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New Tunes On Monday: Little Walter, Prince, James Taylor, John Wesley Harding, Paul Carrack, and Matthew Barber

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Little Walter - The Complete Chess Masters (1950 - 1967)

Blues harmonica player and singer Little Walter died over forty years ago, but his influences still can be heard in many blues-rock recordings that employ the instrument. Following his tenure with Muddy Waters' band, his 1952 single "Juke" was Chess Records' first big hit (r&b #1 for weeks), initiating a string of r&b chart toppers for the artist that included "Off The Wall" and "Sad Hours." While maintaining his own career, Little Walter also played on Muddy Waters' solo albums as well as his other Chess teammates' projects. Assembled here are five full CDs of all of the master's Chess material, and although studying someone as mid-level famous as Little Walter might be too insider baseball for some, it's worth the listen, purchase, and Grammy nod in this year's historical category. As Hip-O Select admirably rolls out complete works of many of its Chess-centric artists, this one is both easy to digest and be overwhelmed by. You'll never make it through all five discs in one sitting, so the following suggested title checks might be in order: "Evans Shuffle," "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" (both with Muddy Waters on guitar), "Roller Coaster," "Mean Old World," "Off The Wall" and "Quarter To Twelve" (the pair including Willie Dixon on bass), "Big Leg Mama" (a stylistic wink at Sonny Boy Williamson), Stan Lewis' "Boom, Boom Out Go The Lights," Arthur Crudup's "Mean Old Frisco," "Key To The Highway," "Chicken Shack," and Willie Dixon's "Dead Presidents." Though his role in blues music has been a little overlooked by the masses, he has been acknowledged as an important innovator by The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, naming him one of the great sidemen of the field. These 126 tracks are packaged in a fat tactile and eco-friendly, six-panel foldout which includes a golden belly-band that tucks in five CDs (with various Chess/Checker labels designs) plus a detailed booklet with notes by the co-authors of The Little Walter Story, Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines.

Tracks:

Disc One
1. Evans Shuffle
2. Juke
3. Juke (alternate
4. Can't Hold Out Much Longer
5. Can't Hold Out Much Longer (alternate version)
6. Blue Midnight (alternate version)
7. Blue Midnight
8. Boogie
9. Mean Old World
10. Sad Hours
11. Fast Boogie
12. Fast Boogie (alternate 1)
13. Fast Boogie (alternate 2)
14. Fast Boogie (alternate 3)
15. Don't Need No Horse
16. Driftin'
17. Driftin' (alternate version)
18. Don't Have To Hunt No More
19. Crazy Legs
20. Tonight With A Fool
21. Off The Wall (alternate)
22. Off The Wall
23. Tell Me Mama
24. Quarter To Twelve
25. That's It

Disc Two
1. Blues With A Feeling (alternate)
2. Blues With A Feeling
3. Last Boogie
4. Too Late
5. Fast Boogie
6. Lights Out
7. Fast Large One
8. You're So Fine
9. My Kind Of Baby
10. Come back Baby
11. Rocker
12. I Love You So (Oh Baby)
13. Oh Baby
14. I Got To Find My Baby (alternate)
15. I Got To Find My Baby
16. Big Leg Mama
17. Mercy Babe (My Babe)
18. Last Night (first version)
19. You'd Better Watch Yourself
20. Blue Light
21. Instrumental
22. Last Night
23. Mellow Down Easy
24. My Babe
25. My Babe (overdubbed)

Disc Three
1. Thunderbird
2. Roller Coaster
3. I Got To Go
4. Hate To See You Go (extended)
5. Little Girl
6. Crazy For My Baby
7. Can't Stop Loving You
8. One More Chance With You
9. Who
10. Boom, Boom Out Go The Lights
11. It Ain't Right
12. Flying Saucer
13. It's Too Late Brother
14. Teenage Beat
15. Take Me Back
16. Just A Feeling
17. Nobody But You
18. Temperature (version 1)
19. Shake Dancer
20. Everybody Needs Somebody
21. Temperature (alternate 1)
22. Temperature (alternate 2)
23. Temperature (take 30)
24. Temperature (takes 35-38)
25. Temperature (version 2)
26. Ah'w Baby (alternate)

