If you love music, but don't have the time to keep up with what's new, you should listen to Tuesday Reviewsday. Every week our critics join our hosts in the studio to tell us about what you should be listening to, in one short segment. This week, music journalist Steve Hochman joins Alex Cohen with his top picks.
Artist: Tom Jones
Album: "Long Lost Suitcase"
Songs: "I Wish You Would," "Elvis Presley Blues"
The Welsh Wonder has been on quite the run of late, with his last two albums showing him in peak form on some very meaty blues and gospel on the first and gripping selections from such ace songwriters as Leonard Cohen and Richard Thompson on the second. There’s also a new autobiography. It’s no mere victory lap, though, as he’s still going strong on a third in the series (as with the others, produced by Ethan Johns).
Here he kind of splits the difference, with songs from the catalogs of Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Hank Williams, the Rolling Stones among others, along with relative newcomers Gillian Welch and youngsters the Milk Carton Kids. It’s an inspired set, full of the swagger and sex appeal that go with the name Tom Jones, no less at age 75 than ever. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old Jones we first knew putting so much fire into Billy Boy Arnold’s "I Wish You Would" as he and the ace band behind him do. Many of us know the song first from the Yardbirds’ British Invasion rave-up, and Jones gives that a run for its money. A churning version of Los Lobos’ "Everybody Loves a Train" is another standout.
About half the album has a country-folk grounding. A version of Tom Paxton’s "He Was a Friend of Mine" is bare-bones, just acoustic guitar and spare slide along with him, intimate and honest in his feel for the song, truly mourning for someone now gone. Hank Williams’ "Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do" has some snappy swing to its yearning. And Gillian Welch’s trembling "Elvis Presley Blues" gives a nice balance of homage and elegy. And it serves as a great centerpiece of this album, showcasing Jones later in life, but still taking great inspiration and energy from the heroes of his youth — while providing inspiration for others who have come along later.
Artist: Boss Selection
Album: "Volume 1"
Songs: "Flip and Rewind," "Midnight Fools"
If much of this album puts you in mind of classic, slinky-funky Quincy Jones productions, specifically those around the time of his all-time top, Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," fair enough. Well, it comes by it honestly, not to mention genetically. Sunny Levine, the fellow behind the Boss Selection moniker, is Jones’ grandson, though an established producer, writer and musician in his own right. And then there’s the singer on the song "Flip and Rewind," none other than Rashida Jones — yes, the comic actress known for "Parks and Recreation" and "The Office," but also, oh, Quincy Jones’ daughter and Levine’s aunt. They’re not being coy about the nostalgia/heritage here. Even that song title directs our attention back to the cassette era.
But you know what? It’s a good song, more homage than copy. And while a nostalgia streak runs through the whole album, there’s a personal touch brought by Levine to a range of sounds, with a series of guest vocalists from veteran R&B star Brenda Russell to South African trumpet great Hugh Masekela to singer-songwriter Pete Yorn.
But yes, those ‘80s. Check out the synth bass powering "Midnight Fools," featuring singer Young Dad, a.k.a. Levin’s long-time friend Amir Yaghmai. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Gap Band album. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be out of place on a Flying Lotus album, either.
Album: "I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country"
Songs: "Je M’ai Fait Une Maitresse," "Inch Above Your Knee"
In 1934 musicologists John and Alan Lomax went to the prairies of south central Louisiana to collect and record music of the French-descended Cajuns and the African-rooted Creoles. It was a definitive study of two related cultures unlike anything else in the U.S., and largely unknown outside the region. Not to mention it was some of the most exciting and enticing music being made on the continent, but it remained a curiosity at best for ages. Now, several generations later, Cajun is a well-known term, but still quite misunderstood, and anything but restricted to what Lomax captured. Some of the most creative and accomplished figures in Cajun music, brought together by young leaders Joel Savoy and Joshua Caffery and released on Savoy’s Valcour Records label, revisit the Lomax visit and bring it up to date, and in some ways full circle as anthropology from the inside, giving a portrayal of the culture and music today.
The project, a just-completed series of four themed EPs collected in a box set, features a few generations itself, from veterans Ann Savoy (Joel’s mom) and BeauSoleil’s Michael Doucet to younger Kristi Guillory and Megan Brown. They all know the history intimately, but are not locked into it, with performances, mostly in French, running from what we might call interpretive traditional to relatively radical — and every one involving and engaging, enlivening the spirit of the Lomax recordings and covering a good deal of the wide range of approaches you’ll find to music in the region now. On the most "folk" end is Doucet’s fiddle-and-voice rendition of the fallen-woman lament "Je M’ai Fait Une Maitresse" ("I Made Myself a Mistress"), taken from the "Dancing and Seduction" third disc.
On the more modern side, Savoy and Kelli Jones-Savoy, who in addition to being his wife is in the wonderfully creative Lafayette band Feufollet, team for a rocking (and in English) "Inch Above Your Knee," with Savoy writing new music for traditional words. Performances, and performers, are varied, but uniformly earthy and unaffected, and brimming with the same qualities that attracted the Lomaxes way back then. Speaking of which, you can hear the original recordings at www.lomax1934,com, and read about it in Caffery’s book, "Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana." (And a disclaimer: I’ve been friends with the Savoy Family for more than 25 years, since Joel was a lad, and have consumed tons of crawfish with many of the people on these recordings.)