A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: November, 2007

Recycled Goods (#49)

by Tom Hull

Three box sets this time, thanks to the folks at Sony/BMG. More next month, but they're hard to score, and their golden age is way past. I decided to break The War out under "In Series" because at least three of the pieces are available separately. It also sent me on a search for competitors, but I didn't come up with much -- We'll Meet Again: The Love Songs of World War II, a 2-CD set on Smithsonian, has a good reputation but couldn't be found. I also wanted to review Billie Holiday's The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes, the late-period complement and possibly the inspiration for Legacy's Holiday box, but alas that too failed to materialize. On the other hand, my old shelves yielded alternatives to new collections by Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, and the Isley Brothers. I also split the 2-CD Garbage promo into two entries, since consumers have both options.

Bo Diddley: The Definitive Collection (1955-66 [2007], Geffen/Chess): Ellas McDaniel to his adoptive mother, his stage name came from a one-stringed African instrument, the diddley bow. He built a string of songs from the name, from "Bo Diddley" to "Hey Bo Diddley" to his past-prime recap "The Story of Bo Diddley." The first was an R&B hit, but he got kicked off Ed Sullivan for trying to break it, and wound up with only one modest pop hit, a novelty vamp where he trades insults with maraccas player Jerome Green. The maraccas were an integral part of his rhythm machine, which sounded African in its complexity because it sure didn't sound familiar. He also built his own guitars, for twang as well as stage looks. His prime was over by 1958, his essential catalog slim enough to fit in a short LP, but he went on to record some of the greatest obscure trivia in rock & roll history. A hint of this appears in his '60s cuts here -- "Pills," "I Can Tell," "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover," "Ooh Baby" -- where he emerges as an utterly idiosyncratic soul singer. A

Ani DiFranco: Canon (1993-2007 [2007], Righteous Babe): She tramped around Buffalo as a teenager, living by her wits, a folksinger because that came cheap: she worked solo with guitar -- barely a prop at first, but in a few years she learned to attack it as expertly as she took on the whole world. She was so uncowed by power she built her own label, feeding it a record-plus per year whether the new songs were up to snuff or not. Mostly they were: underrepresented (uncanonical?) early records like Imperfectly and Puddle Dive won her a young lesbian cult, which expanded to grrrls of all bents with Not a Pretty Girl and Dilate. But the Canon gives equal time to the reckoning and revelling of her second decade. Age and entrepreneurial success didn't lessen her politics, but they did shift from the personal to the social -- she announces "i've got everything i want and still i want more," like salvaging an old church in Buffalo, and working to rebuild ravaged New Orleans. The first disc is all high points, skipping as many as it hits; the second tries to make a case for the later work, and mostly succeeds, with growing musical sophistication and critical insights. Five old songs are given "brand-spanking-new studio versions" -- fancier than the originals, but packing the same old punch. A-

The HighTone Anthology: Rockin' From the Roots (1976-2006 [2007], Time Life, 2CD): Founded in 1983 by Larry Sloven and Bruce Bromberg, HighTone started as a progressive blues label -- Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker -- but soon moved into left-field country, which now dominates a catalog of 150 (or so) titles. In 2006 they chronicled their own history in a 4-CD+DVD box called American Music: The HighTone Records Story. That turned out to be easy pickings for the folks at National Holdings LLC, the venture-backed spinoff that licenses the right to do business as Time Life Records. They cut the big box down to this 2-CD, 30-song, $19.99-list affair. HighTone has done an admirable job of rescuing major label discards like Gary Stewart, Rosie Flores, and post-Blasters Dave Alvin, as well as providing opportunities for folks who didn't get that far yet, like Jimmie Dale Gilmore or Buddy and/or Julie Miller. They've made a home for folkies like Tom Russell and Chris Smither, and sometimes have brought back a fave from deep in the past, like Dick Dale or P.F. Sloan. This spot-checks everyone mentioned plus some easy-picking obscurities, covering a range of American music, from B to C, anyway. B+

Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles (1935-42 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Her early Brunswick singles were credited to Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, but only the most arcane European labels still credit them to Wilson. One proof that Holiday is the most bankable name in pre-WWII jazz is that the major label custodian of Wilson's Brunswick and Holiday's Vocalion singles, currently d/b/a Sony/BMG, has kept them consistently and extensively in print throughout the CD era, even while they've ignored works by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, not to mention the Wilson cuts that didn't feature Holiday. The first CDs were The Quintessential Billie Holiday, released as nine separate volumes. In 2001, Sony came up with 35 unreleased alternates and packaged it all together in a 10-CD box, Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944, which they broke down to six CDs of master takes and four of alternates. All along, they've spun off smaller samplers, which are almost impossible to screw up -- unless they drag in a 1958 Columbia horror show, Lady in Satin, where her voice is shot and drenched in dreadful strings, about the only possible complaint is that they cut her short. If the big box seems de trop and the still-in-print Quintessentials seem too arbitrary, this 80-song box is perfect. The subtitle is misleading in that it contains nowhere near all the master takes and singles, but the selection is canonical, faultless. It smoothes over the arcs of her story -- her emergence from being in the band to stardom, the wear and tear of a troubled life. On this evidence, she took charge of a band of superstars from day one and was a model of consistency at least as far as the box goes -- her voice limited in range, her technique straightforward and uncluttered, her phrasing definitive. A+

Howlin' Wolf: The Definitive Collection (1951-64 [2007], Geffen/Chess): "Hidden Charms" was just a song, one about his girl. Chester Burnett had nothing to hide except his name. He was a big man, "three hundred pounds of heavenly joy," "built for comfort, not for speed." And he was bold. His voice sounded like gravel, but he could sing with it as well as bark, growl, and howl. He may not have been a great guitarist, but Hubert Sumlin was -- when Buddy Guy joined the band he played bass. Despite his mass, he had a light touch, an uncanny rhythmic cadence that dropped the words gracefully into place. Chess helped, too. Coming up from Memphis he was howlin' at midnight; soon he was sittin' on top of the world. A+

Putumayo Presents: World Hits (1963-89 [2007], Putumayo World Music): Given the infinite possibilities of a globetrotting album requiring little more than that all the songs be irresistible, it's easy to nitpick here. For starters, Touré Kunda, Johnny Clegg, and the Gipsy Kings are choices that wouldn't have occurred to me, despite their undoubted popularity. None of the songs here gives off the whiff of payola that has become commonplace with this label. The only choices that look to be marketing-driven are collaborations with Mick Jagger and Neneh Cherry by artists (Peter Tosh and Youssou N'Dour) who are better off on their own. Half are cuts everyone should hear. The others could easily be improved. B+

Frank Sinatra: A Voice in Time (1939-1952) (1939-52 [2007], Columbia/RCA Victor/Legacy, 4CD): Sinatra is as great a singer as Billie Holiday, and for many of the same reasons: the precise control and authority of his phrasing. Both were born in 1915, but he got off to a slow start -- so much so that he seems like a generation behind, missing the swing era peak, hanging on with straggling bands that were passé before he turned forty. Holiday attracted great jazz musicians who often backed her with hushed reverence -- I'm reminded of a perfect little curlicue of clarinet in "Pennies From Heaven," delivered by Benny Goodman, who could just as well have been showboating in front of the most popular band in America. Sinatra had to make do with Tommy Dorsey early, and went on to even more anonymous bands with Capitol in the 1950s, but in between he was treated far worse at Columbia -- Axel Stordahl? Mark Warnow? Harry Sosnick? At least I've heard of Percy Faith. Compared to this company, one cut with Harry James blows through like a tornado. The Sony-BMG merger has managed to unite the first two segments of Sinatra's career, but it hasn't improved them. Even careful selection only goes so far: the 5-CD box with Dorsey is reduced to one here, and the 12-CD Columbia box is cut down to three. Still, this is spotty. There are points where Sinatra overcomes the orchestra, and there are exceptions like the one with James. But you have to work to get down to the Voice. That was never a problem with Holiday. B+

The Traveling Wilburys (1988-90 [2007], Rhino, 2CD+DVD): The story is that George Harrison needed a new B-side to bait a single, so he picked up some friends hanging around the studio and threw together "Handle With Care." When Warners heard it, they ordered up a whole album. The friends were stars, more or less down on their game -- Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison -- so they cooked up an anonymous brother act, not so much to hide as to throw up a front of informality. The album was a modest success -- probably the best thing any of the five did in the 1980s, not that there's much competition. Orbison died, so they recorded the rootsier sequel, Volume 3, with his guitar in an empty rocking chair. This set collects both albums, some bonus tracks, and a DVD with five videos and a documentary. The short-term winner was Orbison, who was enjoying a modest comeback, but more notably this was a turning point for Dylan, who started a series of albums that only got better through the 1990s and beyond. Even among these stars, and barely trying, he's clearly has a different level of talent. B+

