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THE CARRBORATORS/Caffeinated Heart: Their bio sheet says they are influenced by Tim & Mollie O'Brien and John and Michelle Phillips. Darn if they aren't! Contemporary Americana/folkie stuff with production in North Carolina by Chris Stamey (surprise, with Mitch Easter as a guest musician--not a producer) that hits the current zeitgeist with something well less than a sledge hammer so you can ponder instead of be dumbstruck. Finding their sweet spot somewhere between rock and bluegrass, this is a solid dose of adult listening for those who first honed their ears in long ago college campus coffeehouses. Writers with something to say---always welcome. Check it out.

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI/Icon: When you have a series like Icon coming from a conglomerate with such vast holdings, it's easy to get sucked into a lolling place where you kind of anticipate the expected. Putting Pavarotti in this ostensible pop series isn't such a stretch. Because of careful marketing, it's easy to overlook that he was as much a clown as Pagliacci and as much of a pop star as the Muppets he sang with. So, it's not off base to find him in a collection that kicks it off with his pop side with stuff that would have been right at home on the albums of pop singers of the 50s and 60s when they made their obligatory ‘foreign language' album. He was a helluva singer and classical or not, he knew how to kick out the jams. It ain't highbrow, it ain't lowbrow, it just some smashing tunes from one of the great tenors of our time. With the canon he left behind, they can pump out differing themed volumes for years to come.

ETTA JAMES/Heart & Soul-A Retrospective: 4 discs, even when cross licensed from other companies, isn't enough to hold the heart and soul of Ms. Hawkins. Even though she's only mentioned in the same breath as Aretha by Northern Soul geeks and other hard core types, she'd be the first to tell you she'd have been toe to toe with Re if she hadn't been her own worst enemy along the way. Whether dueting with her cousin or covering Alice Cooper, James never met a phrase she couldn't turn. A fave of music biz insiders well into her difficult phase and into her comeback, this was one of the sets of pipes that didn't need any help and helped make the record business something the robber barons needed to descend on to suck dry. Yep, there was way more to her than "At Last" as this lady from the 50s covered Eagles, tore it up with Cleanhead, held her own with B.B. and still left enough in the can to unleash some worthy, previously unreleased tracks. Chalkie and his Northern Soul fans are in R&B heaven tonight as the bulk of these sides from the south side of Chicago powered a generation of soul. A heartfelt, killer collection that reminds there was more than Motown to soul music. It's delivered in a cool, clothbound book as well.
15545 (Geffen/Chess)

HOWLIN' WOLF/Smokestack Lightening-The Complete Chess Masters 1951-60: Muddy and Leonard had a special (it was non-sexual, you gutter heads) relationship that went beyond business and friendship creating a special symbiosis that always gave Muddy the win whenever there was a tie. Willie was the musical backbone of the operation. Then comes the Wolf. A contemporary of Muddy and Willie, Wolf came to Chess by way of a regional distributor hawking the contract on Wolf and them palming it off to Chess. By the time Wolf got to Chess, he was a strange gentle giant who had the sense knocked out of him at an early age, but he never lost his wits. Despite Wolf's many accomplishments, he doesn't seem to be thought of in the same breath as Muddy and Willie, but he kept his mind on his money and his money on his mind, taking care of those who took care of him, and as such, his relationship with Leonard was a business one. It could be cordial, but it was business so the big guy never got the same label affection even though songs on this collection, recorded before 1960, are still being recorded and making an impact today with new generations blown away by the gale force this tower of power could unleash. Fittingly respectful the spine of the book these 4 cds comes in simply says "Chester Arthur Burnett", the Wolf's given name. Also fittingly, this is just the tip of the iceberg in releasing all his masters. Recorded in the 50s, when it was mostly all singles in the record world, Wolf left enough behind to pack out 4 cds. And there's till the 60s and 70s ahead of us. Primal, raw and unleashing torrents of something from way down deep, he wrote ‘em, he sang ‘em, he produced ‘em and he was ready, willing and able to pay the cost to be the boss. Hell, you hear about famous law suits brought by Muddy and Willie, but you don't hear nothing about nobody crossing the Wolf. The English knew who to give the proper respect to. It's easy for 60 year old ideas and recording techniques to sound a little dated, but this reaches out from a cement covered crypt beneath the crossroads to grab you by the throat and shake some sense into you. Essential post-war blues that demands your attention without a weak link in the bunch. Check it out.
15309 (Geffen/Chess)

