Hasaan Ibn Ali, Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album. Reading like a chapter out of a great Raymond Chandler novel, Hasaan Ibn Ali’s new release has some serious twists and turns. In 1964, drummer Max Roach persuaded Atlantic Records to record relative newcomer Ali. That album, titled THE MAX ROACH TRIO FEATURING THE LEGENDARY HASAAN and released in late 1963, received good reviews and looked like the start of a strong new career for the young pianist. After finishing a sophomore album, the young musician was imprisoned on narcotics charges and Atlantic shelved the scheduled LP. Thirteen years later, the tapes were lost in a fire at the Atlantic Records storehouse and that was that. Finally, after several decades of silence, a tape of Ibn’s stillborn second release was found and history has been corrected with this stunning new album. In that time, legend has turned Hasaan Ibn Ali into an imposing figure in the jazz world, someone who should have been an important figure but got lost to bad luck. Listening to these seven songs (as well as three shortened versions) is more than enough to show what could have been. There is a ferocious drive to every track, like Ali is on a mission to sear his name into the history books of jazz. The young pianist had practiced with John Coltrane in the early 1950s in their hometown of Philadelphia, and then taken off on his own quest. This music is a beautiful mix of jarring rhythmic attack crossed with an undeniable melodic beauty, in both Abin’s compositions and his playing. It fits perfectly with all the changes jazz was going through during the ’50s and ’60s, and definitely makes a case that the pianist was in the forefront of those leading the charge. Joined by mesmerizing saxophonist Odean Pope along with bassist Art Taylor and drummer Kalil Madi, this is music of the avant garde, but never too avant to lose its harmonic appeal. Rather, it’s the sound of dedicated players in a challenging time, where they were breaking away from the past as the future beckoned them into a brave new realm. Hasaan Ibn Ali: Remember that name.
The Band, Stage Fright: 50th Anniversary Edition. What a difference a half century makes. When STAGE FRIGHT was first released in August 1970, it sounded strong and had a handful of all-time songs, but it just didn’t have the third-dimension majorosity of the group’s first two releases. It felt like there was a cosmic center missing on that third album. You could almost hear the heroin. Now, with a new resequencing by living Bandmaster Robbie Roberston, along with a stereo mix by Bob Clearmountain, it’s well, clear that this collection is the equal of anything The Band ever created. Maybe all these years of being away from the initial pair of albums gives it more of a chance to be heard for itself, but there is no doubt songs like “The W.S. Calcott Medicine Show,” “The Shape I’m In,” “The Rumor,” “All La Glory” and the title track can shine against anything they ever did. There is such joyous luminosity to these 10 songs it feels like a time for celebration for when music really did define America, and offer hope and strength for what lay ahead. Also included on the set are two alternate song mixes, a live tape of three Band members jamming acoustically in a Calgary hotel room, and (whoa!) a 20-song live recording of The Band’s 1971 show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The latter is positively incendiary, with the quintet there to prove once and for all they are lightyears beyond being Bob Dylan’s backing band. It’s one of the greatest concert recordings by any rock band ever, and really deserves its own separate release. For now, though, it’s such a cosmic kick to hear five musicians come out and play like their lives hung in the balance. That this was their moment to take a victory lap around the track in fourth gear, demonstrating how rock & roll in the ’70s can easily be as exciting as those who invented the musical form in the 1950s, and as promising as whatever had happened in the sonic revolutions of the 1960s. The 1970s were just getting started, and all bets were off on how far The Band could go. In so many ways, the concert was their crowning moment. Group dissent, not-so-thrilling albums and a dimming of the spirit lay ahead. But no one knew that in June 1971 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The world was theirs for the playing. Rag mama rag.