Stevie Wonder: Number 1's (1963-2005 [2007], Motown): UME's latest twist on reissues touts disposable packaging -- the "Ecopak" consists of a recycled cardboard cover and a "PaperFoam" tray, promised to be "renewable, recyclable, biodegradable." How long such packaging will last is hard to estimate, but most likely it will fall apart long before most of the music loses interest -- chart position has never been a foolproof formula, but it's usually good enough, especially when you're talking James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. (Also in the series thus far: Jackson 5, Kool and the Gang, Loretta Lynn, Diana Ross and/or the Supremes, the Temptations, and 18 various artists sets.) This is the only one I can report on, but it seemed likely to be the most useful. Motown has generally kept Wonder's teenage hits separate from his mature work -- "Superstition," "Higher Ground," "Living for the City," etc. -- so the refreshing thing here is that this starts off with a bang: "Fingertips Pt. 2," "Uptight," "I Was Made to Love Her," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Of course, it's slightly downhill on the second half, but not much -- Wonder has spaced his albums out more and more since the 1980s, but he's always been able to turn it on. A

In Series

Having watched most if not all of four long sets of PBS documentaries that Ken Burns has produced -- Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, World War II -- I'm still undecided whether he's a skilled storyteller working within severe conceptual limits or a hack who has managed to make something out of remarkable batteries of source materials. Even Baseball -- by far his most limited subject -- misses more than it catches, especially with his focus on a select few teams (e.g., the Red Sox), but his focus on the Negro Leagues and the importance of integration is commendable. Another thing I'm undecided on is whether he has a genuine ear for music and how to use it in his films. His initial soundtrack to The Civil War suggested he did, and he had so much to work with on Jazz that The Best of Ken Burns Jazz could hardly falter. But one thing that does seem clear is that his ability to franchise has exceeded his ability to control product quality. That much was already clear with the Ken Burns Jazz series, which often had little to do with the film. With The War those limits are much more obvious. For starters, WWII was not good for music, even in the US, which was far removed from the immediate horrors and experiencing a peculiar economic boom that shook off the doldrums of the Great Depression. Musicians were drafted, and recording was often banned -- first by government rationing then by the musicians' union. The grave conditions may have created a desire for escape, but they also made exuberance look unseemly. In any case, Burns' interest is the fighting front, and the soundtrack there is overwhelmed by artillery, machine guns, and bombs. Given his focus, Wynton Marsalis is reduced to scrounging connective mood music from classical sources. Of course, Burns' brand marketing partner isn't so constrained, so Sony/BMG have constructed tie-in products that try to improve on the actual soundtrack. That they do isn't much of a surprise given their catalog, but they still leave unexamined the question of how war and music intersected. That question has been explored before a few times, including some compilations I've tacked on to the end of this series.

The War (A Ken Burns Film): The Soundtrack (1938-2005 [2007], Legacy): After 15 hours of film, even given that most of it is given to explosions and voiceovers, the soundtrack feels awfully slight, with a half-dozen pieces of period music -- Kay Starr's "If I Could Be With You" is the prize with its marvelous all-star band -- and a batch of those stringy instrumentals that bubble innocuously in the background, a couple of Wynton Marsalis originals, and two takes of "American Anthem" -- one to prove they're serious and the other to cash in on Norah Jones, who also counts as serious. B

The War (A Ken Burns Film): Sentimental Journey: Hits From the Second World War (1930-45 [2007], Legacy): The first of two discs of period music, a tie-in that should be better given how much catalogue Sony/BMG owns; with few exceptions, the songs predate the war, their currency maintained like the old scraps people made do with while all the new production went to the war; some classics appear, like Coleman Hawkins' brilliant "Body and Soul," but most could have been better selected -- Louis Armstrong is dated 1930, Duke Ellington is barely recognizable under Herb Jeffries' vocal -- and not just because of sentimental preferences. B+

