Rotation

-- Roni Sarig

Richard Thompson
you? me? us?
Capitol

Thirty plus albums and 28 years into a career that tracks all the way back to Celt-rock progenitors Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson has lost none of the ambition, none of the skill and none of the edge that's made him a cult favorite with rock critics and other manic-depressive sorts. And to prove it (as if it needed proving once again), Thompson -- along with super-producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake and an intimate cast of players that includes drummers Jim Keltner and Pete Thomas (the Attractions), guitarist Simon Nicol (Fairport) and longtime Thompson cohort Danny Thompson on acoustic bass -- has compiled one of the rarest of all studio products: a virtually fillerless double CD.

Disc one, Voltage Enhanced, is an electrified romp through the minefield of Thompson's romantic psyche -- a terrain that alternates between scar tissue and bleeding meat with the archetypal Thompson savagery of tracks such as "Razor Dance" and "Put It There Pal," the latter a boiling puddle of vitriolic bile spewed at a former acquaintance whom "some say" is "a rattlesnake in the grass / But I say, the sun shines out of your arse." Disc two is titled Nude, which means most of its tunes, including reprises of disc one's "Razor Dance" and "Hide It Away," are treated with only vocal, acoustic guitar and bass. Here's where you find the softer, more indulgent side of Thompson's fixation on emotional failure. It's a quiet counterpoint to the ballsier aggression of the first CD, but still a near-perfect companion piece -- the same brain in a different mood. (**** 1/2)

-- Brad Tyer

Jonell Mosser
Around Townes
Winter Harvest

Jonell Mosser is a throaty-voiced, baby-faced redhead who cuts demos of new songs written by Townes Van Zandt. Then, Van Zandt's people pass the demos on to established artists looking for material to record. Bootleg cassettes of this 13-song compilation have been certificates of industry-insider hipness for quite a while; now the collection is available to the masses on disc. Mosser sings country/blues/rock the way Van Zandt writes lyrics -- both fillet your soul. If that don't make yer fuzzy little heart pound a double-shuffle, then hell, you ain't from around here, are you? (****)

-- Jim Sherman

Willie Nelson
Spirit
Island/Polygram

A surprising number of bluesmen (and women) cite Willie Nelson as one of their favorite all-around musicians. The acoustic offerings of Spirit show copious justifications for that adulation. While I can only claim familarity with 20 or so Nelson albums -- maybe a third of the Bearded One's catalog -- this psychic self-autopsy lays bare the doubts and fears beneath the bandanna to a degree I doubt Nelson has ever reached before.

The themes here are the core of both country and blues -- uncertain religious faith and love gone wrong. These have obviously left scars and wrinkles on Nelson's soul and brain; they have also resulted in a collection of songs that will cut you so cleanly that you'll notice the blood before you feel the scalpel. "Too Sick to Pray" is a hymn of faith lost when it was needed most -- and found again during a transitory remission of crisis. "She Is Gone" and "I'm Not Trying to Forget You Anymore" speak volumes of the inner pain of a man who has found everything in life except what he wanted the worst -- and knows there's no one to blame but himself. Nelson's ability to do anything but stay married has long been a country-music spectator sport; the bittersweet looks back on Spirit shame the rubberneckers and answer the questions that no one outside the Nelson family ever had a right to ask.

The minimalist arrangements here fit superbly. The piano and fiddle work of Bobbie Nelson and Johnny Gimble could have been mixed into an instrumental album that would stand on its own merits; instead, they serve as the foundation of the country chapel where Nelson wrestles with his personal demons and emerges battered but poignantly hopeful. (****)

-- Jim Sherman

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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