What would the music universe be without variety? Titles featuring singer-songwriters Chi McClean, Mark McKinney, Gerry Rafferty, Kelly Bowlin, and an original motion picture soundtrack celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali showcase a variety of musical styles in spades.
Artist: Chi McClean
Title: Let Me In (Chi McClean)
You might like if you enjoy: Jackie Greene, Rich Robinson, Ryan Adams
Tell me more: Southern rock-styled singer-songwriter Chi McClean's latest album Let Me In is a bona fide wonder and provides plenty of proof why it is so essential to seek out independent artists (the disc was released in 2016, but discovered by this writer in January 2017) . From the anthemic gospel-tinged "I Save You" and the bluesy ballad "Build Me Up" (featuring some terrific lead guitar from Audley Freed) to the piano-anchored rock 'n' soul "Life Got In The Way" and sweeping banjo-adorned "Thought I'd Never," McClean's potent vocals and original song craft shine across the eight-track disc. The New York native is backed on the self-produced collection by a group of solid players, and Let Me In is truly one of those majestic albums that sounds great at home or as a companion soundtrack on that long-distance drive to a favorite destination. Information: ChiMcClean.com.
Artist: Mark McKinney
Title: World In Between (Texas Evolution)
You might like if you enjoy: Tim McGraw, Gary Allen
Tell me more: A long-time favorite in Austin's country music scene, singer-songwriter Mark McKinney's fifth album World In Between straddles country, Americana and roots rock. On this album, McKinney not only handles the bulk of songwriting duties, but he frequently plays a number of instruments on the same track. While the material is never less than infectious and his choruses soar, there is a straightforward honesty that comes via McKinney's rich baritone and his real life-minded lyrics. "Bacon & Eggs" is a pretty ballad whose warm stylings include backing vocals from his wife Cassie McKinney as well as his brother Eric McKinney's subtle mandolin play. On "Rainy Day Monday," the catchy country-meets-reggae musical vibe comes in the service of a lyrical dream of living the good life albeit with the sober refrain "I'd rather run out of money than run out of time." Information: MarkMcKinney.com.
Artist: Gerry Rafferty
Title: The Best of Gerry Rafferty (Varese Sarabande)
You might like if you enjoy: Gerry Rafferty, Stealers Wheel, Gordon Lightfoot
Tell me more: Even before his death at the age of 63 in January 2011, Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty was an almost-mythological artist beloved for a string of memorable hits despite his uncomfortable relationship with the music industry. The Best of Gerry Rafferty is a new collection that features the artist's greatest hits together and the result is a chance to hear the enduring power of his songs, notably the evocative "Baker Street," undeniable folk rocker "Big Change In the Weather," and the confessional "Right Down the Line." Those only casually familiar with Rafferty will be equally impressed with the R&B ballad "The Way That You Do It," moody rocker "Get It Right Next Time," the Celtic-mining "The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin')" and other stellar songs on the16-track collection. Excellent liner notes penned Larry R. Watts and photos of Rafferty also are included with the audio CD version of the release. Information: VareseSarabande.com.
Artist: Kelly Bowlin and the Orphans
Title: Are You Listening? (CD Baby)
You might like if you enjoy: The Jayhawks, Carbon Leaf, Steve Earle
Tell me more: Music lovers who enjoy a band more interested in following its original instincts more than fitting into any narrow genre will want to check out the latest album from the freewheeling troupe Kelly Bowlin and the Orphans. An ambitious release, Are You Listening? includes the spirited alt country rocker "Choir of Angels," the affecting acoustic ballad "You Can Never Go Home," high octane Americana rocker "Borderline" and more than a dozen other songs that navigate from Americana ("Dancing In A Hurricane") to bluegrass ("Kentucky Angel," "Three Days") to alt rock ("Fortune Teller," "Thanksgiving Day") and elsewhere (including the child's lullaby "A Ship Called the Dreamer"). Please note that Kelly Bowlin and the Orphans are set to open for the Blind Boys of Alabama at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Information: KellyBowlinAndTheOrphans.com.
Title: Muhammad Ali in "The Greatest": Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Varese Sarabande)
You might like if you enjoy: George Benson, Muhammad Ali
Tell me more: This year marks the 40th anniversary of "The Greatest," a 1977 film that starred Muhammad Ali portraying himself. Now, the soundtrack for that film has been reissued as a deluxe edition on audio CD, with the release including Michael Masser's instrumental score as well as songs performed by George Benson and Mandrill. In addition, the new version includes a rare 1964 single by Cassius Clay rapping "I Am The Greatest" and singing "Stand By Me," and other bonus material. Included in the booklet that accompanies the CD version of the release is a liner note essay by A. Scott Galloway that enhances the understanding of the soundtrack. Ali, who died in June 2016, would have turned 75 on Jan. 17, 2017. Information: VareseSarabande.com.