The War (A Ken Burns Film): I'm Beginning to See the Light: Dance Hits From the Second World War (1937-44 [2007], Legacy): At least this one picks up the pace, favoring shouters over crooners, picking barnburners even from Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, reaching out to the neglected Jimmie Lunceford, and slipping in a honky tonk classic by Al Dexter that sounds pretty jazzy even in this company. A-

Songs Without Words: Classical Music From the War (A Ken Burns Film) (1963-2006 [2007], Legacy/RCA Red Seal): Not inappropriate, either functionally -- filmmakers habitually slot classical music in for mood background -- or culturally, inasmuch as WWII put to waste so much of the civilization this music meant to represent; still, without the pictures, this feels remarkably inert, so much so I find it impossible to shower it with my usual disdain. B-

The War (A Ken Burns Film): Deluxe Edition (1930-2006 [2007], Legacy, 4CD): Four jewel cases wedged into a fold-out box, each with its own short credits booklet to match the separately available edition (as above, except that Songs Without Words is only available here), and a short longbox booklet with a blurb on the film but nothing on the music. B

Songs That Got Us Through WWII (1941-45 [1990], Rhino): This was the first serious attempt at a WWII-themed pop compilation; it differs from the Burns comps first of all in having songs that actually refer to the war -- "G.I. Jive" and "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer" most explicitly, but most are hard to conceive of otherwise, including the one prewar song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"; still, in some ways they're trying too hard to be proper. B+

Songs That Got Us Through WWII Vol. 2 (1942-45 [1994], Rhino): This is where they throw caution to the wind, featuring more blacks -- like Louis Jordan, Duke Ellington, Buddy Johnson, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton -- and weirder whites, ranging from Roy Rogers to Marlene Dietrich to the Pied Pipers and their "Mairzy Doats" and Bing Crosby camping up a Louis Jordan song; every song charted, although "Lili Marlene" not until after the war ended. A-

Briefly Noted

J.J. Cale: Rewind: Unreleased Recordings (1973-83 [2007], Time Life): Initials stand for Jean Jacques, evidently a thing one keeps discreet while growing up in Tulsa; everything about Cale is understated, most obviously his drawl and his twang, making most of his work -- not just these outtakes -- unnotable, although his gentle "Rollin'" is hard to resist. B-

Johnny Cash: The Great Lost Performance (1990 [2007], Mercury/Chronicles): A neatly packaged career in a single set: "Ring of Fire," a couple of gospels, "Folsom Prison Blues," a Kristofferson, a couple of obscure originals, a talkie train ride sequence ending with "Hey Porter," a salute to "Ragged Old Flag" I could do without, a plug for his kids, "Ghost Riders in the Sky," two duets with June, "I Walk the Line"; something new, lots old, some borrowed, most true; unlike At San Quentin, he has no worries about having to prove himself -- he has it down pat. B+

Johnny Cash: The Legend of Johnny Cash, Vol. II (1956-2003 [2006], Island): Six cuts each under Sam Phillips early and Rick Rubin late span his whole career while minimizing the middle -- cross-licensing is expensive when all you really want is to exploit your back-catalog; this middle -- including joints with Dylan, Waylon, and Hank Jr. -- is more idiosyncratic than need be, maybe because this is the second helping, or because the ends are odd too. B+

Catch and Release (Music From the Motion Picture) (1992-2006 [2007], Legacy/Sony Music Soundtrax): My least favorite form of recycling, soundtracks are naked commercial tie-ins, at best secondary to the director's artistic vision, and more often purely incidental; this at least is song-oriented, consistent in its Amerindie form and flow. B-

Don Cherry: Live at Café Montmartre 1966 (1966 [2007], ESP-Disk): A quintet with a fired-up tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri joining the leader's trumpet in a free jazz joust, and Karl Berger's vibes providing a shimmering undertow on vibes; probably not the same gig Magnetic released two CDs from, but the doc is unclear; maybe the producers were as wired as the band? B+

Bo Diddley: I'm a Man: The Chess Masters, 1955-1958 (1955-58 [2007], Hip-O Select, 2CD): Completism, with its usual flaws -- unnecessary alternate takes of famous songs, filler that bewilders, like the ballad "I Love You So" and the doo-wop "I'm Sorry" -- but he's so idiosyncratic his mistakes are just part of the package, indeed part of the puzzle. A-

