Solomon Burke's Nashville
I love, love, LOVE Solomon Burke. The first thing I did a couple of weeks ago when I was looking for new music was to download Solomon Burke's Nashville, which is soooo good and makes me hate all my friends who haven't alerted me to it yet. (Elizabeth, you're obviously excepted from that.) If you don't listen to another new song for the rest of your life, listen to "That's How I Got To Memphis." And if you only listen to two songs for the rest of your life, add "Honey Where's the Money Gone?". I love this album chiefly because it confirms my longstanding belief that country music and blues music are basically the same. That is to say, poor people's music. The stories are the same, the chord progressions are basically the same, there's a slight difference in the rhythm, but the heartbreak is absolutely identical. Also on regular rotation from Solomon Burke is Don't Give Up On Me, the title track of which I would give at least three fingers (of my right hand) to have written.
Rufus Wainwright's Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall
I have no shame whatsoever in admitting my complete and unabashed love for show tunes. And, what's more, I've been a fan of Rufus Wainwright's vulnerable, desparate, and quietly pining baritone for a long time now. So, you can only imagine the total elation my inner-gay-boy felt upon hearing Rufus do a whole concert of Judy Garland tunes, in CARNEGIE HALL no less! (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, dahling!) In my more sober moments, I will deign to concede that Judy Garland-ish lounge and show tunes are not everyone's cup of tea. but surely even those otherwise-heartless automatons who do not love Rufus and Judy can appreciate the sweeping, dramatic, emotive, orchestral brilliance of this album. Well, maybe they can't. Because I guess you already need to have a refined appreciation for the melodramatic to really get it. Hell, I don't care. I love it with both of my jazz hands.
Buena Vista Social Club
Back in the day, when I was a student at the University of Memphis, all of the Philosophy department parties involved, at some point, pushing all of the furniture aside and indulging in a generous sampling of Afro-Cuban music. Which means those parties involved sweaty, drunken, percussion-driven dancing and groping...usually quite late in the humid, hot and sweaty summer and quite late in the night. Buena Vista Social Club is really the best of that music, and I was so happy to be reacquainted with it when I downloaded it recently. Ibrahim Ferrer is featured here, and all by himself is enough to make you fall in love with whomever you might be dancing with at the moment. If you haven't seen it already, it's definitely worth checking out the film about this group as well. But even if you're all alone and listening to it by yourself, as I've been recently, there's just no resisting the impulse to get up and shake it.
Buddy Miller's Poison Love
A lot of people have told me in the last few years that I needed to check out Buddy Miller. And I did know of a few of his tunes through No Depression. But, I have to admit, for the first couple of tracks on Poison Love, I was a bit disappointed, thinking it sounded too much like a kind of phone-it-in alt-country album. The third track "Don't Tell Me" changed my mind, though. And although it took a couple of listenings to really convert me, I can now see the brilliance of Poison Love. At the end of the day, I think I may prefer Buddy Miller's collaboration with his daughter, Julie Miller, on the album Written in Chalk. but the more I listen to Poison Love, the more I appreciate it. His version of "That's How Strong My Love Is" is good enough to buy the album on that count alone. But there are a lots of other counts, too.
Ryan Adams' Elizabethtown Sessions
To Whomever or Whatever It May Concern: if there is such a thing as reincarnation, please let me come back as Ryan Adams. Quite simply, he is the sole legitimate inheritor of a whole generation of country (mis-labeled, in my humble opinion, as "alt-country") music. Ryan Adams is so nauseatingly prolific that he generates more than his fair share of haters, what with his putting out sometimes as many as three albums in a single year, but the truth is that you just can't hate too much on a genius for indulging his gift. Adams has probably 3 or 4 song in my "Greatest Songs of All Time" list, by which I mean I would give more than three fingers on my right hand to have written. (Seriously, if you've ever seen the sunrise in a bar and you've never heard Adams' "This Bar Is A Beautiful Place," then you should reconcile that existential dissonance post haste.) Anyway, I downloaded both Adams' Elizabethtown Sessions and his New York Session, and although I haven't really found anything to knock my socks off in either, they are both consistently Ryan-Adams-good... which means, they're reflective, simple, sometimes smart, sometimes tragic, well-constructed songs. A songwriter's workshop, just like every other Ryan Adams album.
John Mellencamp's Words & Music
A little back-story is in order here: I'm going to see Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp in concert together in Bend, Oregon in a little less than a month. So, the main reason that I downloaded Words & Music was to bone up on my Mellencamp, But, the truth is that after downloading it, I realized that most of the songs on there were ones that I already knew. I don't suppose there's anything I can say about Mellencamp that hasn't been said before-- he's clearly in the same leaugue of Great America Songwriters as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dyan, John Prine, and Kris Kristofferson-- but let me just add to the chorus of voices that sing his praise. For a long time, I've held that "sucking on chili dogs outside the Tastee Freeze" is one of the greatest lines EVER penned in American music. Followed closely by "Got nothin' against the big town, I'm still hayseed enough to say 'Look who's in the big town'." I mean, c'mon, ain't that America? I've seen Dylan a dozen or more times in my life, but I've never seen Mellencamp in concert, so this is like a songwriter's wet dream. I can't wait.
I remember running into this guy at a gas station, over a decade ago now, in the midst of one of those oppressive Memphis Augusts (kind of like we're experiencing now), and he turned to me and said: "You know what'll cool you off? Listen to some Smokey." Truer words were never spoken. Smokey is just the coolest of cool. He radiates cool. He quite simply is aural cool. If you could liquify Smokey and put him in a bottle, I'm absolutely positive that bartenders would no longer have to ask "what would you like to drink?" I've always been partial to tunes like "Second That Emotion" and "Tracks of My Tears," but after downloading this album, I have to put my final vote toward "Cruisin'", which is as cool as a freshly-shaved sno-cone. Ice cold.
So, there you have it. Enjoy!