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Alabama Shakes . . . it up

On May 22, 2012

It's not very often but every once in a while a band comes along when you first hear them you just simply know they get it. This is the case with Alabama Shakes, a kick butt little tight ass band out of... (where else) Alabama by way of Athens.

  There debut Boys and Girls (ATO) is amazing. It's amazing in that very few bands show the promise that these four do and take the musical chances they take. It doesn't always work, which is ok because when they get it completely together the sky's the limit.

   Formed by lead singer/guitarist Brittney Howard while in high school, she recruited her band mates and wrote material while they would rehearse stuff by the likes of Otis Redding, AC/DC, James Brown and Led Zeppelin. They recorded a four-song ep, which attracted major record labels, were signed and the result is Boys And Girls.
   Their influences are evident throughout the albums 11 tracks. Produced by Andrija Tokic, the record definitely has a sound that's very two-guitar roots rock with a heavy dose of Memphis soul.

   Standouts include "Be Mine," "Hang Loose," "Heartbreaker" and "Hold On."
   Carole King is arguably the greatest female songwriter we've ever seen. She's been at it since the mid 60s when she would run around the Alden Building in NY boasting about the songs she wrote. I mean, they were many and they crossed all genres.

   After writing these gems she would record demonstration (demos) versions of the songs, not for release but for artists to consider recording. These little gems are what make up Carole King The Legendary Demos (Hear Music).
   Most of the demos were simple little recordings with minimal accompaniment, usually just piano and vocals, some with bass and drums. Yikes! What a treasure trove of Americana. King's songs were recorded by everyone from The Monkees to Aretha Franklin, whose signature "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" is a King original.

   Other standouts include "You've Got A Friend," ""Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Take Good Care Of My Baby," "Just Once In My Life" as well as her own "It's Too Late," "Beautiful" and "Tapestry," the title track from her 25 million selling album.
   Very few guys are like Jack White these days and everything he does makes for great conversation in that he is a 'Jack of all trades or master of none.' Besides making his mark with the band The White Stripes he's also a working member of the bands The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather.

   With his hands full with all that business here comes Blunderbuss (Third Man Records), his first solo album. At first listen, it's not what I would expect from his work with all these other bands. Then again, for a guy that has recorded with everyone from Alicia Keys ("Another Way To Die") to Loretta Lynn ("Portland Oregon") the music here makes complete sense.

   The album is a little bit of everything. It helps when you own and operate your own record company in that when you get the urge to record something you can knock it down on tape and not worry about a producer telling you that it won't fit in with the rest of the album.

   A guitarist by trade, here he also adds some acoustic guitar and piano work. And yea, not having his almost Neil Young-ish static guitar all the time, is a needed break.

   Standouts include "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy," "Hypocritical Kiss," "Sixteen Saltines" the steel pedal guitar heavy "On And On And On," "Love Interruption" and my favorite, the piano heavy "Trash Tongue Talker."
   So does being the member of all these different bands, running a working record label, working as an in-demand producer, make Jack White a Jack of all trades or master of none. The answer could very well be in Blunderbuss.
   Gotta touch on two new re-issues, one from a new inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the other being a revisit to an all-time classic.

   The revisit is a freshly digital makeover of arguably Janis Joplin's best solo album Pearl, entitled The Pearl Sessions (Sony/Legacy). Now at two cds, it possesses a great analog sound for compact disc.

   The first disc is the original album in its entirety, then fleshed out with the original single versions, issued in mono for the first time on cd. The second disc consists of newly found tapes that has session dialog, alternate versions, live tracks recorded at the time of the sessions and alternate takes.

   Standouts include everything from the original album as well as the demo of "Me and Bobby McGee" which is just Joplin and her acoustic guitar on a version, which puts the original to shame.

   Donovan is a British singer/songwriter who was the guy back in the mid to late sixties. He was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sure enough here comes a very thorough compilation of his work.

   The Essential Donovan (Epic/Legacy) pretty much chronicles the career of a guy that combined the public's curiosity of folk music and the acceptance of rock into a niche that allowed him to showcase his well-crafted material. In the world of pop radio, Donovan made his mark as a guy whose material was fluff-less.

   Standouts include "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Mellow Yellow," "Sunshine Superman" and maybe the best song that displays his talent and style, "Season Of The Witch."

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