The four-CD Bear Family box of singer Connie Smith, 80, is a treasure trove of real classic country complete with a 96-page hardcover book to accompany its 96 songs in five hours. The beautifully-packaged box chronicles her nine albums from ’73 to ’76 from gospel and pop to Christmas and Cajun. Her Everly Brothers and Hank Williams covers are exquisite as are her versions of songs by some of the greatest composers in country history like Dallas Frazier, Don Gibson, Kris Kristofferson, Bill Anderson, Tom T. Hall, Lefty Frizzell and Harlan Howard. She also interprets Jessi Colter, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner and Larry Gatlin. Her use of steel guitar signified her groundbreaking sound as produced by famed producer George Richey. The lady could sing anything! No wonder 12-year old Marty Stuart got her autograph once and proclaimed he would marry her someday…and he did!
The self-titled streaming Townsend five-track EP reveals an Arkansas alt-pop singer-songwriter for our times filled with recrimination, hope, love, self-doubt and sorrow as influenced, of course, by Joni Mitchell (who isn’t?). Her whispery unerring vocal tics are uniquely satisfying. You’ll find yourself straining to understand lyrical content that, when fully digested, is filled with universal concerns. Haunting, mysterious, yet totally in the rock’n’roll tradition, Townsend is one of those special kind of artists who you sit up and take notice of. She’s a star in the making.
The solo debut of Andrew Gabbard is stunningly magnificent. Homemade (Colemine/Karma Chief) has the Ohio singer/songwriter—and touring guitarist for The Black Keys—playing drums, guitar, bass and piano like McCartney-on-steroids. Influenced by the late Emitt Rhodes (who he lovingly covers on “Promises I’ve Made”), Gabbard raises his moral concerns without preaching in a style that can only be described as psychedelic Americana.
The Mojo Man Special Volume #4: Voodoo Man (Koko Mojo Records) is filled to the brim with, as it says, ‘Dancefloor Killers!” This one’s such a keeper! The no-hit wonders are the best: Little Shy Guy & The Hot Rods, Big Bo & The Arrows and Roony & The Blazers. Plus, the stars shine: from Chuck Willis, Annie Ross (hear where Joni Mitchell got “Twisted” from) and Little Willie John (no, not “Fever” but a better pick: “My Nerves”) to Muddy Waters doing that “Muddy Waters Twist,” Jimmy Reed and Roy Brown, these 24 pre-’63 tracks pack a mighty wallop, one that you’ll want to return to again and again.
Smart singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, 76, will come to your town soon. To be in the same room with him will be very special. He’s right up there with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young in the Greatest Canadian Still-Living Composer Sweepstakes. His insights sooth and rhyme. Thus, Greatest Hits 1970-2020 (True North Records) is as advertised. It spans his whole career and one can ascertain the chronological arc of his ever-expanding worldview. Always entertaining, profound, humorous, melodically inventive, the sound of his world-weary voice is like welcoming back an old friend. Personally culled from his 34 albums, the 30 songs on two discs are a good reason to go see him in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin or Iowa. As they say in the TV world, check your local listings.