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Derek's Best Albums of 2005

The Top 20 Albums Of 2005
By Derek Halsey

Howdy folks. This has been an interesting year in music. While it seems that not as many albums were released in the last year as in the past, a whole lot of great music was thrown out there. This past year also saw many musicians displaced as the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast of this country took its toll. We at Gritz Magazine have been highlighting the music and musicians from New Orleans and Mississippi in recent issues, and will continue to do so. From interviews with Louisiana’s Sonny Landreth and Michael Doucet to the tribute to the New Orleans Jazzfest put up in the ‘features archive’ section, we will continue to spread the word on the resurgence of this important music community.

As I write this, the New Orleans Jazzfest will go on as planned at the end of April and the first of May. The lineup has been released and can be found at www.nojazzfest.com. Also, the Habitat For Humanity musician’s village being constructed in New Orleans is starting to take shape. We hope that the gumbo of talent and culture will continue to be conjured up in the Big Easy for many years to come.

Below is my top 20 list of the best albums of the past year. There were some hard choices to be made, but the music on these particular albums kept me coming back to them. Hundreds of CDs come across my desk each year, so there is a lot of music in my head. But when I grab a brew and take some time to make a party mix for myself, that is when the cream rises to the top. I take the time to explain exactly why these albums are great, and hopefully there will be a few on here that you will take a chance on after hearing me out.
Keep and open mind, and enjoy!

Number 20;
Elko! A Cowboy’s Gathering
(Western Jubilee/ Dualtone Records)
Yes, the cowboy lives! Once a year in Elko, Nevada the most talented among those that can actually ride a horse come together for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This CD is a collection of the best of the live performances from that event and includes both music and poetry. The get-together documented here was the 20th Annual National Poetry Gathering that took place over five days in January, 2004.

Opening up the record is perhaps the most famous of the cowboy poets and humorists, Baxter Black. Cowboy poets like Black have been around for many a moon, but the tradition got a big boost when the late Johnny Carson would bring the best of the cowboy orators onto his Tonight Show every year. The poetry on Elko! is very diverse and covers such topics as life on the ranch, deadly bulls that weren’t taken seriously enough, humorous stories such as the guff a cowboy got when he asked his wife to step off the grain elevator scale because it was costing him money, fighting a drought on the range, the Native American story of the dream of the spotted buffalo, and more. The music features the best of western performers, such as RW Hampton, Red Steagall, Don Edwards, Michael Martin Murphy, Waddie Mitchell and the rest of the best. The spirit of the west thrives in this excellent two-CD compilation. It is a wonderful diversion from the cacophony of this modern world, and a great CD to listen to while you’re learning your knots.

Number 19;
Get Myself Together
Danny Barnes
(Terminus Records)
Danny Barnes has been kicking around the music community for a long time. He has made music with everyone from the Bad Livers to Chuck Leavell to Tim O’Brien to Bill Frisell over the years. Yet when he makes an album of his own he stays true to his quirky and down-to Earth style that has frankly kept him out of the limelight a bit. Hopefully that will change with his latest collection called “Get Myself Together.”

Barnes’ music can be described as banjo-laden, old time, funky, and definitely off the wall and irreverent, and that is to our advantage. One example of that is the song “Rat’s Ass.” This down-on-your-luck story song opens with some old school banjo and fiddle that leads into the chorus of “Who gives a rat’s ass, baby. Who gives a rat’s ass, child. People that talk too much, they like to drive me wild.” Play that one at the company picnic!
Highlights on this CD include the eclectic country of “Big Girl Blues,” the ‘baby, I know you don’t know me very well, but could you bail me out’ story of “Get Me Out Of Jail,” and a 100-mile an hour banjo and fiddle version of the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy For The Devil.” The exceptionally talented Brittany Haas adds some fiddle to the proceedings, and Garey Shelton adds some bass and engineers the recording. Other than that, Barnes plays the rest of the instruments including guitar, banjo, and tuba. This album is both acoustic and rowdy, funky and old time, with sad songs and crazy songs, and would be an excellent addition to the collection of folks looking for anything close to original and quirky. Buy this album!!

