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CD reviews: A global musical tour

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesLocal musician Lee Hollowell has released the album "The Reason" under the name, BDL.
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Music from the valley, the past, the British Isles and beyond…BDL, “The Reason,” produced by Lee HollowellCarbondale-area musician Lee Hollowell – aka Big Daddy Lee, and here as BDL – makes a solo album here, meaning his long-running band, the Kingbees, doesn’t share the billing. But no matter the setting, Hollowell is about nothin’ but the blues. He gives the blues all kinds of shapes on “The Reason”: slow and sweetly somber on “Looking For My Baby”; all greased up with saxophone on “Back to Memphis”; with a country flavor on the irreverent “Killing Time”; dark-edged on the chilling, Delta-inspired “Going Out Tonight.” Hollowell wrote all the songs – nine of them in a three-day burst – and there’s not a misfire among them; Hollowell’s gruff, honest voice sounds just right for each style. The songs are nicely fleshed out by a big cast that includes local players (drummers Rob Leventhal and John Michel, guitarist Dave Hill, bassist Michael Jude) plus the likes of mandolinist Tim O’Brien and dobroist Sally Van Meter.The Chieftains, “Voice of Ages,” produced by Paddy Maloney and T Bone Burnett (Hear/Concord)On the surface, this feels obligatory: Irish music icons the Chieftains celebrate their 50th! Break out the pipes and whistles! Parade in the wide array of guest singers! Bring in T Bone Burnett to co-produce! Let’s even get an Irish guest writer – Colum McCann, a frequent Aspen visitor, as it turns out – to write the liner notes.And for the most part, “Voice of Ages” does feel obligatory – not bad, of course, but routine, expected. But then there are moments like when Justin Vernon – better known as Bon Iver – steps to the mike to sing “Down in the Willow Garden,” it is something cool and different. The track of NASA astronaut Cady Coleman playing – in orbit! – on instruments borrowed from the Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney and Matt Malloy, and explaining that she’s playing in orbit, is hokey.The Dunwells, “Blind Sighted Faith,” produced by John Porter (Playing in Traffic)Over here in the colonies, the impact of Mumford & Sons has been seen in guest TV appearances with Bob Dylan, a constant presence on the radio, a quick rise from clubs to amphitheaters. In the U.K., that impact is seen in the Dunwells, a band of brothers (principal singer-songwriters Joseph and David Dunwell) plus a set of cousins, all from Leeds. This debut album, recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Texas, echoes the high-octane folk-rock of M&S – both sound far more American than British – and adds in the tightly coordinated harmonies of CS&N, plus a touch of the edginess of Fleet Foxes.I give the Dunwells a 10 percent chance of approaching Mumford & Sons in popularity, and a 90 percent chance of being arrested for impersonating Mumford & Sons.The Dunwells perform Wednesday, March 21 at Belly Up Aspen, opening for Sons of Fathers.Lyle Lovett, “Release Me,” produced by Nathaniel Kunkel and Lovett (Curb)Break-ups have made for great albums; Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” is at the top of the pile. “Release Me” is Lyle Lovett’s break-up album, but of a different sort – he’s parting ways with Curb Records, the only label he’s ever known. So what does the ever-sly Lovett have to say about the relationship and its conclusion? The cover photo might say more than any song; it’s an image of Lovett bound tightly in ropes – a suggestion that Curb has restrained Lovett too much to carry the union forward? The title track doesn’t say much. It’s a classic country duet, with k.d. lang, that could easily be read as a straightforward tale of romance coming to a close: “To live together is a sin/ Release me and let me love again.” Or it could be a singer kissing his longtime business partner good-bye. (This would have been the first question I asked Lovett when he was here in January, but he kind of dusted me on an interview. Maybe it was me he was referring to?)Searching for other clues about the break-up, you can’t ignore the fact that Lovett, as good a songwriter as there is, comes up short on quantity here. Of the 14 songs, only two were written by Lovett, and one of them, “The Girl with the Holiday Smile,” a Christmas song about a hooker, might not be the kind that a label sees as an asset. And the album opens with an instrumental fiddle tune, “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” on which Lovett does not play. He gets co-credit for the arrangement, but it’s a curious way to open an album. On the other hand, Lovett can’t help his perfectionist ways, and he and his band play the heck out of songs by Lovett’s fellow Texans (Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues,” Eric Taylor’s “Understand You”), non-Texans (Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So,” Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”) and traditional tunes (“One Way Gal,” “Keep it Clean”).”Release Me” ends with the gospel tune “Keep Us Steadfast.” Can we assume that, even as the Lovett-Curb ties end, Lovett prays for fidelity in his affairs?Chris Isaak, “Beyond the Sun,” produced by Isaak (Vanguard)Isaak’s homage to the music of Memphis’ Sun Studio – rockabilly tunes by Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis – doesn’t really go beyond the sun. Instead it dives straight into the sun, as Isaak sings faithful versions of “Ring of Fire,” “Dixie Fried” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” plus his own rocker, “Live It Up,” in the Sun style – as if Isaak himself were standing on Memphis’ Union Avenue, with studio owner Sam Phillips at the controls. Isaak knows the material, honors it – and gives listeners reason to say, Yep, there was some magic coming out of Sun Studio.Chris Isaak plays Wednesday, March 14 at Belly Up Aspen.stewart@aspentimes.com


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