A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: April, 2010

Recycled Goods (#73)

by Tom Hull

Feels like more of a random walk than usual, with each step illuminating its vicinity. Picked up the Madonna stuff after checking out her latest live record/video -- well, the music, anyway. Got the Drive-By Truckers kiss-off compilation to go with their new album, then couldn't find their Live From Austin TX, but found plenty more, with several records reminding me of old best-ofs I had missed: Asleep at the Wheel, Fats Domino, Tony Joe White, Dwight Yoakam. Started to go after John Hiatt but couldn't sort out what I was finding, and was disappointed that Rhapsody didn't have BGO's 2006 twofer of Hangin' Around the Observatory and Overcoats -- a sure A-, maybe better. Some of the Rhapsody finds will show up in their own post -- new John Hiatt, Merle Haggard, Texas Tornados.

Fats Domino: The Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits the Way You Originally Heard Them (1949-61 [2002], Capitol): The canonical Fats was collected on the 2-LP Legendary Masters in 1971, reissued on a single CD in 1990 as My Blue Heaven: The Best of Fats Domino as a tie-in to the otherwise unrelated (and otherwise forgetable) Steve Martin movie. This one, tied into the Crescent City Soul series shares fourteen songs, swapping six to no benefit but little loss if you're not already set up. Me, I miss "The Big Beat," "I'm Ready," and "My Blue Heaven," but I wonder how the canonical set missed "It's You I Love" other than that it's a bit quirky. Domino's 4-CD box runs out of steam way short of the finish line, but I'd bet one could program a 2-CD set that would satisfy everyone. A [R]

Drive-By Truckers: The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities (2003-08 [2009], New West): A label-leaving kiss-off to the smartest Southern rock band ever after four straight good-to-great albums -- actually, the streak is longer going back to previous labels. Only twelve cuts -- four covers, two alternate takes, six others that didn't make the cut, mostly because they didn't rock hard enough even though most make up for it with wit, or at least feeling. The Tom T. Hall and the Warren Zevon show how far they can push their take on country and rock; Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" sounds great but unnecessary; "TVA" is an invaluable history lesson, lost on the anti-government folks who think the magic of the market lifted the rural South from the Dark Ages. A- [R]

Madonna: Like a Virgin (1984 [2001], Warner Brothers): Second album, her first number one, the title song still a concert staple even though she has plenty to choose from. It's hard to recall how abusive rock critics were when this came out. I recall hearing it while trolling in a Boston record store, reflecting that despite what I had read I found it pretty enjoyable -- especially "Over and Over," which was later repackaged on the critic-turning You Can Dance. It was at least an album one could doubt: Nile Rodgers was still producing real Chic albums; Cyndi Lauper's "Material Girl" was unnecessary and too easy; most importantly, she still had trouble turning around on a slow one, like the trite "Shoo-Bee-Doo" or "Love Don't Live Here Anymore." Reissue adds two remixes. B+(**) [R]

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars: Rise & Shine (2006 [2010], Cumbancha): Sierra Leone was founded by the British as a dumping ground for former slaves, mostly ones the British had promised freedom to in attempting to suppress America's Revolution. Since then the country has gone through one thing after another, including a major diamonds discovery -- a textbook case in the curse of natural resources -- and a brutal civil war starting in 1991, leaving the country third from the bottom in the UN's development index. The official language of Sierra Leone is English, and the local music has long drawn on models brought back from the Americas, like beleaguered free slaves -- notably calypso and reggae. This group mostly plays reggae -- dancehall and ragga, to be more precise, slipping in some slippery guitar and percussion from neighboring Afropop. Not exaclty a surprise, but a remarkably high-spirited recovery. A-

In Series:

PBS started its more/less country music showcase, Austin City Limits, back in 1976, and it's been running ever since. Austin-based label New West latched onto the rights to the broadcasts a few years back, and they've been kicking out CDs and DVDs ever since. I got hold of four of them back in November 2006, and rated them as follows:

  • Merle Haggard: Live From Austin TX (1985, New West) A-
  • Willie Nelson: Live From Austin TX (1990, New West) B+
  • Sir Douglas Quintet: Live From Austin TX (1981, New West) A-
  • Texas Tornados: Live From Austin TX (1990, New West) B+

