Once again our mailbox has filled to overflowing with CDs (and zip files). The desk looks like a Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown of jewel cases, and the entire room is littered with (largely unread) piles of hype-and-tout. And while much of what comes over the transom is less than exciting, we'd be remiss if we didn't let our kind readers know about some of the good stuff that will most likely go unnoticed and unreported. Here are five new items you may want to dig up at your local record dealer or online (shame).
Rufus Thomas - Do The Funky Chicken - Concord Music/Stax -- This wonderful remastered reissue features some mighty, mighty sides from one of the true early godfathers of soul. These songs will be familiar to aficianados, but for someone discovering Thomas -- he passed away in 2000 -- via this back door, it will be a perfect introduction. The first four tracks alone -- "Do The Funky Chicken," "Let The Good Times Roll," "Sixty Minute Man," "Lookin' For A Love" -- would make this a collector's item.
Thomas's version of "Sixty Minute Man" drops into a wicked groove tailor-made for any bedroom where adults cavort. Of course, with Booker T and the MGs supporting, the grooves are all wicked. Thomas was the earliest hit-maker at Stax and, due to the success of subsequent acts like Otis Redding, Albert King et. al., he became a somewhat overlooked figure although he had a long recording and performing career. He is also the father of Carla Thomas, probably best known for her funky duet with Otis Redding, "Tramp."
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Alberta Hunter - Downhearted Blues -- Rockbeat Records -- Alberta Hunter died in 1984, but not before recording this amazing live set at the Cookery in Greenwich Village. Backed by some of New York's best jazz and blues players, Ms. Hunter lays the law down in the grandest blues diva style, regaling the crowd with interesting stories between songs, like when she comments that Bessie Smith cut Hunter's "Downhearted Blues" on her first recording for Columbia Records: "I'm still getting royalties off this one." Hunter was a prolific writer and was also covered by no less a leading light of the early blues than Ma Rainey. This is a class performance by a class woman.
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Rick Broussard's Two Hoots and a Holler - Come and Take It -- Rick Broussard Records -- You can say what you want about Dale Watson being the leading voice of legit Texas music, but for my money it's Rick Broussard. Where Watson colors strictly inside the narrow lines of honky-tonk, Broussard isn't afraid to venture into rock or punk or cajun or conjunto a la Doug Sahm, his mentor. Kelly Willis has described Broussard as "a Texas Nick Lowe," implying that Broussard is a triple threat stalwart. His latest release comes at it from more of a country bent than his previous two releases, but Broussard and guitar partner Matt Brooks rock it hard and they have no fear at all of searing dueling-guitars solos that would make Doug and Stevie Ray proud. If you're looking for by-the-numbers honky-tonk, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a honky-tonk mentality with plenty of muscle and a wide range of musical geography, look here. It's country, but this shit rocks.
Johnny Flynn -- Been Listening -- Rough Trade/Transgressive -- You can have your Mumford & Sons, I'll take Johnny Flynn for my standard bearer of the English folk revival. Flynn is darker, meaner, deeper. Tracks like "Barnacled Warship" draw you in with their layered sonics and puzzle you with their words until the whole package sinks in and "Shazam," it knocks you over. "Sweet William Part Two" sounds like Sideshow Tramps playing with Two Star Symphony. Poetic and dark, this one is haunting and riveting start to finish.
Jack Oblivian -- Rat City -- Big Legal Mess Records -- A lot of people make old-school garage rock records, but few do it with the intensity and smartness of Jack Oblivian (Yarber, actually). Oblivian plays all the instruments on the title track which comes snarling out of the speakers like a nutria on meth and never looks back. But it's on the softer songs like "Dark Eyes" the poppy "Girl On The Beach" and the rootsy, soul-tinged Chuck Prophet-ish groover "Kidnapper" that sound like old-school radio hits that Oblivian stakes out his most honest territory. With John Paul Keith matching Oblivian nasty riff for nasty riff, this has become one of those albums that seldom leaves my truck.