The Record Box for Sunday, December 7th

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Hello fellow babies!  The column you are (hopefully) about to read was assembled over a period of weeks.  Thanks to my day job, writing commercials for a group of 7 radio stations in noertheastern Alberta, the last few weeks have been hectic to say the least.  After spending the day writing countless Christmas and Black Friday (that literally disgusts me) ads, I had little energy at the end of the day for writing about music.  Launching my new show “The Soft Rock Cafe” on CJXK in Cold and and CKKY in Wainwright took up some time to.  If any of you have been waiting on me I apologize.This was also intended to be my last column of 2014, but it turns out that may not be the case.  I just got word from my friends at Sony in Toronto that copies of “The Art Of McCartney” and the Stevie Ray Vaughan box set have just put in the mail for me.  Should they arrive before Mrs. Rock Doctor & I head south for a well deserved vacation, I’ll write them up- if not, I’ll tell you all about them in January.Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and please stay safe, John The Rock Doctor NO FIXED ADDRESS Nickelback (Republic/ Universal) ***Here is their 8th album overall, not including a recent greatest hits set, from this little ol’ band from Hanna, Alberta.  With over 50 million records sold, these guys are doing great by anybody’s standards.  The reason people love this band are in full evidence- probably the exact same qualities that prompted the hipster “I hate Nickelback” backlash.  .Am I a super-fan? Not by a long shot- but I do enjoy much of what they do, and I also won’t stand by while they get unfairly boot-fucked when they clearly don’t deserve it. Like Chad Kroeger said in an appearance on Rockline when the band were promoting their last album, “If we weren’t popular, selling millions of records and people weren’t coming to our shows, then it wouldn’t even be an issue.” Let me touch on a few things…EVERY ALBUM SOUNDS THE SAME- Since when is it a crime to be consistent? The same can be said of AC/DC throughout their career, iuncluding the excellent Rock Or Bust, and people worship the ground they walk on.ALL THEIR SONGS ARE ABOUT GETTING LAID AND/ OR FUCKED UP- If that’s what you believe, then you haven’t been paying attention. Since when are these taboo subjects in rock & roll? And what about songs like Never Again or Leader of Men?THERE ARE A MILLION BANDS THAT SOUND LIKE THEM- True- but that happened after they became successful, when record company presidents were screeching “Get me another Nickeback, dammit!” Not their fault.DAVE GROHL SAYS THEY RUINED MUSIC- I like Dave and enjoy the Foo Fighters, but he’s wrong- probably jealous that The Foos don’t sell nearly as many records.Having said all that, how’s the new album? It’s a typical Nickelback record, so you’ll like it (or not) as you do their other stuff. The music is dense and crunchy, with a low end that makes the music an almost physical experience. Million Miles An Hour, the opening cut is powered by an interesting somewhat intricate guitar figure, a powerful but somewhat spacey song about being high, rendered even moreso with the way Kroeger’s vocal is processed. It’s followed by Edge of A Revolution, an overtly political song lyrically with a powerful, shout-along chorus, and She Keeps Me Up (is that Chad’s wife Avril providing a vocal assist?) has an almost disco beat, sort of like a ¾ speed Stayin’ Alive.Grinches will say “it just sounds like another Nickelback record”, and in most respects they’re right. But to my ears, No Fixed Address (so named because it was recorded in several different locales) is a varied work with plenty of fresh twists and turns, yet it doesn’t stray too far from home. Kroeger will never be Chaucer but he improves every time out as a lyricist and the thick, sludgy rock provides a solid base from which he can pontificate at will. I like No Fixed Address quite nicely thank you very much- and every time I hear someone say they hate Nickelback, I just like them that much more. 80,000 copies in the US in the first week, good enough to land them at #4 on Billboard Magazine’s hallowed top ten- not bad for a band everyone says they hate.ESSENTIALS: She Keeps Me Up, Million Miles An Hour, Edge of A RevolutionMAN AGAINST MACHINE Garth Brooks (RCA/Sony) ****This is Garth’s first album since 2001’s Scarecrow, also the first I’ve purchased with my own hard earned cash since 1994’s The Hits, and that was because I was deejaying weddings at the time. Man Against Machine is the most rock & roll album he’s perhaps ever made, but then he’s always been a great songwriter.I was working the Christmas Craft fair in Lloydminster (near where I live, for Lloyd FM) on a recent Sunday afternoon, and the station’s countdown show played 3 songs from the new album which I rather enjoyed- so I bought the album. The songs were very good, and I was surprised that Brooks was back after announcing his retirement in the early 00’s to foucs on family life with his then new wife, Trisha Yearwood. It was a good move for him personally, and professionally too- Garth had become just about as big as any singer could in any genre, and his only options were a steady downward slide… or retirement.Weirdly, there’s little pressure on Garth Brooks with the new album- not really, after having been away from the game so long. Lots of fans are certainly glad to hear that he’s back (this disc debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts), but perhaps equally so, there are music fans that missed his prime- after all, 14 years is a long time. In an interview clip on that countdown show he mentioned that, now that his kids are older, it was great to get back in the studio with his old friends from the band to see what they could do together. It’s a different time now from when they were last active, and they’re different people.Man Against Machine, produced by Mark Miller, sounds terrific. It’s not afraid to rock, and it’s not afraid to sound real country when the occasion calls for it. People Loving People was the lead-off single, released in September ahead of the album, but I guarantee Mom will bring down the house in concert. My wife found a video of Garth singing the song from Good Morning America (I think) on You Tube and was crying her eyes out before the song was done- truth be told, I wasn`t far behind.On Man Against Machine, Garth Brooks is relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. It heralds a comeback the likes of which we may have never seen in country music, and not just because he used to be Garthzilla- this is a solid album filled with great songs, period, and at the end of the day that`s what it`s all about.ESSENTIALS: Mom, Rodeo & Juliet, She`s Tired Of BoysSONIC HIGHWAYS Foo Fighters (Sony) *** 1/2 Greatest hits and live albums aside, this is the Foo’s 8th album. It’s also their most varied and lived in album yet, recorded at various studios over the space of a year, as chronicled by the HBO series of the same name- a close inspection of the album cover will reveal exactly which cities with Seattle, Chicago and New York being the most obvious.After watching 3 or 4 of the hour long episodes of Sonic Highways, I resolved to purchase the album of the same name. Never been a big fan- I remember hating the first album, and the only other ones in my collection are a greatest hits set and the live Skin And Bones, before this- but liked what I saw in the show enough to get closer to the music. The making of the album was filmed along the way, different musicians from whatever local scene they were in interviewed too- Buddy Guy and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick in Chicago, Dr. John in New Orleans, Joe Walsh in LA, providing a wider picture of the inspiration that went into this collection of 8 songs.In many was Sonic Highways is a typical Foo Fighters album, and why wouldn’t it be? With producer Butch Vig once again in the control room, that consistency is expected. But these songs are somehow deeper and more accessible at the same time. My guess is it’s something in Dave Grohl’s lyrics, and in what the guest performers bring to each track. Whether it’s Rick Nielsen’s (Cheap Trick) baritone guitar on Something From Nothing or Zac Brown’s presence on Congregation, the songs feel like they turned out to be more than they would have been otherwise. If you’ve seen the LA episode then you’ll remember Joe Walsh laying down the lead solo on Outside. As Walsh proves less is more (listen to the track or watch the episode and you’ll see what I mean) drummer Taylor Hawkins is so delighted with Joe’s performance that he literally cannot contain himself.There are