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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five blues (and blues-related) new releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Gulf toil," June 5, 2010

Nothing's Impossible

The title's a cliché, but if like Burke you were still cutting solid soul albums at 70 (after having fathered 21 kids, no less), you might think that nothing is impossible too. Not that unfettered optimism always guarantees success-try as he may to locate a live ember in Anne Murray's "You Needed Me," Burke comes up cold. For the most part, though, what results is as warm and sumptuous as anything a sensible soul-music fan could've hoped the late Willie Mitchell's last production job would be.

Feed My Soul

Finally, these quintessential journeymen have come up with an album that's as catchy, rich, and pleasantly surprising as their admirers claim all their recordings are. Some say the reason is Wendell Holmes' recent victory over cancer, and maybe it is. But it also might be the covers. "Pledging My Love" is as generic as their detractors claim all their recordings are, but the Beatles' "I'll Be Back" proves as well suited to the Holmes Brothers' ragged soul-gospel as the Holmes Brothers prove to the Wrights' "You're the Kind of Trouble."

Gotta Walk With Da King

King plays the kind of music you'd expect from someone who was born in Mississippi during World War II, moved to New Orleans the year of Elvis Presley's debut, and stage-named himself after an influential electric-blues guitarist: namely, blues in which the identity confusion resulting from its mongrelized pedigree intensifies the friction generated by its many moving parts. The between-song reactions of the small but vocal crowd before whom these songs were recorded suggest it's a recipe for rubbing an audience the right way.

Renegade Creation

Technically a "super group" (not for nothing do the three top-billed members have their own Wikipedia pages), this quartet really could become the hard-rock-with-jazz-blues-roots equivalent of Asia. Not only do Ford and Landau shine more brightly as team players than as band leaders, but Haslip (bass) and Novak (drums) actually seem to take pleasure in reining in their vaunted virtuosity. Meanwhile, male CCM performers will be kicking themselves for not having beaten these guys to the song that goes "She loves God and rock 'n' roll."

Spotlight

Like Living Colour 20 years ago, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are both blessed and cursed by being the only all-black group playing their type of music. With Living Colour the music was hard rock; with the Carolina Chocolate Drops it's a no-frills, old-timey string-band music made mainly with banjos, fiddles, and the voices of the three members.

The blessing, as shown by the attention given their latest album, Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch), is that they don't have to compete with a half-dozen similar acts for air time on PBS and NPR. The curse is that journalists seldom shut up about their skin color. It's a fate to which they seem resigned, good-naturedly answering questions in interview after interview about the overlooked role of blacks in country music history. But it's when they let their music do the talking-especially when they translate Blu Cantrell and Tom Waits into O Brother, Where Art Thou-ese-that they're at their most eloquent.

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