LIVE AT LEGENDS Buddy Guy (Silvertone) *****
Eric Clapton praises Buddy Guy as “the last real he-man of the blues guitar”, a boast easily proven by Buddy’s new live album. Released in mid-December Live At Legends, recorded at Guy’s own Chicago night club, is fire and brimstone blues- a dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.
When Buddy Guy plays, the hair on the back of neck stands up. As he did when I saw him in Edmonton in 2006, Buddy feeds off the energy of the audience here, using it to take them higher. Legends is a mix of his own tunes alongside material by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix, with audience members being willing participants. During I Just Wanna Make Love To You her turns the mic on the capacity crowd, who sing the chorus with gusto.
Live At Legends is about 54 minutes long and also includes three terrific studio tracks including the blistering Country Boy. Live or otherwise, at 76 years old Guy could mop the floor with guitarists half his age. As comic George Carlin once said “It’s not enough to know which notes to play, you have to know why they need to be played” and if anybody on God’s green earth knows, it’s Buddy Guy. This isn’t just music- it’s magic.
TOP TRACKS: Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, Country Boy, I Just Wanna Make Love To You
MY TRUE STORY Aaron Neville (Blue Note) *** ½
It’s long been a dream of Neville’s to do an album of doo-wop, the music that inspired him as a youngster. This is a disc of some of the genre’s best loved tunes, delivered in that unmistakable falsetto, backed by a band with New Orleans swing- what a treat!
“These songs helped to mold me into who I am” Aaron says.“ They’re all dear to my heart and they rode with me, in my bones, through all these years.” Indeed, his voice is a natural fit on songs likeUnder The Boardwalk and Be My Baby. Produced by Don Was and Keith Richards (who play guitar on this too), My True Story was cut in just 5 days so the tunes aren’t forced are over-arranged, a real natural feel and authenticity that can be felt right away.
Keith Richards describes recording this album as “The perfect session. 23 songs were cut in 5 days, all of them live and many on the first take”- hopefully there’ll be a volume 2 before too long. Several singers from the glory days of doo-wop sing back-ups here including Eugene Pitt of The Jive Five, Bobby Jay of The Teenagers and Dickie Harmon from The Del-Vikings. Sweet music from one of the sweetest voices in music- yeah, I can dig that.
TOP TRACKS: Under The Boardwalk, Gypsy Woman, This Magic Moment/ True Love
SET YOU FREE Gary Allan (MCA Nashville) ****
This is Gary Allan’s 9th album, his first since having a polyp removed from his vocal chords. To say he’s back and stronger than ever is an understatement.
Set You Free represents a departure of sorts in his 17 year career. Allan has been writing songs with some new people and, along with his band, handled some of the production himself. The album was sequenced with a storyline in which a man breaks the restraints of a failed relationship and conquers the loneliness of its aftermath- the result of Allan’s own journey as a man and an artist. “It’s all about healing” he says, “the evolution of getter better.”
Being inspired by the likes of The Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson) has never been so evident as it is here. “They were so powerful” Gary Allan reflects. “It was like punk rock to me, it was so hardcore.” When you hear a song line Bones you realize he ain’t just whistling Dixie!
I don’t like a lot of country but the stuff I do enjoy comes from a real place, like The Highwaymen and artists like Marty Stuart and Gary Allan. Catchy isn’t good enough- you have to feel like they mean it when they’re singing it, and there’s nary a false note on Set You Free. This is the good stuff.
TOP TRACKS: Bones, Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain), Good As New
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND Hollywood Undead (Universal) ***
This is a hard band to take seriously- the masks and the stage names that try desperately hard to be cool- but the more people hate on them the more interesting they become to me. And so I found myself spending the hour with their 3rd album Notes From The Underground, and enjoying it.
Writing for this record started on the bus, as they were wrapping up their 2011 tour with Avenge Sevenfold. “We wrote from our hearts”says J-Dog (see what I mean about the names?) “I feel like we got back to something pure.” Their combo of rock with hip-hop elements is not unpleasant, skittering grooves and snappy beats abound, as they try their best to represent the soft white underbelly of Los Angeles.
The title is an homage to the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a favorite of Johnny 3 Tears- again with the names. “We’ve maintained an underground identity” Johnny says. “When we write songs we’re coming from a place most people don’t like to look at or talk about openly.” Maybe it’s the part of me that used to be a rebel that responds to this music. Stylistic considerations aside, there’s a clumsy honesty in the songs that reaches out, even if you don’t always like what they have to say… and as Paul Stanley might bray, isn’t that what rock & roll is all about?
TOP TRACKS: Another Way Out, Dead Bite, Kill Everyone