An authentic tribute to Stax Records by Melissa Etheridge, a delightfully divergent direction for Dawes, an astounding return by the great Doyle Bramhall II, a reissue of Peter Case's masterful 1986 debut and an intoxicating soundtrack add up to an eclectic collection of great new titles.
Artist: Melissa Etheridge
Title: MEmphis Rock and Soul (Stax Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Mavis Staples, Paul Rodgers' "The Royal Sessions," Melissa Etheridge
Tell me more: The legacy of Memphis-based Stax Records looms large with the celebrated likes of Southern soul giants Otis Redding, Albert King, Sam and Dave, Mavis Staples and Rufus Thomas continuing to influence new generations of artists. Melissa Etheridge isn't the only top-tier vocalist to undertake an ambitious tribute to Stax (Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers' terrific The Royal Sessions was released in 2014); but make no mistake that her MEmphis Rock and Soul is truly an inspired listen across its 12-track length. Highlights include a lively take on the little-known nugget "Memphis Train," scorching "Respect Yourself (People Stand Up)," fiery "Hold On, I'm Coming," the soulful ballad "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and ascending blues-based "Rock Me Baby" (featuring John Mayer on lead guitar). A heartfelt version of "I've Got Dreams to Remember" closes out the outstanding set. Among the amazing Memphis musicians who joined Etheridge in the studio to create the recordings are the Rev. Charles Hodges (organ), Leroy Hodges (bass), Archie "Hubbie" Turner (keyboards), James "JRob" Robertson (drums) and Michael Toles (guitar). Information: MelissaEtheridge.com or ConcordMusicGroup.com.
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Title: We're All Gonna Die (HUB Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Jackson Browne, My Morning Jacket, Neil Young
Tell me more: It is often difficult for even the most loyal of fans of a band to accept a major artistic change in direction. Such is the case of Los Angeles-based quartet Dawes, whose 5th studio album We're All Gonna Die signals a dramatic shift and leap forward. While the group's previous discs had the sonic feel of a Laurel Canyon-rooted folk rock champion, the new disc is decidedly more experimental - perhaps not a surprise since it was produced by Blake Mills (already legendary for his work with Alabama Shakes). Gone at singer-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith's sterling lead guitar solos. Intact are Goldsmith's songs (many co-written by Mills) that are literate and descriptive in their scope. For discerning listeners willing to give the 10-song disc a serious listen, they are sure to be rewarded thanks to artful tracks including the soulful "We're All Gonna Die," the sobering and layered rocker "Roll With the Punches" and art rocker "Quitter." This writer's favorite original on the winning disc is the genre-defying bass guitar-anchored masterpiece "Less Than Five Miles Away," a song bolstered by real life observations wielded with a master writer's touch. Information: DawesTheBand.com.
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Artist: Doyle Bramhall II
Title: Rich Man (Concord Music)
You might like if you enjoy: Jeff, Healey, Gary Clark Jr., Eric Clapton, Robert Cray Band
Tell me more: Doyle Bramhall II is an especially gifted singer, songwriter and guitarist whose Rich Man is a musical blend of R&B, soul, blues and world music with the different musical shades coming in the service of magnificent songs. Rich Man is Bramhall's first solo album release in a full decade (he has, however, kept busy collaborating and/or worked with the likes of Eric Clapton, Gregg Allman, Elton John, Amos Lee, Derek Trucks and Sheryl Crow over the years). The eclectic sonic home runs on his new album include the exotic blues-gospel foray "My People," the acoustic "New Faith" featuring Norah Jones and Bramhall joining their voices in perfection, and a freewheeling take on the Jimi Hendrix classic "Hear My Train A Comin'." Information: concordmusicgroup.com.
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Artist: Peter Case
Title: Peter Case (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Peter Case, John Doe, Michael Ubaldini
Tell me more: The 30th anniversary deluxe reissue of singer-songwriter Peter Case's self-titled debut remains as great as the illustrious collection of top-tier talents who assisted with the groundbreaking release. Produced by T Bone Burnett (John Mellencamp, Elton John, Leon Russell) and Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Ron Sexsmith, Los Lobos), the range of artists who contributed their talents included Roger McGuinn, John Hiatt, Victoria Williams, Jim Keltner, Mike Campbell, Rusty Anderson and Van Dyke Parks. A bona fide Americana album before the style was recognized as a distinct genre, "Peter Case" showcases uptempo roots rock ("I Shook His Hand," "Horse & Crow"), folk rock ("Steel Strings"), country blues-meets-baroque Appalachia ("Small Town Spree"), acoustic folk ("Old Blue Car," "Walk In The Woods"), blues ("Three Days Straight," "Icewater") and jangly indie rock ("Satellite Beach"). Providing a musical exclamation point is a terrific version of Shawn McGowan's Celtic-flavored pearl "Pair Of Brown Eyes." A landmark that remains essential listening, the icing on the cake of Case's eponymous debut is the inclusion of seven bonus tracks. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.
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Artist: James Horner and Simon Franglen
Title: The Magnificent Seven - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Sony Classical)
You might like if you enjoy: James Horner, John Williams
Tell me more: Before he lost his life in a tragic plane crash in June 2015, James Horner was a celebrated and prolific composer who scored countless film and television projects including James Cameron's "Titanic" (which earned the Los Angeles native two Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards), as well as scores for "Avatar," "A Beautiful Mind," "Field of Dreams," "Star Trek II" and many other great films. At the time of his death, Horner and Simon Franglen had just started working on themes for director Antoine Fuqua's 2016 remake of "The Magnificent Seven." The select pieces on The Magnificent Seven - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack live up to the legacy established by Horner and Franglen during their earlier collaborations (including "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Karate Kid" and "Southpaw"). Highlights include the tense "Rose Creek Oppression," stirring "Volcano Springs," evocative "The Deserter" and the lush "Town Exodus - Knife Training." Information: sonyclassical.com.
Buy 'The Magnificent Seven (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)' here