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November 2003

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Newly uncovered Evan Cassidy

American Tune

Evan Cassidy

Blix Street Records

Evan Cassidy, died far too soon at age 33, and American Tune may be the final testament to her remarkable voice. American Tune is comprised of  five tracks of newly uncovered rehearsal tapes, three live recordings, a demo and an early recording of that too-covered tune (but not here),  the Lennon-McCartney standard Yesterday.

 

In her usual eclectic fashion, Cassidy raids the vaults of rhythm & blues (Ray Charles’s Hallelujah I Love Him So), Philadelphia soul  (the Gamble-Huff Drowning in the Sea of Love), pop (Cyndi Lauper’s lovely True Colors), folk (an exquisite reading of the traditional The Water is Wide) and jazz (Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing). One can only hope that there are still more Cassidyean treasures yet to be uncovered.

Travelin’ with Traveler

If you don’t know Colin James’s work (and unless you’re a blues diehard, you probably don’t; he doesn’t get the radio play he deserves) you’re missing one of Canada’s too-little-sung musical treasures. James is a superb blues guitarist, a fine, gritty vocalist, often an inventive songwriter, and a musician unafraid to venture in new directions.

 

The Saskatchewan native was a high-school dropout; he heard the call of the blues early, moved to Winnipeg to form the HoodDoo Men and opened for the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan who, legend has it, had Colin James Munn shorten his stage name because it sounded as if they were saying “mud” every time they announced his name over the P.A. system.

 

His first two albums, the eponymous Colin James (1988) and Sudden Stop

(1990) were hits in Canada. Then James became an early convert to the swing revival with the brilliant neo-swing-blues-jazz Colin James & the Little Big Band (1993), six years later, after two more albums, following it up with a second retro-swing sortie that may have been even better.

 

I’m not disappointed by Traveler but was expecting more. It is, in some ways, a return to the blues, with a bit of power funk and Motown-inflected grooves punching up the thoughtful mellowness in many of the 11 tracks.

 

Most of the tunes are written by James, ballads such as I Know What Love Is and up-tempo, but somehow slightly subdued, rockers like She Can’t Do No

Wrong (the literate James showing off his drop-out status?). Throughout, his voice is in fine rasp and his axework, as always, is superb. Maybe I find the energy a bit low.

 

That’s not the case, though, on the opening and closing cover numbers, they are almost leisurely, but smouldering, covers of John Lennon’s I’m Losing You and Jimi Hendrix’s Rainy Day, Dream Away, in which James gets to make his guitar gently sweep.

 

A lot of people will like this album, and they should. Me, I’m going do some swinging to Cha Shooky Doo a classic from his 93 album.

 

No dissing this

Where We Live

A compilation of Various Artists

I’m not usually a fan of music made for occasions. And you’d think that a compilation of 16 artists lending their voices and instruments to Earthjustice, an organization devoted to “the universal right to clean air and clean water,” would drip drip drip with sanctimony. Or be slapdash, piecemeal, tossed off.

 

But no! Benefit album it may be, but Where We Live is full of musical delight, of pop performers finding the inner gospel singer who’s been struggling to get out all these years. For what we get is largely churchy in feel, but it’s been secularized in the smithy of the ecological soul.

 

There’s not really a bad turn on the CD, but a few tracks particularly stand out: Pop divas Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt collaborate on the Southern-gospelly It’s a Blessing; the still smouldering Tina Turner does a supercharged version of  A Change Is Gonna Come (Robert Cray on guitar) which almost matches that of its great originator, Sam Cooke;  Karen Savoca’s Two Little Feet is purringly innocent but sexy; Pop Staples takes the 1960s protest chestnut I Shall Not Be Moved and really makes you feel as if he is going to glory on the wings of his own perfect pitch and Ry Cooder’s slide guitar. Bob Dylan revives a 1971 tune that never should have died; Watching the River Flow must be about the Mississippi, for it has an infectious Professor Longhair New Orleans piano-roll .

 

Then there are Nora Jones’s sultry-sweet Peace, Los Lobos’s credibly passionate version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Willie Nelson’s laconically touching Living in the Promised Land and the Neville Brothers funkified chug-chug, Sister Rosa. Dan Zanes and Friends, with the help of Lou Reed (taking a walk on the sweet side), do a post-hippyish version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World; Mose Allison gives us a jazz hipster Getting There; John Hammond (witnessed by Tom Waits) testifies that I Know I’ve Been There; the lovely harmonies of the activist group Sweet Honey in the Rock turns More Than a Paycheck into an environmental protest; Michael Franti and Spearhead offer a folk-reggae Yes I Will, while Ruben Blades’s Estampa lends a latinate stamp to the enterprise. As a truly weird coda, the one and only Captain Beefheart croaks out Happy Earthday.

 

This one warrants repeated listens and it’ll be a while before I automatically diss a project like this again.

 

http://www.allmusic.com/album/where-we-live-mw0000318745