Carla Olson: The Ring of Truth (Smile)
You can be forgiven if you don't remember The Textones, who were just one of many fine bands to emerge during the new-wave era in Los Angeles. Led by Austin, Texas, guitarist/singer Carla Olson (and originally including future Go-Go Kathy Valentine), The Textones always had a serious roots-rock component to them and they rocked hard live; I can recall being knocked out by Olson's confident onstage persona at a couple of L.A. club shows in the early '80s. She's recorded only sporadically since then; this marks her first CD in six years, though she's stayed busy playing and producing (including the recent Bo Diddley tribute album). Fronting a top-notch band that includes guitarists Brian Brown and former Stone Mick Taylor, bassist Greg Sutton, drummer Rick Hemmert and keyboardist Barry Goldberg, Olson moves easily from bluesy excursions to riff-heavy rockers to emotional ballads. Her full, throaty vocals — which occasionally remind me of a more ragged Linda Ronstadt — have never sounded better. There's plenty of jamming here, too, with Brown and Taylor tearing it up song after song; this is truly some of Taylor's best work since his Stones days. And speaking of which, the CD includes an exquisite version of the Stones' seldom-covered “Winter” (from Goats Head Soup, which featured Taylor) that stretches to 12 minutes. Dylan's “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is another inspired cover choice. All in all, an impressive effort.
Producer: Carla Olson. Engineers: Andy Waterman, Billy Sullivan, Glen Fujiwara. Studios: The Bakery (North Hollywood), Cloverland (North Hollywood). Mastering: Stacy Carson/The Bakery.
— Blair Jackson
Salif Keita: Moffou (Universal Music Group)
With the increased popularity of world music here in the States, it's no surprise that the majors have joined the party. Universal Music Jazz France jumps in with Moffou, an infectious, melodic, upbeat collection by Salif Keita, Malian-born but now one of Paris' favorite adopted sons. Despite the 17 musicians and army of backing vocalists, the production is simple and elegant, sometimes spare, with light fingering on a variety of strings — acoustic and electric guitar (stunning work by Djelly Moussa Kouyate), luth, n'goni, e-bow. But center-stage is the unique, high-register vocal of Keita, at once intimate and open, soulful in a playful manner. Listen to “Madan,” a dance-ready blend of melodic chaos, followed by the childlike fable of “Katolon”: a wonderful daily double. Perfect for a Sunday morning or this winter's vacation to the Keys.
Producers: Salif Keita, Jean Lamoot, Freddy Zerbib. Engineer: Timour Cardenas. Studios: Paris, not available. Mastering: Not available.
— Tom Kenny
The Ramones: Pleasant Dreams (Sire)
It's sad to say, but authentic punk rock is largely a thing of the past. Sure, there are still a few good bands belting it out, yet nothing comes close to touching the simple brilliance of The Ramones. Thankfully, we have albums like the recently reissued 1981 album Pleasant Dreams to remind us what “one-two-three-four” should really sound like. The reissue contains seven previously unreleased bonus tracks (recorded during January-February 1981 at Daily Planet in New York) with VIP guests including Debbie Harry, and Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson from The B-52's. The liner notes are packed with recording memories, band drama, cool photos and a Dee Dee Ramone tribute. The CD itself sounds amazing, with punk anthems like “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and “You Sound Like You're Sick” battling their way through three chords of madness. It's no wonder The Ramones were the first punks inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Producers: Graham Gouldman and Ed Stasuim. Engineers: Lincoln Y. Clapp, Harvey Goldberg, Chris Nagle and Keith Bessey. Studios: Media Sound (NYC), Strawberry Studio North (Stockport, England), Daily Planet (New York), Strawberry Studio North (Dorking, England).
— Natale Verdone
Old & In the Gray (Acoustic Disc)
Back in 1975, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Peter Rowan, John Kahn and Vassar Clements shook up the bluegrass world with the release of Old & In the Way, a live album that combined classic bluegrass tunes with a Rolling Stones cover, a doper anthem by Rowan and more; basically, it was hippie bluegrass — loose-limbed but still hot and well-played. That album became one of the best-selling albums ever in the genre and spawned two more live CDs, though the group only existed for a few months in 1973 and '74. Now, Garcia and Kahn are dead, but Grisman has reformed the group with the fine singer and banjo player Herb Pedersen filling in for Garcia and bassist Bryn Bright replacing Kahn. The formula nearly 30 years later is the same — a few bluegrass and old-timey nuggets by the likes of Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, Don Reno and Jim Davis and Ira Louvin; some more modern tunes by Rowan, John Hartford and Townes Van Zandt (“Pancho and Lefty” — always a good choice); and, yes, a Rolling Stones cover — wait till you hear them tear through “Honky Tonk Women”! Rowan and Pedersen handle most of the lead vocals, and both are fine, expressive singers; the group harmonies are also excellent. Mandolinist Grisman and fiddler Clements take most of the leads, though the jamming is kept to a minimum. Old & In the Gray may lack a little of the humor and devil-may-care attitude of its '70s predecessors (except for the title and the cover art), but it's still a very strong collection of songs that span an incredible range of folk music styles.
Producer: David Grisman. Engineer: Larry Cumings. Studio: Dawg Studios (Mill Valley, CA). Mastering: Paul Stubblebine.
— Blair Jackson