Various Artists: Caught in the Webb, A Tribute to Webb Pierce (Audium)
My introduction to country singer/songwriter Webb Pierce came from the late, great blues artist Ted Hawkins, who performed a raw, mournful version of “There Stands the Glass” on his last album. When Pierce recorded the song in 1953, it was a bit more uptempo, but his MO was the same: simple, powerful songs sung with much more passion than polish. Ten years after Webb died of cancer, producer/performer Gail Davies (who charted with Pierce's “No Love Have I” in 1978) has assembled a marvelous collection of like-minded atists — including Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, George Jones, BR549, Willie Nelson and more — to bring their own voices to Pierce's music. Unlike many tributes, this album was recorded and mixed in one studio, overdubbed in a couple of others, with the same bandmembers and the same engineers; all of this makes for an album of distinctive recordings with consistent sonics. Though there are a few instances when the incomparable backing vocals by The Jordanaires inappropriately overshadow the lead vocals, these are superb performances of great songs, and part of the proceeds benefit the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Producer: Gail Davies. Recording/mixing engineer: Craig White. Overdub engineer: Rob Price. Recording/mixing studio: Curb Studios (Nashville). Overdub studios: Crystal Sound and Little Chickadee Productions Studio (both in Nashville). Mastering: Glenn Meadows/Masterfonics.
— Barbara Schultz
Orchestra Baobab: Pirates Choice (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
This two-CD set reissues semi-legendary 1982 recordings by Orchestra Baobab, one of Senegal's most successful dance bands during the '70s. Originally released only on cassette, these 12 tracks, none under six minutes, present a beguiling mix of Cuban-influenced dance music and more obviously African material. The first CD consists largely of smooth rhythmic grooves punctuated by Issa Cissoko's sax and the chiming guitar of Barthelemy Attisso, while a barely audible mix of bass, drums, percussion and guitars percolates in the background. As many as five vocalists sing or chant the relaxed melodies, though few non-Senegalese listeners will have the language chops to understand the lyrics. The second volume continues the languid sway and upbeat mood of the Afro-Cuban material, but features more impassioned vocal performances and a less international sound, reflecting the various musical influences of the band's 11 members. Obviously made under primitive conditions, the barely produced but clean recordings are consistently engaging and musical, conjuring up a startlingly clear image of experienced musicians playing for themselves in a club or rehearsal room. Anyone who warmed to the no-frills intimacy of The Band's one-room recordings or the courteous musicianship of the Buena Vista Social Club will find this 94-minute collection a constant delight, and even jaded sophisticates will find the “bar-at-the-end-of-the-beach” ambience irresistible.
Produced by Moussa Diallo in Senegal. Re-mastered by John Hadden, Tom Leader and Adam Skeaping.
— Chris Michie
Ten Years After: Live at the Fillmore East (Chrysalis)
Excess, anyone? This release intrigued me because I was a huge fan of Ten Years After in '69-'70, particularly their Shhh and Cricklewood Green albums. This two-CD live set comes from early '70, between those two albums, so it contains most of the best songs from both. I also saw them play at the Fillmore East a few months after this was recorded, so hearing this was a real trip back in time for me. Beautifully recorded by Eddie Kramer, the discs definitely capture TYA at their peak, jamming furiously on just about every song. There's a sameness to guitarist Alvin Lee's fleet-fingered solos that is wearing after a while, and they really only have two tempos — slow and really fast (a couple of songs start out slow, speed up, and then slow down again) — but I still like the songs, simple though they might be, and what a fine, gung-ho rhythm section: bassist Leo Lyons, drummer Rick Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill. The CDs offer a mix of familiar blues and early rock 'n' roll classics along with TYA originals such as “Love Like a Man,” “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” and, of course, the tune that made them famous in the Woodstock film, “I'm Going Home.” A nice bit of nostalgia from that long-gone era When Guitarists Ruled The Earth.
Produced by Ten Years After. Original engineering: Eddie Kramer. Mixing and remastering: Peter Mew at Abbey Road (London). Recorded live at the Fillmore East February 27-28, 1970.
— Blair Jackson
Lo Faber: Henry's House (6 Feet of Snow)
Lo Faber was the leader of the eclectic New York jam band God Street Wine, who put out a series of solid, underappreciated albums in the mid- to late '90s. His solo debut is quite an ambitious undertaking — a double-CD “rock opera”; 22 songs that form the basis of a rather convoluted children's story. I dunno — I read the synopsis, I followed along…I would've liked it a whole lot better if he'd ditched the concept and written more adult themes. But I have to give Faber high marks for the sheer craft that went into making this album. It sounds fantastic, and there's so much variety to the tracks — wonderful vocal pieces, instrumental turns that recall the best of progressive rockers like Genesis and Yes, some unmistakably Pink Floydian spaces and, not surprisingly, a few grooves that have that God Street Wine sound. Not as sinister as Tommy, and a thousand times hipper than Raffi, Henry's House might very well appeal to younger listeners weaned on rock 'n' roll. Adults will have to pick and choose their favorites from this smorgasbord and ignore the sillier tunes. Still, it shows that Faber's songwriting and arranging chops are still first-rate.
Produced, recorded and mastered by Lo Faber. Mixing by Faber and Ted Marotta. Studios: Great Northern (Argyle, N.Y.), with some overdubs cut at Cove City (Glen Cove, N.Y.) and Complete Music Services (NYC).
— Blair Jackson