Number 18;
Oldtime Blah Blah Blah
Bad Dog
(Carryon Productions)
Old time music, bluegrass music’s much older cousin, has witnesses a bit of a revival in recent years much the same as bluegrass music has. Old time is the music that has existed for centuries ‘across the pond’ that has been filtered down through the people and culture of America from the Appalachian Mountains to the old west to many other parts of this country. Sometimes referred to as fiddle tunes, there are songs to be played in this genre that are hundreds of years old, yet new tunes are popping up all the time.
The modern old time scene has brought the tempo up a bit. “Oldtime Blah Blah Blah” is an excellent example of where old time music is right now. The band features Andy Williams on fiddle, Mark Olitsky on clawhammer banjo, Jason Sypher on bass, and Leo Lorenzoni on guitar. As the liner notes tell us, the band came together at a late night jam at a music festival where the chemistry was obvious. I couldn’t think of a better way to form a band. Standout cuts here include “Jenny On The Railroad,” “Magnolia One Step,” and “Cumberland Gap.” The steamroll tempo of the modern old time scene is represented here on rockin’ cuts such as “Fall On My Knees,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “Piney Woods Gal,” and “Katy Hill.”

Number 17;
Stobro’s Blues
Ferrell Stowe
I first met Ferrell Stowe at the official Gritz Magazine hotel room during the 2004 Americana Music Conference in Nashville. I had communicated with him before and knew of his reputation as a Dobro player, yet had never seen him play in person. He came by to meet us at about the same time that guitarist Ricky Davis of Blue Mother Tupelo dropped by, and soon the jam was on. What a treat is was to hear these two musicians go at it. Ferrell Stowe comes out of the bluegrass tradition yet he has a distinctive blues style to his playing as well. A few months later Stowe let me know that he had put a new album together, so I asked him to send it on. After plucking it out of the mailbox I put it in the CD player and was pleasantly surprised to hear that my initial impressions of Ferrell Stowe’s playing was right on the money.

“Stobro’s Blues” is a combination of bluegrass with blues inflections. Another reason why this is a cool CD is that it is self-produced, free from the constraints and meddling of a large record company. Now, as we all know, these days everybody and their brother are putting CD’s out on their own. But this one rises above all of that and is very good.
The first sounds you hear on the record is Ferrell cranking up a solo blues lick before the mandolin joins him to begin the title cut, an original Stowe instrumental. In fact, seven out of the ten cuts on here are instrumentals including the beautiful “Mary, Did You Know,” the swinging “Carroll County Blues,” and a couple of classic takes on “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Precious Memories.” There are three vocal cuts on here with Randy Kohrs singing “Making Believe,” Lowell Appling and Kevin Schults singing “Two Coats,” and Toni Otts singing another Stowe original, “Next Door In Heaven.” A couple of real treats on the album are two solo performances by Ferrell; “I Must Tell Jesus,” performed on Dobro, and “Jewels,” performed on his antique Oahu guitar.

Number 16;
Songs From The Longleaf Pine
Charlie Daniels
(Blue Hat Records)
Songs From The Longleaf Pine marks Charlie Daniels’ first full-fledged bluegrass music album, and thankfully it works in a big way. Bluegrass music has gained in popularity in recent years, and as a result there have been many musicians of other genres to come out and jump on the bluegrass bandwagon. But, the good news here is that Daniels is not a carpetbagger to the genre, as he first played bluegrass music over 50 years ago. Along with his dad, Carlton Daniels, Charlie and his friends would listen to and learn to pick everything from Bill Monroe to Flatt and Scruggs back in the day.

The focus on this collaboration is bluegrass gospel music, and the tempos are hot and the pickin’ is fun. Producer Scott Rouse, famous for putting together the Groove Grass album projects, has backed Daniels up with the best bluegrass musicians in the business. And from the fun that is heard on this project, it sounds like they all got along great. The musicians on the album feature Charlie on guitar and fiddle, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Rob McCoury on banjo, Mike Bub on bass, Jason Carter on fiddle, Andy Hall on Dobro, Tim May on guitar, Rouse on harmonica and guitar, and two first generation bluegrass greats in Earl Scruggs and Mac Wiseman. Contributing on vocals are Cyndi Wheeler, The Whites, and Rickey Skaggs, and on top of that, Wiseman and Daniels share some of the most animated and fun duet vocals you could ever want to hear.

Number 15;
On The Rise
Blue Moon Rising
(Lonesome Day Records)

“On The Rise” is a fitting title for Blue Moon Rising, a fresh and up and coming bluegrass band from east Tennessee. Bluegrass music is alive and well these days, and a big part of that is the influx of newer bands that are stepping up to carry the torch. Blue Moon Rising brings to the table good musicianship, a desire to deliver strong harmony singing, and original songwriting that adds new music to the bluegrass world. The band features Keith Garrett on mandolin and vocals, Tim Tipton on bass, Christ West on guitar and vocals, Justin Jenkins on banjo, and Randall Massengill on guitar and vocals.
The songs run the gamut from murder ballads to rockin’ instrumentals to gospel. Highlights include the opening cut, “This Old Martin Box,” “The Next Big Thing,” which features excellent Dobro work by guest musician Randy Kohrs, a rocking instrumental written by Justin Jenkins and Keith Garrett called “Sling Blade,” and Mountain Heart’s Steve Gulley teams up with Chris West to co-write “Modern Day Outlaw.” There are two excellent songs written about influential grandparents of a couple of band members that have since died yet left an enduring impression. Tim Tipton, with the help of Chris West, offers up “Pawpaw Taught Me” about his grandpa who turned him on to bluegrass yet never saw the band play, and Keith Garrett’s “Far away From Home” is based on hearing his grandpa tell stories about his time as a member of Merrill’s Marauders during World War II.  Overall, this album falls into my category of ‘modern bluegrass music for modern times.’ Thumbs up!