Disc Four
1. Ah'w Baby
2. I've Had My Fun (alternate)
3. I've Had My Fun (alternate 2)
4. I've Had My Fun
5. The Toddle
6. Confessin' The Blues
7. Key To The Highway
8. Rock Bottom
9. Rock Bottom (single version)
10. Walkin' On ("Rock Bottom" alternate)
11. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby) (take 5)
12. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby) (alternate)
13. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby)
14. One Of These Mornings (instrumental)
15. Baby
16. My Baby Is Sweeter (alternate)
17. My Baby Is Sweeter
18. Crazy Mixed Up World (alternate)
19. Crazy Mixed Up World
20. Worried Life (alternate)
21. Worried Life
22. Everything's Gonna Be Alright (take 1)
23. Everything's Gonna Be Alright (alternate 1)
24. Everything's Gonna Be Alright (alternate 2)
25. Everything's Gonna Be Alright
26. Mean Old Frisco (alternate)
27. Mean Old Frisco

Disc Five
1. Back Track
2. One Of These Mornings
3. Blue And Lonesome (alternate)
4. Blue And Lonesome
5. Me And Piney Brown
6. Break It Up
7. Going Down Slow
8. You're Sweet
9. I Don't Play
10. As Long As I Have You
11. You Don't Know
12. Just Your Fool
13. Up The Line
14. I'm A Business Man
15. Dead Presidents
16. Southern Feeling
17. Back In The Alley
18. I Feel So Bad (take 1)
19. I Feel So Bad (take 2)
20. Chicken Shack
21. Feel So Bad
22. Make It Alright
23. Juke (1967 version)

Prince - LOtUSFLOW3R/MPLSoUND/Elixer

Well, for those who've been dissed for decades over questioning the Paisley One's unquestionable genius even a teensy bit...good news! You've just been vindicated thanks to this triple-disc concoction made up of only two-thirds Prince, and formulated in conjunction with one of the remaining marketers of music's dwindling physical assets, Target. Combining gimmicks to promote Bria Valente's new CD and two websites via album titles (yup, basically, just stick ".com" at the end of lotusflow3r and mplsound), this slick move would feel less predatory if we didn't have to wade through so much fodder to get to great tracks like the Hendrix-ripping cover of "Crimson And Clover," "Colonized Mind," "Wall Of Berlin," "Ol' Skool Company," and the remake of "U're Gonna C Me." On the bright side, we get a lot of guitars (and miss them when they go missing) and Prince's usual level of musical obsession, though not in the spots that need it the most. Overall, you just want more (and that absolutely doesn't mean tracks) from the enigma who created 1999, Dirty Mind, Sign O' The Times, and the culture-shocking album, Purple Rain. And speaking of that album, forget the hype that compares this trio of barely relative assemblies to that iconic classic. Sure, LOtUSFLOW3R etc.'s sales and "success" will imply über-marketing works for just about anything, lucky us. Still, isn't it sad when the best reason for buying Prince's latest is so one can display it on the coffee table next to that copy of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn?

Tracks:

LOTUSFLOW3R
1. From The Lotus...
2. Boom
3. Crimson And Clover / The Morning After
4. 4Ever
5. Colonized Mind
6. Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Womderful
7. Love Like Jazz
8. 77 Beverly Park
9. Wall Of Berlin
10. $
11. Dreamer
12. Back To The Lotus

MPLSoUND
1. There'll Never B (Another Like Me)
2. Chocolate Box
3. Dance 4 Me
4. U're Gonna See Me
5. Here
6. Valentina
7. Better With Time
8. Ol' Skool Company
9. No More Candy 4 U

Bria Valente - Elixer
1. Here Eye Come
2. All This Love
3. Home
4. Something You Already Know
5. Everytime
6. 2Nite
7. Another Boy
8. Kept Woman
9. Immersion
10. Elixer

James Taylor - Other Covers

Obviously, these seven additional classics originally were recorded as part of James Taylor's latest full album, Covers, that Hear Music released last year. But Other Covers stands on its own merit, like an equally fine encore to a terrific show. These additional recordings are just as well-conceived, performed, and produced by the Taylor entourage, and his country take on Tom Waits' "Shiver Me Timbers" is as memorable as its author's version introduced on The Heart Of Saturday Night; "In The Midnight Hour" and "Knock On Wood" are Taylor-ed perfectly for the guy who recorded Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have It"; and "Wasn't That A Mighty Storm" could have become something more like A Mighty Wind, but in Taylor's capable hands, it's pure pop-soul. His unique, percussive-acoustic approach on "Get A Job" makes it a "Mockingbird"/Cajun/gospel hybrid, Taylor's take on "Memphis" makes you wonder why he didn't take it out for a test drive earlier in his career, and "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" leaves Oklahoma and Broadway behind for "Something In The Way She Moves" (and reads just a little like brother Livingston's "Over The Rainbow"). So, until they release the combined Covers/Other Covers Deluxe Edition with whatever other recorded treats they haven't coughed-up yet, this EP supplies some added stops to Taylor's musically diverse trip through classic Americana.

