Cajun band Beausoleil mixes it up on new CD
In last year’s Wheeler Opera House performance, Louisiana’s Beausoleil played its Cajun fiddle music with few twists. But on “Gitane Cajun,” purportedly an homage to a trio of deceased Louisiana players, fiddler Michael Doucet and company give the music nothing but twists. “La flèche d’amour” blends French pop and Texas swing; “Bye, Bye Boozoo,” a tribute to late zydeco player Boozoo Chavis, is straight zydeco – a distinct flavor from Cajun music – and “Windhorse Eyes” hints at both country-western and Irish styles. The title track is split into two halves – one a waltz, the other a fiddle tune set to a driving percussive beat. With the addition of piano and slide guitars, this is anything but backward-looking. Produced by Michael Doucet, David Doucet and David Egan (Vanguard).The Neville Brothers”Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life”produced by Milton Davis, the Neville Brothers and Ivan Neville (Back Porch)It would have been so easy for New Orleans icons the Neville Brothers to fall back on old ideas for their first album in five years. Give the Bro’s credit, then, for coming back with a noticeably updated sound on “Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life.” The band – which now includes two Neville sons, singer-keyboardist Ivan, and guitarist Ian – incorporates hip-hop, scratching and guest rapper B.G. into its groove. “We been around since doo wop/Now we round for the hip-hop,” sings Cyril Neville on “Can’t Stop the Funk.”But new doesn’t necessarily mean fresh. For all the beats and sounds, “Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life” has an odd undercurrent of recycled Nevilles, with talk of ghettos and junkies, family and funk. “Kingdom Come” is powerful funk – but strongly reminiscent of past tunes that used spoken word passages to deliver earnest warnings about the street. The Nevilles still know how to sound good: They still have their groove (even if the New Orleans flavor is more diluted than ever) and Aaron Neville’s remarkable falsetto (even if it doesn’t get spotlighted until the album’s half over). Most any new Nevilles is better than no Nevilles, and “Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life” is decent Nevilles. But it’s another hint that the days of classics like “Yellow Moon” won’t be coming back.
“Is It Rolling Bob?”produced by Doctor Dread (Sanctuary/Ras)”Dylan Country”compilation produced by Shawn Amos (Shout! Factory)Bob Dylan put a fresh spin on his own history in the recent memoir “Chronicles.” Now come two additions to the already large pile of twists on Dylan’s music.”Is It Rolling Bob?” is the far more ambitious and fresher project. The album features all new recordings of Dylan songs – mostly the better-known ones – by top reggae singers. The tracks were all recorded over a few days at Jamaica’s Anchor Studio, with the same core of musicians, including drummer Sly Dunbar and guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, giving the album a consistency. The choices here make sense: The Mighty Diamonds give an appropriate beauty to “Lay Lady Lay”; the hard-line gospel tune “Gotta Serve Somebody” gets a more ominous reading – and some Rastafarian lyrics – from Nasio & the Razor Posse. Luciano, known as one of reggae’s most spiritual singers, gets “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” You could ask for more imaginative rearrangements of the material overall, though Sizzla’s radical reinvention of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” fills that bill. The disc ends with Dylan himself, singing the reggae remix version of his searingly brilliant, reggae-inspired and mostly overlooked “I and I,” from his 1983 album “Infidels.” The album title is a clever double entendre: Dylan’s 1968 album “Nashville Skyline” opens with someone asking, “Is it rolling Bob?” and the album cover, with Dylan rolling a spliff, is a spoof on the cover of Dylan’s “Bringing It Al Back Home.”
“Dylan Country” is a compilation of previously released material. But the names of the artists, and the consistently strong performances – Waylon Jennings on a peppy “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”; Buck Owens’ grand “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”; Tim O’Brien’s nearly a cappella “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Earl Scruggs picking the banjo tune “Nashville Skyline Rag” – testify to Dylan’s influence across the cultural landscape. Widespread Panic, “Jackassolantern”produced by Widespread PanicJohn Hermann, “Just Ain’t Right”Barbara Cue, “Rhythm Oil”(Sanctuary)Like the recent live, acoustic album “Uber Cobra,” “Jackassolantern” is another treat for the fans while Southern jam band Widespread Panic takes an extended hiatus. “Jackassolantern” collects the widespread assortment of cover songs – Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” to the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” to a Doors medley of “Peace Frog/Blue Sunday” – Panic played in their beloved Halloween concerts. The fun doesn’t end with surveying the song list (“Sympathy for the Devil,” Nelly’s “Hot in Here”), the humorous title or even the inspired art work. Widespread takes these tunes for a ride. On “Blue Sunday,” singer John Bell does a credible impersonation of Jim Morrison; saxophonist Randall Bramblett joins in for a scary-good version of WAR’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness”; and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is on board for half the album, including a monstrous take on Blue Oyster Cult’s campy “Godzilla.” Panic doesn’t just take a swipe at these tunes, but sinks their teeth into them.
While Widespread relaxes, most of its members are busy on side projects. Keyboardist Jojo Hermann regroups with North Mississippi Allstars Cody and Luther Dickinson and bassist Paul “Crumpy” Edwards – a combo that goes by the handle Smiling Assassins – to make “Rhythm Oil,” their third album of breezy, tight blues-rock. Some tunes – the outside-the-box boogie “We’re Going Out Tonight,” and the instrumental “Assassination” – are inspired. Other ideas are worth deeper attention than they get here; “Rhythm Oil” was made in four days, which shows in the repetitiveness.Big Head Todd and the Monsters”Live at the Fillmore” (Sanctuary)On this two-CD live set, recorded in March at San Francisco’s Fillmore, Big Head Todd and the Monsters earn the distinction of one of current rock’s more diversely talented groups. Splitting the difference between jam band and power trio, singer-guitarist Todd Park Mohr leads the Colorado band through stately blues-rock (“Crazy Mary”), punky power chord tunes (“Come On”) and peppy classic-style rock (“Secret Mission”). The set includes a heavy dose of hits from the band’s monstrously popular 1993 album, “Sister Sweetly,” and concludes with a cover of “Forever Man,” an ’80s hit for Eric Clapton.Big Head Todd and the Monsters play a free concert in downtown Aspen Saturday, Nov. 27, at 6:30 p.m., as part of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Budweiser Hi-Fi Concert Series.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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