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.
At a time when bands are looking to go smaller as a means of making a larger profit, the Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) has been flying in the face of that. Eleven members strong, the united bands of Susan Tedeschi and hubby Derek Trucks are reminiscent of traveling caravans of yore like Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. With its second studio outing in three years, TTB has nailed down a vintage rhythm and blues sound, (heavy on the blues), that still manages to sound contemporary. All the more impressive is that it’s done with nary a cover song to speak of. Instead, these solid originals include contributions from one or both of the band’s namesakes along with familiar names like the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell and John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash’s producer husband.
A shot across the bow of a popular music scene dominated by synth-pop and the emerging sounds of hip-hop, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1983 debut resurrected the notion of the axe-slinging guitar hero. Recorded in two days, Texas Flood was a solid mix of originals and crisp covers. Fresh off being David Bowie’s go-to axe-master on the Thin White Duke’s own smash ’83 outing Let’s Dance, Vaughan and his trio came roaring out of the gates with the self-penned “Love Struck Baby,” a quick shuffle with riffs echoing hints of Chuck Berry and T-Bone Walker. The remaining nine songs found the Texas native paying homage to Buddy Guy (a snappy reading of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) and Howlin’ Wolf (a rough and rowdy “Tell Me”) when he wasn’t showing off some fleet-fingered riffing on the Isley Brothers’ “Testify” or pouring some emotional playing and singing into the title cut originally performed by fellow Lone Star State bluesman Larry Davis.
The latest treat to emerge from the fertile musical crescent that is New Orleans is the Honey Island Swamp Band (HISB). Together nearly a decade after joining forces in San Francisco after getting displaced by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, this outfit is funky and feisty with plenty of twang. It’s the kind of quintet that will immediately appeal to fans of Little Feat and The Band while Zac Brown Band followers will immediately recognize the HISB as being creative kin. Overseen by veteran producer John Porter (B.B. King/Buddy Guy), these dozen songs are dripping with Americana influences. The rich heritage this outfit draws from includes honky-tonk (“Pills” featuring accompaniment by Willie Nelson harp blower Mickey Raphael), laid-back Allmans-flavored boogie (“Prodigal Son”) and even a sassy NOLA-kissed shuffle (“Johnny Come Home”). Elsewhere, elements of mandolin-trilling bluegrass overtures (“Miss What I Got”) and loads of sinewy swamp rock overflowing with slide guitar (“Change My Ways”) bubble to the surface. Cane Sugar winds up being a musically sweet dark horse for this year’s sleeper summer album.
The Honey Island Swamp Band will be appearing on August 16 at Sullivan Hall, 214 Sullivan St., NYC 212-477-2782 www.sullivanhallnyc.com
Normally the idea of pairing a musical elder statesman with an array of younger bucks reeks of pure marketing minus the thought of whether it’ll actually sound like some numbers cruncher was the impetus behind it (I’m looking at you, Carlos Santana). But in this case, it’s John Fogerty, whose creative integrity is as solid as the avalanche of work he’s created with Creedence Clearwater Revival and as a solo artist. Released on his 68th birthday, this project works thanks to the pairing of artists with the right songs and the idea that it was okay to go a little deeper into the CCR catalog. So while there’s familiar fare such as Fogerty ably keeping up with the Foo Fighters on a mondo aggressive take on “Fortunate Son” or uniting with Jennifer Hudson and Allen Toussaint on a Crescent City-flavored reading of “Proud Mary,” there are plenty more obscure but no less stellar moments on this project. A classic country reading of the title track featuring the unusual pairing of Miranda Lambert and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and a poignant version of “Someday Never Comes” is perfectly rendered with help from Dawes. Further, the two new songs, the most excellent road song “Mystic Highway” and the ominous yet twangy “Train of Fools,” prove there’s plenty of creative kick left in this mule.
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