Best Archival Find of 2007
Aretha Franklin: Rare & Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul (Rhino/WEA)
Aretha earned her monarchical title by the sweat of her brow. This almost uniformly outstanding set of odds and sods testifies to the overabundance of creative mojo she was working with between 1966-1973 on Atlantic Records. Listening to the demo for "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" or rump shakin' outtakes like "Sweetest Smile And The Funkiest Smile" is enough to make you sigh for the current state of mainstream soul music. Smart, informative liner notes by the great Jerry Wexler and music writer David Ritz etch in the details surrounding these once lost snapshots of a musical genius in her fighting prime.
3 Discoveries From The Past In 2007
Each year a few artists from earlier times come find me. It's a constant reminder that for all the new stuff coming down the pipe there's still plenty from the past that's well worth splashing around in. I share my new enthusiasms from yesterday with you in the hopes you also offer them a slice of your listening time.
Rotary Connection was Chess Records attempt to cash in on the Flower Power scene. Except the Connection was a little ahead of their time, merging funk and freak in unprecedented ways. Singer Minnie Riperton went on to commercial fame in the disco era but never again touched the imaginative heights scaled with Rotary Connection. Besides releasing one of the most exquisitely tweaked Christmas albums ever (1968's Peace), their all-covers record, 1969's Songs, remains a model of the interpretive arts. The uninitiated are steered towards the 2-CD anthology Black Gold: The Best of Rotary Connection, which contains the entire Songs album and a well chosen smattering of the rest of their catalog.
Mostly known for her peacenik anthem "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)" and double entendre classic "Brand New Key" (used to raunchy effect in Boogie Nights to introduce Heather Graham's Rollergirl), Melanie Safka is a fully fleshed earth mama that helped give birth to modern fem talents like Joanna Newsom and Meg Baird. There's a poetic reach and hyperactive passion to Melanie's work that's intoxicating. While some pieces remain rooted in their original time period, many others possess a time transcending spark that's positively absorbing. Not often credited as an influence, Melanie most assuredly paved the way for many artistic, dreamy musical ladies that followed. She remains an active performer that you can catch up with on her official site. A good place to start is Beautiful People: The Greatest Hits Of Melanie, which was mastered by Robert Fripp.
Originally bankrolled by a Dutch millionaire in the late '60s, Supertramp was a slightly chipper U.K. version of Steely Dan, harnessing pop instincts to top-flight musicianship and intricate but seemingly simple compositions. Like 10CC, they only sort of tapped into the American consciousness (despite 1979's Breakfast In America momentary cultural omnipresence). There's something intrinsically and wonderfully English about them. Few have been better at thinking man's pop, and the curious are encouraged to start digging in with Retrospectacle: The Supertramp Anthology.
5 Artists To Watch In 2008
We close with a look to the future and five acts the Corner thinks have a very promising year ahead of them.
With blazing, soulful performances like this year's Bonnaroo, Persian-American singer Haale is shaping up to be the multilingual PJ Harvey or next generation Patti Smith. This is Sufi mysticism filtered through Hendrix's headband, a hypnotic, snarling piece of cosmic charcoal that burns hot and long. Joined by Matt Kilmer (percussion) and John Shannon (electric guitar), her trio moves with the substance and grace of a much larger band. Haale is punk poetry in motion and as her debut full-length approaches one feels she's really going places and might just pull the rest of us along on her expressly spiritual journey.
After releasing Somewhere Else - possibly the loosest, liveliest album of their career - in 2007, these long lived U.K. rockers once again turned to their fans to underwrite their next album with pre-orders. There's a brilliant independence to Marillion that shines in their music, which plays to no sensibility but their own. By turns epic and cheeky, their tunes are saturated with feeling that extends into every aspect. Odd as it is to say about a band nearly three decades old, they might just be hitting their creative stride, which is pretty impressive considering where they've already gone.
3. Lavender Diamond
This year Los Angeles' Lavender Diamond released Imagine Our Love, a fantastic debut with the tender, bittersweet sweep of The Carpenters and welcoming fingers that lure you into the clutch of something stronger and more thought provoking than you quite imagined. There is so much joy and light in their music, one can't escape the feeling there's something truly special waiting just around the corner. Visit their news page on their website and the posting for "Today" begins, "Did you know that this is the beginning of the era of true love? The end of oppression? Of the self or the other. It's true. True love can only exist in the absence of oppression and where true love exists there is no oppression." Oh hells yeah!
4. Grayson Capps
Rumor says there's a double record in the works for 2008. As rootsy rockers go, there's none better than Capps, who weaves with the greasy swagger of Lowell George and sings like the bastard son of Merle Haggard and John Prine. The fact that he's singing some of the most well constructed ditties around doesn't hurt, and neither does having a crack band like The Stumpknockers, who slap his tunes around like they owe them money. The swamp and the city intersect in Grayson Capps and there's mighty fertile ground in that musical wedge.
5. The Black Crowes
Trust me, I know a few things and one of them is the Black Crowes are going to have an outstanding 2008. Their first new studio album in seven years, Warpaint, arrives in March followed by a busy year of international touring. There's fresh steam in this engine, which is rare in a band approaching 20 years together. Rock 'n' roll needs the Black Crowes and they are answering the call with flying colors. Just you wait and see, children.
Cook's Corner returns to its regular sortie through the obscure and unsung later in January with reviews of new Young God records signing Fire On Fire, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James and other sundry delights.
JamBase | Wild World
Go See Live Music!