Number 14;
Larry Sparks
(Rebel Records)
To many lovers of American roots music, it was long overdue for the great Larry Sparks to finally win a couple of IBMA awards as he did in 2004 and again in 2005. He is simply as down-to-earth a bluegrass musician as you can find, yet his music transcends any descriptive confinement. He is as much an American roots music great as he a bluegrass musician or any other label that you might put on him. He is simply the real deal.
Larry Sparks got his big break when he was hired to play in Ralph Stanley’s band as a teenager. But, this was right after the Stanley Brothers name had to be dropped from the marquee due to the tragic death in the mid-1960’s of Ralph’s brother, Carter. Sparks had the unenviable task of being the first musician to replace Carter, who was a bluegrass singing legend. Eventually Sparks set off to form his own band. This album, as per the title, is a celebration of his 40 years in the business and it is packed full of many guest musicians who have showed up to pay their respects.

Larry Sparks is not only one of the best voices in bluegrass music, he is one of the genre’s best guitar players as well. The man is a heck of a flatpicker. What is cool about this career retrospective is that it isn’t a case of a journeyman musician finally being discovered. He was this good all along. Rebel Records and producer Don Rigsby, a fine musician and music historian in his own right, has put together an all-star album that lets the best in the business take their turn at singing and pick with Mr. Sparks.
Every song on “40” is a good one, so the best thing to do is to name for you some of the musicians who showed up for this project. They include Andy Griggs, Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Rhonda Vincent, Larry Cordle, Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White-Skaggs, Tom T. Hall, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Ronnie Bowman, Cheryl White, and many others.
One performance I will highlight is a guitar jam on the song “Carter’s Blues” that features Sparks pickin’ with Vince Gill, Kenny Smith, Ron Stafford, and Jim Hurst. And, he re-records one of his most requested songs on here, “John Deere Tractor,” which musically and lyrically is as good an example of true American music as there is. This is a great collection for Larry Sparks fans, as well as for newbies who want to add some great music to their collection.

Number 13;
It’s Getting’ Better All The Time
Ronnie Bowman
(Koch Entertainment)

Many years ago Ronnie Bowman made the hard choice of giving up his day job at Sara Lee Foods to pursue his music career. While it wasn’t easy, he made the right decision, as his voice is one that needs to be heard. Early on he found himself playing with the bluegrass bands Lost and Found and the Lonesome River Band, and later found himself singing on John Fogerty’s “Full Moon Fever” album. Eventually he formed his own band and started to put out his own recordings. “It’s Getting’ Better All The Time” is his fourth album and continues his direction of bringing country music sensibilities to a bluegrass format. That combination is a refreshing antidote to the corporate sounds of the so-called ‘country music’ that is on the radio these days.

I like every cut on this project. Bowman co-writes seven songs on here including the beautiful opening cut, “On My Way Back Home,” and the rocking bluegrass number “Crazy Train.” Other highlights include the Larry Rice-penned romp, “Four Wheel Drive,” the good-time sounds of “Walkin’ The Dog,” and the wonderful love song, “Perfect Love.”
Bowman has surrounded himself with an allstar cast of musicians on this project. First and foremost, backing Bowman up on this CD is his band, The Committee, that features Wyatt Rice on guitar, Andy Hall on Dobro, fiddler Jeremy Garrett, and his wife Garnet Imes-Bowman on vocals. Other guests include Dan Tyminski on mandolin, Steve Thomas on fiddle, the go-to veteran on bass Dave Pomeroy, Dave Talbot on banjo, multi-award winner Adam Steffey on mandolin, Don Wayne Reno on banjo, Mike Anglin on vocals, and Rob and Del McCoury show up to tell the story of “The Epitaph Of Lester Moore.” It all adds up to a warm and high quality effort by Ronnie Bowman.

