Constancy within excellence is a rare feat, rarer still to achieve that top-flight degree over a period of 46 years, unparalleled even. Joan Armatrading, since 1972, has put out 21 albums of pure, unvarnished artistry with no discernable genre. Not Too Far Away (BMG) has her playing every instrument, writing, singing, arranging and producing every song. Her unique voice, with no known precedent, is still strong at 67. Her pop-jazz-rock-blues-folk-soul-reggae-funk still flowers in all directions at once. Her lyrics can bite. Her melodies worm into your ear and attach themselves to your brain like a tattoo. Highlights? All 10 tracks. I’ve got a place for this one already on my 2018 Top 10.
Greatest Other People’s Hits (Omnivore Recordings) by the artist known as John Wesley Harding (Wesley Stace) is a 17-track trip of such astonishing parameters, it’s dizzying. Opener “If You Have Ghosts” is from his 1990 Roky Erickson tribute (he of the '60s psychedelic Texas band The 13th Floor Elevators). In a career that’s seen him be a novelist, singer-songwriter, college professor, book reviewer and variety show host, he opens up the vaults to find startling gems of songs he's recorded through the years by Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Serge Gainsbourg, Bruce Springsteen (“Jackson Cage”), Madonna (“Like A Prayer”), George Harrison (“Wah Wah”) and Conway Twitty (“It’s Only Make Believe.”) Plus, there are performances with none other than Springsteen (“Wreck On The Highway”) and Lou Reed (“Satellite Of Love.”) These vaults should've been opened a long time ago but, as they say, better late than never.
Motel Mirrors is a Memphis band whose music haunts like the memory of an old love. In The Meantime (Last Chance Records) features 12 instant Americana classics as put forth by the creative team of singer-songwriters Amy Lavere (bass) and John Paul Keith (guitar). You can lose yourself in their unerring melodic constructions, harmonies and, when Eric Lewis adds his sultry steel, a cool country breeze wafts by and feels so good. The passive “Do With Me What You Want” is in stark contrast to their aggressive “Let Me Be Sweet To You.” They both like “Loving In The Morning,” they “Remember When You Gave A Damn” and “Funerals In New Orleans” are always something special. In The Meantime grows on you like a girl you don’t want to fall in love with but do anyway. And she’s built for comfort, not for speed. Motel Mirrors are like a lazy river that flows in all the right places.
The various blues, funk, pop and soul females on the amazing Koko Mojo Records’ 28-track Cat Scratchin’: Ladies In The Groove will make you sing and dance and jump around like a clown. It’s all from another time and another place. Decades old, these songs were excavated from the dustbin of time and sound as vital now as when they were first released. Very few clinkers. So many highlights. Rebecca Williams gets the fire started with “Please Give Me A Match.” Peppy Prince’s “Ain’t Nothing Shaking,” Gloria Gunter’s demand to “Move On Out,” the “Fish Truck Boogie” of Kitty Kaye & The Cats, Baby Joy Hamilton’s “You Got My Nose Open Baby,” Claude Robinson’s “Cotton Pickin’ Mama,” Beverly Wright’s “Kissin’ Boogie” and, especially “Ring A Ling” by Dimples Jackson can be heard over and over and over again without ever getting tired of them. Wholeheartedly recommended.
The jazz record of the month has to be the incredible self-released hard bop debut of bassist/composer Adi Meyerson. She’s a real whirlwind, not only anchoring her 10 original compositions with verve and flair but giving her over-the-top talented sextet room to move. And move and groove they do! Joel Frahm’s tenor and soprano saxophones, Freddie Hendrix’s trumpet, Camila Meza’s vocals and guitar, Mike King’s piano and Kush Abadey’s drums kickstart the proceedings right from the jump. Opener “Rice And Beans,” “Little Firefly” and the absolutely terrific closing 8:12 of “Unfinished Business” are the highlights. She started writing upon the passing of her dad and turned her grief into art, as so many are wont to do. She’s been on the New York City scene for five straight years writing and gigging. It shows.
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Beth McKee will surprise you. Just when you think you’ve got the former singer/keyboardist of Evangeline figured out, she’ll self-release something like dreamwood acres on your thirsty ears. It’s her fifth and best “solo” album and—besides her thought-provoking lyrics—it spans the gamut from psychedelic-swamp-rock and modern folk to soul and roots, which, of course, in today’s parlance, is pure Americana…and she’s a damn master! Dig those funky piano breaks, the carnival calliope, those jangly 12-string guitars, those gospel choruses and that swamp-rock accordion! But it’s her voice that totally captivates. I could listen to her all day. If my bills all came the same day in the mail, and she sang them out loud to me, it could win a Grammy. That’s how good she is. Bravo!
Greetings From El Paso and Rhythm, Feelin & Phrasin (Rhythm Bomb Records) by the Star Mountain Dreamers are two rarer-than-rare rockabilly records recorded right around the turn of the century from a band that broke up in 2011. The Greetings debut has been out-of-print for years. The Rhythm follow-up had only a limited amount of 500 copies manufactured. It took a label from Germany to bring back out these Los Angeles-based Tex-Mex practitioners originally from El Paso Texas consisting of a bookkeeper, two school teachers and a cook. Boy, do they rock! The Star Mountain Dreamers had hiccupping vocals by Tony Estrada, slap-back stand-up bass by Moe Lopez, Scotty Moore-styled lead guitar by Fred Contreras and straight-ahead drumming by Danny Magana (although studio cats filled in for the debut). Wild, raw, punk, energetic and irresistible, these two time capsules should make current-day real rockabilly fans swoon with delight (as it did me).
Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen really Break It Down on their new Quad-D Records CD. This Pennsylvania power-blues trio recycle late ‘60s/early ‘70s riffage so deliciously that it made me look up where they might be gigging as I just gotta gotta gotta see these boyz live! Douglas is a real singer while mightily stinging his ax. With The Dane on bass and Tommy Smallcomb on drums (with some studio synth thrown in the mix), these 13 tracks throb with intensity. They rattle and hum with valid chops and attitude to spare. Think I'll play this thing again...and again.