echoes of the Foos’ past on this album- Subterranean feels like a slowed down Times Like These and Something From Nothing goes from a whisper to a scream, containing a musical quote (rip off or tribute, you decide) from Ronnie James Dio’s Holy Diver. Dave Grohl and his band of merry men seem quite aware of the rock & roll legacy they carry forward, and this is the liveliest album they’ve done in awhile.ESSENTIAL: Subterranean, Outside (with Joe Walsh), Somethnig From Nothing (with Rick Neilsen) LOVE WHIP BLUES Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers (Juicy Juju/Vizztone) ** 1/2Formed in 2010, this is the debut outing for Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers- a name that very much fits this fun loving outfit.Growing up in the DC area, Erin learned to play blues guitar early from her dad, Maryland bluesman Neil Harpe. She soon began performing at folk festivals, coffee houses, bars and parties. After moving to Boston she put out a couple of albums of her own, absorbing other musical influences like Afro-beat and reggae, forming a world/funk/electro/dance band called Lovewhip, which has released 5 albums on Erin’s own Juicy Juju Records. And thus completes the ‘history’ portion of today’s program.Off the top, Lovewhip Blues sounds like house party music to me- joyous grooves and performances, particularly the harp work of Richard Rosenblatt who, as it turns out, is also the president of Vizztone. This record is 4 originals along with unique interpretations of songs by folks including Willie Brown and John Prine. There’s an organic chemistry at work here, and an uncomplicated joy in the performances that grabs the imagination. It sounds live off the floor, performances captured in the moment. Whether or not that’s true I don’t know, but that’s certainly the energy I get from tracks like Good Luck Baby.Harpe is a good singer, but I wouldn’t say she’s a great one, her vibrato feels like it might be more compatible with pop music. For a blues singer, a female particularly, a gutsier, more raw performance feels more- right? Correct?- and I don’t think that’s in her tool chest. Don’t get me wrong, her performance is fine throughout and I don’t dislike it at all, but there isn’t quite enough grease in her delivery to synch up completely with the band.Lovewhip Blues may not be a great album to my ears, but it’s a good one and certainly worthy of more listens.ESSENTIAL: M&O Blues, Love Whip Blues, Angel From MontgomeryHEAD FOR THE HILLS Markus James (Firenze Records) ***** +A nasty, greasy bit of business, this- but isn’t that what a rock solid blues album should be? Recorded in North Mississippi, Head For The Hills is no romp through pristine countrysides full of flowering meadows- no, this disc makes you feel dirty, perhaps a little bit ashamed- and intensely happy.I’d call this a lo-fi production, full of nasty slide work slithering over top of a trash can drum kit and sparse riffs. As a singer, Markus James sounds a lot like Harry Manx and the 3 string cigar box links Markus’s sound to Manx too. Having John Lee Hooker’s old drummer providing the backbeat is a good thing. The sound is somewhat primitive but the mojo is very strong.”After my Nightbird alnum came out in 2003, I started getting offers to go out and play, and one of them was from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg” says James. “I went down there with one African musician and the reaction we received was so great, and I noticed that nobody was asking about the connection between traditional West African music and the blues- the people just dug the music and they let us know.” It’s a connection that Robert Plant has noticed throughout his post-Zeppelin career in particular- perhaps not as exotic sounding as Harry Manx’s mix of traditional blues and middle eastern scales, but easily just as potent if not moreso.Markus James’s journey is heavily informed by the discoveries he made through repeated viewings of the movie Deep Blues based on Robert Palmer’s book. “This is different from Delta music and it’s not for me to try to explain what that’s about” says James, “but I feel that the difference is profound. The Hill Country is a beautiful place, with lots of trees and shade, somewhere you would want to be, especially if you found yourself in the sweltering delta or in the big city and out of luck.”Close your eyes and you