Number 12;
The Art Of Virtue
Adrienne Young and Little Sadie
(Addiebelle Records)

Adrienne Young’s music can best be described as a mix of bluegrass and old-time influences combined with a contemporary approach. A native of Florida, she grew up being influenced by her grandfather, who was the local police chief as well as a banjo player. Young has played guitar and written songs for a long time, as well as sung in jazz bands and performed in the theater. But, about five years ago she decided to learn how to play the banjo just so she could play with her grandfather. Her music has blossomed since then with much praise being garnered on her new CD, “The Art Of Virtue.” Her band features Eric Merrill on fiddle, Hans Holzen on guitar, Kyle Kegerreis on bass, and Eric Platz on traditional percussion.
The title cut of the album is based on the writings of Ben Franklin, specifically his famous list of the Thirteen Virtues by which he tried to live his life. Young’s lyrical approach is to suggest that instead of throwing out political diatribes of one slant or another, it is better to remind folks of the simple ideas that our forefathers used to try and stay on the right path. These ideas flow through her music in an infectious and upbeat way, as she combines an old tune or two with an array of original songs that are the antithesis of the corporate sound of the current mainstream music scene.
Says Young, “I think you can’t really help, these days, but to combine musical influences because it’s all there for us. It’s all available, and it’s all equally valid.” Young’s love for organic gardening, and her belief in supporting local farmers in whatever area you live in, is also reflected in her music. The sounds on this delightful album reflect those ideals successfully as she mixes in a little of the music that rural folks listened to in centuries past with the modern sensibilities of a young woman being creative in a modern world.

Number 11;
Jamie Hanna and Jonathan McEuen

Being the son of a famous father (see the Jamie Hartford review) can be a hard thing to crawl out from underneath if you are in the same line of work. But to the credit of Jamie Hanna and Jonathan McEuen, they embrace their heritage. Jamie is the son of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, and Jonathan is the son of John McEuen, also of the Dirt Band (See exclusive interviews with both John McEuen and Jeff Hanna in the Gritz Innerview Archives here at the site). And, these two are also cousins, as their mothers are sisters. So, what will this generation do with their talent? Put out an excellent roots country album that harkens back to country music when it was still real.

The cool thing about this new album is that both of these guys can pick a guitar. While this is a song-driven project, with many original tunes offered up, the guitar pickin’ by these two is always present and solid. What also stands out is the duets and harmony singing on here. At times it evokes the great ‘brother’ duets of the past. The connection that these two have may be due to the fact that not only are they cousins, but their mothers are identical twins. So, their musical compatibility seems to be organic.

Highlights on this CD include the rockin’ “Fool Around,” the fiddle and banjo-inflected “Wild Eyes Of Love,” the early rock era feel of “Tell Me,” and the beautiful “Ocean.” And, you get a sense from this CD that these guys are able to bring it live, in concert. This is a strong effort by an enthusiastic duo that you will be hearing about in the years to come.

Number 10;
Part Of Your History –The Songs Of John Hartford
Jamie Hartford
(New Sheriff Records)

It is never easy to be the son or daughter of a famous musician if you want to be a musician yourself. Yes, if you have a famous musician as a parent it can open up many doors for you that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Yet if you want to distinguish yourself with a sound of your own, it can be an albatross around your neck. Jamie Hartford’s father was the great John Hartford, who is a legend in the music communities. Now, after establishing a career of his own, Jamie has taken the time to pay tribute to his father’s music with this wonderful collection called “Part Of Your World.”

As Jamie grew up he and his father did collaborate on music at times. In fact, it was Jamie who taught the elder Hartford how to read music. They toured together and recorded an album called “Hartford and Hartford.” But Jamie soon went his own way.
Before this new album was recorded Jamie’s main gig was leading the Jamie Hartford Band, an excellent electric roots rock outfit that includes Dave Pomeroy on bass, Paco Shipp on harp, and Rick Lonow on bass. Their CD, titled “Stuff That Works,” is a great snapshot of the talent of that band. Jamie has also done some fine studio work, with Billy Joe Shaver’s “Freedom’s Child” album being an excellent example. (For more on that project read our Billy Joe Shaver interview in the archives here at Gritz). Now, with his new album “Part Of Your World,” Jamie has finally put together an all-star cast to sing the songs of his father.

The guests on this CD include Nanci Griffith, Vassar Clements, Sam Bush, Norman Blake, Bela Fleck, Kim Richey, Ronnie McCoury, Kathy Mattea, David Grisman, Kenny Malone, Dennis Crouch, Mark Howard, Randy Kohrs, John Cowan, and the recent Grammy award winner Emmylou Harris. The choice of songs here, and there are a ton of John Hartford songs to choose from, were well thought out and spans nearly all of the late Hartford’s career.
Highlights include the rollicking “Natural To Be Gone,” the beautiful instrumental “Presbyterian Guitar,” the love songs “First Girl I Ever Loved” and “Wish We Had Our Time Again,” and a song that combined John’s love for music and riverboats, the Mark Twain-esque “Old Time River Man.” Also included is the wonderful song about growing up and cutting your hair and going to work in town called “In Tall Buildings.” The title track is the only new song on here. Written by Jamie, it fits like a glove with his father’s tunes. The CD ends with the late Hartford's signature song that is still one of the most played in history, “Gentle On My Mind.” For more about John Hartford see our feature on him in the Gritz Magazine ‘Features Archive’ here at the site.

