David Mallett ‘Celebration’ worthy — CD Reviews by James Cassara

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David Mallett 

‘Celebration’ 

North Road Records

Now in his fourth decade as a touring musician David Mallett is a throwback in all the right ways, a wandering troubadour who’d be equally at home playing The Ryman Theater as he would your back porch.

His strength is his story songs, sweet homilies tinged with a bit of regret and unrequited love, best exemplified in “Ring For You” and the lovely “Girl With The Golden Hair.”

Like most great folk musicians Mallett gives even the most lighthearted tune a sense of urgency while balancing the heartache of “Last Farmer’s Ball” with a dollop of whimsy.

His sonorous tone — think Gordon Lightfoot — ideally matches the material, making this album, as well as Mallett’s lengthy career, indeed worthy of Celebration. ****

 

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‘Jim McCarty & Friends Volumes I & II [Live From Callahan’s] (2011 / 2016)’

Frequently (and understandably) confused with the co-founder of The Yardbirds with whom he shares a name; this James McCarty is a Detroit born blues guitarist whose credentials are equally impressive. McCarty first performed with Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, later with the Buddy Miles Express (as well as a stint in Cactus) and more recently with his own band dubbed The Mystery Train.

As a session man he recorded with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Seger, and a slew of others In short, he’s the real deal. So too is this compilation of tracks recorded over a five-year span, a sampling of the authenticity and electricity that McCarty brings to the stage.

“69 Freedom Special” his best known song, has never sounded better but when he tears into “Homesick For My Baby” and “Fannie Mae” it’s sheer Blues heaven.

Guest artists include Coco Montoya, Johnny Bassett and the renowned Joe Louis Walker. McCarty is the guitarist Joe Bonamassa most frequently cites as “the living legend I most admire.”

If that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is. ****1/2

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Case/Lang/Viers

‘Best Kept Secret’

Anti-Records 

The annals of music are strewn with stories of collaborative projects gone astray; sessions that sounded great in theory but never fulfill the sum of their parts.

For every Crosby, Stills and Nash, there’s a Souther, Hillman and Furay.  Creative souls are by nature egotistic and if not kept in check those egos inevitably collide and while none of the principals here (K. D. Lang, Neko Case, and Laura Veirs) are “superstars” the potential for disaster remains. The three, with Case assuming the extra duties of project manager and producer, seem bound and determined to avoid that minefield.

Lang, the most prominent of the trio (but the one whose commercial fortunes have most declined) seems comfortable taking a back seat, singing lead on only a handful of songs.

The mid tempo “1000 Miles Away” is the ideal vehicle for her croon while her cohorts tackle the more adventures moments.

Case comes across as the real winner here; her unruffled indie rock introspections best fit the production and her voice, equal parts naturalistic and theatrical, swarm over the title track and provide strong backing whenever the others take the forefront.

It is disappointing the three don’t truly intermingle with each other’s material. It’s pretty easy to see whose song is whose and for the most part genuine harmonies are kept to a minimum, but as these sort of efforts go Best Kept Secret  hits a solid, if somewhat under inspired, formula. It’s certainly going to please those fans who already follow the individual singers, but there’s not much here that will grab the uninitiated.

It’s a worthy compromise of three genuine talents, but I cannot help but think it could have been so much more. ***

 

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John “Papa” Gros

River’s On Fire’ 

A disciple of the late, great Allen Toussiant (as is any New Orleans musician worth their salt) “Papa” Gros delivers a solid collection of Crescent City flavored fun, a bit light on the funk (the scarcity of horns is immediately noticeable) but with the strongest moments outweighing the minuses.

The title track swirls under the magic of Gros’s keyboards, while the get up and go of “Why’d Ya Do It?” is the type of gumbo driven soul the album could use more.

I’m less overwhelmed by Papa’s quieter moments (the maudlin “Two Little Angels” is better suited to bedtime) but overall River’s On Fire introduced me to a talent of which I was unfamiliar, which is never a bad thing.

Neither is the presence of Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson, two of my favorite singers whose voices are not heard nearly enough and whose inclusion here warrants an extra half star. ***1/2

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Hip Bones

‘The Moose Lodge Sessions’ 

This quartet, fronted by local musician/writer Robin Tolleson, offers up a nice look at the other side of Asheville’s music side, its less visible but nonetheless vibrant Hip-Hop scene. Subtitled “file under: psychedelic funk” The Moose Lodge Sessions showcases the talents of some of Asheville’s most talented players. Tolleson is a particularly inventive percussionist, while the twin bass playing of Jack Wolf and Shannon Hoover (how often do you even see two bassists in one band?) and saxophone/flutes of Gary Schwantes fill out a fine mix.

My own ambivalence towards Hip-Hop not withstanding I find the rap vocals more intrusive than obliging, but I readily admit that’s a matter of subjective taste rather than judgment.

There’s no denying the skill of those involved in its making, including guest vocalist Sidney Barnes on “Dark Star” the discs strongest track and a direction I’d love to see the band follow.

It’s equally obvious this was a labor of love: As a recording it sounds great, and while it may not be something I’d naturally gravitate towards (don’t shoot me, I also don’t much care for contemporary jam bands and Bluegrass!) those looking for something different would do well to sample a few tracks.

Based on what I’ve heard here if Hip Bones play local I plan to check them out and see what else these talents might offer. ***1/2

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