Tracks:
1. Oh, What A Beautiful Morning
2. Get A Job
3. Memphis
4. Shiver Me Timbers
5. Wasn't That A Mighty Storm
6. In The Midnight Hour
7. Knock On Wood

John Wesley Harding - Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead

Uh-oh. John Wesley Harding just sang the line "I love you, Lucifer" on the track "My Favorite Angel" on his new album, Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead. It's the apocalypse, I tell you, the apocalypse. No wait, it's just God wearing a Kinks Muswell Hillbilly or Elvis Costello Get Happy!! costume having a heart-to-heart with his ol' turncoat pal who enjoyed the limelight a little too much for the cosmos' good. A topic that Randy Newman would've turned into a whole album (actually, he did on Faust) gets slung out with twelve more plates of fun, literate, mostly sixties-structured songs that only this intellectual wiseguy could dish up in perfectly palpable portions. First, let's get the moniker elephant out of the room with a teensy history lesson: Johnny Cash recorded a song about the obscure gunfighter, John Wesley Hardin, titled it "Hardin Wouldn't Run," Bob Dylan recorded the album John Wesley Harding with the misspelled surname, and Wesley Stace embraced it as his pseudonym. Under this appellation, he released fifteen or so albums (including the pop gem Adam's Apple), contributed material to soundtracks such as High Fidelity, been joined onstage and on recordings by a total of artists too large to tally here, and he is a critically-acclaimed writer (Listerine: The Life And Opinions Of Lawrence Stern) and novelist (Misfortune) under his Stace cognomen. His novelist side flaunts that talent sentence after sentence in every song, and his lyrics run a respectful roughshod over whatever the heck the music happens to be playing.

Always courting the melody, his phrases bounce along, further animating songs like "Sick Organism" with its wheezing keyboards and a shuffle beat that trots along Attractions-style; "Love Or Nothing" propels concepts such as "the cities are lost like Atlantis" like Ninja knives; "A Very Sorry Saint" could make Broadway composer and fellow novelist Rupert Holmes extremely giggly; and you get so used to Wes' punctuated antics that even when his left field arrangements reference Nick Heyward's From Monday To Sunday Bacharachinations, or when he gleefully follows his Nilsson impulses while geeking-out with a woodblock and kazoo on "Congratulations (On Your Hallucinations)," it sounds perfectly normal--only when appearing in this universe, of course. Interestingly, totally stripped-down, these songs could be Juno II or Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist II candidates, but the artist and his co-producer David Seitz insist that the listener experience the full musical Monty. After a while, you'll either tire of or be brainwashed by the marathon of Squeeze-Elvis Costello-XTC-Kinks-Beatles inflections and genuflections that back up the brilliance, but you'll have to decide for yourself if Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead actually changes your life or kills you (hopefully, in a good way).

Tracks:
1. My Favorite Angel
2. Love Or Nothing
3. Oh! Pandora
4. A Very Sorry Saint
5. Sleepy People
6. Daylight Ghosts
7. The End
8. Sick Organism
9. Congratulations (On Your Hallucinations)
10. Top Of The Bottom
11. Someday Son
12. Your Mind's Playing Tricks On You
13. Wild Boy

Bonus Disc: Live At Union Hall 10-27-08
1. Kiss Me Miss Liberty
2. The Person You Are
3. The People's Drug
4. Still Photo
5. Top of The Bottom
6. Negative Love
7. Monkey And His Cat
8. Kill The Messenger
9. The Truth
10. Our Lady Of The Highways - with Josh Ritter
11. Window Seat
12. The Devil In Me

Paul Carrack - I Know That Name

By now, we should not only know Paul Carrack's name, but also the person behind that soul-drenched British voice that sounds like he grew up somewhere near Memphis or Detroit...or at least on the south side of Sheffield, South Yorkshire. But despite singing on many big hits ("How Long," "Tempted," "The Living Years," "Silent Running"), though we do know that name, we don't know much about the singer. This new project could change that since its r&b sounds more genuine than most of what's been masquerading as that for years.