Number 9;
Electric Blue Watermelon
North Mississippi Allstars
(ATO Records)
“Electric Blue Watermelon,” the new album by the North Mississippi Allstars, is a tribute to the legendary musicians from their part of Mississippi that have died in recent years. The CD was nominated for best contemporary blues album at the Grammy Awards earlier this month, and rightly so. The album is both a tribute to the musicians of the past as well as a collaboration with many in the current roots music scene. Known for their energetic live shows, the trio of Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, and Chris Chew successfully blend many music influences with their own brand of rock and roll. It is a sound that they describe as “world boogie.”

Luther and Cody Dickinson grew up in a musical family. Their father, Jim Dickinson, who produced “Electric Blue Watermelon,” is a long time musician and producer who worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Replacements to the Rolling Stones. It was Jim Dickinson’s idea to bring in all of the guest musicians that appear on this project. They include Lucinda Williams, Robert Randolph, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Masqueraders, Al Kapone, the Tate County Singers, and Otha Turner and his Rising Star Fife and Drums.

The CD starts off with a very old Charley Patton tune called “Mississippi Boll Weevil” that sets a bluesy tone for the album. Another highlight is a new original song written by the Allstars called “Moonshine.” It is an instant classic and has the distinct feel of the early Allman Brothers, especially along the lines of the song “Blue Sky.” Luther’s slide guitar is sweet, and the song has the potential to be taken to many new heights in the right hands.

The CD ends with a couple of tunes that the band recorded with Otha Turner before he died, including “Horseshoe” and “Bounce Ball.” On “Horseshoe” the band takes a recorded collaboration with Turner and his Fife and Drum Corps and adds an intro and a second line outro by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band that fits like a glove. “Bounce Ball” features a recording of Turner that was captured while hanging out on Otha’s porch one night a few years ago. As the song ends the tape keeps rolling and captures over two-minutes of the sounds of the crickets heard that night, as well as Turner talking in the background. As Turner talks he seems to be passing the torch to Luther and the band, saying, “It’s on ya’ll now. You all do what you want, but it’s on ya’ll.”

Number 8;
Expanding The Funkin’ Universe
PBS – Porter, Batiste, and Stoltz
(OUW Records)
While PBS features the best of New Orleans-based funk musicians, this album review is not a post-hurricane charity case. I was sipping on this funky CD for many months before Katrina hit. It is a reminder, however, of the great music that comes out of that area that is in disarray these days to some extent. Hopefully the New Orleans music scene will get back to what it was before. PBS consists of George Porter Jr. on bass, Brian Stoltz on guitar, and Russell Batiste Jr. on drums.

Brian Stoltz has been slinging guitar in the Big Easy for a long time. For almost a decade he was the guitarist for the Neville Brothers and went on to play with the modern version of the Funky Meters. Bassist George Porter Jr. is an original member of the Funky Meters and is always conjuring up a musical creation of some sort in New Orleans. Drummer Russell Batiste Jr. is the son of influential New Orleans funk pioneer David Batiste and has played with everyone from Charmaine Neville to Vida Blue to the modern version of the Funky Meters.

As you can see, the Funky Meters is a thread that runs through all three of these musicians, but with PBS they are concentrating on their own groove. Standout cuts include the exceptionally funky “Take A Chance,” the percussive Big Easy voodoo story of “Seraphina Lives,” the self-described cut “Wah Wah Me,” and the old school sounds of “OUW” and “Comin’ At Ya.” It is more than a little ironic that the first cut on the CD is called “Bring The Flood,” as it will be groups like PBS that will carry on with the best that New Orleans has to offer as the city rebuilds.

Number 7;
Let It Slide
David Holt
(High Windy Audio)
This David Holt album has been a long time in coming. In an interview with us here at Gritz magazine back in 2002, (http://www.gritz.net/subscribers_area/inner_views/david_holt.html) Holt spoke of this project that is a tribute to the slide guitar and country blues. Finally, with the help of top-of-the-line musicians such as Sam Bush on mandolin, Gina Wammock on harmony vocals, Byron House on bass, and Kenny Malone on percussion, this rollicking CD has now seen the light of day. As Holt told Gritz back in 2002, his influences on slide guitar range “from Jerry Douglas to Duane Allman to Robert Johnson. My favorite guy that gave me my inspiration was a guy named Tampa Red. Way back in the 1930's he was a black guy that was just a great player, and he isn't that well known today.”

