may 2008

reddingOtis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soulis the incomparable Otis Redding's finest hour among many fine hours during his abbreviated time on earth, as heard on an essential two-disc reissue of a soul music monument. Over time most of these performances have achieved well-deserved legendary status as models of flawless instrumental and vocal synergy and energy, when Redding, on this his third album for Volt, drove and was driven by the towering Stax house band (better known now as Booker T & the MG's, Isaac Hayes and the Mar-Key Horns) to transcendent peaks of artistry—all in the span of what the liner notes refer to as "one amazing adrenaline-charged 24-hour period." The songs seem to have been selected with an eye towards fashioning a statement about soul music’s past, present and future. Otis had many more great moments ahead of him when Otis Blue was released in 1965. But any time, any day, any year, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul sounds right. And as Carl Perkins once observed, "When something's right, it's just flat right."

loveForever Changes: Legacy Edition

Released at the end of 1967 to the sound of almost no hands clapping (even Rolling Stone appraised it in tepid terms), Love's Forever Changes, the third and final album from the original band lineup led by the late Arthur Lee, has gained an Olympian stature in time, brooking favorable comparisons to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (released earlier in the same year as Forever Changes) and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (released in 1966) for its daring compositional, structural and production appropriations from various non-rock sources and its articulation of the prevailing, increasingly splintered, post-Summer of Love zeitgeist, when the Vietnam War came home with a vengeance. So rich in so many ways, and so open to continuing debate about its proper place in the hierarchy of ambitious, late '60s rock experiments in form and substance, Forever Changes remains—dare it be said?—forever young, and ever fascinating. Mark this reissue essential.

4Tapestry: Legacy Edition - Carole King

One of the landmarks fueling the singer-songwriter era in the early '70s, Carole King's Tapestry remains what it always has been: a wondrous exhibit of impeccably tailored songs, subtle arrangements that left King's earthy voice and churchy piano out front, and plainspoken, commanding vocals reliant for power not on bombast or virtuoso octave leaps, but rather on their heart-to-heart, conversational tone. This reissue adds nothing musical to the original album—no bonus tracks or alternative versions—only a remastered, sonically righteous edition of the 1971 masterpiece. Disc two is a live version of the studio album, performed in sequence, with King accompanied only by her church-steeped piano stylings and emotionally charged vocals, seamlessly assembled from concerts recorded in 1973 and 1976.

2Downsville Blues - Tomcat Courtney

In his national debut as a recording artist, 78-year-old Texas bluesman (transplanted to San Diego 35 years ago) Tomcat Courtney is focused on the basics of life: in the slow grind of “Cook My Breakfast,” he demands only that his woman do exactly as the title suggests, but leaves it for the listener to decide whether grits is groceries or if he has something else in mind when he growls, “Turn my damper down, baby/Don’t you burn my coffee pot.” With a guitar style blending Delta, Chicago and Texas stylings and a laconic, undaunted voice of experience, Courtney makes an impression, and then makes it stick.

1Always Lift Him Up: A Tribute to Blind Alfred Reed

A lot of people were introduced to Blind Alfred Reed by way of Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions album, on which the Boss offered a slightly updated version of Reed's ever-timely lament, "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live"; this long overdue tribute underscores how seriously Reed approached the song as a meaningful vessel for appraising his times and contemporary mores. Although hardly a household name, even among roots music enthusiasts, Reed's music has endured, because his themes—tough times, abiding faith and the battle of the sexes—endure. A multi-generational mix of West Virginia-rooted artists is represented here, and theirs is good work, and true.

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