hokum, Gary Usher, Larry Marks, Henry Lewy, The Burritos, Jim Dickson, Gram Parsons, Rik Grech, John Delgado, Marley Brant. Engineers: Mike Lietz, Eddie Brackett, Roy Halee, Charlie Bragg, Henry Lewy, Hugh Davies, Ed Barton, John Bradley. Studios: Western Recorders (Hollywood), Columbia Studios (L.A. and Nashville), Wally Heider Studios (Hollywood), A&M Studios (Hollywood), Capitol Records Studios (Hollywood). Remastering: Dan Hersch, Bill Inglot/Digiprep.
— Blair Jackson
Electric Light Orchestra: Zoom (Epic)
Okay, who's fooling who here? This is really just ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne's latest solo album; so much so, that he plays nearly every instrument on it. None of his former bandmates are anywhere to be heard. So, false advertising aside (and who can blame a guy for wanting to cash in on his former glory?), what we have here is a very strong pop record, fairly overflowing with memorable hooks, the unmistakable stacks and stacks of glistening vocals that characterize nearly everything Lynne does and more overt Beatle-isms than you'll find on some Beatles albums! I mean no disrespect when I say that Lynne is writing better George Harrison-style songs these days than George is, and Harrison is impressed enough by the efforts of his longtime friend, co-producer and former bandmate (in the Traveling Wilburys) that he lends a hand; so does Ringo. Fans of Lynne's distinctive production techniques will certainly enjoy this eclectic offering. It's all over the map, stylistically, yet strangely cohesive — kind of like The Beatles were. Lynne seems to have taken a little something from everyone he's produced through the years, from Tom Petty to Roy Orbison, and filtered it through his own sensibilities. Maybe the Electric Light Orchestra is really just all of his influences.
Producer: Jeff Lynne. Engineers: Marc Mann and Ryan Ulyate, with additional engineering by Richard Dodd. Recorded at Lynne's L.A. home studio.
— Blair Jackson
Ike Turner: Here and Now (Ikon Records)
Ike Turner's still got it! He still makes a boogie-woogie piano sing like nobody else, and his grooves are still as powerful as they were when he, Sam Phillips and Jackie Brenston gave us the first rock 'n' roll record, “Rocket 88,” in 1951. When I interviewed Phillips last fall, the venerable engineer/producer poked some light-hearted fun at Turner's vocal talent, but I bet Phillips would agree that Turner sings just fine on this album, and it goes without saying that instrumentals like “Ike's Theme” and “Swanee River Boogie” sound exciting and inspired. The style of this release is mostly roots rock 'n' roll with a '70s funk groove and Chicago blues horn arrangements, yet somehow these familiar elements manage to sound unique, fresh and new. With this glorious album, Turner seems to have taken back his music and his career. Ride back to the future with Ike!
Producer: Ike Turner. Engineers: Ike Turner, Lucha Phillips, Benjamin Wright, Lamont Dozier, Leonard Jackson, Bill Dashell and William Brown. Studios: Ike Turner Studio (San Marcos, CA), D&L Studios (Escondido, CA), Paramount Studios (Hollywood), Ocean Way (Hollywood), Benjamin Wright Studio (Sun Valley, CA), Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio (Memphis) and Leon Haywood's EVEJIM Studio (L.A.). Mastering: Scott Hull/Classic Sounds (New York City).
— Barbara Schultz
Roger Wallace: That Kind of Lonely (Texas Round-Up Records)
So much Americana, so little time…but I always have time to listen to a beautiful voice like Roger Wallace's. This is the sophomore release from a singer/songwriter who has become a fixture in Austin's neo-traditional country scene, and it's a real winner. Wallace's voice is strong, with great range and emotion; he moves easily from a Dale Watson-like baritone to Hank Williams' twang to almost Orbison-esque drama, and he's backed by a great little honky-tonk band. Wallace's original songs are very well-crafted, and he pays homage to his many influences with some covers, but nothing tired. It's the first time I've heard the J.D. Miller song “Ain't Gonna Waste My Time,” and there's a hot, lesser-known Johnny Horton track, “First Train Heading South.” Don't you just love it when somebody makes a fiddle sound like a train coming down the tracks?
Producers: David Sanger and Roger Wallace. Recording engineers: David Sanger, Jim Stringer, Frank Campbell and Mark Nathan. Mixing engineers: Frank Campbell. Recording studios: Abbey Trails and Bismeaux Studio (both in Austin, Texas). Mixing studio: Phoenix Mastering (Austin, Texas). Mastering: Jerry Tubb/Terra Nova (Austin, Texas).
— Barbara Schultz