Thursday, May 11, 2017

New Music: Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo', John Mellencamp with Carlene Carter, Ozomatli, Coco Montoya, Cait Brennan

Several much-anticipated collaborations are among essential new releases available now.

Artist: Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo'
Title: TajMo (Concord Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo'
Tell me more: Blues lovers are more than familiar with multiple Grammy winners Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo'. Now the two beloved artists have joined forces on TajMo, an album that more than delivers on the promise of music's latest dream team. From the album's first track, the uptempo Chicago blues-styled "Don't Leave Me Here," it's clear there is a joyous and infectious spirit across the collaboration. Both artists have terrific voices, and those voices blend together perfectly. "Don't Leave Me Here" is only one of a number of original songs on the disc; the Memphis soul-worthy "All Around the World" is a buoyant delight, and the lush ballad "Om Sweet Om" (featuring Lizz Wright) is an aptly-pegged celebration of home with famed Lee Oskar (of WAR fame) adding some magical harmonica work. There are also surefire surprises; a take on the Pete Townshend-penned Who classic "Squeeze Box" features a playful vocal exchange between the two greats while Joe Walsh adds electric guitar. A disc-ending entry features Mahal and Keb' Mo' joining forces with Bonnie Raitt for an acoustic-flavored interpretation of the timely "Waiting on the World to Change" that outdistances John Mayer's original version released in July 2006. Information:

Artist: John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter
Title: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (Republic Records)
You might like if you enjoy: John Mellencamp, Carlene Carter, Martina McBride, Woody Guthrie
Tell me more: The 23rd album of John Mellencamp's illustrious career, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies finds the singer-songwriter teaming with songstress Carlene Carter (the daughter of the late June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash) for a 13-track journey that is one of the richest roots rock-meets-Americana collections in memory. The musical tapestry shimmers and dances with a lush mix of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, harmonica and fiddle, while Mellencamp's increasingly-rustic baritone is the perfect counterpoint to Carter's sweet soprano as well as singer Martina McBride's notable contribution on "Grandview" and a chorus of other backing singers utilized at perfect points along the way (notably at the end of "What Kind of Man Am I?"). The songs themselves work in this time or for anytime with spiritual, social justrice and romantic themes explored in nuanced ways. I'm pretty certain that time will prove that Sad Clowns & Hillbillies one of the truly great albums of 2017. Information:

Artist: Cait Brennan
Title: Third (Omnivore Records)
You might like if you enjoy: David Bowie, Big Star, Todd Rundgren
Tell me more: Defying easy categorization, singer-songwriter Cait Brennan's Third is an album that delves into a number of styles and the artist's diverse influences with aplomb. The follow-up to Brennan's 2016 acclaimed full-length debut Debutante, Third was recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis and utilized many of the actual instruments used by legendary power pop pioneers Big Star during their legendary '70s sessions. The tuneful melodic rock gem "He Knows Too Much," alluring ballad "At the End of the World" withs its blend of Brennan's high-reaching vocals and great lead guitar from creative partner Fernando Perdomo, the sublime glam rock-fueled "Benedict Cumberbatch" and all-out catchy rocker "The Angels Lie" are all standouts on this compelling release. Information:

Artist: Coco Montoya
Title: Hard Truth (Alligator Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Walter Trout, Tommy Castro, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
Tell me more: Coco Montoya's latest album Hard Truth rates right up there with the best of his long and celebrated career. The disc opens with the fiery blues-rocker "Before the Bullets Fly," featuring the Southern California native's powerful lead guitar work and great vocals. Other songs showcase Montoya's strengths to blend soul, gospel, R&B and even shades of swing into his potent approach, his masterful guitar playing always front and center. The Texas-minded "Lost in the Bottle" features slide guitar virtuoso Lee Roy Parnell swapping dazzling fretwork with Montoya. Because Montoya possesses such a first-rate voice, he kills on ballads too (as evidenced by the stellar "Old Habits Are Hard to Break" and Delta blues-mining "Devil Don't Sleep"). One of Montoya's true gifts is his sound and instinctive strengths will appeal to fans of both electric blues and classic rock; tracks such as "Hard As Hell" and " 'Bout to Make Me Leave Home" recall many of the great blues-rooted rockers of the '70s (Bad Company, Humble Pie, Ten Years After). Montoya will headline at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on June 2, 2017. Information:

Artist: Ozomatli
Title: Non-Stop Mexico – Jamaica (Cleopatra Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Sly & Robbie, Herb Alpert, Juanes
Tell me more: Although groundbreaking Los Angeles group Ozomatli is well known for being a champion for Latino culture and fighting for immigrant workers' rights, the group's Non-Stop Mexico – Jamaica is their first mostly-Spanish language release in their ambitious 21-year history. The album was produced by drum and bass reggae icons Sly & Robbie (Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff), and the six-member Ozomatli is joined by the far-flung likes of Gaby Moreno, Juanes, G. Love, Slightly Stoopid and Herb Alpert to perform reggae-flavored favorites of their youth. As Ozomatli proves across the rewarding 14-track disc, reggae stylings sound as great in their sonic hands as the Latin rock, hip hop, funk and other genres explored on previous albums. Among this writer's favorites is a smooth version of "Besame Mucho" blending melodic lead vocals from Asdru Sierra and rapping from Justin Poree with Alpert's trumpet. Later, Ozomatli transforms the classic "La Bamba" into a Santana-meets-Third World celebration. Ozomatli will be the musical guest on the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" radio show broadcast on KCRW-FM on May 31. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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