The Sadies--Darker Circles (Yep Roc): Canadian roots rock band with perhaps their finest effort yet. When preparing for my radio program, I gravitated to the small amount of uptempo tracks first, but I quickly realized that the gist of Darker Circles is moody, atmospheric sounding stuff with great hooks, enhanced by close, understated harmonies straight out of the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers. Musically, it floats, but emotionally, it hits hard. The Sadies continue to develop in remarkable ways; I recall when I thought of them basically as Neko Case's occasional backup band.
Geoff Muldaur & the Texas Sheiks (Tradition & Moderne): This mixture of the many types of traditional music Muldaur has done so well for the last 50 years (blues, jug band, swing, early jazz) was released in 2009, but I missed it. Assembled with a stellar bunch of musicians, including Stephen Bruton (who died before its release), slide and steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar and fiddler Suzy Thompson--not to mention guests like Jim Kweskin and former Asleep at the Wheel piano player Floyd Domino--Geoff Muldaur & the Texas Sheiks is most likeable because of its sometimes lazy, sometimes intense feel and accomplished playing. "All By Myself" is rollicking, and Muldaur does a pretty good Skip James on "Hard Time Killin' Floor," which he'd recorded on the 1972 album with then-wife Maria, Sweet Potatoes.
Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere--Midnight Flyer (Stax): While their 2008 collaboration
Nudge It Up a Notch had some fine moments despite less than first rate material, the legends of blue-eyed soul (Stax guitarist Cropper, Rascals vocalist Cavaliere) are off the mark with Midnight Flyer. It's a tedious outing with almost nothing going for it except Cavaliere's still-strong voice. Midnight Flyer's slick sound lends itself to what used to be labeled Smooth Jazz (sometime around 2008, said radio stations began calling themselves just "Smooth," or they added much more pop music and came up with a new description). You know what my definition of Smooth Jazz is, don't ya? Funk Lite. You've forgotten that classic R&B demands a little ingredient called grease, boys.