Review: Christmas Closeout
Going to take a whack at the last few new releases that’s caught our attention in the past few weeks … a lot of old-guy stuff, a new blues-roots classic and a pretty good anthology from the Lone Star State:
Neil Young has been endlessly releasing archive material the past year or so, and his newest, Dreamin’ Man Live ’92 is a live show from the 1992 solo tour that preceded the album Harvest Moon. Impeccably recorded and performed in the same order as the studio album, the songs here match or in some cases surpass the studio versions. At the time Young performed these songs he received more than a few catcalls and gripes from audiences hoping to hear his greatest hits. None of that animosity appears on Dreamin’ Man, though, and it’s too bad – that would have been a welcome spark to a live set that needs a little more life.
Something’s up with the new Jimmy Buffett album, Buffet Hotel, and it’s not the apparent misspelling on the album cover (actually it’s a real hotel/whorehouse somewhere in Africa). The 63-year-old singer/songwriter tries to return to his “roots” on this new album, and relies on co-writers to produce music that sounds an awful lot like the stuff he’s been releasing the last four decades or so. You got yer summer song (“Summerzcool”), you got yer topical talking folk blues (“A Lot To Drink About”), and you got yer songs that are going to be live favorites on the next tour (“Rhumba Man,” “Surfing In A Hurricane”). For Parrotheads only.
One would think the world has more than enough live Allman Brothers Band albums (like Neil Young archive releases), but no – there’s now a box set from the Bros, capturing all 15 sold-out shows from the group’s March 2009 stand at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. There is a ton of special guests including Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Horns, Levon Helm, Buddy Guy, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Winter, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, Billy Gibbons, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas, Bob Margolin, Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Susan Tedeschi, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and so on. You can get the whole shebang (cost $400), or CDs of individual shows here. Everything sounds great, the jams are really loooong and it rocks. However, it’s kind of sad to see this venerable band cashing in on the talents of former members living and dead (Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, respectively) in their absence. Shouldn’t “Little Martha” and “Jessica” be a little more sacred than that? Guess not.
Just three days after the death of music legend Jim Dickinson, his son Luther Dickinson opened the doors to the family’s Zebra Ranch studio in Mississippi and in just a few hours recorded Onward and Upward, an album of gospel songs, blues and hymns. Luther, one third of the North Mississippi All-Stars and now a member of The Black Crowes, was joined by an ad-hoc group dubbed the Sons of Mudboy (an homage to his late father’s influential rock band Mudboy and the Neutrons) who were all close to Dickinson the elder and wished to address his loss in a musical way. That’s the press release stuff: Onward and Upward is a terrific album that breathes with life, love and loss. The music is performed mostly acoustically, it’s blues and gospel and it’s great. And the Luther Dickinson solo original “Let It Roll” is awesome. This album is a heartfelt and fitting tribute to a music great and it’s highly recommended.
For 17 years now, KGSR radio in Austin has given a Christmas gift to its listeners: a 2-CD set of live performances by artists who have visited the studios over the past year. Broadcasts Vol. 17 is out now in Austin, and it’s stellar: with performances by local heroes Steve Earle, Hayes Carll, the Flatlanders and Alejandro Escovedo and others. There are 40 songs here (and one “hidden” track), mostly acoustic and mostly great. There are a few duds here and there but the highlights are more worth mentioning: from folk rookie Sarah Jarosz’s head-turning “Song Up In Her Head,” to Bob Schneider’s affecting “40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)” to Todd Snider’s hard-hitting “The Ballad of the Kingsmen” to Steve Earle’s masterful cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Fort Worth Blues.” This is 15 bucks well spent – and it goes to charity. (For those not near Austin, you can mail-order Broadcasts Vol. 17 at the Waterloo Records website).