Roger Eno and Brian Eno, Mixing Colours (Expanded). Here’s an idea: how about everyone who receives the next government stimulus check (if there is actually to be one) also gets a copy of the new Roger Eno and Brian Eno album? Surely it would do wonders in helping listeners find a calm spot in the world, a place where a soft excitement is contained in exulting pianos and synthesizers painting a harmonious palette of sound. The Eno brothers are longtime heroes of using music to offer a path to an unhurried consciousness, one where the endless exhortations of modern life can be somewhat subdued. The way they apply their electronic instruments to blend into a supreme oneness is pretty much unmatched, and as the Enos grow older they become more and more shaped into a one-head ability to synchronize their souls. It is truly a wonder of modern life. While there have been those who detract from music that can seem elusive, it only means there are distractions which might be getting in the way of there hearing it. If there is an equivalent of what the mind does during meditation, that is how Roger and Brian Eno’s newest collaboration comes across. It’s all about the slowing down that allows these doors of aural perception to open up and thrill. Ambient–not Ambien.
Rick Holmstrom, See That Light. The elemental sound of a three-piece electric band cannot be replaced. There is something about the simplicity of execution when there’s just a guitar, bass and drums (GBAD for short) that goes directly to the spinal column of listeners, and starts off a good set of twitches. It’s as if the sound circumvents the endless expectations of the brain and allows for a more primary physical reaction. Guitarist Rick Holmstrom knows exactly how to employ that low-down reward system, as he does all over his newest release. Joined by Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Doaz on electric bass, the inner photo shows the trio in suitable masks, taking into account the New Abnormal even in the recording studio. No Covid here, but there is plenty of celestial rumble and soulful shenanigans to last a lifetime. Holmstrom, well known to the get-down crowd of music lovers in Southern Califonia more than three decades, as well as his 13-year run as Mavis Staples’ go-to axe man, knows exactly how to zero in on what needs to get said with this music. And while it’s not exactly blues, it does takes quite a bit of inspiration from America’s most distinctive sound, and then twists and turns into the guitarist-singer’s own personal concoction. It also doesn’t hurt that Rick Holmstrom wrote all these songs alone, letting him express exactly what’s on his mind, whether it’s “I’m an Asshole,” “Take My Hand,” “I’d Rather Be a Loser” or “Joyful Eye.” There can be no doubt this man has a lot on his mind, likely put there by the almost-endless pandemic, his own young children and the way everything intertwines as we rush right into the 21st century. Let it be known, though, that Holmstrom isn’t backing down from a thing. Rather, he’s stepping up with the Telecaster guitar, and setting the knobs just right so the sound he’s sharing with us now are the notes that can get the world through anything. It’s all in how you hear it and then transfer that into how you feel it. See that light.
Mason Lindahl, Kissing Rosy in the Rain. This is someone who would have worked well on the television show “I’ve Got a Secret.” Because while Mason Lindahl might be known in certain guitar circles, outside of that he is still an aquired taste and remains a bit of an enigma. Hopefully this awe-inspiring new disc will open the ears of music lovers everwhere. Because Lindahl’s almost-unequaled abilities on the nylon string guitar is nothing short of a revelation. With just six strings the musician is able to create a whole vista of sound, one that can effortlessly move from the deepest molecules within us to an unlimited view of an endless valley. It’s all in how the guitarist can evoke emotions from those strings, which is as much about divine intentions as it is technical ability. That is the wonder of the solo artist: it’s really all on them. Though keyboardist Robby Moncrieff subtly joins in on this recording, it’s really as background support to Mason Lindahl’s playing. The wonder of the music always rests firmly in Lindahl’s hands. The acoustic guitar often got short shrift in the consciousness-expanding Sixties’ era of psychedelic music. Most of the attention for those third-eye wanderings went to the electric instrument. Still, within these new nine songs is a journey to the center of the mind that is equally powerful as anything done then. With songs like “Sky Breaking, Clouds Falling, “Outside Laughing,” “Deep Wish,” where Thommy Minnick guests on electric bass, and “Fantasy in Spectacle,” the California-born and New York-based Mason Lindahl opens the doors of perception for a modern peek inside the goldmine of cerebral glory. Do not miss.