can see the musucians gathered on a big porch somewhere, making this music with their hearts as much as their hands. This I know for certain- even after just the couple of listens I’ve been able to spare Head For The Hills, this music is a souful as it is deep, as it is profound, perhaps the penultimate blues experience- as terrifying as it is satisfying.ESSENTIALS: Gone Like Tomorrow, Goin’ Down South, Candyland RefugeeROCK OR BUST AC/DC (Columbia) *****The new AC/DC disc is everything I hoped it would be. Even though they’ve essenitally been making the same album since the 70’s with some being “meh” (as Black Ice was) while others are little plastic slices of rock & roll heaven- that is Rock Or Bust.ROB was made under trying circumstances, to say the least. Long standing health issues forced founding member Malcom Young into retirement. He was already having trouble with the beginnings of the dementia that would eventually sideline him on the Black Ice tour. In a recent interview his brother Angus said that Mal has also undegone heart and lung surgery, all of which makes Rock Or Bust the first AC/DC record ever without Malcolm Young. Also, more of a minor issue, drummer Phil Rudd’s recent legal troubles have shaken the band as well. While it’s true the headline shenanigans we all know occurred after the album was recorded, Rudd was 10 days late for the sessions and was on the verge of being replaced when he finally showed up, so his commitment is shaky at best. It’s also telling that, in the group photo in the middle of the CD booklet, Phil is nowhere to be seen.So with all of this going against it, why is Rock Or Bust such a jubilant, celebratory record? Beats me, but this is the most fun I’ve had listening to an AC/DC album since maybe Back In Black. 11 songs in 35 minutes, it doesn’t linger or overstay its welcome. The songs are energetic and hummable, credited to Angus and Malcolm, based largely on riffs and song ideas they had stockpiled before Mal’s retirement. Brian Johnson is in fine voice which is surprising, given his age and the physical demands of his vocal style, Cliff Williams is his rock steady self on bass and even the bedeviled Rudd on drums turns in one of his better performances- perhaps because he had an inkling it may be his last.Nephew Stevie Young, son of Angus & Mal’s older brother Stephen, has taken Malcolm’s place in the studio and on stage, and seems a natural fit. It should also be noted the that Stevie filled in once before for Mal on tour when he pulled himself off the road to deal with his alcoholism issues. His playing style is quite similar- where Mal’s absence is most noticable is, surprisingly in the backup vocals.Great rock songs here, not a single turkey or filler cut, not something that can truthfully be said of most AC/DC records. Rock This House sounds almost like a Zeppelin song, and Play Ball has that typical upper mid-tempo feel of some of the band’s best stuff. Upon hearing it for the first time on facebook I thought “Yeah- they still got it.” And Brendan O’Brien’s production is spot on- clean but tough, equal to Mutt Lange’s early 80’s work with AC/DC.Cool packaging, even- when you tilt the cover the AC/DC logo in rock appears to explode, and the cover opens up to a stark photo of Angus and Malcolm’s guitars resting against a Marshall stack. Finally, the album is dedicated to the fallen band member; “And most important of all, thanks to Mal, who made it all possible.” As it should be. The group continues with Malcolm Young’s blessing, and at his insistence too. Setting most of what I’ve just said aside though; there are okay, good, and occasionally great AC/DC albums- Rock Or Bust deserves to sit up there in the company of Highway To Hell and Back In Black as one of their best. If they play Edmonton on their 2015 tour, I don’t care how the tickets cost- I’m going.ESSENTIALS: Play Ball,Dogs Of War, Rock The Blues Away, Rock The HouseFOREVER Queen (Hollywood Records) **Egads, another compilation from Queen- jeez, they must have more of these than Kiss! Like any self respecting Queen fan I already have most of their stuff and frankly, many of these songs represent a weaker less popular portion of their catalogue. The only reason to plunk down my hard earned $12.99 today (when i snagged the AC/DC) was the 3 new songs.I already have the other 17 songs in my collection and, though initially