Wilco:A Ghost Is Born(Nonesuch)
My affection for Wilco has waxed and waned through the years. After loving their alt-country debut, A.M., I've liked them only intermittently since. Their latest finds leader Jeff Tweedy, fresh from detox, in a rather unusual headspace: The songs are disarmingly honest, confessional and occasionally almost childlike in their simplicity. Yet there are still imaginative images and metaphors, and it's hard not to root for this scarred, emotionally naked character; he comes off as sort of a nicer Roger Waters. The music, with Tweedy's pleasing vocals out front on most songs, is all over the map: Folkie here, Beatles-influenced there, with a trace of electronica left over from the last Wilco outing. Instrumentally, it's dominated by Tweedy's electric guitar ramblings (some quite lengthy), which have a searing, Neil Young — esque quality to them. (Though Tweedy isn't nearly as proficient, technically, as Young.) Say this for Tweedy/Wilco: They're rarely dull and often quite fascinating.
Producers: Wilco and Jim O'Rourke. Engineers: Chris Shaw (tracking), O'Rourke (mixing). Studio: Sear Sound (NYC). Additional engineering: Mikael Jorgensen at SOMA (Chicago). Mastering: Steve Rooke/Abbey Road (London).
— Blair Jackson
X:The Best: Make the Music Go Bang(Elektra/Rhino)
For my money, X was hands-down the greatest punk/new wave band to come out of the West Coast in the late '70s/early '80s. The electric combination of John Doe and Exene Cervenka's cracked harmonies, the speedy guitar assault of Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake's crashing drum sound was so explosive that clubs (and albums) could barely contain them. If they never made an album after their first, Los Angeles, they would still be immortal, but the fact is they kept making fine music for years and their sound expanded to incorporate more influences than the frenetic punk of their early days. Disc One of this two-CD retrospective collects the cream of their most productive years (1980 to 1983) on Slash and Elektra; I wouldn't change a single selection. This is gold. Disc Two is more motley but still excellent. It opens with their great take on “Wild Thing,” moves to a couple of tracks from their country/rockabilly off-shoot group, The Knitters, and then returns to X and some of the glossy Michael Wagener — produced songs from Ain't Love Grand! The post-Billy Zoom period is best represented by four live cuts from 1987. Definitely worth picking up!
Compilation produced by John Doe and Gary Stewart. Many different engineers, producers and studios.
— Blair Jackson
Vassar Clements:Livin' With the Blues(Acoustic Disc)
One of the most inventive and jazz-influenced modern bluegrass fiddlers, Vassar Clements has always had a sound — like bluegrass itself — rooted in white and black blues. On his latest CD — his first since the death of his beloved wife, Millie — he gets to explore the blues outright, joining with such fine players and singers as Elvin Bishop, Roy Rogers, Maria Muldaur, Norton Buffalo, Charlie Musselwhite and Bob Brozman on a set of tunes that spans decades and multiple shades of blues. There's a warm, relaxed vibe to the proceedings, but there's still plenty of life and intensity in the music — particularly in Clements' fiddle parts, which range from good-natured ambling to howling, pain-filled excursions. Special kudos to Bob Brozman for his sparkling work on the National tricone guitar.
Producers: David Grisman and Norton Buffalo. Engineers: Larry Cumings and Grisman. Studio: Dawg Studio (Marin County, CA). Mastering: Paul Stubblebine/Stubblebine Mastering (S.F.).
— Blair Jackson
BeauSoleil Avec Michael Doucet:Gitane Cajun(Vanguard)
Blending the upbeat fiddle and accordion-driven instrumentation common to Cajun with influences from blues, country and more, BeauSoleil's latest release, Gitane Cajun, is once again a platform for the group's multi-instrumentalist Michael Doucet, who has been leading the group since 1975 and plays violin, guitar, accordion, mandolin and provides most vocals.
Throughout the many stylistic changes in the album, Doucet's fiddle is out front, but he's ably assisted by a band of talented musicians. The latest incarnation of BeauSoleil includes Doucet's brother David (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Breaux on accordion, percussionists Billy Ware and Tommy Alesi and Al Tharp (bass, fiddle, banjo and electric guitar).
The wistful opening track, “Gitane Cajun I,” Celtic-influenced “Les Fleurs Fleurissent” and upbeat “Bye Bye Boozoo” are as varied as they are exceptional, and the one English language track, “Windhorse Eyes,” is a slight but noticeable deviation from an otherwise inspiring tour through one of the South's well-loved sonic landscapes.
Producers: Michael Doucet, David Doucet and David Egan. Recorded and mixed by Curry Weber and Bill Bennett. Studio: Dockside Studios (Milton, Louisiana). Additional recording by Billy Ware at Bungalow Studios (Lafayette, LA). Mastering by Dave Glasser/AirShow (Boulder, CO).
— Breean Lingle