By Andy J. Gordon
We receive lots of new albums at JetSetJen for review and many get (and deserve) only one listen. Some recent releases stand out from the crowd and would make any music lover put them in constant rotation. Here are a few of the winners.
Often referred to as K Dub or the one man jam band, Keller Williams applies his multi-instrumental talents only on bass guitar and vocals for this new release. Normally a solo artist, this is Williams’ first album to be recorded with the live reggae-funk band Kdubalicious (Jay Starling on keyboards and Mark D on drums.) The catchy, fun tracks are a combination of reggae, funk, jazz and pop. One of the songs, “Thinking Out Loud,” is keyboard centric and sounds a bit like Vida Blue (a side project of Phish keyboardist Page McConnell.) The two covers on the album, Morphine’s “Buena” and Beck’s “Hollywood Freeks,” really bring the funk. The album has a bright, forward sound and the addition of Kdubalicious seems to have energized Williams. It would be a treat if he took them on the road for some live shows.
At a time when minimally skilled “Reality TV” singers gain fame, it is refreshing to find someone with a world class voice who has achieved success the old fashioned way. Ruthie Foster is a Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award winning singer that started soloing in her church choir at 14. She can make any style sound beautiful but focuses primarily on roots music with strong gospel and blues influences. On her new album Let It Burn, Foster combines new material with covers originally performed by Adele, The Black Keys, Los Lobos, Johnny Cash, The Band, Pete Seeger, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Robbie Robertson. The Blind Boys of Alabama lend their rich vocals on four tunes including the album’s gospel infused opener “Welcome Home.” Foster also does a fine cover of The Black Keys old style blues song “Everlasting Light.” Unlike the distorted vocals in the original, Foster uses her powerful voice to make it her own. The backing guitar and organ help turn it into a church revival foot stomper. The entire album is loaded with inspirational songs and Foster’s versatility shines throughout.
This upstate New York jamband is known for their live shows and dedicated following. The new studio album, their first since 2008, succeeds in capturing some of the live concert intensity and contains a few songs that have been part of the group’s shows for a while. Chuck Garvey, one of the band’s talented guitarists and vocalists dubbed them “the cream of the crop.” moe. gave up control of the recording process, something they never did before, by bringing in outside producer John Travis (Kid Rock.) The album has a clean sound and features moe.’s signature guitar licks. Most of the tracks are condensed versions, unlike their typical concert marathons. “Downward Facing Dog” is the only track at nearly eight minutes that closely resembles their live, seemingly improvisational noodling, that in actuality is well structured. “The Bones Of Lazarus” is a standout song with a killer guitar solo. It has been drastically reworked from the live version, contains a new third verse and still sounds great. “Puebla,” also has some intricate guitar work and sweet harmonizing.
Another band known for their live shows has found a way to capture the excitement in a studio setting. Papa Grows Funk worked with the legendary Allen Toussaint and Tom Drummond of Better Than Ezra to co-produce their new album, Needle in the Groove. The album opens with “Do You Want It,” a song that screams “New Orleans Funk.” There is no letdown on this set of songs – every track sizzles. John Gros’ vocals and stellar Hammond B3 organ playing are complemented by June Yamagishi’s guitar wizardry and Jason Mingledorff’s fiery saxophone work. Marc Pero on bass and Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander on drums keep the solid rhythms thumping. Most of the tracks feature Gros’ fine vocals but “Rollo” is an instrumental showcase for Mingledorff. The album closes with the title track “Needle in the Groove,” a song that is arranged beautifully and has a killer Yamagishi guitar solo. This is an excellent collection of songs.
On Cleary’s sixth solo album, the English born, longtime New Orleans resident pays tribute to Allan Toussaint. Cleary is uncomfortable using the term “tribute” to describe the album of songs written by his primary adolescent inspiration. The back of the album says “Having fun with the songs of Allan Toussaint.” While it is surely fun, the album is a masterful update of some of Toussaint’s more obscure material. Cleary not only rearranged the songs, he played every instrument on the album with the exception of “Let’s Get Low Down.” For this track both Bonnie Raitt and Dr. John, longtime associates of Cleary, join him on vocals. Dr. John plays guitar on the song with James Singleton on bass and Terence Higgins on drums. Singleton and Higgins are regular members of the Philthy Phew, Cleary’s most recent band. The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, his other primary group, make an appearance on “Popcorn Pop Pop” with Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander, Derwin “Big D” Perkins and Cornell Williams contributing background vocals. On Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky” Cleary takes a great song that has been covered by many musicians and makes it his own. Toussaint should be proud that a versatile talent like Cleary is bringing some much deserved love to his old material.
Photos courtesy of Madison House Publicity, Conqueroo, Big Hassle and Tijuana Gift Shop