Buffalo bluesman, who has released no less than ten albums over the years. Hot harmonica and songs both topical ("Plenty of Problems") and leering ("Frog Legs")
put Nights of Luna ahead of many of the albums I've heard this year from bigger names
Johnny J. Blair--I Like the Street (Wampus Multimedia): Impressive on so many levels.
There's a whole range of emotion here, moving from joyous to dark and, well, street-like. I'm drawn to the rock stuff like "If I Could Dress Like Clive Owen" and "Love That's Here to Stay," where influences ranging from glam to roots rock add an important punch to Blair's always-strong lyrics. On the latter song, the line, "evil cannot stand alone in the blaze of a glorious light" shows how well he integrates two vastly different corners of the heart. So far, my favorite is "It's In Your Hands + Variations on Satie," with the second part of the track being composer Erik Satie's "Gnossienne." But
rather than merely tacking a slice of Satie to the end of the piece (as Blood, Sweat & Tears did in 1969), Blair writes his own song around the haunting moods of what
Satie has established, and it's a beautifully realized fusion. And speaking of one
element illuminating another, that's what I Like the Street does from start to finish (johnnyjblair.com).
Josh T. Pearson--Last of the Country Gentlemen (Mute): Pearson's first record since fronting the Texas band Lift to Experience ten years back, Last of the Country Gentlemen is a batch of eerie, lengthy, sometimes self-important, songs full of pain and doubt. For some, he recalls the lovely, trance-like work of Tim or Jeff Buckley. For this mode of expression, I prefer Nick Drake to any of them. Besides, the one titled "Honeymoon's Great! Wish You Were Her" might pack more weight had not T Bone Burnett and Bono teamed to write something similar ("Having a Lovely Time, Wish You Were Her") nearly thirty years ago.
Mandy Barnett--Winter Wonderland (Rounder): Sweet stuff to play during your holiday get-togethers, with Barnett's singing and the instrumentation recalling 1960s Nashville.
On the title track, she's a dead ringer for Patsy Cline. Overall, though, this is disappointing, because it ends with a series of yuletide songs that are over-represented (particularly on country Christmas albums) and Barnett's accomplished vocals, while not stiff, are rather formal.
Keb' Mo'--Shoppin' on Christmas Eve (Rykodisc single): The procrastinator!
A Blast from the Past...
The dBs and friends--Christmas Time Again (Collectors' Choice): First issued in 1985 as Christmas Time, this amazing collection of pop-influenced rock has been overhauled and expanded twice, most recently in 2006. Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple's strong, melodic ethic spills over into practically all of the 21 titles, and Big Star's wonderful "Jesus Christ" (recorded 1975) is still included. Even Alex Chilton's "The Christmas Song," wobbly vocal and all, holds up, thanks to his underrated guitar playing and intimate performance. Christmas Time Again highlights include the dBs' "Holiday Spirit" ("gimmegimmegimmegimmegimme!"), Don Dixon's soulful "I Saw Three Ships" and Marshall Crenshaw's take on the Orioles' seminal "Lonely Christmas." Get out your hanky for Wes Lachot's sad and dreamy "Christmas Is the Only Time," full of Brian Wilson-ish, magnificent chords and harmonies in its attempt to bring back something that has long passed; "I don't know if I miss you/or I miss the memory," Lachot laments. A classic.