resisted buying this, ultimately could not bear there being 3 Queen songs out there and not on my shelves. Let Me In Your Heart Again is a fair to middlin’ mid-tempo ballad. The song from Mercury’s ill-fated collaboration with Michael Jackson- short lived because Mercury couldn’t handle The Weird One’s batshit crazy behaviour, reportedly- a song called There Must Be More To Life Than This is a forgettable pop song, notable only for the famous collaborators.The star of this set is clearly Love Kills. The song, heard previously on Mercury’s Mr. Bad Guy solo record (which sold very poorly) has been turned from a generic disco song into an effective (and affecting) ballad. So essentially, you’d be paying $12.99 for one song- but if you’re an incurable and dedicated music nerd like me, it’s worth it.As for the rest of the songs? I like that they went for a different track listing from previous hit sets, but if you’re a fan their presence here is inconsequential. Other sets such as Queen Rocks are much more fun to drive to, but the 3 new songs alone make the purchase worthwhile. Maybe they should have just done an e.p., but they didn’t- c’est la vie.ESSENTIAL: Love Kills (the ballad)MOTHER TONGUE BLUES Angel Forrest (Morning Star) ***** +Winner of The 2011 Quebec Blues Awards for Album Of The Year and Female Vocalist Of The Year, Ms. Forrest is as blue as blues can be. Featuring 11 original and gutsy tracks Mother Tongue Blues is definitely and without a shadow of a doubt the real deal.Oh man, there’s nothing about this album that I don’t dig in a mighty way. Angel’s husky vocals, breaking and cracking in just the right way when she climbs right inside a lyric and the lead guitar work of Dimitri Lebel Alexandre are wonderfully expressive, leaving little doubt that each of them has lived some of these stories they’re telling. Not slighting the rest of the band here either- they’re consumate groovemasters in their own right, making Forrest’s storytelling technique that much more effective.Angel has shared some pretty big stages, opening for the likes of Shawn Philips, Thornetta Davis, Larry McRae and even The Beach Boys, as well as sharing her magic at big Quebec festivals like The Montreal Jazz Festival- you don’t to run in circles like that unless you have the chops to hold your own with the big kids. Mother Tongue Blues her first disc of all original blues, is a sultry pleasure to lose yourself in- a swampy concoction that, despite where she lives, pulsates with southern soul.You gotta like a new album by an artist you’re not familiar with that grabs you and just pulls you in long before the first chorus, the kind of record where you fall deeper in love with each succeeding cut- that’s how it goes with Angel Forrest’s Mother Tongue Blues, a simply outstanding adventure in this music that I love so much.ESSENTIALS: Morning Star, Roll On Down, How You DoINSIDE OUT Roly Platt (Independent) *****Holy cow can this dude blow some righteous harp! This mostly instrumental new release from the legendary Toronto based harmonica virtuoso, his first solo effort, is a stunner.Platt is a tasty player, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed- he’s played alongside folks like Matt Minglewood, Dutch Mason, David Clayton-Thomas, Suzie Vinnick and Ronnie Hawkins as a sideman. The harmonica is the voice of the blues, as surely as any singer. As a player, Platt’s style very much recalls the greats like James Cotton or, for perhaps a more contemporary reference, the great Harpdog Brown. Sure he can put the speed on when he wants, but for the most part here Roly lets the notes breathe, bending them just so as the occasion requires, and his trills never seem superfluous or showy.There are some great old standards on this, from a soulful instrumental remake of Over The Rainbow that is nostalgic, haunting and beautiful all at the same time. There are a handful of vocals on Inside Out, with guest Steve Strongman lending his axe and his voice to Good Mind To Wander and Ocean Of Tears. Jordan John sings the classic James Taylor country ballad Bartender’s Blues and Roly sings on the joyous original Rippin’ It Up.Great blues guitar usually makes me sit up and take notice, but great harp work is really the backbone to truly fine blues. Kudos to the rest of Platt’s band here for some fine grooves, for knowing when to lay back and when to step