CD reviews: Radiators get it right
(Radz Records)Its been a lengthy, unusual trip for New Orleans roots-rockers, the Radiators. Condensing 30 years (with the original quintet intact!) into two CDs is tough enough, but factor in just how prolific primary songwriter Ed Volker has been, and it gets even harder. So give the Rads, who have never been great at capturing their appeal on recordings, for truly doing it right on Wild & Free. The band dug deep to find pristine reel-to-reel recordings from as far back as 1978. There is a nice balance of old, exotic material My Home Is On the Border is a lovely one, All Meat Off the Same Bone winds through various segments and hot-quite-hits Like Dreamers Do, Doctor Doctor, both heard in excellent live versions here. Even the committed Rads fan might find some new nuggets here: The Forever Man, Stand By Me, Baby, presented in demo form. And the band offers a brand new one, the upbeat, catchy The Girl With the Golden Eyes. You might ask for more in the packaging three full decades surely can be documented better but musically, this compilation is a crowd-pleaser.
(Blue Note)A faded icon makes a glorious comeback by going to a super-producer from another musical realm, who gives him a stripped-down production. Raise your hand is you thought Rick Rubin, the man behind the late-career revivals of Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, was involved.
Actually, the production team here features hip-hoppers Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson of the Roots, and James Poyser. But both of them have ties to soul and R&B, and Lay It Down shows loving reverence for the Al Green of the 60s/70s. Just the right touches like young duet partners John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae are provided to avoid making this a trip down memory lane. A relaxed Green warms perfectly to the slow but deep grooves, turning up the romance in songs like Just For Me and the title track. Its easily Greens best album in three decades.Whos up next for Thompson and Poyser? Jerry Lee Lewis?
-produced by Greene and Steve Berlin (429 Records)As with 2006s wonderful American Myth, singer-songwriter Jackie Greene opens his latest, Giving Up the Ghost, with a cautionary tale about his home state, California. There it was the caustic Hollywood; here, its the more restrained Shaken (California is the place to be/ I should warn you bout the things Ive seen). Greene, a 27-year-old Sacramento product, continues to see the world through wary eyes. On Animal, he lays bare the primitive instincts that drive him (and us); on the splendid Uphill Mountain, he evokes old bluesmen like Elmore James to remind himself that life is a battle one that might be survived, if never mastered.Greenes world-wise views get a shinier setting than in the past, thanks to the aid of producer (and Los Lobos saxophonist) Steve Berlin. Not quite sparkling enough to wash away the message in such lines as Temptations like a crooked finger, callin for us all, from Dont Let the Devil Take Your Mind, but enough not to chase listeners away.I tell you, if I was in Greenes shoes a central member of Phil Leshs Phil & Friends, maker of two outstanding albums in a row now I think Id have a rosier outlook.
-produced by Matt Kass & the Brakes (Hyena)The Philadelphia rock quintet the Brakes are, like Jackie Greene, young, appealing and talented. They are also infected with some of that alienation Greene has, evident in songs like Empty House and Into the Ground from Tale of Two Cities, their debut CD. (On the title song, it almost sounds like Greens is sitting in on guest vocals, guitar and songwriting.) The Brakes have at least a little reason to have glum feelings; their drummer Josh Sack died last month from leukemia, two days before the release of the album. But the band should be glowing about their future; Tale of Two Cities, recorded live last spring, reveals a remarkably grown-up approach to jam-touched rock.
(Blue Note)The novelty here is engaging not only the pairing of icons Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis (plus Marsalis quartet and harmonica player Mickey Raphael), but the bumping together of country and jazz. Just beyond that, however, Two Men with the Blues gets a bit dull, and its easiest (and probably most proper) to pin it on the material. Do we need more versions of Stardust, Georgia on My Mind and Aint Nobodys Business? Its hard to fault the expertise in the playing, but between Willie and Wynton, one of them should have thought to bring a lighter, and lit a flame under this firstname.lastname@example.org