Joyann Parker, Out of the Dark. Some singers just have it in their blood. It’s obvious a mile off when they dive into a song and stay there until every emotion possible has been pulled out. For Parker, she’s usually found on the bluesy side of the street, but is by no means a blues singer. She’s got too much curiosity to stay in one place too long. So much that when the Minneapolis-based woman really lets loose there’s very few to compare her to. So just let it be said that Parker keeps her heart in soul music and her head in the stars. And don’t forget: her and guitarist/co-songwriter have been performing “The Music of Patsy Cline” live show for over three years, bringing in a whole other world of influences. Joyann Parker’s new album is one for the ages, made in the age of the pandemic in fits and starts like musicians have to work now. Listening to the seamless groove of all the songs, though, it sounds as warm and real as if all the musicians were in the same closet blasting away at the outer edges of human feelings. All kinds of influences seep naturally into the music, and when the album comes to “What Did You Expect,” even a swinging Southern Califorsnia vibe takes over. It’s not easy making music this hot-blooded and not being able to perform it live in front of human beings, where it belongs, but from the feel of all these songs there is no doubt this is a woman who has the girding of a powerful faith inside her, and that, to quote Tina Turner, everything is going to work out fine. Once Joyann Parker and her collection of musical pirates are able to take these songs cross-country it will be time for some real rejoicing. For now, her and producer Kevin Bowe, along with a studio full of true believers, have made a mountain of soul captured inside these eleven forever songs. Dark into light.
Curtis Salgado, Damage Control. The first words heard on this righteous new release from singer extraordinaire Curtis Salgado, “Let me testify a little bit…” couldn’t be better placed. This from a singer who has been running up and down the backlanes so long, they ought to name a bridge after him. Now, forty years and ten albums into a career that will never quit, the Portland, Oregon native has outdone even himself. Maybe that’s because of all the health challenges and road-induced nuttiness, these new songs have an endless depth to them. Just the titles alone paint a picture of all Salgado has been through: “The Longer That I Live,” “What Did Me In Did Me Well,” “You’re Gonna Miss My Sorry Ass” and “Precious Time:” and that’s just the first four. There is something three-dimensional about the zone the man has found himself in that gives Salgado the perch he needs to take in the 360-degree view of the world that he’s earned. These are songs that have a feel for hard knocks, deep lessons and the relief that comes to those who survive it all. It’s better to not even try to come up what to call this style, except to say it comes from somewhere all the way inside the human heart, delivered in a voice that conveys wisdom learned and earned from living life on its own terms. Naturally, Curtis Salgado makes it all sound as natural as buckling his belt and tying his shoes. Of course there’s a crack band on all the tracks, right up to Wayne Toups’ frolicing accordion on the zydeco-soaked gasser “Truth Be Told.” And like the gentleman he is, the singer includes a scorching version of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” at the end of the album, just to show he knows how to share. Whether these songs are aimed at the dance floor, the confession box, the Cadillac’s frontseat or the darkened bedroom, every one of them is a keeper of the first order. How could they be any different considering the singer started in the Nighthawks, for six years fronted the Robert Cray Band, where by happenstance he became musical tour guide to John Belushi, who was filming “Animal House” nearby, and then joined Roomful of Blues for two years, all before pulling the band plug and going solo. Those are some serious bona fides for sure. No matter what, Curtis Salgado can be counted on to always show up ready for action, and capable of turning on the lovelights and the bright lights whenever he wants. Fix is in.