To Holt’s credit he doesn’t lean on too many older songs on this CD. He serves up nine original tunes including two co-written with Michael Reno Harrell. Highlghts include the hard blues of the title cut, the funky “Got No Use For Lonely,” and the country blues of “Slow Food,” about the desire in this modern world to eat something that isn’t cooked too fast. The legendary Doc Watson appears on three songs, adding vocals to the aforementioned “Slow Food,” and adding some excellent guitar work to “Steel Guitar Blues” and “Trouble In Mind.” One outstanding cut is a tribute to Holt’s friend, the late and great John Hartford. Called “John Hartford’s Farewell,” he is accompanied by bassist Eliot Wadopian on this instrumental that is as haunting as it is beautiful. That song, as well as the album as a whole, is a wonderful addition to the slide guitar lexicon.

Number 6;
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970
Miles Davis

This 6-CD box set collection is an important testament to a period of time when Miles Davis was still pushing the envelope. Davis had recorded his breakthrough album, “Bitches Brew,” a year or two earlier and was still experimenting with bringing rock and funk elements into his music when he played at Washington DC’s Cellar Door club in 1970. The collection is packaged wonderfully and it includes a 68-page booklet with interviews with the surviving members of the band. A lot of songs are repeated on these re-mastered CD’s as they go from night to night, but due to the improvisational nature there is something new on each one.

The band that is featured here consists of Miles on trumpet, Wayne Henderson on bass, the great Jack DeJohnette on drums, saxophonist Gary Bartz, and the great improviser Keith Jarrett on electronic keyboards. As a side note, Miles had heard Henderson play in Stevie Wonder's band one night and afterwards proceeded to go back stage and tell Wonder, "I'm taking your fucking bass player," and that was that.

On the second night, starting with disc two, the great Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira shows up and stays for the rest of the week. For the Saturday night session, that is covered on discs five and six, Miles called down guitarist John Mclaughlin from NYC to sit in with the group. There is a lot to soak up here, including some creative friction within the band. Jarrett wasn't happy with Mclaughlin showing up, as he felt the sound of the band was full enough as it was. And, these concerts represent one of the last times that Jarrett would ever play an electronic keyboard, as afterwards he would switch to acoustic piano only. This collection is the Live-Evil album expanded in a revelatory way. It is a must have for Miles fans, fusion fans, as well as modern day music fans as ultimately this was one of the true first jam bands.

Number 5;
Cornbread Nation
Fiddler’s Green
Tim O’Brien
(Sugar Hill Records)

Tim O’Brien is a musical troubadour that is able to effectively play all kinds of music. Coming out of the bluegrass genre, as many excellent musicians do, he is a multi-instrumentalist that can pick with the best of them. Yet his musical tastes are way to broad and eclectic to be pigeonholed. So, O’Brien decided to cover it all by releasing two new albums at the same time. “Cornbread Nation” is decidedly Americana sounding in nature, while “Fiddler’s Green” is more old time, Irish, and bluegrass. By the way, congratulations are in order for Mr. O’Brien as “Fiddler’s Green” just won the Grammy Award for best contemporary folk album.

First up, “Cornbread Nation.” This project is as funky as it is rootsy. You will find a little of everything on here, from the galloping half electric-half acoustic romp called “Hold On,” to the haunting Delta gospel of “Moses,” to the five-minute Louisiana style fun of “Let’s Go Hunting.” The O’Brien-penned title cut features electric guitar, djembe, lap steel, mandolin, acoustic guitar, bass, baritone sax, and hambone. You get the picture.

O’Brien’s choice of musicians on here is spot on. I am to the point where I will say that if you find any album with Kenny Vaughan’s name on it, buy it. Vaughan is a heck of an electric guitar picker, and one of the best in the business. Other musicians include Dirk Powell, Dennis Crouch, Mollie O’Brien, the excellent Charlie Cushman on banjo, one of the best fiddlers in the world in Stuart Duncan, Kenny Malone, and Dan Dugmore on steel guitar. As with most Tim O’Brien efforts, the great Jerry Douglas shows up to sling some Dobro and lap steel, and Del McCoury even shows up to add some vocals on one of the world’s only computer-themed bluegrass songs, “Runnin’ Out Of Memory.”
“Fiddler’s Green” is a wonderful collection of folk songs that is heavily influenced by O’Brien’s Irish heritage. This album has a lighter, out-in-the-middle-of-the-woods feel to it and is most enjoyable. One superb song on the CD is “Look Down That Lonesome Road,” an excellent bluegrass romp that features sweet Dobro work by Jerry Douglas and great banjo picking by Charlie Cushman. The beautiful sounds of Irish music are front and center on the fine instrumental “Land’s End/ Chain’ Talon,” which features the fiddle of Casey Driessen and the low whistle of Seamus Egan. But this CD also has O’Brien collecting a few old and traditional story songs from centuries past such as “Pretty Fair Maiden In The Garden,” “Fair Flowers Of The Valley,” and the beautiful “Foreign Lander,” a tune that features the duo of accomplished musician Edgar Meyer on arco bass and O’Brien on fiddle and vocal.

