Monday, September 26, 2022

New Music: Dr. John, Rhett Miller, Doug "Cosmo" Clifford with Bobby Whitlock, Nikki Lane

A remarkable finale, an unearthed lost treasure and several new studio releases make for great listens.

Dr. John
Title: Things Happen That Way (Rounder Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Dr. John, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson
Tell me more: At once a genre-defying artist and the very sonic definition of New Orleans' timeless sound, Malcolm "Mac" Rebenack, Jr.  better known as Dr. John — had long spoke about wanting to record a county and western album to pay homage to the songwriters and music makers whose songs had touched him. Rebennack was in the midst of realizing that dream when a heart attack tragically ended his life on June 6, 2019. The Grammy-winning Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who had masterfully fused soul, R&B, funk, rock and blues since the 1950s was only 77.  The good news is that the resulting posthumous masterwork Things Happen That Way (released via Rounder Records on Sept. 23) showcase those final recordings and fully celebrate Dr. John's groundbreaking six-decade-long recording career. The range of material stretches from a wistful take showcasing his distinctive vocals and piano playing on Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," an urgent reading of Hank Williams' 1951 classic "Ramblin' Man" and a playful take on the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line" (the latter bolstered by Aaron Neville's vocals) to his own co-writes with famed guitarist Shane Theriot ("Holy Water," "Sleeping Dogs Best Left Alone," "Give Myself a Good Talkin' To"). Willie Nelson joins Dr. John on a R&B-flavored take of the traditional "Gimme That Old Time Religion." The album's closing title track (written by Jack Henderson Clement) is poignant, elevated by Dr. John's rich baritone and sparse piano work. Currently available on audio CD and digitally, Things Happen That Way will be released on vinyl on Oct. 14. Information:

Rhett Miller
Title: The Misfit (ATO Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Old 97's, Wilco, John Lennon, Tom Petty
Tell me more: A notable departure from his work with Dallas, Texas' alt-country favorites Old 97's and previous solo work, singer-songwriter Rhett Miller's ninth solo album The Misfit is a rich hybrid of psychedelic pop, indie folk rock and cosmic dream-pop bound by probing songcraft. The confessional "Follow You Home," evocative psychedelic rocker "Heart Attack Days," rootsy ballad "Already There," shimmering "Just When It Gets Good," luxurious "Fascination," reflective "The White Tops" and ardent piano-anchored "Let Me Go There With You" are among the great cuts that find Miller at the top of his game. Information:

Doug "Cosmo" Clifford with Bobby Whitlock
Title: California Gold (Cliffsong Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Doug "Cosmo" Clifford, Bobby Whitlock, Derek and the Dominos, Deep Purple's "Burn"
Tell me more: Who knew that following the breakup of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Derek & The Dominos, a principal member from each of those illustrious troupes would join forces to write and record a killer full-length album that was never released  until September 2022. CCR drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford and Derek & the Dominos singer-keyboardist Bobby Whitlock were joined by bassists Donald "Duck" Dunn and Tom Miller, as well as guitarists David Vega and Mike O'Neill on the previously-unissued California Gold. Recorded at the infamous Cosmos Factory and other area Bay Area studios, the 12-track disc will definitely appeal to fans of classic '70s blues rock outfits such as Humble Pie,  Grand Funk Railroad and the Doobie Brothers. The terrific track listing includes the aptly-titled "Good Times," bluesy "Get Down Fever," soul music mining "It's Always Darkest Before The Dawn," hard-edged "Do Or Die" and soaring "I'm Happy Just Being Alive." My favorite original on the album is the driving "Purple Mountain," an enticing six-minute rocker bolstered by sublime lead guitar work, deft drumming from Clifford along with Whitlock's signature lead vocals and keyboard playing. Information:

Nikki Lane
Title: Denim & Diamonds (New West Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Loretta Lynn, Kasey Chambers, Nikki Lane
Tell me more: In the wake of the arrival of the global pandemic a parade of talented artists have issued probing and powerful albums that reflect a singular moment in time when the world was seemingly stopped in its tracks. Add Nikki Lane's name to that list of musical greats issuing a standout album over the past year or so. Denim & Diamonds is a wonderful leap forward for the Nashville-based songstress, with a blend of roots rock, Americana and alt-country showcased across the 10-track disc. The album was completed at a unique point just after the last days of Lane's extended tour in support of her 2017 album Highway Queen and after the beginning of the lockdown forcing everyone indoor. Lane enlisted famed Queens of the Stone Age leader Joshua Homme to help bring her vision to life. The melodic "First High" with its undeniable chorus, haunting alt-country ballad "Faded," rousing roots rocker "Born Tough" and defiant "Try Harder" are among the early standouts on the wonderful album. The tender "Live/Love," lusty "Black Widow" and haunting closer "Chimayo" continue the album's firm reach in its last half. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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