Van Morrison – Astral Weeks – Live At The Hollywood Bowl


When Van Morrison sings, “I believe I’ve transcended,” at the end of “Astral Weeks” — the first song in this full 2008 recital of his historic album of the same name — it is in a warm, grateful growl remarkably like that of the younger man who made the 1968 studio LP. Astral Weeks was Morrison’s first step toward transcendence as a singer-songwriter, a radical turn away from the AM-radio success of his 1967 hit “Brown Eyed Girl.” The album is still like nothing else in rock, a quiet union of breathtaking opposites: Morrison’s soul-trance reflections on his early life in Belfast and the tension of the chamber-jazz arrangements.
The ruminative force of Morrison’s singing on Weeks was not that far from his early hard-blues attack in the band Them. In the live Astral Weeks, performed with a big band that reproduces the gentle touch of the ’68 session group, Morrison brings out those blues more emphatically — his vocal-and-harp break in “Sweet Thing” is like a hot wind of Little Walter. Morrison has also re-sequenced the album for concert effect, ending with the extended hypnosis of “Madame George.” The 1968 LP closes with the weightless “Slim Slow Slider” — just acoustic bass and splashes of tone around Morrison’s heated whisper. Here the song slips into a John Lee Hooker-like groove, and while I prefer the original, the change is an uplifting surprise. Transcendence is always a work in progress; the eight songs on Astral Weeks are still up to the task.

Lurrie Bell – Kiss of Sweet Blues


This is Lurrie’s third Delmark CD. His ’95 release Mercurial Son (679) was one of the most talked about and widely acclaimed CDs of the year. Gary Giddins of the Village Voice proclaimed it the “Best Blues Record of the Year”. Jas Obrecht reviewed Lurrie’s second CD, 700 Blues (700), in Guitar Player; “Lurrie delivers kingly bends, strange, stuttering phrases and long, spooling solos. His blown-speaker voice is rough and raw, his timing impeccable and his drive fearless”. Kiss Of Sweet Blues was produced by Dave Specter who is also featured on guitar. Of the fifteen songs most are new original compositions.

Zola Moon – Lost In The Blues


Female blues singer and songwriter Zola Moon was born in San Jose, CA, but her powerful song stylings might mislead listeners to guess that she was raised in the Deep South of Louisiana or Mississippi on grounds better known for producing great blues artists. She is self-taught, though she does mention numerous musical influences, ranging from B. B. King and Muddy Waters to Hank Williams and Tina Turner. Even with all of those wonderful influences, Zola Moon has worked hard to keep her sound all her own.
Zola Moon began her career in blues about 1983, in the San Francisco area. After seven years of performing, which helped her grow a large fan base, she finally released a debut album in 1990. It was titled Dangerous Love and recorded under the BareMoon Records label. Five years later, and with a new label, she finished work on an enjoyable sophomore offering, Lost in the Blues. It was followed in 1998 by Almost Crazy and then in 2000 by Earthquakes, Thunder, and Smiling Lighting. Some of the original blues tunes fans can sample on Zola Moon’s albums are “Doll House,” “Lucky Me,” “I Look at the Fool,” “Imagination,” “Alley Cat,” “Hollywood to the Hood,” and “I Don’t Think So.”
Over the years Zola Moon has performed at concerts, festivals, and nightclubs, appearing with many artists, including Etta James, Junior Wells, Al Kooper, Albert Collins, and Elvin Bishop. Her band consists of longtime drummer Jerry Olson, guitarist Vince “the Silver Fox” Joy, and bassist Ron Battle. (Bio by Charlotte Dillon)

Abraxas Pool – Abraxas Pool


Despite the occultic name and implied Egyptian symbolism in this album’s cover art, there is nothing mystic or magical in the sounds presented in the eponymous debut CD from Abraxas Pool. What the listener will find are well-crafted, produced, and performed songs in the mold of Abraxas/Amigo-era Santana, featuring veterans of the original band lineup and former members of Journey and Weather Report. This is an all-star affair, and includes much of the fire that made Carlos Santana’s original entree into the musical nexus of Latin, jazz, and rock so exciting in the first place. While Neal Schon more than adequately handles the Santana role on guitar, this recording really highlights the singing, playing, and writing talents of keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie (the architect behind the pre-Steve Perry Journey sound). Fans of Santana’s jazz-tinged Latin rock, and those pining for the more halcyon days of classic AOR, will not be disappointed.

Buckwheat Zydeco – Lay Your Burden Down


Although in some respects Lay Your Burden Down is exactly the kind of record one would expect from Buckwheat Zydeco (Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr.) at this point — upbeat zydeco dance numbers — it also has some new and interesting wrinkles, and it’s obvious that Dural is reaching for more on this wonderful outing. First, he has reunited with producer Steve Berlin, who produced Dural’s strong 1994 album Five Card Stud. And Dural has chosen the songs for this set carefully, bringing in five new original compositions and filling things out with inspired covers of Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks,” Bruce Springsteen’s little-known “Back in Your Arms,” Gov’t Mule’s “Lay Your Burden Down,” Captain Beefheart’s “Too Much Time,” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,” all of which are re-imagined brilliantly. Yeah, there is still plenty of zydeco accordion here, and this is still very much a zydeco record, but it reaches further and deeper toward being a larger musical statement, and Lay Your Burden Down ends up being Dural’s most accomplished and mature album yet, moving from start to finish like everything belongs together. Nothing misses its mark, and several tracks do so much more than that, including the stomping take on “Levee” that opens this set, the breezy and bouncy reggae-zydeco hybrid version of “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,” (which somehow manages to sound even more upbeat than Cliff’s original — which was pretty upbeat already), and the startling and beautiful “Too Much Time,” which redirects Beefheart’s original from the 1972 album Clear Spot into a gorgeous, emotionally fulfilling ballad. Buckwheat Zydeco has always been fun, a zydeco dance band guaranteed to get your feet moving, and Dural’s live shows are sweaty, funky dance-a-thons, but with Lay Your Burden Down, he has given us something else again, an album that works both at the dance party and still rings clear the next day when maybe it’s time to dig deeper and do a little thinking. It’s the best kind of musical synthesis.

Jazz Jamaica Allstars – Skaravan


Recorded in 1993, it took three years for this to see the light of day in the U.S.–until the ska explosion had started. But although the Skatalites are an obvious reference point (this band even includes trombonist Rico Rodriguez, a former Skatalite), this definitely isn’t the junior version. Sure there’s some of the same material, but Jazz Jamaica’s sound is rooted in the more complex rhythms of reggae, using that as a jumping-off point to the infinite spaces of jazz. The originals cook beautifully, and their version of Charlie Parker’s “Barbados” fairly sizzles with enthusiasm and skill

Cyril Neville – Brand New Blues


Fans of the various Neville Brothers incarnations will be pleased with Brand New Blues, a fantastic new release from Cyril Neville. With the help of fellow Nevilles Art, Ian, and Ivan, as well as Waylon Thibodeaux and Tab Benoit, Cyril lets fly with an accomplished batch of super-slinky blues and R&B that remains consistent with his affection for New Orleans musical traditions and his interests in human rights and environmental causes. Neville delivers fine original tracks and some excellently chosen covers on Brand New Blues, including Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I’ll Take Care Of You” and, as the album’s closer, a lengthy and astoundingly great version of Bob Marley’s “Slave Driver,” which Neville has customized with heartfelt and angry lyrics about the continuing political failure to restore New Orleans to pre-Katrina conditions. This is Cyril Neville’s first solo album in over eight years, and releases such as this make one wish he were more prolific, but we’ll take what we can get. Highly recommended.