Harry Dean Stanton, with the Cheap Dates, October 1993. Harry Dean Stanton loves to sing. Anywhere. All you had to do was ask him. In 1993, Stanton ended up in a band led by the King Bees’ Jamie James, along with Slim Jim Phantom, Tony Sales and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Not too shabby an outfit. Luckily a night at the Troubadour was recorded, and it came out stellar. This release features those five songs with four more from an unreleased studio session. Voila: instant album. It captures the actor/singer in fine form, with Harry Dean Stanton’s voice a study in what it sounds like to have lived a very full life. He picks songs from the masters–Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Leiber/Spector, William Bell, Warren Smith and the never-beaten “Across the Borderline,” written by Ry Cooder, Jim Dickinson and John Hiatt. The sound of the singer and the band together is an illustration of timelessness, from a place where nothing really matters but the feelings in the air. Of course, there has to be a Mexican song, which in the end was probably Harry Dean Stanton’s favorite music of all. Here, it’s “Cancion Mixteca,” written in 1912 by Jose Lopez Alavez, and naturally it’s the last song on the album. Because it is a picture of such pure beauty there is simply no way to follow it. Sidebar: For those infatuated with Stanton’s acting, search out
the film “Straight Time,” where he, Dustin Hoffman and Gary Busey play small time criminals robbing a Beverly Hills jewelry store. Spoiler alert: Harry Dean Stanton’s death scene is one of the most affecting in cinema history. Adios mi amigo.
Various Artists, The Next Waltz: Volume Three. There are times when nothing but kicks seems like the best way
forward, and for musicians what could be better than rounding up a few friends, picking out a crop of favorite songs and then recording them with an easeful approach in the pursuit of realness? If the songs and the singers are right, then it’s just about guaranteed the results will come out with a wonderful gleam. Singer-songwriter Bruce Robison runs this show straight out of his studio The Bunker in Lockhart, Texas, often known as the home of the barbecue gurus at Kreuz’s Market. Robison cleary has a vibe he’s searching for, and just how every song hits it is no small wonder. Singers like Jack Ingram, Kelly Willis, Charley Crockett (no relation to Davy), Shinyribs, Robert Ellis and others join in on inspired covers of originals by Bob Wills, Loudon Wainwright, Billy Swan and Bobby Charles, to name a few. It all feels like a Texas get-down where the lights are dimmed and the spirits are raised. In a time of so many question marks, the ears of Texas are upon us and that music comes through again. Bluebonnets be out.
Wild & Blue, Restless. It’s been awhile since a major father-daughter country music duo grabbed the spotlight, but hopefully good fortune will fall on Steve Bennett and April Bennett shortly. Without a doubt, they have the voices, the songs and the style to take those talents to the limit. Their debut album is as strong as anything released out of Nashville the past few years, and between Steve Bennett’s original songs and April Bennett’s heartfelt vocals, well, the big blue sky should be the limit. Factor in their perfect choice of cover songs–John Fogerty’s “Long as I Can See the Light” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends,” and this is the kind of album that could come out of left field and take it all the way home. Several of the father’s songs feel like they were written in the classic era of 1950s country music, when it was still new enough so nothing sounded repetitious yet. Two in particular, “Wedding Dress for Sale” and “Being There,” deserve to be hit-bound now. The daughter sings with such pure power that she deserves to sneak in the sidedoor of the country hit parade and steal some thunder. There are lonesome tears in her voice like only come around every decade or two, and she deserves to be heard. This is a healing sound which shows no matter how far apart people are, there is always the chance for music to heal those wounds and come back together again. And the Bennetts just might be the new artists to show how it’s done. Hope sings eternal.
Song of the Month
Nathaniel Rateliff, “Redemption.” Every few years there is a song that comes along and makes it hard to breathe. It’s that good. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but here’s hoping it never goes away completely. Singer Nathaniel Rateliff is a walking inspiration himself, and his recording of “Redemption” is from the new film “Palmer,” starring Justin Timberlake as an ex-convict starting to help raise a young boy. It has the immediate imprint of an automatic chillbumper. Rateliff’s voice has always existed like something born in America’s mountains and finally carried to the country’s lonesome highways. When he gets a song like this, the singer not only owns it, he breathes such life into it that it immediately comes alive like another spirit standing in front of us. Set me free.