Just three weeks into February and I am already overwhelmed with amazing new music. Unfortunately, I am also consistently overwhelmed by so many lazy music haters whose constant clamoring about how "There's nothing good out there," has become boring and extremely irritating. Listen, if your daily dose of music is found during the second half hour of The Bonnie Hunt Show, and not HERE, whattya expect?
Try these three records on for size.
Shemekia Copeland -- Never Going Back
Miss Copeland started making records in 1999. Good, modern blues records that admittedly had great players and of course, the killer pipes of the singer. But too often, these records, all four recorded for the Alligator label, sounded like records manufactured for the Alligator label. This is fine, if you like that sound. To my ears, there is nothing special about a roster of artists whose records all sound similar. Shemekia Copeland oozes talent and deserves better.
In the hands of producer Oliver Wood, and such musicians as John Medeski, Chris Wood, Marc Ribot and Kofi Burbridge, Miss Shemekia Copeland has nailed it. Never Going Back, out next week on Telarc, is a warm and sometimes fiery ride through Memphis soul, Texas blues, and New Orleans grease and gospel. Miss Copeland never oversings and never shows off. More important, she never lets the music get the best of her. She is in control of every note. From the backwoods stomp of "Dirty Water" to the sexy slink of "Black Crow," to the sweaty funk of "River's Invitation," Shemekia Copeland has made a record for herself and not someone else. This is Shemekia's shining moment.
Dr. Lonnie Smith -- Rise Up!
The great organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith has been making records for over 40 years, but recently has seen quite a resurgence, releasing 5 records in as many years since 2003. All were solid, but none as cohesive as his new Palmetto release, "Rise Up!." Joined by New Orleans' greats Donald Harrison Jr. on sax and the masterful Herlin Riley on drums, as well as Peter Bernstein on guitar, Smith has taken the groove record to a new level.
The centerpiece of Rise Up! is a nearly 11 minute reading of The Stylistics' People Make The World Go 'Round, whose pocket is so deep, you will need help climbing out. Just as gritty is the pounding version of The Beatles' "Come Together," with Smith literally growling something indecipherable through each verse. Talk about feeling the funk. The man sounds possessed! Then there is the sublime "Pilgrimage," a beautiful hymn that carefully carries you with its heavenly melody, then slowly picks you up and delivers you home. "Rise Up!" is a perfect record. Every note is so fully realized, the record unfolds like a great novel. A great, funky, bad-ass novel.
Buddy & Julie Miller -- Written in Chalk
John & Yoko's "Double Fantasy" has to be the reason Sony invented programmable CD players. And Buddy & Julie Miller's Written In Chalk, due out on March 3rd from the New West label, must be the reason all CD players have a repeat button. Buddy & Julie Miller have been singing, recording, and producing music together, for each other and for others for over 20 years. On this new collaboration, they have some help from good friends Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, and Patty Griffin, and what they give us could be the best moments of their illustrious careers.
It took me a few days to get through the whole record because I couldn't get beyond the opening track, Mr. Miller's autobiographical "Ellis County," a big, moving story with a killer melody and even "killerer" harmonies. (mid-February 2009, and "Ellis County" is my favorite song of the year.) When I finally moved on, I found a few more gems, like the Buddy & Robert Plant duet on the Mel Tillis penned "What You Gonna Do Leroy." Plant sounds quite at home doing the Nashville shimmy with Buddy Miller. Then there is "Don't Say Goodbye," Julie Miller's heartbreaker featuring Patty Griffin's harmonies. This one will tear you apart.
There's still plenty of year left, and some big time releases down the pike. But for now, these three releases really do satisfy. Go get'em!