THE COMPLETE BBC SESSIONS Led Zeppelin (Atlantic) *****Are they scraping the bottom of the vault? Maybe- but this is still a hell of a set. Originally released in 1997 as BBC Sessions, this reissue comes with a full disc of bonus tracks, including a never before heard song.Zeppelin was peerless in the studio and mythical on stage. The Complete BBC Sessions is for Zepheads that must have every note they played. The various tracks on these 3 discs represent the best of both worlds as we get to hear the band treat the BBC studio as a place to stretch and grow the songs- it was a place to take chances. Produced by in-house company producers, the sound is well balanced and muscular.The bonus disc has alternate performances of tracks contained on the original, plus the original song Sunshine Woman, an improv that was never repeated. That recording (and some others) was sourced from a radio broadcast, so it’s cheesy bootleg quality. The Complete BBC Sessions sounds good to me, but surely the vaults must be empty after this.
ESSENTIALS: DISC ONE: Whole Lotta Love DISC TWO: Since I’ve Been Loving You DISC THREE: What Is & What Should Never Be
THE BIG SOUND OF… Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials (Alligator) *****If hard, slide guitar-powered Chicago blues is your thang, hold on to your shorts because Lil’ Ed and his posse are at it again. These guys never, ever let you down.Big Sound is as intense a blues experience as I’ve heard all year, maybe all decade. Like Johnny Winter’s best stuff this set is, as described by Guitar Player Magazine, “a snarling blues boogie machine… they blow down the walls.” Lil’ Ed Williams attacks the lyrics just like he does his guitar playing, with a bare bones intensity that makes it sound like a matter of life or death. There’s lots of dirt and grease on this album, and passionate musicianship from Ed and the guys- and that’s just the way I like my blues.I’ll leave the final word here to Living Blues magazine, who describe this disc as “Rough and ready blues played with unmitigated intensity… swirling, snarling, riveting slide… The Blues Imperials pound out riffs and rhythms like they’re overdosing on boogie juice. Scorching and soulful, joyous and stomping.” In other words, fuckin’ excellent.
ESSENTIALS: Poor Man’s Song, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Troubled World
HEAL MY SOUL Lex Grey & The Urban Pioneers (independent) *** ½ This is the 6th album for this group. Coming across like Mae West on a motorcycle, they fuse classic rock with old school blues to make a powerful concoction here.Lex has a formidable voice- rough around the edges in a Joplin-esque sort of way, sounding soulful and full of life experience. “I don’t believe you have to fit into a mold” she says. “We just stay true to our instincts and our influences, and people identify with this honesty. Regardless of culture, regardless of trends, if it comes from the heart, it’s both timely and timeless.” The inside sleeve of the CD also includes a quick blurb on the inspiration behind each song, which helps you crawl inside them a little further- something I always like to do.Though there’s plenty of blues or bluesiness on Heal My Soul I wouldn’t call it a blues album, strictly speaking. For sure it has truckloads of soul, and it feels like each of these songs comes straight from the gut. Congrats to Grey and her band for a job well done.
ESSENTIALS: Hobo Soup, Junkman, Ghost
PERISH IN THE LIGHT Trevor Alguire (independent) *****This is Alguire’s 6th album and I am stone cold in love. First spin, it felt like country to me- not the cheap, plastic Nashville stuff, but truthful and unflinching. Now on my 3rd pass, it feels like Jackson Browne meets Steve Earle, making Perish In The Light truly breathtaking.This is the sort of record you put on, dim the lights, and let it just carry you away. Trevor is obviously well respected in the music community, being joined in the studio by Bob Egan on pedal steel on several tracks (Wilco, Blue Rodeo) as well as the amazing Catherine MacLellan, who duets with him on My Sweet Rosetta, a song that will stop your heart. Miranda Mulholland plays fiddle on several tracks, and Jesse O’Brien (Colin James, Bryan Adams) sits in on keys.I get the feeling that if you dig Blue Rodeo, then you’ll take to Perish In The Light like a duck to water. Rootsy and rustic with a deep, thoughtful, country soul, this is one of THE records of the year.
ESSENTIALS: My Sweet Rosetta, The Ghost Of Him, I’ll Be Who I Am
ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN The McKee Brothers (independent) *** ¾ If 75 minutes of straight up grooving is your idea of a good time, boy do I have a disc for you! Enjoy It While You Can is a feel good exercise in unfettered joy.The McKee Brothers’ sound is a high energy blend of soul, blues, funk gospel rock and Latin, with a definite accent (to my ears anyway) on soul. A reviewer for WCBN calls this reminiscent of the Memphis-flavored, punchy horn driven funk of the Stax Records catalogue, and it’s got a real Tower of Power vibe to it. Denis McKee’s husky vocal is perfect for this music and the tight, sassy horn parts are quite lively.As you might expect from the title, Enjoy It While You Can is one of those records that makes you feel good. From the New Orleans groove of Qualified to the multi-guitar interplay that lifts their version of Earl King’s It All Went Down The Drain into the stratosphere, there is much here to absorb and enjoy. VERY cool stuff.
ESSENTIALS: One Of Us Gots Ta Go, It All Went Down The Drain, Enjoy It While You Can