Alright, let's let them take it away.
Steve Hochman's Picks
Artist: Cowboy Jack Clement
Album: For Once and For All
Songs: “Got Leaving On Her Mind,” “Just a Girl I Used to Know”
He only made three albums in his own name — this last one was completed shortly before he passed away last year at age 82 — but Cowboy Jack Clement was one of the true giants of modern country music, a towering figure as a producer, writer, publisher and muse for some of the essential artists in a career spanning more than half a century.
As a young staffer at Sun Records he was the first to record Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison and went on to help shape the talents of (and become best buddy to) no less than Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, as well as getting credit for desegregating country by championing Charley Pride and producing his key albums. “Cowboy” wasn’t a casual nickname, but an earned honorific befitting his colorful, larger-than-life presence that has been termed by some “Shakespearian.”
The respect and affection he gained in his years is bespoken by the cast that assembled to help on this album, from executive producer T Bone Burnett to a who’s who of country-Americana elite performing alongside him: Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, Leon Russell, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, John Prine, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlins, Dan Auerbach, Jim Lauderdale, Bobby Bare and Duane Eddy among them.
For all that, "For Once and For All" is anything but grandiose, but rather a down-to-earth, personal and personable account, at once casual and spirited. The songs are drawn largely from material he wrote in the ‘50s and ‘60s, songs of love and leaving triumphs and trip-ups, tall tales and, of course, trains, all invested here with the intimacy of the voice of a gifted storyteller sharing the wisdoms of his vast experience, without a whiff of pomposity or pretense.
From 1958’s “Fools Like Me” (a hit for Jerry Lee) and 1959’s “Miller’s Cave” (as classic a defiant, first-person outlaw ballad as there is, first a hit for Bobby Bare in ’63) to 1967’s whimsical “The Air Conditioner Song” to the somber plea of 1969’s “Jesus Don’t Give Up On Me” (the liner notes stress that he was spiritual, but “about as religious as a corn cob”), he doesn’t so much as hold court but host a gathering of friends.
“Got Leaving On Her Mind,” recorded over the years by artists from Charley Pride to Jerry Garcia, here has the Cowboy joined on vocals by Bentley and the Secret Sisters, while Eddy, Miller, Burnett and Pat McLaughlin make for an ultra-twangy guitar quartet. The wistful “Just a Girl I Used to Know” — a classic with versions by Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, Elvis Costello and Lee Ann Woman among others in the catalog — here sports exquisite harmonies from Emmylou Harris and Jim Lauderdale.
Artist: Henry Butler with Steven Bernstein & the Hot 9
Album: Viper’s Drag
Songs: “Viper’s Drag,” “Henry’s Boogie”
It was just New Year’s Day that I saw this act at a New York City jazz club, but already I had my first concert-of-the-year contender. And now the same act gives a legitimate album-of-the-year candidate.
Butler, a blind pianist from New Orleans, has a long career in the lineage of the city’s great ivory-ticklers, from Prof. Longhair on down. He’s also done various band and modern funk projects, but rarely has made an album that really captures his talents.
New Yorker Bernstein’s a horn player (the rare slide-trumpet being his signature tool), composer and arranger who’s had key roles with a range of artists from John Zorn to Lou Reed to Levon Helm, as well as leading his own big band and the edgy, witty Sex Mob and making some bracing explorations into ranges of Jewish-rooted music.
The two worked together in touring band spun off from the Robert Altman movie Kansas City. They got back together to play a blues festival in New York City in 2011 and from that grew this partnership. The collaboration allows Bernstein to explore old styles with fresh perspectives, and gives Butler, finally, a setting in which he can fully flourish. In the Hot 9 — the name evoking Louis Armstrong’s essential Hot 5 and Hot 7 sessions of the 1920s — Bernstein has brought together some of the top players in New York and New Orleans funk and jazz.
The music references those earliest years of recorded jazz, explicitly with the title tune, “Wolverine Blues” and a couple of others drawn from that seminal repertoire, but informed by and embracing pretty much everything that’s happened in jazz since. Mostly, it’s a true expression of the colorful, imaginative and accomplished personae of Butler and Bernstein and their cohorts, not least drummer Herlin Riley, assuring that there’s always a Mardi Gras vibe somewhere in there.
Butler sings on a few of the songs, which are terrific. But the heart and soul of the project come in the instrumental workouts. Sure, Butler’s playing has a lot of Longhair and James Booker and the other New Orleans greats in it, but Fat Waller, Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk are present.
Bernstein’s compositions and charts are as much Charles Mingus as Louis Armstrong. The magic of Viper’s Drag is its rapid-fire runs up and down the decades of jazz as in the title song, and more so in the places where all those eras and styles exist as one, notably the original funky Fat Tuesday strut, “Henry’s Boogie.”
Album: Nuevo Album
Songs: “Fantasmas” and “Extraño”
Argentinean electro-pop band Miranda return with a new album titled New Album.
Ale Sergi, Juliana Gattas and Monoto return with a similar retro vibe that has made them popular among their fans for more than a decade.
Since meeting 13 years ago, the band has been charming audiences with their electro-pop music and their unique style of videos and on stage presentations.
“Fantasmas” (Ghosts) is a slower-paced pop ballad that uses ghosts as a metaphor for relationships. It’s a sweet composition, catchy and the video is one to check out especially since the group is known for creating cinematic music videos that feel a little Wes Anderson in tone.
In this latest release fans will be happy that they get about 11 songs, but they are also performed acoustically, giving fans a double dose of Miranda, who have for years been making music that’s whimsical (often deep in the context of love), but always entertaining musically and lyrically.
Artist: Fania (various artists)
Album: Summerstage 201- Fania 50th Anniversary, Vol. 1
Songs: “Mi Desengaño” (Roberto Roena & Apollo Sound) and “La Paz del Freak” (La Mecánica Popular)
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 50 years since the Latin label Fania Records was co-created by Dominican-born bandleader and composer Johnny Pacheco.
This summer we're being reintroduced to the best of Fania with music that includes salsa, Afro-Cuban jazz, Latin R&B and the boogaloo. Additionally, new mixes have been made and newer bands continue performing in the spirit of Fania.
The label, which introduced the group Fania All Stars, included some of music’s most celebrated singers such as Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades.
This summer’s release of songs will showcase new acts and DJs who play tribute to Fania and those who were part of this musical movement. Fania is releasing eight digital albums through September in conjunction with New York’s SummerStage. Those features acts are performing in Central Park including the Fania All Stars who will be performing on Aug. 24.
Two of those releases include Roberto Roena’s “Mi Desengaño” and La Mecánica Popular’s “La Paz del Freak.”
Roena, a native of Puerto Rico, sings the classic composition and was tapped to perform this summer as part of the anniversary celebration.
La Mecánica Popular, known for their psychedelic salsa, has members from Peru, Colombia and New York-born musicians who honor the new wave of tropical music.
“La Paz del Freak”