up. I’ve heard some excellent blues in the past year, but Inside Out is truly one of the most soulful records I’ve heard in any genre. My blues radio show was recently cancelled for lack of sponsorship (Nov.30th was the last episode), but listening to the songs on this album has the wheels turning on how I might be able to revive it, either on one of the stations I already work for, or perhaps somewhere else. Soulful and inspiring- that is exactly what this gorgeous album is.ESSENTIALS: Ocean Of Tears, Over The Rainbow, Put It Where You Want ItSONGS FROM THE ROAD Dana Fuchs (Ruf) *** 1/2The latest installment in the award winning series of live albums by this German blues label is a blast. Recorded and filmed (it’s a DVD/CD twofer as the other sets have been) at New York City’s Highline Ballroom, you can almost smell the sweat.Fuch’s voice has been praised by the UK’s Classic Rock Magazine as “juke joint dirty and illicit, evoking Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger and a cigarrette bobbing in a glass of bourbon”- mostly Joplin, if you ask me. She has a great catlogue of songs to draw from, going all the way back to the Dana Fuchs Band’s debut, 2003’s Lonely For A Lifetime and that makes for a varied and satisfying set.While Dana is clearly the star of the show, her band elevates her performance enormously. On guitar and backing vocals is her longtime guitarist and wingman Jon Diamond, on 2nd guitar is Matt Beck, on bass the very funky Jack Daley, keyboards go to Pete Levin and steering the ship from behind the drum kit is Joe Daley. of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a trio like The Screaming Sirens providing your backup vocals too.While the music in these 16 tracks (17 on the DVD) is blues based, if I had to describe Songs From The Road I’d have to say it rocks. This what I call a Friday or Saturday night album, the soundtrack to a great party with the energy and muscle to elevate the entire room higher than any cocktail would, and if you happen to be listening by yourself, you might just end up dancing around the house in your Stanfields.Great energy and charisma, musclar music driven by Dana’s lived in voice- if this album doesn’t lift you up, you’d better check your pulse.ESSENTIALS: So Hard To Move (a ballad written about being with her brother as he took his final breath), Bliss Avenue, I’ve Been Loving You Too LongRAGGED & DIRTY Devon Allman (Ruf) ****It must be hard to grow up in the shadow of a famous parent, then establishing yourself in the same line of work on your own merits- but based on his latest album Ragged & Dirty, this particulat Allman seems to be doing just that, and doing it extremely well.Growing up with his mom (NOT Cher!), Devon listened to anything he could find on the radio- often The Stones or Jimi Hendrix. “I can remember listening to music at the age of 4 or 5. Something would come on the radio and I would always ask my mom who it was” he says. ” She would say ‘That’s John Lennon’ or ‘That’s Styx’. One time Midnight Rider came on and I asked her “Mom, who’s that?” and she said “That’s your dad.”Though growing up with a famous last name, Devon didn’t meet Gregg until age 15 so really, what Devon has achieved to date must be considered separately of his father’s career. Though many of the notes he plays are drenched in the blues, you’d be hard-pressed to call this a blues album, songs like the extremely sexy instrumental Midnight Lake Michigan being an obvious exception. No, this is more of a soul album.Between his first album Turquoise in 2013 and here, Devon hooked up with a bunch of cats (Mike Zito, Cyril Neville, Charlie Wooton and Yonrico Scott) to form Royal Southern Brotherhood. The touring he’s done with them and work on their 2 studio albums has really lifted Allman’s game on Ragged & Dirty. “I have to say that playing with Royal took my career to a new level. It’s given me more confidence and a new found love for the music” he notes. Indeed his performance as a singer and guitarist has grown in leaps and bounds. As a vocalist he sounds like a cross between his dad and maybe David Clayton-Thomas, his guitar playing is confident and self-assured.Ragged & Dirty is a great name for this album- it has that sweaty, backwoods feel, not far removed from the swamp- it’s the sound of the south through and through. It’s soul, blues and funk wrapped up in one greasy, irresistible package, and could very well be his breakout record.ESSENTIALS: Midnight Lake Michigan, I’ll Be Around (the Spinners classic), Ragged & DirtyTIME ON OUR SIDE Colosseum (Ruf) *** 1/2Boy am I embarrassed- this jazz/prog band started in the UK in 1968, and their new album is my first encounter. There’s so much going on here musically that it’s going to take me weeks to absorb these songs. 