Cool Spins

Various Artists Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino(Vanguard) As one who has groused occasionally about the plethora of lame CDs in recent years, I have

Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino

As one who has groused occasionally about the plethora of lame “tribute” CDs in recent years, I have to admit that 2007 has produced two of the best to come down the pike in a long time: the John Lennon Instant Karma benefit for Darfur and this two-disc tribute to the great Fats Domino (a fundraiser for Tipitina's Foundation to help revitalize the Lower 9th Ward, Fats' New Orleans neighborhood that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina). Wisely, most of the artists stick fairly close to Domino's originals (and Dave Bartholomew's brilliant arrangements), but they bring their own personalities to the proceedings, and in all cases demonstrate their affection for this timeless R&B, rock 'n' roll and blues. Believe it or not, there isn't a clinker in this batch of 30 tunes, which includes all of the expected hits, but also many lesser-known numbers, so to single out a few is to ignore many that are worthy of praise. Still, favorites so far include Paul McCartney's uncanny Domino imitation on “I Want to Walk You Home,” Elton John's perfect “Blueberry Hill,” Randy Newman's moody “Blue Monday,” Taj Mahal & The New Orleans Social Club's bluesy “My Girl Josephine,” Robert Plant and the Soweto Vocal Choir's Africanized take on “Valley of Tears,” Neil Young's quirky “Walking to New Orleans” with swelling strings and choir, Ben Harper and The Skatelites' joyous “Be My Guest,” Norah Jones' tasteful and moving “My Blue Heaven” and the Los Lobos-ized reading of “The Fat Man.” But it's all good stuff — a can't-miss party in one package!

Executive producer: Bill Taylor. Coordinating producer (and also engineer on several tracks): Chris Finney. Full credits listed at Mastering: Stephen Marcussen/Marcussen Mastering (Hollywood).
Blair Jackson

Washington Square Serenade

(New West)
As the title suggests, renegade Steve Earle's latest album is a tribute to his new-ish home in New York City. Earle had his own troubles when he lived in Nashville. “Tennessee Blues” documents his journey north to find his “tribe” and true love in Greenwich Village, where he and his wife, singer/songwriter Alison Moorer, live. Moorer — who has a beautiful and versatile voice — sings with her husband on songs such as “City of Immigrants” and the lovely duet “Days Aren't Long Enough.” But Serenade isn't all wine and roses. “Steve's Hammer” is a strong protest song meant to be sung with fists raised. All of the tracks are played simply and directly, with acoustic instruments and plenty of attitude. It seems that Nashville's loss is our gain.

Producer: John King. Recording engineers: Josh Wilbur, Tom Camuso. Mixer: King. Recording studio: Electric Lady (New York City). Mixing studio: The Nest (Hollywood). Mastering: Jim Demain/Yes Master (Nashville).
Barbara Schultz

Avenged Sevenfold

(Warner Bros.)
This is why I love listening to Avenged Sevenfold: They may be considered a hard rock/almost scream-metal band, but they delve into a bit of country and emo-tinged vocal territory. Best of all, the album doesn't feel slapped together, but rather sounds as if the band is taking you on a sonic journey. After months of touring, the band's live energy was easily translated to L.A. area control rooms. And while the album's belly is full of rock and metal influences, there is great variety to the instrumentation that brings a fullness to their sound: Check out the soaring strings in “Afterlife” or the gentle, if freaky, vocals of a child on “Unbound.” You never know what you're going to get from this band, but it's always interesting.

LISTEN: Must Play
Avenged Sevenfold

LISTEN: Must Play
Avenged Sevenfold

Producer: Avenged Sevenfold. Engineers: Fred Archambault, Dave Schiffman. Mixer: Andy Wallace. Studios: Soundtrack Studios, Sunset Sound Recorders, Eldorado Recording Studios, Capitol Studios. Mastering: Brian Gardner/Bernie Grundman Mastering (Hollywood).
Sarah Benzuly

Luna Halo

(American Recordings)
As the old guard of rock falls away, it seems there are always plenty of hard-rockin' young bands trying fill the gap. Luna Halo can't quite fill the old-timers' shoes (yet), but they're much better than most of the newbies. Whereas many of their compatriots' recordings sound like they were recorded in a garage, Luna Halo's first EP has a tight-knit sound that smartly fuses punk's “jumpy” quality with the sort of hammering drums and swooping bass lines key to many rock anthems. From the bouncing “Kings & Queens” (yes, it's the theme song for King of Queens' final season) to the Oasis-ish “Medicate,” to the quiet, melodic “On Your Side,” Luna Halo seems comfortable in their own skin for their first outing. Catch 'em in your hometown's favorite club — they are sure to please!

Executive producer: Rick Rubin. Produced, mixed and recorded by Neal Avron.
Sarah Benzuly

Fossil Poets

(Inner Knott)
Best known for his long stint with Todd Rundgren's Utopia, multi-instrumentalist Roger Powell teams up with guitarist/bassist Greg Koch and musician/arranger/engineer Gary Tanin for an instrumental voyage that combines pleasingly catchy retro (and modern) synth textures with atmospheric guitars in a series of stylistically varied compositions. If parts are redolent with echoes of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk and other synth pioneers, there is still a lot of original thought in these arrangements, which variously pulse and drift and cascade in many directions. Back in the day, we would've called this “a great headphone album”; that's still a compliment. The sonics are amazing — every bleep, bloop, swoosh and guitar cry is right there. Check out “Crème Fraiche,” “Tribe By Fire” and “Miles [as in Davis] Per Gallon.”

Producer/recorders: Gary Tanin, Roger Powell. Engineering, mixing and mastering by Tanin at GT Labs (Milwaukee). Powell's studio work: Pitchbend (Northern California).
Blair Jackson