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The Rotation

April 2010

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With all the off-days this month, and all the quality in my front four, I'm skipping the fifth starter. Do you hear me, Bruce Bochy?

Allen Toussaint /The Bright Mississippi

Sometimes you can't improve upon an original, sometimes new interpretations in new contexts make a huge difference. Toussaint and Friends play old New Orleans jazz and blues in the post-Katrina world, and you can't help but stop and listen.

Come for the Junkies, stay for a lot of other things. This is the site of the Cowboy Junkies' record label, and it has a treasure trove of live shows, outtakes, and other stuff from their 20+ years of recording and touring. But it also features full streamed albums from lesser-known acts (unless you're Canadian, perhaps), and some are quite good. I especially recommend some of the tracks on the Huron and Skydiggers recordings. Barbara Lynch is too much of a Tom Waits ripoff, and the very young Ivy Mairi is worth waiting for as she gains a little existential weight.

Chuck Prophet / Let Freedom Ring

In a world bereft of guitar heroes, Chuck Prophet comes to the rescue. How many people still work in the guitar, bass and drums idiom, maybe a little keyboard thrown in, without weird skinny pants? Somehow Chuck never hit the national big time; well, not somehow. There are reasons. For one, he doesn't quite craft the perfect pop record, and I love him all the more for it. He's been an inconsistent writer in the past, but he leads off Freedom with a grand line: "I'm a man of few words, baby / And I think by now you've heard 'em all." It's his best album since the nearly flawless Homemade Blood.

Bill Frisell / Nashville and Good Dog, Happy Man

Not quite country, not quite blues, and a mere flirtation with jazz, these two albums are of a piece to me, floating just beyond grasp when you don't listen closely. It took me several listens to pay close attention, as the songs are airy and never insistent, building their space mainly without vocals, though Nashville has a wonderful cover of Neil Young's "One of These Days." It's easy without being easy listening. The songs make sense when you're 40 in the way Ry Cooder's theme to "Paris, Texas" made sense when you were 24, and you drove across the desert at night, a lightning storm crackling over a far-off mountain range, and a lot of questions burning in your head. 

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