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Sound Bites (Legends Edition) New LPs from Tull, Temptations, Mayall, Mellencamp

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This week’s edition of Sound Bites includes the latest releases from four heritage acts with well over 200 years of combined artistry in their rear-view mirrors. Each offers a nod to the past while remaining otherwise affixed to the present.

Jethro Tull – “The Zealot Gene” (InsideOut Music/Sony)

The first entirely new Jethro Tull album in more than two decades finds Ian Anderson a little cranky and that’s usually a good sign when it comes to the music. The record works on two levels: first as a fine collection of varied songs, each based on a different human emotion. As a concept album, it’s almost a reality show as Anderson employs contemporary themes of fanaticism, division and religion to deliver a new batch of richly recorded songs that sound like classic Tull. There’s a three-dimensional quality (especially with headphones) to the sound of first-listen highlights “Shoshana Sleeping,” “Mine is the Mountain” and “The Betrayal of Joshua Kynde.” You’ll find my interview with Anderson about “The Zealot Game” elsewhere in this issue.

John Mayall – “The Sun is Shining Down” (Forty Below)

At age 88, The Godfather of British blues could be forgiven had he decided to simply revisit highlights from his seven-decade career. Instead, the celebrated band leader who called an end to his touring days last year called a few friends to join him the studio to realize six original songs and four covers. The man who fostered the careers of guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor in the 1960s can be heard here with guitarist Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) on Bernard Allison’s “Chills and Thrills.” Guitarist Marcus King lets it fly on the Stax-like “Can’t Take No More” and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro shines on “One Special Lady.” Buddy Miller takes over on guitar for Bobby Rush’s “I’m as Good as Gone.” Blues man Melvin Taylor gets down and dirty on the opener “Hungry and Ready” and on a cover of “Driving Wheel,” originally by Roosevelt Sykes. “The Sun is Shining Down” is an exciting and beautifully recorded blues album by an undisputed master.

The Temptations – “Temptations 60” (UMe)

The 60th anniversary album from the legendary Motown vocal group features Otis Williams, the lone surviving original Temptation, and it covers a lot of musical ground in 12 tracks and 53 minutes. Reflective of the group’s best material, “Temptations 60” includes the vintage sound of Motown (“When We Were Kings”), and elements of soul (“Is It Gonna Be Yes or No?” featuring Smokey Robinson), social commentary (“Time For the People”) funky pop (“You Don’t Know Your Woman ”) and jazzy pop (“Elevator Eyes”). Hip-hop is represented for only the second time on a Temptations album with the opening “Let it Reign,” featuring rapper K. Sparks. Williams recalls the Temptations humble beginnings and first meeting with Motown founder Berry Gordy on the moving closing track “Come On,” the first song he recorded with his pre-Temptations group The Distants.

John Mellencamp – “Strictly A One-Eyed Jack” (Republic)

While I admire John Mellencamp’s dedication to chasing his muse, this album isn’t the easiest listen in his discography – but that’s purely intentional. His growly vocals, detected from the opening “I Always Lie to Strangers,” takes some getting used to but it suits these largely acoustic earthy songs, the general vibe of which falls somewhere between Bob Dylan’s “World Gone Wrong” and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” The ironic exceptions are three songs co-written with Springsteen - “Did You Say Such a Thing,” “Wasted Days” and “A Life Full of Rain,” and they’re the most compelling songs on this record. It makes you wonder what a full collaboration might have sounded like. Mellencamp could have come back with an album of catchy new rock songs, and it might have been great, but his interests clearly lie elsewhere at this point and that’s what artists do.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 February 2022 06:58

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