Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues (4*)

Given an extensive discography that varies between the sublime (the studio version of Cream, Layla) and the ridiculously naff (anything resembling Wonderful Tonight) my approach to a new Clapton recording invariably involves scrutiny of his collaborators on the project in question.

Given the intersection of superstar guitar hero status and an inclination to veer straight into the worst excesses of the middle of the road (I mean, how else do you explain Wonderful Tonight?) Clapton's at his best when he has someone to spark off who'll also spark off him (a la Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall on the mid-noughties world tour or the late great Duane Allman) rather than deferring to The Man Who Was Once God.

If that sounds like a put down, I'd point out my Claptonic wish list includes something along the lines of the item under review involving gospel music and Robert Randolph and a recursion into Delaney Bonnie & Friends territory with the latter day reincarnation of DB & F (Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and the rest of the Tedeschi Trucks Band).

Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues (Live from Jazz At Lincoln Center), recorded at New York City’s premier jazz venue isn't quite up there but it ain't too shabby either.

Assuming, that is, the listener shares Hughesy's affection for the music of New Orleans. If traditional jazz gives you the heebie jeebies this one ain't for you, folks.

For a start we've got a collection of material selected by Clapton and arranged by Marsalis, and given Marsalis sits very firmly in the traditional side of things we've got a very traditional sounding effort. That's not to suggest it's all traditional material. Howlin' Wolf's Forty-Four gets a guernsey, as does Layla, rearranged as a Crescent City dirge at the request of bassist Carlos Henriquez.

Taj Mahal drops by to contribute vocals to Just a Closer Walk With Thee and Corrine, Corrina and Clapton's happy to play rhythm rather than dominating the spotlight, though he does contribute most of the vocals.

We're looking at a lineup based on King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band plus two (Clapton's electric guitar and Chris Stainton's piano) playing material stretching from from the rumbunctious hokum of Ice Cream to the spiritual (Just A Closer Walk with Thee) with a variety of staging points in between, all of them rounded into a setlist that works very well as a whole. The trumpet shines throughout and the rest of the lineup isn't far off stellar in the style.

Your mileage may vary, but this one sits somewhere between 4* Quality recording worth a serious listen and 3.5* Interesting but non-essential. Listening as I type I'm inclined to round it up rather than down.

David Bromberg "Use Me"

David Bromberg Use Me (4*)

As you might expect, someone who has been associated with the likes of Reverend Gary Davis, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jerry Garcia,Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Jorma Kaukonen isn't going to be short of musical friends and acquaintances.

On Use Me David Bromberg calls in some musical favours from Dr. John, Levon Helm, Linda Ronstadt, John Hiatt, Widespread Panic and Los Lobos to produce an album that offers a lively amalgam of blues, folk, jazz, bluegrass and country & western, played with Bromberg's characteristic restrained virtuosity.

After returning from a recording hiatus lasting 17 years for 2007's Try Me One More Time (in the meantime he's been operating a violin sales and repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware, with his wife) this latest effort, recorded on the various guest artists' home turf (Levon Helm in Woodstock, Dr John in New Orleans, Nashville for John Hiatt, Tim O’Brien and Vince Gill, Los Angeles for Los Lobos) works the same territory he's been mining through a lengthy career.

If you're looking for rootsy eclecticism, with very classy performances on fiddle, acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel and dobro with warm vocals and a classy lineup of guests who don't get in the way, Bromberg's your man.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

North Mississippi Allstars "Keys to the Kingdom"

North Mississippi Allstars Keys to the Kingdom (3.5*)
Given the genre (bar band southern rock or its cousin brother beer'n'boogie) you might suspect there are a couple of thousand outfits like the North Mississippi Allstars out working the clubs, bars and juke joints of the states below the Mason-Dixon line, but there won't be too many who can claim the links the NMAS have to key but largely sidelined figures in the field.

Guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer, keyboards player and electric washboard(!) dude Cody Dickinson are the sons of Memphis musician and producer, Jim Dickinson who worked with Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Jim passed away two years ago and Keys to the Kingdom is, to all intents and purposes, a celebration of Dad's life and work. It's a genre that you'll probably either love or hate (no pretensions to virtuosity, but they can dig a groove with the best of them). The album's tidy enough as a genre exercise without aspiring to or reaching any significant heights in terms of innovation or virtuosity, bit those two elements don’t turn up too often in the genre, do they?

Hughesy's tip: Sample a couple of tracks and then click over to their cover of Dylan's Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again which is one of the best things I've heard in a long time.