JAMES BROWN/Vol. 11 The Singles 1979-81: Of course he was the hardest working man in show business. All those kids and ex-wives, tax liens, assorted hell hounds on his tail. Sheesh. Unfortunately, we come to the end of this particular series as these were the years Brown's contract with Polydor wound down and was not renewed. A comeback album that was making waves couldn't overcome the dissolution of most of the current aspects of his personal life as he moved from Polydor to TK to his own DIY label. But he was still the godfather of soul, dammit, and that's why ‘Blues Brothers' and ‘Rocky' were still unknown cards in the future of his story, but that's another story. Brown was not a guy to rollover and play dead, so he got Al Sharpton to be his tour manager and hit the road playing anywhere that would have him and his revue. Times might have changed but his groove was still in the groove and the pocket. Amazingly, these 22 discs only cover 20 years, but what a ride it was. Check this out to see how this chapter in the story ends, and for god's sake, get up offa that thing when you do cuz it's still too funky in here. Hit it!
(Imagine seeing Brown in 1979 for $6 with Willie Murphy as the opening act. No wonder civilians don't understand the musician life).

JOHN COLTRANE/The Impulse Albums V. 5: Five more posthumous albums from Coltrane with one of them igniting some controversy. ‘Infinity' was the source of controversy as the Mrs. took the tapes back to the studio and overdubbed a bunch of stuff that wasn't there in the first place. She got her wrists slapped and Puff Daddy made millions for the same thing 30 years later. As to the quality of the material? It's all first rate, no table scraps. Even if you didn't agree with where Coltrane was headed as he zoomed into the cosmos and rained down sheets of sound, he was remaining true to himself. While the sound at times remains as way out as Sun Ra's sounds long after he's shuffled off this mortal coil, this is how it was with psychedelic jazz. Either you were a leader or a follower. The leaders get a 25 volume reissue series, y' dig. If you were down with Miles after Betty Mabry turned his world upside down, you know what's on tap here. Hell, if you're any kind of a jazzbo, you know what's on tap here--and the bonus for you is that modern technology makes this sound a whole lot better than the quicky first generation mastering did when light first hit byte on these tapes last time around 15 years ago. If this was a country that revered art, these would be Library of Congress recordings. The real deal throughout. The recordings making up this volume are ‘Transition', ‘Live in Seattle' (a set the label made Coltrane pay for with his own dime), ‘Sun Ship', ‘Infinity', and ‘Concert in Japan". Cheapskates beware, many of these tracks are so long that Amazon won't let you buy them by the track. Don't take my word for it, see what else Amazon has to say.

LIZ CHILDS QUARTET/Take Flight: What's it take to get someone to write a check so Childs can take up residence at a lounge somewhere near where this website is written? The jazz vocalist gets up from the piano to focus on the vocals this time and let her crew worry about keeping time. Serving up a mixed bag that runs from Cole Porter to Leonard Cohen with stops in Brazil along the way, Childs is more the reliable old friend than the comet that sets the sky on fire and quickly burns out. She's the kind of old friend that can make you laugh at the same joke after the 20th telling. How lucky we music geeks are that she's not using her personality to sell foreclosures and short sales. Good stuff throughout.

SARA SANT'AMBROGIO/Bach 246: When most people think about members of the lucky sperm club, they picture the lay about kids of some hot shot hedge fund guy. Hey kids, money is just a way of keeping score. Sant'Ambrogio is a descendant of the patron saint of music. On the other side of her family, it wouldn't surprise me if she a descendant of Helen of Troy. If you aren't going to be born into more money than you can ever spend, it doesn't hurt to be born with talent and looks and make your way on your own. Sorry to say, I must have been asleep a few years ago when the cello chair of Eroica Trio released the first volume in this twin set, "Bach 135" because she rosins up her bow and plays up not only a storm but leaves us with the definitive recording of these three Bach cello works. That one person, with one instrument not normally thought of as a spotlight solo instrument, can hold your attention so rapt, it's testament to witnessing gifts from God. If you've ever been able to get a seat up close at an Eroica concert, you will really appreciate this hour of you and Sant'Ambrogio and the Vulcan mind meld. In a way not apparent at first, this is a classical recital for everyone, not just classical fans. A killer throughout.

Volume 34/Number 364
October 31, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2011 Midwest Record

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