Usually, when maturing white guys attempt a project like this, the end result is an Aaron Neville/Phil Collins/Michael McDonald-sounding project that is more pop than not. But I Know That Name is built upon 11 truly soulful Carrack originals (and one cover), and a production that combines real and synthesized elements to produce its vintage sound. The string and horn arrangements seduce, heavy-handed snares whack away at the grooves, and B-3s skitter and swell ala Al Green's or Bobby Womack's recordings. I Know That Name also includes era-perfect background vocal arrangements, and all this supplies an authentic seventies soul backdrop to this former Top Forty vocalist's pipes that squeeze (ahem) with just the right balance of emotion and tension.

Despite minimal nods to modern production techniques, the ghosts of Stax, Motown, and Philly International wander the halls of this album. Adult Contemporary and classic r&b radio could do worse than play the leadoff track, "No Doubt About It" (picture a more engaging "Easy Lover"), or Carrack's Eagles co-write, "I Don't Want To Hear Any More" (that includes Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit on BVs). But the sensuous strings and Carrack's smoldering vocals on "I Don't Want Your Love (I Need Your Love)" access records by Bill Withers ("Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone") and Dobie Gray ("Loving Arms"), and it can fool you into thinking it already was a hit from an earlier day.

Passion rolls through "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City" (memorably tackled last by Whitesnake) and drives the album's "Unchain My Heart"/Ray Charles moment, "Stay Awake (I'm Coming Home)." When the faux-reggae intro of "Just 4 Tonite" suggests the album has blown out its first tire, you hear that totally believable voice smoothly Johnny Nash it out. And whoever's idea it was to get Sam & Dave's Sam Moore to duet with Carrack on his Chris Difford co-write (one of two), "Love Is Thicker Than Water," deserves a piece of the publishing or, at least, a pat on the back. "If I Didn't Love You" is pure r&b bliss, "Who Am I?" is one of the best Al Green records that he never tracked, "Eyes Of Blue"'s horn section dances with Carrack across the reggae rhythm, and both Ben E. King and The Drifters get a reverent nod over cocktails during "Am I In That Dream?" that drowns us in Burt Bacharach cool and arrangements that recasts the singer as a male Dionne Warwick or The 5th Dimension's very underrated Billy Davis, Jr. That said, nowadays, any comparisons of Paul Carrack to other vocalists no longer apply considering we already know this voice after all of his guest shots with Squeeze, Ace, and Mike + The Mechanics, plus his own parade of under-appreciated albums. With I Know That Name, he's found more than his own voice, he's found his own identity.

Tracks:
1. No Doubt About It
2. I Don't Want To Hear Any More - with Don Henley & Timothy B. Schmit
3. It Ain't Easy (To Love Somebody)
4. I Don't Want Your Love (I Need Your Love)
5. Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City
6. Stay Awake (I'm Coming Home)
7. Just 4 Tonite
8. Love Is Thicker Than Water
9. If I Didn't Love You
10. Who Am I?
11. Eyes Of Blue
12. Am I In That Dream?

Matthew Barber - Ghost Notes

In a culture where it's become impossible for a straight-up singer-songwriter to break through the din if he or she doesn't follow the outré paradigm of the pack, an intelligent, acoustic artist like Canada's Matthew Barber--vocally, a cross between David Gray and Don McLean--will have to promise more than his firstborn to U.S. Rumpelstiltskins for success. But the music never panders on Ghost Notes whose best songs merge old school Harvard Square with a hipper Washington Square Park vibe ("Easily Bruised," "Somebody Sometime," and "Sleep Please Come To Me"), and its piano-grounded tracks nudge the listener into sing-a-longs ("Our Voices"), and a Bruce Springsteen River-era moodiness ("Where The River Bends"). Its one misfire, "I'm Gonna Settle My Accounts With You," merely suffers from miscalculated over-production, though there's a fine song beneath the horns and slight honky-tonk. On the other hand, those same horns--when used tastefully and sparingly at the end of "Somebody Sometime"--are stirring and unexpected. Overall, Ghost Notes' front-and-center honesty doesn't use the format to mope or preach (though there is a lot of matter-of-fact, subtle emoting), and it follows the flight path of his EP and previous albums Means & Ends and Sweet Nothings that contained the Canadian hit single and video, "Soft One." (FYI, Ghost Notes was nominated for Canada's Juno Award for Best Roots/Traditional Solo album.) While you're at it, also check out his sister Jill Barber's Chances from last year, its material co-written with the still surprisingly obscure Ron Sexsmith.

Tracks*:
1. Easily Bruised
2. And You Give
3. I'm Gonna Settle My Accounts With You
4. You And Mehorn-driven
5. Modern Woman
6. One Little Piece Of My Love
7. Where The River Bends
8. Sleep Please Come To Me
9. Somebody Sometime
10. Our Voices
*Includes additional downloadable tracks