Number 4;
Daily Bread
Corey Harris
(Rounder Records)
On his new CD, “Daily Bread,” Corey Harris continues to combine American blues, reggae, and African music styles in effective and earthy fashion. This is an album full of grooves, but not grooves for grooves’ sake. The overall sound is still uniquely his own in texture and content.

Harris is a musician that is well-traveled. He has lived in the state of Maine, has made trips to Cameroon and Mali in Africa, and lived for about 10 years in New Orleans soaking up all that the city had to offer culturally. Harris has described himself as a "downhome sophisticate," which was the title of his last album, which he defines as someone who "can hang on the block, and then hang at the university." Corey has done just that, from attending Bates College in Maine to busking on the street corners in the French Quarter to studying under the music masters of Africa. He brings this wealth of experience to every recording.

The songs on “Daily Bread” run the gamut from the reggae of the songs “I See Your Face” and “Lamb’s Bread,” to the ska of “The Bush Is Burning” and “Got To Be Better,” the African grooves of “Khaira” and “Mami Wata,” to the smooth Brazilian sounds of “Just In Time.” Guesting with Harris on this project is the young violinist Morwenna Lasko, the New Orleans piano great Henry Butler, and trumpeter Olu Dara, who also adds guitar and vocals on a bluesy duet with Harris on the ten-minute “The Peach,” that fades out and back in with some album ending hidden dub.

This is organic and funky music at its best. This is a great spring and summertime album to crank up on a warm and breezy day.

Number 3;
Blue Highway
(Rounder Records)

Blue Highway has been around a long time now and has won many IBMA awards as well as received Grammy nominations. Their albums, combined with their reputation as a live band, has garnered them much praise over the years. The good news is that they haven’t rested on their laurels and have somehow put together one of their best albums ever with “Marbletown.” Blue Highway features Tim Stafford on guitar and songwriting, the seven-time IBMA Dobro player of the year Rob Ickes, Shawn Lane on guitar, fiddle, mandolin and songwriting, Wayne Taylor on bass, vocals, and songwriting, and on banjo and bass vocals is Jason Burleson.

What is great about this album is that it falls into my category of ‘modern bluegrass music for modern times.’ Blue Highway is one of the current bands that feel that bluegrass history is being made right here, right now, and not just 60 years ago. There is not a bad cut on “Marbletown.” The picking and lead and harmony singing are as solid as ever. Add to that great songwriting and arrangements and you have what will probably be viewed in the years to come as a bluegrass classic.

The hard driving title cut, which starts off the album, is an instantly recognizable song that you would swear you have heard before. There are some other great story songs on here, including “Nothing But A Whippoorwill,” “Tears Fell On Missouri,” and the western-themed tribute to Wild Bill Hickok in “Wild Bill.” Love songs are well represented here with the beautiful songs “Message From The Wind” and “Quarter Moon.” There are also some real barn burners on this album, including the smoking instrumental by Rob Ickes called “Three-Finger Jack,” and the 100-miles per hour “Endless Train” that ends the album.
I’ll say it again; every song on this album is a winner. If you love bluegrass at all, this is a must have CD. If you haven’t listened to a lot of bluegrass music before and want to get onboard, I couldn’t think of a better album than this one to get you hooked.

Number 2;
Best Kept Secret
Jerry Douglas
(Koch Records)

Jerry Douglas had a good year at this past February’s Grammy awards. As a member of Alison Krauss and Union Station, he and the band won three Grammy awards for their “Lonely Runs Both Ways” album. One of the Grammy awards was for the Douglas-penned “Unionhouse Branch,” which won separately in the best country instrumental category. Oddly enough, he was up against himself in that category with the song “Who’s Your Uncle?” from the album we are talking about here, “Best Kept Secret.”
While the Union Station albums get more attention, it is on his solo albums where the truly eclectic and improvisational ‘Jerry Douglas music’ emerges. “Best Kept Secret” can be described as Jerry’s ‘electric’ album, as he turns up the knobs on lap steel and telecaster as much as with his main instrument, the squareneck Dobro. Added to the mix are guest musicians such as Derek Trucks, Bela Fleck, and Sam Bush, John Fogerty, Alison Krauss and Bill Frisell.