Bo Diddley: The Chess Box (1955-74 [1990], Chess, 2CD): A big, LP-sized box, overkill for his slim catalog, but damn near every cut explodes with something daring or clever or so much fun I wouldn't want to go without; in other words, this is a rare case where the more selective Definitive Edition is second choice: the more you hear, the more you can believe. A+

Last of the Jewish Cowboys: The Best of Kinky Friedman (1973-2003 [2006], Shout! Factory): Seems slim for 30 years, but he's the sort of guy who'll coast on a joke till it runs dry, and his self-concept was one of his best; many of these cuts are live remakes, probably because the stage helps camouflage the endemic sloppiness; I don't mind his vocal shortcomings, as long as the jokes hold up. B+

Garbage: Absolute Garbage (1995-2005 [2007], Almo Sounds): Fronted by Shirley Manson with ex-Nirvana producer Butch Vig in the background, their first load of darkly textured, expertly hooked pop irony -- "Vow," "Queer," "Only Happy When It Rains" -- is certain to highlight any forthcoming "Those Were the '90s" comps when nostalgia kicks in; three more loads yield a few more finds. A-

Garbage: Absolute Garbage (Deluxe Edition) (1995-2005 [2007], Almo Sounds, 2CD): Same packaging, higher price, the extra weight a second disc of "Garbage Mixes" on top of the useful single-disc best-of; the mixes are lighter, loopier, less consistent, more amusing, trivial even for a band that embraced disposability -- although it's not inconceivable that they thought of it as irony. B+

Girl Talk: Night Ripper (2006, Illegal Art): You can make a neat "Where's Waldo" game out of tracking down the 164 artists -- at least those are the ones thanked in the booklet -- ripped into these 16 songs; the model comes from hip-hop, and the paste techniques have been done before, but Greg Gillis puts the obvious and the obscure together as well as anyone, proving once again that no matter what biz lawyers think, culture accumulates by being referred to and reused. A-

Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live at Monterey (1967 [2007], Experience Hendrix/Geffen/UMe): I'm not a live Hendrix junkie, but this rates high historically, with the "English group"'s star's good-natured babbling and fresh vocals as winning as his legendary guitar prowess; feels complete but brief at 43:08; also available on DVD for pyromaniacs. A-

Howlin' Wolf: Howlin' Wolf/Moanin' in the Moonlight (1951-61 [1986], Chess): Two prime LPs, slapped together and bargain priced at $9.98 list; Robert Santelli listed this #5 in his all-time blues album list; I might quarrel with some of the other four. A+

Howlin' Wolf: The Chess Box (1951-73 [1991], Chess, 3CD): From the early days of the box set craze, this is packaged with jewel boxes encased in an LP-sized box, allowing for a lavish booklet; Wolf has no trouble filling three discs -- even snatches of interview are raw poetry. A

Howlin' Wolf: Ain't Gonna Be Your Dog (1951-69 [1994], Chess, 2CD): Passed off as part of a "Chess Collectibles" series and now import only, these are outtakes and throwaways, some previously unreleased, none in the canon, so rock solid you start to wonder whether he could ever screw anything up. A-

The Isley Brothers: The Definitive Collection (1959-2005 [2007], Hip-O): First three cuts are as expected -- "Shout, Pt. 1," "Twist and Shout," "This Old Heart of Mine" -- but from there on catalog bias takes over, with two more Motowns (1966-67) welcome, two T-Necks (1969-83) way short, and ten cuts from 1987 on merely competent; the missing T-Necks are compiled elsewhere, but the later cuts don't justify a best-of, nor does this justify its pretensions. B

It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers (1959-96 [1999], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): The real definitive collection, although Rhino's out-of-print The Isley Brothers Story ([1991], 3CD in two packages) is a close match, and Legacy's The Essential Isley Brothers ([2004], 2CD) does the job almost as well; never a first-tier group, but sometimes brilliant, and often good for a laugh or a dance groove or both. A-

