Mail Dump: Janis, Little Richard, dBs, Donovan, Etc.

The mailbox has been truly kind the past several weeks. Sure, there are still piles of useless dreck to wade through/past/over. But those all get to go to the big box in the dark closet and await the apocalypse.

But there are standouts and surprises almost daily. Let's begin with three important reissues.

Donovan, The Essential Donovan (Epic/Legacy) : Described as the "songs that made him an icon," this is a must for both the diehard fan and the complete novice. Donovan was no Bob Dylan -- an unfair, obvious comparison that would plague him his entire career -- but that doesn't diminish his accomplishments, his chart success, and his place in folk-rock.

"Catch the Wind," "Mellow Yellow," "Universal Soldier," "There Is a Mountain," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," and the monumental "Season of the Witch" would make a career for most musicians. With 36 tracks including alternate takes and rarities, this makes a great primer for one of the psychedelic era's true songcrafters.

Janis Joplin, The Pearl Sessions (Columbia/Legacy): This is a must for Joplin fans. Not only does it include all of the mono versions of her radio singles, it also includes recently discovered tapes from the sessions, where Joplin can be heard joking bawdily with producer Paul Rothchild (The Doors) and her Full Tilt Boogie Band.

There are intriguing alternative versions of well known Joplin tunes that further demonstrate what a loss it was when the Port Arthur native overdosed. The lady could sing the blues.

Little Richard, Here's Little Richard (Specialty/Concord) -- As we noted in our recent piece on Grady Gaines, Little Richard was playing regularly at Club Matinee in Fifth Ward when Don Robey sold his contract to Los Angeles-based Specialty Records, who immediately dispatched Penniman to New Orleans to work with producer "Bump" Blackwell.

What came out of those sessions was "Tutti Frutti," the shot heard 'round the world, the single that turned yours truly into a rock and roll maniac for life. Life was never the same around our house once Dad brought this slab of wax home. The new release augments the original dozen tracks with bonus demos, videos, and a 20-minute interview with Specialty Records owner Art Rupe that is frank and factual.

Containing part of rock and roll's Holy Grail ("Jenny, Jenny," "Long Tall Sally" "Slippin' and Slidin'" and "Rip It Up"), owning this is like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls of rock and roll.

The dB's, Falling Off the Sky (Bar None):

Oh, it's so good to have these guys back. The whole thing just works from the first note of "That Time Is Gone," with it's guitar-drenched garage vibe and a zillion guitars ripping huge portions of rock out of the silence.

These power-pop princes whose band started to fall apart almost as soon as it formed may have been in hibernation a long while, but they haven't forgot how this stuff works or why it is needed. And it sounds like they may actually like doing this stuff. One of the most feel-good, floorboard-it records of the year so far.

Chris Smither, Hundred Dollar Valentine (Signature Sounds Recordings): Chris Smither is another artist who puts integrity first, showbiz second. On Hundred Dollar Valentine, the battle-scarred Yankee warhorse and hard traveler is back with a dozen quiet, brooding folk-blues tunes that find him in fine form.

Smither has probably always been rated a bit higher as a picker than as a writer or vocalist, but it all comes together on the title track and progresses to a truly grand but understated finish.

Joey + Rory, His and Hers (SugarHill): My dad is a big fan of Joey + Rory. He first noticed them on RFD-TV and recently called to see if his music-writer son could track down one of their older efforts, a song titled "That's Important To Me.

His and Hers consists of 12 tracks that alternate between male and female leads, and the sequencing is very smart. Total pros who sound like they cut their teeth in bluegrass, Joey and Rory can get gritty and down on items like the Civil War story song "Josephine" or find a poppy Alison Krauss/Dolly Parton lilt that is very, very appealing. Lyrical highlight: "I can chase you 'round the kitchen / you can chase me 'round the bed." Now that's country.

Jon Dee Graham, Garage Sale (Freedom): The follow-up to 2010's It's Not As Bad As It Looks, Garage Sale is vintage Jon Dee, looking in all the psychic cubbyholes for answers to the eternal questions.

Overall, the album is probably best described as downbeat and somber; there is very little rocking going on here, but there's plenty of emotionally charged lyricism. Graham was badly injured in a one-car accident in 2008 (hence It's Not As Bad As It Looks) and his tortured song "Codeine/Codine" explores the world of pain killers, physical pain, and psychic pain.

And healing. This is classic Jon Dee. Roll a fat one and settle in; Graham doesn't make it easy.

Jimbo Mathus, Blue Light (Big Legal Mess): This is some serious Dirty South country-blues-funk. Whether he's drawling like a jilted drunk ("Blue Light") or laying down the commandments ("Fucked Up World"), Mathus always puts maximum soul in his groove; you can almost smell the grits and bacon on the stove.

The only problem with Blue Light is that there are only six tracks. Solution: Put it on repeat. Not a slack moment to be found on this cooler than cool effort.

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