Fans of Norah Jones, Beck, Sting and Todd Rundgren have heard Lyle Workman. Those who saw such movies as Superbad, The 40-Year Old Virgin and Forgetting Sarah Marshall have heard his soundtracks. Now prog-rockers can thrill to the instrumental opulence of Uncommon Measures (Blue Canoe Records). Four years in the making, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London with a 63-piece orchestra, the guitarist/keyboardist/composer/producer even uses a six-person choir to get his sonic landscapes perfect. Plus, it certainly helps to have A-List musicians who have played with Bruce, Zappa, Joni, Dylan, Bowie and Clapton. Opening with the slam-bang 9:18 “North Star,” the nine tracks meander through fusion, classical and progressive-rock like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. Highlight? The 10:26 “Arc Of Life” goes through a litany of circuitous changes.
The various artists of The Right To Rock: The Mexicano and Chicano Rock’n’Roll Rebellion 1955-1963 (Bear Family Records) pay tribute to the ‘50s Chicano uprising in popular culture. It’s a revelation! It’s no secret that Ritchie Valens, Chris Montez, the pre-folk Trini Lopez and pre-country Freddy Fender all rocked hard enough to give rise to Santana and Los Lobos. It is less understood that such Mexican and Latin American artists on both sides of the border—especially the rougher, more rocking recordings—provided some of the most thrilling and gut-punching sounds of the era. Truth be told, I always thought “Hippy Hippy Shake,” one of the first stateside hits of the British Invasion, was a Swinging Blue Jeans original (The Beatles and future Monkee Davy Jones did it too). But no. Written and recorded originally in 1959 by 17-year old Chan Romero, it’s only one of 37 real finds here. Some of the most action-packed tracks are from names lost to the dustbin of history. From Pico Pete, Mando & The Chili Peppers and Los Teen Tops to Chuck Rio, Tony Casanova and, especially, Los Xochimilcas (whose “Rock Rollin’ Rock” is a fusion of rockabilly, almost-metal drums, Mariachi trumpet and Tex-Mex accordion), there’s no clinkers. It ends with “Mexican Rock’n’Roll” by “Unknown Singer.” Rare rockin’ rave-ups, really!
It’s time for the rest of the world to learn what Canada has known for years. Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Steve Strongman is the real deal. His 2019 tired of talkin’ (Stony Plain/MVD) is being re-released. It’s his seventh. If A Natural Fact put him on the board in 2012, this one should put him over the top, filled as it is with stirring vocals, atom-splitting guitar and the kind of songwriting chops that will leave you thinking long after the music ends. He even ends it all with an irresistible whiteboy version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Is there nothing this guy can’t do? Word has it that he’s a whirlwind live, too.
They scattered the ashes of legendary Hollywood character Harry Dean Stanton over downtown Lexington Kentucky. He had a great run. By the time he reached 91, he had indelibly left his mark on such films as Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather Part II, Alien, Escape From New York, Repo Man and dozens of others. His personal life was the stuff of legend. The first line of Debbie Harry’s “I Want That Man” is “I want to dance with Harry Dean.” But all he really wanted to do is sing. Now Omnivore Records has released October 1993: four studio and five live from The Troubadour.
Stanton bummed around Sunset Strip as a duo with Jamie James (as seen in the 2014 documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Party Fiction) before they decided to get a real band together. So they called Stray Cat drummer Slim Jim Phantom, Doobie Brother Skunk Baxter to play pedal steel and Tony Sales (son of Soupy and bandmate of Bowie in Tin Machine) to play bass. They called themselves The Cheap Dates. And, yes, he could really sing. And his astute choice of material is such that it’s more fun to not know what’s next. Spoiler Alert: from Dylan, Ben E. King and Chuck Berry to John Hiatt, Jimmy Reed and Ry Cooder, this is wonderful fun.