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Sound Bites: Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Seth Swirsky, Trombone Shorty

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This is one of those weeks when I wish for twice the available space to tell you about the literal profusion of great new LPs that have recently materialized.

This edition of Sound Bites focuses on the latest from four artists you may know including three veteran music-makers offering their first new sounds in years.

Bonnie Raitt – “Just Like That” (Redwing/ADA)

A feeling of reassurance permeates the first album since 2016 from Bonnie Raitt; a record full of heart and soul that’s brimming with the substance and authority she’s always shown. Raitt blends terrific new originals, including the swaggering rocker “Livin’ For the Ones” and the cautionary recovery tale “Waitin’ For You to Blow,” with well-chosen covers. Al Anderson’s (formerly of NRBQ) lilting “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart” is passion personified. Toots and the Maytalls’ reggae-infused “Love so Strong” is a faithful tribute to the late Toots Hibbert. On the moving closer “Down the Hall,” Raitt is accompanied only by her acoustic guitar on a song inspired by news coverage of a prison hospice program.

Seth Swirsky – “Songs from the Green Couch” (Lolipop Records)

The composer of hits for Taylor Dayne, Celine Dion, Al Green, and Air Supply, among others, is in real life a creator of melody-saturated Beatles-esque pop par excellence. On four tuneful solo albums and three with his power-pop band The Red Button (with Mike Ruekberg), Swirsky packs his songs with hooks, harmonies and instrumentation that might make you wonder if they somehow dropped out of Paul McCartney’s pocket decades ago. His latest combines psych-tinged pop (“Sunny Day,” “Cashmere Sweaters,”) with jangle-pop (“What Was I Thinking?,” “Making it Up,”) and dreamy, breezy songs like “You Kind of Mood” and “September Sunday” that in some way sound like they’ve always existed. “Songs from the Green Couch” is a gorgeously produced record from a master craftsman.

Trombone Shorty – “Lifted” – (Blue Note)

Authenticity is the first word that comes to mind regarding this undeniably great mix of funk, jazz, R&B, soul, blues and rock, dusted with a thick New Orleans vibe. The party begins with “Come Back,” an uplifting funk and brass workout that sounds like Earth, Wind & Fire crashing a Bruno Mars session. The incendiary “I’m Standing Here” builds to a cacophonous climax of brass and fiery blues guitar from Gary Clark Jr. The New Brass Band joins Shorty on the dance-funk bash “Everybody in the World” while the huge sound of the joyously rocking title track is further elevated by the horn section and Shorty’s buoyant delivery. The soulful mid-tempo “What it Takes” and “Forgiveness” are the only cool-downs on this otherwise uplifting, high-energy funkafied jamboree.

Willie Nelson – “A Beautiful Time” (Legacy Recordings)

A subtle air of finality drifts over Willie’s 72nd studio album, released on his 89th birthday. “Live every day like it was your last one, and one day you’re gonna be right,” Nelson sings on one of the album’s five originals co-written with producer Buddy Cannon. Nelson shows no indication that he’s about to leave us anytime soon nor is he about to begin resting on his laurels. The songs, instrumentation and Nelson’s performance in particular, shine throughout. He imparts wisdom and warnings on the original “Energy Follows Thought,” a reminder of the power of the mind to create reality. He strikes a somber but funny tone on “I Don’t Go to Funerals” which includes the refrain “and I won’t be at mine.” And he charms on the covers, including Sean Camp’s stirring title song and on The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From my Friends,” arranged as a waltz. Nelson may have further albums in the pipeline, this being his third in 14 months, but if he decided to set Trigger on its stand for the last time, this album, and its closing track, “Leave You with a Smile” would serve as an elegant wave from a cultural touchstone.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2022 07:00

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