CD reviews: Loudon Wainwright III, Rodney Crowell and more |

CD reviews: Loudon Wainwright III, Rodney Crowell and more

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Ross HalfinSinger-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III revisits old material on the new album, Recovery.

produced by Joe Henry (Yep Roc)Last year, Joe Henry, in his singer-songwriter mode, released Civilians, one of the smartest and best CDs of 2007. This year, Henry who has produced outstanding albums by Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, Ani DiFranco and others moves back behind the controls for a pair of albums that bring alt-country to another level of sophistication.Henry first hooked up with Loudon Wainwright III for the soundtrack to the comedy Knocked Up an odd project for a 60-something singer-songwriter, and a producer noted for his high-mindedness. The two keep the ball rolling on another unusual project: On Recovery, Wainwright revisits his back catalogue way back, as none of the songs were written after 1974. But Henry turns out to be the ideal partner, bringing in cutting-edge players including steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose to ensure a fresh approach to the old, folkie material. Wainwright sounds inspired, giving a stomping feel to Black Uncle Remus, and conveying all the drama of his tragi-comic story-song, The Man Who Couldnt Cry.Rodney Crowell moved from mainstream country to alt-country with the introspective, autobiographical 2001 album, The Houston Kid. Having Henry who employs the same core group of musicians here as on Recovery, plus guitarist Doyle Bramhall III as his producer is a clear indication that hes staying on the new road. But Sex and Gasoline is alternative not so much for its production its much more rootsy than Recovery but because Crowell’s songs address this modern world.Perhaps the truly alternative thing about Sex and Gasoline is how Crowell aligns himself with womanhood. On The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design, he imagines women in power as the cure for everything from air pollution to the war in Iraq. The title track laments, with black humor, the overwhelming grip sex appeal has on society; then, in Forty Winters, he sets himself apart from all that: Forty winters cold and drear could not age you one short year.Crowell moves back into self-examination on Closer to Heaven, proclaiming his dislikes (sushi, hummus, the words awesome and dude) and likes (Sissy Spacek, biscuits and gravy, his kids). And he is humbly satisfied by what he sees, finding himself closer to heaven than Ive ever been.Crowell gets more experimental when he makes his Aspen debut, Nov. 16 at Belly Up. He performs in an acoustic trio with violinist Jenny Scheinman and guitarist Will Kimbrough, both adventurous instrumentalists not known for playing country music.

(Heads Up)Still making excellent music after four decades, Taj Mahal has certainly earned the guest-star treatment he receives on Maestro. More important, as someone who has played blues, R&B, various Caribbean styles, rock, folk and more, it makes a lot of sense to bring in a wide variety of players to collaborate not always a given in these sorts of albums.Among those joining Taj here are Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Los Lobos, Ziggy Marley and his band, Angelique Kidjo, and the New Orleans Social Club, featuring members of the Meters and keyboardist Ivan Neville. Whether its soul-rock with Harper (Dust Me Down), country blues with Jack Johnson (Tajs enduring classic Further on Down the Road), or blues-touched reggae with Marley (Black Man, Brown Man), you never get the impression that Mahal has to bend too much to adapt.If there is one mild disappointment, it is the two tracks Never Let You Go and TV Mama featuring Los Lobos. Youd expect these to explode with the barrio touch of Los Lobos. Instead, youd probably not even know who the guest stars were if it werent written in the liner notes.

produced by Rick Chertoff, Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian (Plum/Womanly Hips)Singer Joan Osborne has been through the post-Grateful Dead and post-Motown worlds, made soul and country records, even a Christmas CD. There have been notable ups (2002s How Sweet It Is, an inventive album of soul covers) and downs (the flat 2006 countryish Pretty Little Stranger) in these ventures. But never in this jumping around did Osborne return to the source of her greatest commercial success, 1995s Relish, which included the hit One of Us.Osborne finally reassembles the team of producers, instrumentalists and co-writers Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian, of the 80s Philadelphia band, the Hooters, plus record exec Rick Chertoff that helped create Relish. But an even bigger presence on Little Wild One is Manhattan, which the Kentucky-born Osborne adopted as her home-city 20 years ago. She kicks off with the gospel-ish Hallelujah in the City, a gracious tour of New Yorks neighborhoods and a more meaningful piece of spirituality than One of Us. The album closes with Bury Me on the Battery, which features a different sound low-key soul-folk but a similar sentiment, of loving her city.Whether its New York, the Relish team, or the tasty mix of rock, soul, country, etc., Osborne nails it

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