Right off the bat the album opens with an electric jam with Derek Trucks called “She Makes Me Want To Sing.” It is a fun and funky 6-minute workout with Jerry starting it off with his lap steel cranked up to heavy lifting status. About one minute-thirty into the song you hear the tasteful and unique sounds of Derek Trucks’ slide guitar, but it is only a tease as Gabe Witcher then steps up to fill out the melody on fiddle. As the song continues Trucks and Douglas trade licks which is best heard with the speakers cranked up.

The second cut finds Jerry turning to his Dobro for the Grammy nominated “Who’s Your Uncle.” This is an amazing piece of music, as Witcher and Douglas start right into the complicated yet soaring melody. Soon this romp finds two great musicians chipping in, with Sam Bush on mandolin and Bela Fleck on banjo throwing in some excellent riffs. This is a perfect song to play for someone who may be a little too cocky concerning their musical abilities. Play this song for them and ask them to learn it and you will soon see where they stand. This song rocks.

Other highlights on this exceptional CD include Alison Krauss singing the funky remake of the LTD/Jeffrey Osborne song “Back In Love Again,” “Lil Ro Ro,” featuring Viktor Krauss and Bill Frisell, and a beautiful and atmospheric take on Joe Zawinal’s “A Remark You Made.” “Swing Blues No. 1” features a stark yet effective lineup of John Fogerty on guitar and vocals and Douglas on Dobro. The nine-minute title cut harkens back, interestingly enough, to classic Pink Floyd with Jeff Coffin’s sax and Shannon Forest’s drums adding to more great fiddle work from Gabe Witcher. "Snow's First Fall" is as beautiful as the title suggests it would be. It would be the perfect song to listen to while driving through the Rockies on an autumn morning after a fresh snow has fallen. The album closes with the beautiful "Sir Aly B." With its Celtic influence and the ancient tones swirling around in it, it is a wonderful end to yet another great album from a master musician.

Number 1;
Grant Street
Sonny Landreth
(Sugar Hill Records)

Sonny Landreth has honed his slide guitar playing skills for 41 of his 54 years on Earth, and along the way has become one of the best in the world at it. Even so, there are still a lot of folks out there who are not aware of his talents. That is why Eric Clapton said of Landreth, "He is probably the most underestimated musician on the planet, and also probably one of the most advanced." With Sonny’s new live album called “Grant Street,” however, everyone can now hear what this amazing musician is capable of.
In the past Landreth would go years before releasing new material and admitted to being too much of a perfectionist. But now, that has all changed as he has purposely put himself out there more in recent years. “What I am finding out is that I’ve done the pensive thing, taking my time to make sure everything is done right,” explains Landreth. “Now, I’m finding that I do better with my back against the wall. And if I push myself more there are weaknesses and things that aren’t so great, but in the big picture more creativity gets accounted for than otherwise.” “Grant Street” is a live album taken from two nights of concerts recorded at his home venue, the Grant Street Dancehall in Lafayette, Louisiana. Unfortunately since this albums release the Grant Street Hall has closed down and is the process of moving to another location.

The album finds Landreth backed up by his excellent trio of David Ranson on bass and Kenneth Blevins on drums. The concerts were recorded using no overdubs. What was played is what we get. The album starts off with the rollicking instrumental “Native Stepson,” and that leads to the bluesy “Broken Hearted Road.” There are many songs on here from Landreth’s past albums, including “Blues Attack,” “U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile,” and the rockin’ “Gone Pecan.” The album ends with his most popular song, Landreth’s original homage to New Orleans called “Congo Square.”

Landreth’s home state of Louisiana has taken two big hits within the last year with hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. Katrina, of course, hit the New Orleans area while Rita hit just south of Breaux Bridge where Landreth lives. Since the storms hit, the music communities in these areas have tried to bounce back. “One thing is that these festivals that we are playing all over the country are all raising money, and it does your heart good to see that,” says Landreth. “I always take it on myself to thank people. I’m not like any official spokesperson for anybody, but it does mean a lot to everyone here and on the Gulf Coast.”

Landreth sees both sides of the coin when it comes to the future of the New Orleans music scene. Although many of the city’s local musicians have been forced to relocate elsewhere, he feels like the city will bounce back. “Since a lot of people have moved outward to other places, culturally I think some good has come out of that as these people settle in other parts of the country,” says Landreth. “But like Quint Davis told me, the New Orleans Jazzfest promoter and an old friend, he said, ‘We’re definitely going to have Jazzfest.’ And there is a mindset about that, generally speaking, of the people of New Orleans to bring it back and get back on their feet. I’ll certainly play the festival the first opportunity I can.”

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