11 years has passed since their last album Tomorrow’s Blues- this is the sound of old friends embarking on new adventures.”We started work on this album in 2010″ notes drummer Jon Hiseman, “by meeting in the studio andplaying through demos that had been written by the band members. But after 2010 the future of Colosseum was always going to be decided by whether Barbara would be able to tour again.” Multi-instrumentalist Barbara Thompson, his wife since 1967, played uncredited on the 3 albums by the band. She also has Parkinson’s disease. “Her Parkinson’s progresses, and the medication becomes less effective, so she stops playing” he says, “then a new medication comes along and she picks up where she left off. This has happened 3 times now- and recording this album was stopped in 2012 because it looked as if she would never play again.”Time On Our Side is a pop/rock album with jazz chops, and I cozied up to it in no time at all. I was delightfully surprised to hear Chris Farlowe’s voice again, for the first time since hearing him on Jimmy Page’s soundtrack album to Death Wish II and, of course, Page’s only post-Zeppelin solo record Outrider. The playing here is fluid and memorable, shifting from carefree, swinging numbers to heartbreaking ballads like Nowhere To Be Found.After listening to Time On Our Side once, it’s simply impossible for me to do it justice- several spins will be needed to get inside, but its hypnotic and melodic charms are already weaving a charm and a spell. Very cool stuff.ESSENTIALS: You Just Don’t Get It, Safe As Houses, Nowhere To Be Found20 YEARS ANNIVERSARY Various Artists (Ruf) ***** +A terrific compilation for this German blues label, celebrating two decades of bringing rockin’ & funkin’ blues to the public conciousness- ‘excellent’ barely scratches the surface.I’ve only become familiar with this label in the last couple of years, thanks to writing this column. This anniversary set arrived with their latest shipment of stuff- see the 3 reviews above this one, plus the one that follows. It’s a two disc set (how appropriate) with disc 1 subtitles Girls With Guitars and disc 2 Guys With Guitars. I gave the whole thing a listen on a round trip yesterday to Wayne FM in Wainwright to do a board shift for a remote broadcast. The car- a PT Cruiser named Spartacus- is the optimal listening envirnonment, not for sound fidelity from the factory installed stereo, but for atmosphere and vibe… just me, the road and the music, with nothing else in our way.Girls With Guitars kicks off with a lively remake of The Stones’ Bitch by Samantha Fish, Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde before giving way to more bluesy and soulful fare such as Meena’s arresting performance of Try Me. It felt good to run into some of my favorite artists like Fish, Sue Foley, and one of the most potent blues performers I’ve run into in recent years, Joanne Shaw Taylor. With a voice not far from Joplin and some msucular soloing, Can’t Keep Living Like This on this disc is a stunner.Some great stuff on Guys With Guitars too from the likes of Jeff Healey, Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown, Mike Zito and Thorbijorn Risager. I reviewed Rsager’s album earlier this year and absolutely loved it, as authentic as any electric blues you’re likely to hear from Chicago. Zito is another favorite, and if I were still doing ‘best of’ year end lists his Gone To Texas album would place in the top 5.First rate packaging here too- the cover art looks like it should be hanging on the wall in your rec room, and the booklet includes photos of all the artists involved, along with a short writeup on each and every track. So why does a European label care about rockin’ out some blues? I suspect it’s a similar situation to the 60’s, where American blues had to go over there and get sent back here for it to be appreciated. 