By Mike Greenblatt
Bette Smith’s The Good The Bad and The Bette (Ruf Records) ain’t no blues album. Although this bad Brooklyn bitch has belted the blues in the past, she’s rocking out now with a ferocity unmatched in any of her previous efforts. To that end, she’s got Drive-By Trucker Matt Patton co-producing, North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson on guitar and Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood on vocals. Considering DBT gave the world Jason Isbell, and they’ve already backed up Bettye Lavette, it’s a match made in honkytonk heaven. Sequenced to tell her story, it’s an album that could be made into a movie. Smith took to hard partying to counter-balance her childhood scars. “Whistle Stop” is the highlight, and she sings it as if her life depends upon it. Bette says she goes into a trance when she sings. You can hear her soul bubble forth in this emotional roller coaster of pandemic proportions.
Joe Bonamassa’s Royal Tea (J&R Adventures) ain’t no blues album. It’s the British Rock album that this 43-year old New Yorker has always wanted to make. Recorded at Abbey Road in London, his 14th album in 20 years is filled with songs he co-wrote with Whitesnake’s Bernie Marsden, Cream’s lyricist Pete Brown and Great Britain’s national treasure Jools Holland, all while setting up residence living in England. One listen to opener “When One Door Opens,” with its brass and strings, and you know this one’s different. It’s also personal. Joe’s heartbreak at splitting up with his girlfriend and his frustration over his unsuccessful attempt at therapy are all there like an open wound. “Beyond The Silence” doesn’t even have a guitar solo. Yet this thing hangs together beautifully. Longtime producer Kevin Shirley with longtime studio bandmates Michael Rhodes (bass), Reese Wynans (keyboards) and Anton Fig (drums) are all in place to make it sound like a Bonamassa album. And it does. Thus, it’s another chapter of his amazing career. The cat can do no wrong.
For the fourth installment of its Sexy Rock:The Brits Are Rocking series, Bear Family Productions digs deep for 27 fascinating tracks from a cat most Americans never heard of: Colin Hicks. Being the younger brother of British idol Tommy Steele had its disadvantages, so much so that Hicks left England for his adopted home country of Italy where he became a star on the basis of his rockabilly-influenced “Giddy Up A Ding Dong” hit single. From 1957-1961, these rocking tracks, including valid and varied covers of Little Richard, Freddy Cannon, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as his originals, are unfettered examples of how British rockers—before the Beatles and Stones—took from America and made it their own.
Washington DC singer-songwriter Dulcie Taylor has Reimagined six of her previously-recorded songs (MesaBluemoon Recordings) by remixing, remastering and, in part, totally re-recording them in ways that make them pop with alacrity. She has an unforgettable voice that lends credence to her evocative lyrics. She’s a poet. When this gal sings, you believe her. It’s been 20 years since her impressive self-released Other Side of the Bed debut. Since then, she’s deservedly won a slew of awards. Those Itching for an Americana heroine should look no further.
Doesn’t matter if Brian Lisik can’t spell, his Gudbye Stoopid Whirled (Cherokee Queen Records) has 10 originals co-produced by semi-legendary Don Dixon (REM/Counting Crows, among many others) and ably assisted by jack-of-all-trades Steve Norgrove who adds to this pastiche of garage power-pop, neo-rockabilly, avant-garde folk and alternative singer-songwriter smarts by singing, writing, playing bass, 12-string guitar, acoustic six-string guitar, lap steel, dulcimer, lap drums, kazoo, shakers, mandolin, keyboards and tambourine on songs dealing with suicide, female empowerment, sex and addiction. Lisik has five albums worth of indie-rock but none so acerbic as this. Ever since his longtime band broke up, he admits, “the threat of creeping irrelevancy haunted me.” Until now. This is terrific stuff. Humorous, haunting, relevant, more folks should latch on to this guy!