Here's what I've been listening to this summer--my soundtrack to this pandemic, police brutality, trumped-up summer of 2020.
This is a 3-disc set of most of Bland's earliest recordings, during his big, hit-making heydays at Duke, with arranger Joe Scott and many accomplished musicians. Not as comprehensive and clear sounding as MCA's 1992 4-disc compendium that was mastered from the original recordings, this is an uneven collection by London's Not Now Music Limited, a so-called grey market producer, that apparently remastered these tunes from other CDs, since the original Duke masters were destroyed by a warehouse fire in 2008. But, still fun.
I love gospel music and the gospel music I love most is the soulful, blues-based, tight vocal harmony of groups like the Holmes Brothers, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the Dixie Hummingbirds. This male quartet, of Anthony Daniels, Antwan Daniels, Marcus Sugg, and Dexter Weaver, is from rural North Carolina, near Greenville, and keeps alive this rollicking gospel tradition. Recorded in Memphis with local musicians, the album also hearkens back to the good ol' days of STAX, Sun, and Hi recordings of the 1960s and '70s. If this disc doesn't set your toes to tappin', nothing will. Can I get a witness? Hell, yeah!
Well, what can be said of Bob Dylan that hasn't been said before? He is truly the voice of my generation, and, now pushing 80, he remains as astonishing as he was in 1962 when his first of 39 studio albums was released. Yeah, his voice is more gravelly than ever, and his lyrics often rambling and obscure, but also as welcoming and refreshing as a summer shower. You'll find folk, country, rock, and blues here, done simply in the Dylan style. And, most importantly, you'll hear a delightful blend of all of these that results in the closest thing to a panacea for a pandemic that we're likely to experience this summer.
Ruthie Foster is best known as a blues, gospel, roots singer/songwriter, but here she fronts a big band (guitar, keyboard, bass, drums, ten horns, three backup singers, and conductor John Miller), as she did at the outset of her career, 25 years ago, as a vocalist for the U.S. Navy Band. Most of the songs are Foster originals, except for the concluding classics, "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Mack the Knife." I love big band music and soulful blues singers, and this album brings them both together in a satisfying and superbly arranged (John Beasley) and produced (Denby Auble) power pack.
This is Norah Jones's seventh album, since her breakthrough smash debut, "Come Away With Me" in 2002. Since then, the nine-time Grammy Award winner has dabbled in rock, country, and pop. But here she returns to her jazz piano roots with eleven original tunes (two with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy) that are perfect for relaxed, rainy quarantined afternoons.
Charles Farley is an author who lives and writes in Huntsville, Alabama.