20 Years Anniversary gives you an excellent idea of what Ruf is all about. I don`t know how readily available their stuff is in brick and mortar music stores over here, but a trip to their website (www.rufrecords.de) is VERY worthwhile to add this top shelf compilation for your own blues collection.ESSENTIALS:GIRLS: Can`t Keep Living Like This (Joanne Shaw Taylor), Try Me (Meena)GUYS: If You Wanna Leave (Thorbjorn Risager), Voices In Dallas (Mike Zito)SONGS FROM THE ROAD Mike Zito & The Wheel (Ruf) ****Yet another of Ruf`s stunning and ongoing live series, from one of the label`s best artists. Like all the others it a 2 disc affair- one audio CD with a DVD of the same performance. Almost more funk than blues, this is a pantload of fun.A co-founder of Royal Southern Brotherhood along side Devon Allman and Cyril Neville, Mike is in his element onstage. “This DVD and live album were recorded on January 10th, 2014, at Dosey Doe at The Woodlands, Texas, to a sold out crowd of crazy Texans” Zito says. “The audience was on fire from the first note (and) the band played with such energy and passion. I was overwhelmed many times throughout this performance by the sheer energy of love that poured out of every soul in that building.”When you’ve got a shit-hot band playing first rate material the results are predictable, but in a really cool way. The energy exchange between band and audience is palpable as Mike and the guys give 150%, literally leaving it all out on the stage- I can only imagine how exhausted they must have been after this particular show. Longtime fans were elated to hear nuggets from Zito’s past like Greyhound, a gritty, rousing number that recalls the desperate events of September 2002 when a drug addicted Mike stole his father’s credit card to buy a one way bus ticket to Florida. “I decided I’d be doing everyone a favor if I just left, got as far away as I could go” he remembers. And that’s just one song out of a dozen.Another track of note is Pearl River, the song Mike wrote with Cyril Neville in reference to civil rights campaigner Dick Gregory, which planted the seed for the all star band Royal Southern Brotherhood. The DVD is an essential part of this package too, including not only film of the gig but fan interviews and 6 ‘storyteller’ videos too. As far as live albums go, in any genre, it just doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.ESSENTIALS: Greyhound, Pearl River, and an acoustic ballad remake of Prince’s Little Red CorvetteTRACKS OF MY YEARS Bryan Adams (Verve) **What is it with all the covers albums in the last couple of years? The latest, an idea by Verve Records’ president David Foster as pitched to Adams, is forgettable.Bryan Adams is a name most everybody knows, particularly if you’re around my age, but the fact is he hasn’t had a hit record since the 90’s. Tracks is made up of songs that inspired Adams as a youngster when he was just contemplating a career in music- songs that people in their 50’s too will no doubt remember hearing on the radio. Bryan is in fine voice, sounding just like he always has, and his liner essay is really quite informative. Perhaps Foster and Adams are trying the catch a wave from the wake of success left by Rod Stewart’s success with his American Songbook records, but it ain’t gonna happen.I love a lot of Bryan Adams’ stuff from the past- Reckless is one of the best rock & roll records ever made- but I recall the exact moment I lost faith in Adams; right after cracking the cellophane on a disc called 18 ‘Til I Die and hearing a song called I Wanna be Your Underwear. Every artist has a shelf life, an expiry date, and for Adams that was it.Is it a coincidence that most of these 11 tracks are ballads? Surely not. Guys never really dug that side of Adams’ music, but the chicks sure did- I remember my ex-sister in-law listening to Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman obsessively shortly before dumping my brother.Look, I’m not knocking Bryan as a singer and, truth be told, I kinda dug some of those ballads too. I wouldn’t mind going to see him in concert if he rolls out all the hits like Summer of ’69, Run To You or even Cuts Like A Knife, but an album of covers more than 20 years after his career slipped off the grid? It’s doubtful many will care and, to be honest, if my copy wasn’t free you wouldn’t be reading this review right now.ESSENTIALS: Any Time At All (Beatles), Down On The Corner (CCR)

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