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NELSON RIDDLE/Collection 1941-62: This is an important and overdue companion to the label's Billy May 4 cd collection. Some of the early tracks, which go back over 70 years sound dated and tired, but those are completists tracks from before Riddle was really out there in his métier as an arranger. By track 7, it's all good. Famous for his collaborations with Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra, there's four discs here of killer stuff with loads of stars and those who could have been. Still sounding amazing contemporary, you can hear echoes of "Summer Wind" in "Sunny Side of the Street" from the 40s. A player that could hit to all fields, this collection ends with his own compositions for "Route 66" (one of the killer TV themes of all time) and "Naked City". Along the way he was just what the record business wanted, a troubled genius that had to often undermine himself by working fast and cheap. He always seemed like he was ancient but was only 64 when he died. You can't help but enjoy this utterly wild kaleidoscope of his work with everybody that made them all look good. Check it out.

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III/Live at the Cactus Café: This is an important missing link in Wainwright's recorded oeuvre. Rebelling over being told he was going to be the clever song guy releasing a new record every 18 months, Wainwright was just releasing himself from 15 years of self-imposed career hell. Four years into his comeback when this was recorded, he is embracing his clever song guy side, tempering it with his personal observation story songs in fine style. Whooping it up for a radio broadcast that was never intended to be a record, this is a perfectly realized record that should have been. These songs are all familiar by now, even if they were new and welcomingly received at the time, and they approach definitive versions we're glad to see escape from the vaults. For fans and beyond.

JESSE WINCHESTER/A Reasonable Amount of Trouble: Well a wiggy rhumba man, I wave bye bye and let the smooth side show because all we have is now. I never met a Winchester record I didn't like and that includes the bootlegs he told us to avoid. Of course, that statement doesn't resonate as loud as I would like it to because 80 per cent of his recordings were made in the 70s with a schedule of about one a decade thereafter, but talk about a shelf of doozies. Here we have Winchester's last, recorded after the cancer he thought he laid a southern can of whoop ass on came back and whooped his ass. A first rate troubadour to the end, there's nothing second rate about what he left us with on this final outing. One of the greats to the end and beyond, this is a must addition to any well rounded singer/songwriter collection where the curation is fueled by excellence. For lack of a better cliché, this is killer stuff.

JIM NORTON/American Degenerate: Hiding behind a persona of the loud mouth at the end of the bar with an opinion about everything, Norton runs way ahead of the curve with street level humor fueled by the observations of a global eye taking it all in and processing it for later, doling it out at just the right time. A schpritzer with the best of them through comedy history, nothing is off limits to him including himself. Dice Clay could have still had a career today if he managed to go down Norton's path. Totally a laugh riot.

THE FRANK SINATRA STORY: It's on the new release sheet by the sleeve says copyright 1999. Released after he died, reissued just ahead of the centennial curve, this is a 4 cd overview of the life and times of the Chairman of the Board. The first half is a nice audio book recited in stentorian tones and the other discs are generally pulled from the V disc years that have fun stuff that hasn't been beaten to death even if the songs themselves are familiar. He's been gone 15 years and there's a lot of people that are going to be swept up in centennial fever that are going to need the easy starting point this collection provides.

LOUVIN BROTHERS/Complete Recorded Works 1952-62: Well, this is quite a significant collection. The newest recordings here are over 50 years old but they still crackle with a currency similar stuff by Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs doesn't always do. Baptist raised, deep gospel brothers, they are the pre-eminent players of harmony vocal. Ira was a killer mandolin player. He also was one of those Baptists that knew we are all going to hell, so he figured the hell with it which lead to Charlie leaving the act and continuing with the good Christian life. Ira wound up getting killed by a drunk driver while there was a warrant out for him for DUI. He also had a bad temper and his picture on the first record kind of belies that look. In the meanwhile, this is one killer collection of trend setting country/bluegrass/gospel. Emmylou Harris, who has covered their songs, has called them downright scary. You know how you fall asleep in front of the TV when "The Exorcist" comes on and the Richard Burton scene wakes you up into a freaky haze. The Louvins are scarier than that. This stuff was written and recorded when people were afraid of going to hell! The religious stuff here somehow crosses over to secular and it's easy to listen to no matter your religious conviction. There's so much seminal stuff going on here that you can easily draw a line from this to insurgent country. And it's ALL here, everything they laid down. Seriously killer ground zero modern country music. Check it out.

ERNIE WATTS QUARTET/ A Simple Truth: Watts is one of those sax toting cats you just can't argue with. Leading his crew through the sounds of a jazz day, this impressionistic date is heavy on art but long on killer playing as well. Recorded in Germany with his long time crew, Watts paints delightful sonic vistas that bring his vision to life. Even if it's sitting down jazz, it isn't for eggheads as it remains visceral and full blooded. At times you even think Paul Winter might have snuck into these sessions because it's all jazz and it's all wide ranging. Well done throughout.

ANNIE ROSS/To Lady With Love: A jazz legend in her own right, Ross tips the cap here to her idol, Lady Day. Drawing heavily on the "Lady in Satin" album, you have to wonder how two pros well into their 80s can complete with Holiday, Ray Ellis and an orchestra. With no one but Pizzarelli, father and son in tow, all you have to do is crack open the shrink wrap and find out they can. A highly intimate album that goes well beyond the boundaries of jazz and cabaret into something we should call heart music, this is stunningly gorgeous. A pair of first class lions in winter, the pros in the spotlight prove that those who really have it never lose it. On top of all that, this was all recorded in one afternoon, just like the old days. This is a must for jazz vocal fans and the easiest way to get it will probably be directly from www.annieross.net. Hot stuff throughout.

Volume 38/Number 293
August 20, 2014
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2014 Midwest Record

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