Texas-based blues rock singer and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan celebrated his 70th birthday this year and we get the gift (even if we have to pay for it): a limited edition box containing music on five CDs plus a 240-page hardcover on the 17th -A book. A beautifully wrapped deluxe version adds other goodies, including a vinyl copy of Vaughan’s Grammy-winning 2001 album Do You Get the Blues, a couple of 45-RPM singles, a magazine showcasing the artist’s classic car collection, and an individually signed replica of the album cover.
The cross-career program on the CDs includes material from more than four decades. The first disc contains the same tracks that appeared on The Bad & Best of the Fabulous Thunderbirds in 2013, an anthology from Vaughan’s old group with singer Kim Wilson. The remaining CDs contain recordings with various blues and rock A-lists, including Albert Collins, Bo Diddley, James Cotton, John Lee Hooker, Little Milton, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Jimmie’s late younger brother Stevie Ray Vaughan. The list of composers is similarly glowing, and includes names like Willie Dixon, Doug Sahm, Guitar Junior, and Lightnin ‘Hopkins.
If you listen to Vaughan’s sleek and wonderful guitar work in this box, you can see why so many legendary artists wanted to work with him. As one MC says in the introduction to a live version of “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” where Vaughan duets with Bonnie Raitt, “He and his brother Stevie Ray are Austin legends … and they are important links to the roots of this unique American style of music . ”
There’s not a bad track in the collection that has many highlights including the Thunderbirds “Rainin ‘in My Heart” (the Slim Harpo / Jerry West number, not the Buddy Holly song), “You Ain’t Nothin’ but Fine “, And” Why Get Up “, all of which are reminiscent of the rock of the 50s. Among other standout tracks are “What Am I Living For,” 1958 Chuck Willis R&B chart topper with vocals by Lou Ann Barton; Hooker’s “Boom Boom”; and a horn-flavored reading of “One Mint Julep,” the 1952 Clovers hit. Then there are “Six Strings Down” and “SRV Shuffle,” which first appeared on a tribute album to Stevie and Jimmie accompanied by Raitt as well as Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, BB King, Buddy Guy, Dr. Find John and Art Neville.
If you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive introduction to Vaughan, pick The Pleasure’s All Mine, a compilation of two of its best new releases from the past year. But that probably just whets your appetite for more, so if your heart is on the blues and your wallet says yes, you’d better go straight to that awesome big box.
Also worth mentioning
Suzie Ungerleider, My name is Suzie Ungerleider. Vancouver, Canada-based Suzie Ungerleider has been recording albums under the name Oh Susanna for two decades. But like John Mellencamp, who returned to his real name from Johnny Cougar, she decided to give up her stage name as her songs became more personal. (She was also motivated to make the change after learning about the racist imagery in Stephen Foster’s original “Oh Susanna.”)
Listening to Ungerleider’s 10th solo album, which sounds a bit like the late folk singer Judee Sill, can feel like listening to her end of a personal phone call. In the consistently melodic songs – all written by Ungerleider or, in one case, co-written – she sings on topics ranging from her daughter (“Summerbaby” and “Hearts”) to domestic violence (the poignant “Disappearance”) and memories of hers College years in Montreal (“North Star Sneakers” and “Mount Royal”). Throughout, her educated lyrics and atmospheric music make a satisfying combination.
Connie Smith, The cry of the heart. Look for The Cry of the Heart, Connie Smith’s 54th. On the CD produced by her husband Marty Stuart, the famous singer never deviates from the grand ol ‘opry-ready mainstream approach she has been taking since 1964 when she was her own recorded first hit single. Ingredients of the formula include her powerful vocals that have led to comparisons to Patsy Cline, as well as sad pedal steel, addictive hooks, and lyrics about heartbreak.
Smith co-wrote three of the eleven songs on the album, including two with Stuart; the rest come from names like Merle Haggard, Dallas Frazier and Mel Tillis. She may not be breaking new ground with highlights like “Spare Me No Truth Tonight”, “A Million and One” and the well orchestrated “Here Comes My Baby Back Again”, but Smith leaves no doubt at 79, she always can still buckle out.
Karen Jonas, Summer songs. Singer / songwriter Karen Jonas opens this EP with a grandiose cover of one of the greatest summer singles of the rock era: Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer”, which the Eagles drummer and singer wrote together with Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers. Jonas’ version is just as intense and irresistible as Henley’s, and while it adds pedal steel, it’s deeply rooted in rock and roll too.
A trio of Jonas originals with a more folkloric touch completes the set, which includes their long-time cohort, guitarist Tim Bray, as well as a bassist and a drummer: the gentle, sweet “Summer’s Hard for Love”, the breathy, acoustic “Summer Moon” “And the atmospheric” Thunder on the Battery “. It’s an impressive package – and enough to make you hope we’ll see a new full-length CD from Jonas soon.
Matt Jaffe, Kintsugi. Matt Jaffe of San Francisco was only 16 when Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads discovered him and worked with him on his first LP. In the years since then, Jaffe has written many songs and recorded four more albums.
The latest of these – which with seven tracks and 27 minutes playing time breaks the line between EP and full-length CD – makes it clear what Harrison saw in the young artist: He writes good hooking, fresh-sounding pop-rock songs, but sets himself apart mainly through his high-pitched voice, which is reminiscent of artists like Bert Sommer and David Surkamp from Pavlovs Dogs. Everything about Kitsugi applies, but the melodic, lyrical “Voodoo Doll”, the album’s first single release, is particularly memorable.
Ward Hayden and Runaways, Free country. Known as Girls Guns and Glory until 2018, this Boston-based alternative country band has changed more than just its name since it was founded around 2005. Ten members have come and gone since then, although vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ward Hayden has been on board the whole time and drummer Josh Kiggans has been with the group since 2012. Lead guitar and pedal steel player Cody Nilsen and bassist Greg Hall signed up in 2016 and 2020, respectively.
The current quartet has come up with a solid set of passionate and well-sung original songs that combine country roots with a rock base. It’s humble, sometimes danceable, and as eclectic as you’d expect from a band that has previously covered material popularized from artists such as Elvis Costello to Johnny Cash.
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