Who is Nicky Holland and why the hell haven’t I heard of her? What a voice! “Nobody’s Girl” (Legacy Recordings) has changed my tune as it’s filled with 13 gorgeous melodies, 12 of which were written by the artist. The sole cover is Dusty Springfield’s “Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by Burt Bacharach/Hal David. Holland’s version is from the 1997 soundtrack to My Best Friend’s Wedding. It was her last recorded vocal. The question is why. Born in Great Britain and greatly influenced by Carole King, this retrospective of her career (a digital-only title) contains songs she co-wrote with Ellen Shipley (“Tongue-Tied and Twisted”) and Cyndi Lauper (“Hat Full Of Stars”). And what a career! In 1981, she punked out in Ravishing Beauties, opening for Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes before going behind-the-scenes to make Fun Boy Three sound better than they actually were. Her “Waiting” debut was produced by David Byrne. Sure, she went Hollywood in 1983 writing music for film and television but she also fronted The Escape who opened on a Tears For Fears tour before joining the band of international jazz-rock fusion star Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1990, with time to sing and write in the studio for Celine Dion. Sometimes the arc of an artist’s life rebounds into renewed appreciation. These tracks, newly restored and remixed, should do the trick for Nicky Holland.
The man on the bridge with his drum set is Stanton Moore, the drummer for Galactic, one of the hottest nationally-touring-and-recording New Orleans attractions, but he also has a trio with keyboardist Tork Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton. Upon going into the studio, the trio learned Allen Toussaint had a heart attack in Spain, thus “With You In Mind: The Songs Of Allen Toussaint” (Mascot Label Group) became a loving tribute. Inviting the cream of the Crescent City crop to strut their considerable stuff, Moore has made one of 2017’s most satisfying CDs. Highlights abound. Al Hirt’s 1963 hit “Java,” Ernie K Doe’s 1970 “Here Come The Girls” as sung by Cyril Neville (one of four gems Cyril sings), Lee Dorsey’s “Riverboat” (1960) and “Everything I Do Gon’ Be Funky (1969) and Glen Campbell’s 1977 “Southern Nights” are revitalized and reimagined with such stellar musicians as Trombone Shorty, Maceo Parker, Nicholas Payton and Big Chief Donald Harrison blowing their brains out. Toussaint had showed no signs of slowing down at 77 as a singer, composer, pianist, producer, arranger and bandleader. His work with Elvis Costello, The Band, The Pointer Sisters, Irma Thomas and generations of artists from the 1950s right on up to the day he died after a gig made him a legend. He was also a poet. Moore unearthed a book of poetry Toussaint had written to include two reflective spoken-word pieces. This loving project should easily infest you with the same kind of New Orleans magic they must have all felt in the studio. Way to go, Moore!
In 1967, “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim” came out of nowhere to universal acclaim, staying on the pop charts for 28 weeks and peaking at #19. It was nominated for a Grammy yet grew in stature with each passing decade. Sinatra [1915-1998] was clearly out of his element yet delivered masterful if understated vocals to mostly Jobim’s compositions and rhythms. On the 50th anniversary of such, vocalist/guitarist John Pizzarelli has paid tribute to the unique pairing with “Sinatra & Jobim” @ 50″ (Concord Music Group). Jobim [1927-1994] was a giant. His grandson, Daniel Jobim, is Pizzarelli’s musical foil here and the two make the most of it in a soft swaying bossa-nova samba style. One listen and you’re instantly transported to a nude beach in Rio with a Caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) in your hand. Material includes songs from the 1967 album as well as the aborted 1969 follow-up (Sinatra didn’t like how his voice sounded and abruptly scrapped the project) plus Michael Frank’s Jobim tribute “Antonio’s Song,” two originals and Jobim’s “Two Kites” (John’s guitarist father Bucky Pizzarelli played on that 1980 song). Pizzarelli’s band is currently touring in support of this project and will land in New York City August 8-12, Rockport MA Aug. 13, Los Angeles Aug. 17-20, Newport Beach CA Aug. 23, Oakland CA Aug. 24-25, Santa Cruz CA Aug. 26, Escondido CA Aug. 27, Mackinac Island MI Sept. 2, Brookville NY Sept 15 and Greenville NC Sept. 22.
If you don’t know Arthur Alexander [1940-1993], you should. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Rolling Stones, Dean Martin, Mink DeVille, Humble Pie, Dusty Springfield, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bee Gees and Pearl Jam sure did as they all covered his songs. A country-soul pioneer, his voice can sooth the savage beast. That’s why the re-release of his self-titled comeback album in 1972 is cause for jumping up and down and dancing all around. Kudos to Omnivore Recordings for even adding six delicious bonus tracks. Alexander’s early ’60s hits were the first to ever come out of the legendary Muscle Shoals studio yet for some unknown reason, he quit the music biz to drive a bus for many years. When he returned with this album (he only recorded three), it was with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose. He signed a new record contract in 1993 but suffered a fatal heart attack just as he was preparing for his second big comeback. (My hope is that third album will also be re-released someday.) The highlight here has to be Alexander’s original version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love” which Elvis soon covered but every track is a highlight.
“Lo-Fi Dreams” (Floating Records) is the eighth CD of one of those American musical heroes who seem to stay under the radar their whole careers but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that there’s gold in them thar hills. Jeffrey Halford and the Healers have been performing their brand of alt.country, jump blues and earthy rock’n’roll ever since Halford roared out of Texas to settle in San Francisco where he teaches architecture. He’s also been a carpenter and a busker, playing guitar in the street for chump change. That was decades ago, though, and now, as an accomplished singer-songwriter-guitarist-band leader, he still plays his original Sears Silvertone (just ask Steve Earle about those old Sears guitars) but he’s got himself a brand new National Resophonic as well. Is it mean to call him a poor man’s John Fogerty? The band clicks like Creedence (better actually) and with songs like “Elvis Shot The Television.” “Looking For A Home” and “Door #3” he’s staked his claim as an Americana avatar.