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Sound bites: The Black Keys, Nancy Wilson, a McCartney tribute and more

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This week’s edition of Sound Bites could have contained more than twice as many titles as appear here, so fast and furious the new releases keep coming. Here’s a sampling of some of the best new material I’ve heard issued over the last two weeks.

The Black Keys - “Delta Kream” (Nonesuch)

Not only fans of The Black Keys, but blues fans in general should flock to this collection of rocked-up country hills blues recorded on the fly over two afternoons in December 2019. For their 10 th LP, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney look back at some of the traditional Mississippi hills blues music that was so influential to their formation. “These songs are still as important to us today as they were the first day Pat and I started playing together,” Auerbach said in a statement. Standards like “Crawling King Snake” (here in two versions) appear alongside less frequently covered blues tunes associated with artists R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Big Joe Williams. The performances are uniformly excellent throughout and feature contributions from Burnside guitarist Kenny Brown and Kimbrough bassist Eric Deaton. The sound is appropriately rich, dark, deep and scary good.

Leftover Salmon – “Brand New Good Old Days” (Compass)

For more than 30 years, this Colorado based jam band has dabbled in myriad genres while remaining rooted in bluegrass and Cajun music. A great spirit of fun can be found in the 10 new tracks on “Brand New Good Old Days,” as evidenced by the surprising opening cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” that comes off like a barn-burning hoedown. John Hartford’s “Category Stomp” is revisited in a fairly faithful version highlighted by some fancy picking. Conway Twitty’s “Boogie Grass Band” is a perfectly chosen cover that sounds like it was written for this band. The title track, as well as the uplifting closer “We’ll Get By” are not only musically rousing but contain a message about living in the moment that hits home for many of us after the worry and uncertainty of the last 14 months: “We may never know about tomorrow’s skies, so take it as it comes, somehow we’ll get by.”

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “When God Was Great” (Hellcat/Epitaph)

Despite its creation in the midst of the pandemic, Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett says his group’s 11th album represents the most fun these ska rockers have had in the studio. The proof is in the album’s party-vibe atmosphere and the strength of the material. It’s no small achievement that the Bosstones have constructed one of their best efforts nearly four decades after first coming together in Boston. The reality of the world outside infiltrated the studio on the pandemic-themed “Move,” but these guys choose levity over gravity. “When we tried to flatten the curve, I was ready and willing and able. But you’ve got one hell of a nerve because you took it off of the table,” Barrett sings in the call and response sing-along. A left-field reggae take on CCR’s “Long As I Can See the Light” might seem an odd inclusion but they make it work and the message fits.

Nancy Wilson – “You and Me” (Carry On Music)

Not counting occasional soundtrack work, this album represents the first official solo effort from the Heart guitarist. Wilson’s instantly recognizable voice is as warm as ever on the friend-themed opening title cut, one of eight originals here, a collaboration with longtime/sometimes songwriting partner Sue Ennis. Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins and Duff McKagen of Guns N’ Roses join in for the rocker “Party at the Angel Ballroom,” one of the strongest cuts here. Wilson recasts Bruce Springsteen’s 9/11-themed “The Rising” for a world in recovery mode in the wake of Covid. The version of Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” carries the weight of the original as Wilson pushes her voice to bring home the song’s anti-abuse message. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” featuring an appearance by Sammy Hagar, is taken at a faster pace while retaining the spirit of the original. Wilson addresses our current divisive times on “The Inbetween,” another standout cut that sounds like a hit. She sends love to a recently departed friend on the brief closing instrumental acoustic piece “4 Edward,” a tribute to Eddie Van Halen. Overall, “You and Me” is an impressive solo debut from Wilson, and hopefully a bellwether for her next move with Heart.

Ram On – “The 50th Anniversary Tribute to Paul and Linda McCartney’s ‘Ram’ (various artists) (Spirit of Unicorn Music)

Paul McCartney’s second solo album, “Ram,” has seen a remarkable critical reappraisal in recent years. Initially and inexplicably bludgeoned by critics but beloved by fans, “Ram,” in its original form, is a near-perfect collection of inspired songwriting, performance and production. It’s been this fan’s favorite Macca LP for more than 40 years, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I listened to this reimagined “Ram” recorded by a sizable and diverse group of musicians, including three that appeared on the original. Guitarist David Spinozza returns to play parts he played 50 years ago as does Marvin Stamm who played on Paul’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Original “Ram” drummer Denny Seiwell co-produces and plays on a number of cuts. The list of players here exceeds 100 as the songs mostly (and thankfully) stick close to the original arrangements. Joining in the Ram-fest: Pat Sansone of Wilco, Eric Dover of Jellyfish, Davey Johnstone of Elton John’s band, Carnie Wilson, Dan Rothchild of Tonic, Dave Depper of Death Cab for Cutie, Will Lee of The Fab Faux (and Letterman’s old band) and dozens more. Nothing here betters the original but that wasn’t the point. This is clearly a labor of love from some great players tipping the hat to one of their personal favorite albums while hopefully inspiring their own fans to go back and dig into this timeless treasure with fresh ears.

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 May 2021 06:50

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