january 2009

"You felt when it was coming: a bright shout of brass, a dusting of strings and the trademark undercurrent-an unrelenting funky beat. Few music catalogs so fully approximated the mood and feel of a changing black America as did Philadelphia International Records. There was the big machine of Motown, to be sure, and the rootsy-ness of Stax, but in its halcyon years there was something inclusive and ecumenical about the Philly sound that, cut to cut-and sometimes within the span of a single song-evoked both the range of influences and the complicated arc of the journey."


The same integrity with which Yank Rachell lived his life informed his music as well. To those who have studied Rachell's technique and approach, and tried to emulate it, or incorporate facets of it into their own style, what he wrought was a thing of beauty. To the casual fan, the soul permeating his performances washed over you in an invigorating rush. Artists who loved Rachell's music and gathered to pay tribute to it on this disc invest their performances with a wealth of heart and feeling, enough, surely, to make Rachell smile from the great beyond. Many of these artists knew him personally, some only knew him by his art, but all sing it like they mean it.

thumbnailBig Shanty, SOLD OUT
Batten down the hatches, Big Shanty's back in town. What that means is a full-on scorched earth assault of searing, buzzsaw guitars and thundering rhythm section in service to the Big one's rough-hewn vocal declamations.

Kim Richardson, TRUE NORTH
Arkansas native and Memphis resident Kim Richardson is demanding to be heard with True North, her second solo album, a long-awaited followup to 2001's Up Until Now. This is not to suggest a matter of volume-in fact, despite the accompaniment of a small, tight quartet and Richardson's own nimble acoustic guitar work, True North is a remarkably quiet, intimate album-but rather the force of the artist's literate, perceptive songwriting and the deep, human quality of her clear, ringing voice (to some it may be reminiscent of the young Natalie Merchant, at times) and deliciously subtle southern twang. She's tough as nails and delicate as a blooming flower all at once, a woman unafraid of expressing her most vulnerable side but unwilling to be anyone's doormat.

thumbnailMatthew Stubbs, SOUL BENDER
Considering that the human voice makes no utterance on Matthew Stubbs's Soul Bender, it's remarkable how much singing actually goes on here. Twenty-five-year old Stubbs, now ensconced as the guitarist in Charlie Musselwhite's band, summons from his instrument a multitude of affecting textures that say more than words, and then gives his accompanying horn players ample room to add their own eloquent statements, which they do when the opportunity arises. The result is an all-instrumental album of cinematic proportions and endlessly engaging musical journeys.

Those who find the estimable John Pizzarelli perhaps a bit arch and a whiter shade of white ought to give Andy Scott a whirl. Don't Tempt Fate, his new solo album, is a delightful, relaxed groovy affair of original jazz- and blues-influenced tunes purveyed by musicians comfortable in both modes, with nice acoustic touches dotting the otherwise-electric ambiance. Scott offers a slight bluesy swagger and drawl in his vocal style—Mac Rebbenack and Randy Newman are the most obvious influences here—every bit as natural as his guitar and keyboard playing is fluid.

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