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Four New CDs Highlight Blues, Jazz and Americana

David Torn takes his electric oud and his guitar to new heights...Pianist Harold Mabern does he does best: make others sound great...Cash Box Kings make the blues come alive...and a man named Voo will woo you.

The Cash Box Kings are "Holding Court" on their blues-history of a CD that spans '40s/'50s post-war urban Chicago blues and '20s/'30s rural delta blues as well as some New Orleans gumbo, jump blues, ragtime and even swamp pop.

Cash Box Kings

Their originals are incisive, soulful and funky, even with lyrics that oftentimes contain topical concerns like "Download Blues" and "Gotta Move Out To The Suburbs." Joe Nosek writes, arranges, sings and channels the everpresent ghosts of Little Walter and Slim Harpo whenever he blows into his harmonica. Singer/Songwriter Oscar Wilson, all 6'3 and 300 pounds of him, sings like Muddy and shakes like jello on a stage.

They've put it all together on this, their greatest offering on San Francisco's terrific Blind Pig label. Sure, their 2011 "Holler And Stomp" was one of the best blues records of that year and their 2013 "Black Toppin'" was satisfying. Guess what? "Holding Court" beats 'em both. If there's any justice in what's left of the music biz, Nosek and Wilson should hear those cash registers ringing nonstop.

In the "Midnight Mist" (Butter & Bacon Records), there's a man named Voo who plays all kinds of vintage guitars as well as pedal steel, mandolin and keyboards. Voo Davis sings somewhere between John Prine and Joe Cocker and writes in the spaces between our lives like a crack in the wood where the light gets in. The flavorings--complete with drums, Hammond B3 organ, bass, harmonica and fiddle--encompass jam, blues, rock and folk. Plus, the white girls ooh and aah in the background. We're talkin' one-take old-school on each of its 12 tracks (a deluxe edition has 14 tracks and a video) . Recorded in Bogalusa, Louisiana totally in pre-digital organic analog, there's a smoothness, a naturalness, to the proceedings. This follow-up to his solid "Vicious Things" CD could eventually wind up a roots-rock classic. Time will tell.

Voo Davis - Hi-Res Color with Guitar

The sounds that David Torn coaxes out of his guitar and electric oud on "only sky" (ECM) are ambient shadows. Opener "at least there was nothing" evokes Tangier of North Africa as if he was reading "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs. Then there's "spoke with folks" which refracts folk music back through a kaleidoscopic pinwheel. That "Shenandoah" motif is in there somewhere but it's misty, lurking about in a mysterious but strangely comforting fog. The title track goes to India with its raga feel.


Torn: "These pieces have different planes of sound existing simultaneously and, at time, they interact, making for strange occurrences of polytonality."

Guitarist, producer, improviser, film composer, avant-gardist soundscape manufacturer, David Torn likes to say how he self-hypnotizes upon improvisation, "a form of sonic, secular meditation." It amounts to real-time composition and more often than not, it works. Using dreamlike loops, fuzz-tones and eerie configurations of six-stringed weirdness, Torn tears though preconceptions of what jazz could be.

Pianist Harold Mabern has been tickling the ivories behind vocalists (starting with Betty Carter) and horn men for decades, making singers sound good and blowers sound genius. His own solos are remarkable in their consistency and economy. Dude gets right to the point, except, of course, when he wants to free-flow and let his inner superstar come to the fore. There's nothing this dexterous and wide-reaching musician cannot tackle.


That's why his new "Afro Blue" (Smoke Sessions Records) is such a delight. He wrote four of 14. Three of his four are tributes: John Coltrane ("The Chief"), Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers ("Bobby, Benny, Jymie, Lee, Bu") and Herbie Hancock ("The Man From Hyde Park").

Five more feature vocalists Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling and Alexis Cole. It's Mabern doing what he does best. (Love his take on Steely Dan's "Do It Again.") Cole goes calypso. Porter goes Afro-Cuban. Jones slides slippery-like and sexy on "Fools Rush In." Elling takes the Anne Murray hit "You Needed Me" into uncharted waters.