Filled with great sounds in the new year

Longtime rock journalist Mike Greenblatt picks the best sounds — from rock and roll to soul — to start off the new year with his Filled With Sound column.
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By Mike Greenblatt

The Champs

The year was 1958. I was seven and totally transfixed by a radio instrumental called “Tequila” by The Champs. So was the rest of America as it soared atop the charts with its burst of novelty excitement. Fast-forward 62 years and Tequila Party (Time Life) by The Champs featuring Dave Burgess is again rocking my world, its 12 tracks an antidote for these miserable times. They redo the original “Tequila” plus add quick feel-good jolts of “Peter Gunn,” “Watermelon Man,” “Oye Como Va,” “Green Onions” and new originals. By ’65, The Champs were gone after having such future notables as Glen Campbell, Seals & Crofts and Delaney Bramlett in their ranks. Guitarist/Composer Burgess has written 700+ songs for the likes of Dean Martin, Lou Rawls, Marty Robbins and Rick Nelson. He’s produced Don McLean, Darlene Love and Marty Balin. But he’s at his best spewing out those chunky blasts of Ventures-like joy.

  

Casey James self-portrait

On 2017’s ball-busting Strip It Down, Casey James blew away any misconceptions about where his soul lay after doing so well on American Idol. Sure, he accepted a big-time Nashville recording contract but the box that town tried to put him in was way constricting. Once he stripped it down, and played the kind of blues-rock he’s always loved, the result was magic. That magic has continued on If You Don’t Know By Now, 13 songs of swamp rock, blues-rock, white-boy funk, New Orleans wildness and almost-reggae. As produced by Tom Hambridge (who Buddy Guy once called “the white Willie Dixon”), it’s a jumpin’ little record you’ll want your DJ to play. Some songs stretch out jam-band-style to eight glorious minutes as Casey blisters his guitar and sings up a storm.

  

Sonny Green

He’s a Soul Singer Extraordinaire. At 77, Sonny Green struts his considerable stuff whether he’s singing some Bobby Blue Bland, Little Milton, Syl Johnson, Ted Taylor or Willie Nelson. Found! One Soul Singer (Little Village Foundation) takes the longtime Los Angeles lounge lizard, pairs him with genius producer Kid Andersen, and loads him up with horns, Hammond B-3 and blistering electric lead guitar to create a Modern Soul Classic like Stax back in the day.

  

Rodney Rice

We may not have Billy Joe Shaver or Guy Clark around anymore, but Rodney Rice, on SAME SHIrT DIFFERENT DAY (Moody Springs Music) mines the same musical ore.The former West Virginia geologist, now based in Colorado, ups the ante of his 2014 Empty Pockets and a Troubled Mind debut with 12 rare gems of insightful, humorous, heartfelt and profound poetry—recorded in Austin—set to his haunting melodies and using a full palette of drums, acoustic bass, electric bass, electric guitar, slide guitar, percussion, Hammond B-3, piano, mandolin, mandola, tenor sax, trumpet, fiddle, dobro and background vocals, all in sync with his oh-so-believable voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica. Rice calls ‘em like he sees ‘em and, as he says, after listening to opener “Ain’t Got A Dollar,” “if you’re offended there then you probably don’t need to listen to the rest.” “Company Town,” takes up where John Prine’s 1971 “Paradise” leaves off, a stinging indictment of Massey Energy, responsible for the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster which resulted in the deaths of 29 miners. This is raw Americana…the way it should be.

  

Giulia Millanta

Giulia Millanta is unique. Her voice, her songwriting, her presence, all combine to create an extremely special artist whose music rings all the bells. Italy-born, she’s an Austin powerhouse whose every album combines singer-songwriter smarts with absolutely lovely melodies, lyrics that make you think and a voice that feels, now on her seventh album, like an old friend. She sings in four languages, plays guitar and ukulele, and in a world needing of such, Tomorrow Is A Bird, her latest, is an absolute delight, combining her acoustic and electric guitars, voice and compositions with a backing bed of piano, electric and acoustic bass, backing vocals, drums, extra percussion and cello to create an otherworldly pastiche of emotion about dreams, endings, beginnings, failure, opportunity and, most importantly, changing direction. 

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