Elton John: Rocket Man: Number Ones (1970-94 [2006], Mercury, CD+DVD): No chart info in the booklet, so I'm not sure what accounting tricks they're playing -- my Billboard Top Forty book credits John with 9, including two not here; most of the 12 "number ones" here topped the Adult Contemporary chart, but so did other songs not here; figuring 12 seems short, they tacked 5 "other favorites" (all 1970-74) onto the end; the DVD gussies 5 repeats up for Las Vegas in 2005 and adds 5 dubious "bonus videos." B-

Etta Jones/Houston Person: Don't Misunderstand: Live in New York (1980 [2007], High Note): Jones only sings three songs, revealing little beyond her undoubted competency, so her top billing is misleading; Person picks up the slack, his tenor sax all honey, so sweet he turns "Blue Monk" out as a natural standard, even managing to elevate organist Sonny Phillips' blues jams. B+

Habib Koité & Bamada: Baro (2001, Putumayo World Music): A singer-songwriter from Mali, self-characterized as a "modern griot" -- a reference both to his heritage growing up in Mali's musical aristocracy and to his topical engagements; he gives his band, named for the townspeople of Bamako, credit, but comes off so genteel you have to focus to grasp the intricacy of his guitar. B+

Habib Koité & Bamada: Afriki (2007, Cumbancha): First new album in six years, this shows growth, especially in the percussion, which has become as subtle and intricate as his guitar; the booklet provides translations, which matter with an artist so subtle. B+

Oliver Mtukudzi: Tsoka Itsimba (2007, Heads Up): Reportedly Zimbabwe's best-selling singer, with 40 albums since 1978, only some appearing on US labels, where his rough voice and surefire groove are easy to take and hard to get worked up about. B+

Puerto Plata: Mujer de Cabaret (2007, IASO): Born José Manuel Cobles in 1923 in the Dominican resort town he adopted as his moniker, Plata is a throwback to pre-bachata guitar son, intricately picked with timelessly loping rhythms; it's not clear how much the octogenarian plays here -- the guitar leads are credited to followers Edilio Paredes and Frank Mendez. A-

Gino Sitson: Bamisphere (2007, 18th & Vine): Cameroun's answer to Bobby McFerrin, a vocal trickster practicing vocalese voodoo backed by an all-star jazz band, which rarely gets the chance to shine; the peace sentiments are confined to Stitson's native language, Medumba. B

Patti Smith: Twelve (2007, Columbia): A scratch list of covers from a 1978 notebook, with three more recent songs ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "The Boy in the Bubble," "Smells Like Teen Spirit") slipped in, a concession to passing time, a reaffirmation of classic rock roots with a poetic bent; she's less an interpretive singer than a prism. B+

Senti Toy: How Many Stories Do You Read on My Face? (2006 [2007], Circular Moves): Originally from Nagaland in farthest northeast India, she can claim a headhunter for a great-grandfather, but went to college in Bombay and New York, where she's working on her doctoral degree in ethnomusicology; without this bio and a tiny bit of non-English, you'd be hard pressed to tell that she didn't grow up in OC listening to MTV. B

Trans Formers: The Movie (20th Anniversary Edition) (1985-86 [2007], Volcano/Legacy): A generation before the 2007 movie, the Hasbro toys appeared in an animated feature, with this Vince DiCola soundtrack; basically cartoon metal that works because they "Dare to Be Stupid" -- a "Weird Al" Yanokvic title goosed up with techno -- rather than assume the stance naturally; the bonus tracks are merely soundtracky. B+

David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 [2007], AUM Fidelity): Reportedly the finale of the most formidable jazz quarter since Coltrane's, with William Parker and Matthew Shipp as titanic as the tenor saxophonist; one more live shot to go with the 3-CD Live in the World. A-

Why the Hell Not . . . The Songs of Kinky Friedman (2006, Sustain): Ten songs, much better sung than on the auteur's templates, which in most cases -- even for Willie Nelson's "Ride 'Em Jewboy" -- moves them out of the humor niche and into, well, the realm of songs; the exceptions are best not to take straight, like "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven" and "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore." B+

Additional Consumer News


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: boxed saloon singers (Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra), Chessmen (Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf) and Motowners (Stevie Wonder), punk folkies (Ani DiFranco) and anonymous superstars (The Traveling Wilburys), the songs that got us through the war (A Ken Burns Film); and much more (45 records).


Copyright © 2007 Tom Hull.