Even though Sly Stone is best known to music fans through a handful of hit songs that are standards on oldies radio, the fact is, this Denton, TX, native was a game changer. Not only did he lead a multi-racial co-ed band at a time when most rock bands were predominantly made of white male members, but Stone was a multiple creative threat — singer/songwriter/producer/all-around visionary. By virtue of the doors he kicked down in the music industry and pop culture, his immensely talented acolyte Prince was able to walk through and take everything to the next level. This 4-CD set does an excellent job burnishing the man and his group’s legacy in the year of his 70th birthday by way of 77 chronologically arrayed tracks that include 17 previously unreleased recordings. Capping it all off are excellently written liner notes by authorized Sly & the Family Stone biographer Jeff Kaliss and exquisite track-by-track annotations featuring insights from numerous people involved with the group, up to and including original band members Greg Errico, Larry Graham, Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson and Sly Stone himself.
(Caroline Records) —Lodi
NJ’s gift to the world, The Misfits was not only the launching pad for founding member Glenn Danzig, but the group spawned its own genre — horror punk — which not unlike Alice Cooper, was influenced by horror films and similar themes. While the original, Danzig-led lineup of the band only existed from 1977 to 1983, The Misfits later regrouped in 1995 sans Danzig and after legal battles over creative and performance rights. The band’s first six years yielded four full-length albums, but over time, archival releases and reissues released since then left plenty to be desired due to spotty quality. That is until the release of this appropriately coffin-shaped 4-CD compilation that came out in 1996.
If there’s any one man qualified to bring forth an album chock full of doo wop songs, that would be Aaron Neville. Blessed with the voice of an angel, the New Orleans native has always professed his love of the genre citing Pookie Hudson of the Spaniels as an idol. Neville’s sole recorded nod to those songs of yesteryear was the 1986 EP Orchid in the Storm. That is until he went into the studio with producers Don Was and Keith Richards and emerged with these dozen songs. Smooth as silk but never slick, Neville slips into a bossa-nova-flavored medley of “This Magic Moment/True Love,” a soulful reading of Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” and a stripped-down but no less effective version of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” Other artists given the Neville treatment include Hank Ballard (“Work With Me Annie” featuring inspired Hammond B-3 playing by brother Art Neville), The Drifters (a harmony-soaked “Ruby Baby” and equally effective “Money Honey”), Thurston Harris (a crackling “Little Bitty Pretty One”) and the Jive Five (the falsetto-kissed title track). My True Story winds up being a labor of love that is far more of the latter than the former.
Twenty years ago, the first Sweet Relief benefit album was released as a means of helping singer-songwriter Victoria Williams pay escalating bills relating to her treatment for multiple sclerosis. Not only did it spawn a sequel for the late Vic Chesnutt (Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation), but the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which maintains a fund for musicians in financial need and oftentimes requiring medical care. Given that most artists can’t afford health insurance, it’s a very real problem in the music world. This current installment was spearheaded by Sheldon Gomberg, owner of L.A.’s Carriage House Studios and a Sweet Relief beneficiary himself. Using a backup band featuring members of Elvis Costello’s Attractions (Pete Thomas)and Imposters (Davey Faragher), the assorted artists here picked songs based around a loose theme related to help or need.
Steve Earle, consistency is thy name. Yes, the term Renaissance man gets overused, but given the man wears the hats of singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, author and anti-death penalty advocate, it’s a pretty appropriate moniker. For this most recent outing, not only does he serve up a dozen solid songs, but shows stylistic versatility in the process. He easily transitions from Cajun-flavored shuffle (“That All You Got”) and mandolin-soaked bluegrass road song (“Down the Road Pt II) to a gnarly Crazy Horse-like workout (“Calico County”) and a strolling barroom lament worthy of Mose Allison (“Pocket Full of Rain”). But for as adept as Earle is at dabbling in genres, his work as a storyteller is equally up to par whether he’s singing about an old man facing his mortality (the stark “Warren Hellman’s Banjo”) or wondering aloud where the flyin’ cars, teletransporters and “the future Kennedy promised me” are (the jangly “21st Century Blues”). Aided by wife Allison Moorer, Earle continues to be one of music’s more talented yet underappreciated artists as he continues to make the kind of country music that Nashville seems unwilling or unable to handle.
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