I bumped into this series again recently, probably poking around the Johnny Cash reissues, and found a bunch of them on Rhapsody -- the only one known to exist but missing looks to be the most recent, a show by Drive-By Truckers that would have tied in nicely with the odds and sods collection above. Also missing are DVD-only releases by: Trace Atkins, Clarence Brown, Roy Buchanan, Calexico, Albert Collins, the Flatlanders, Ghostland Observatory, Norah Jones, Amos Lee, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tift Merritt, Billy Joe Shaver, Son Volt, the String Cheese Incident, Lucinda Williams, Widespread Panic. I managed to mop up everything else except for a sampler which has a couple of the Shaver tracks. Like live records everywhere, they consolidate the hits, occasionally feed off the crowd, and more often than not are redundant and superfluous. Haven't seen any of the videos, nor have I actually caught the broadcasts for more than a few minutes in passing here and there.

Dave Alvin: Live From Austin TX (1999 [2007], New West): Founded the Blasters with brother Phil Alvin; split after three albums, pursuing a solo career which peaked, artistically at least, with 1995's King of California, which this live set leans heavily, and therefore redundantly, upon. B+(**) [R]

Asleep at the Wheel: Live From Austin TX (1992 [2006], New West): Founded in 1969 as an old timey outfit in West Virginia, Ray Benson moved his band to Oakland then to Austin in 1974, where his interest in western swing led to some contacts -- guests here include Leon Rausch, Johnny Gimble, Eldon Shamblin, and Herb Remington; they lean toward Bob Wills tunes, but mix in things the band used to do, like a hot "Hot Rod Lincoln" and a less than classic "Route 66." B+(*) [R]

David Byrne: Live From Austin TX (2001 [2007], New West): Byrne's solo career has lingered longer but nowhere near as brightly, so mostly Talking Heads songs -- "Nothing But Flowers," "And She Was," "Once in a Lifetime," "This Must Be the Place," "Life During Wartime" -- supplemented with some of the worldbeats he's since picked up; I don't listen much to old faves -- Talking Heads albums topped my year-end three times from 1978-85 -- so these struck a personal chord, even though I reckon they're at least more canonical on Stop Making Sense. B+(***) [R]

Neko Case: Live From Austin TX (2003 [2007], New West): Flirted with alt-country early on, recording an album with the Sadies, but had more success as with the New Pornographers, a group I've never been able to peg, and ultimately with an equally inscrutable solo career; her voice starts out annoying, eventually settles into something both forceful and bland, around songs that, except for the Dylan cover, elude me. B- [R]

Johnny Cash: Live From Austin TX (1987 [2005], New West): Post-Columbia, voice still strong, starts with "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," "I Walk the Line," before he gets optional, including tunes from Guy Clark and John Prine that I associate with their authors, and a weak duet with June Carter, leaving this a bit short. B+(**) [R]

Guy Clark: Live From Austin TX (1989 [2007], New West): Texas singer-songwriter, seems like he put most of his best songs on his first album (1975's Old No. 1) -- still good for three songs here, along with lesser examples of his slyly observed and sometimes sentimental craft -- "Randall Knife" for his father and "Immigrant Eyes" for his grandfather. B+(**) [R]

Fats Domino: Live From Austin TX (1986 [2006], New West): Greatest hits live -- it's not like he needs to do anything more, especially for an hour set on country music turf; Lee Allen and Dave Bartholomew help out, leading a band that is loose as a goose and loaded with brass. B+(***) [R]

Steve Earle: Live From Austin TX (1986 [2004], New West): Made all the songs up save one from New Jersey "hillbilly" Bruce Springsteen; all the more remarkable given that he had only released one album, Guitar Town, but he barrels through it and well past it, encoring with "The Devil's Right Hand" -- who says guns don't kill people? -- and "Down the Road." A- [R]

Steve Earle: Live From Austin TX: November 12, 2000 (2000 [2008], New West): Seems like a rather somber set with key songs from a strong series of albums through the late 1990s -- "Hard Core Troubadour" the most self-conscious -- until it came together with a loud and relentless "Unrepentant," followed by a comment on the election and a sad "Christmas in Washington" about how little it seemed to mean: panning Ralph Nader, pining for Joe Hill, misunderestimating George W. Bush. B+(***) [R]

Kinky Friedman: Live From Austin TX (1975 [2007], New West): Famed Texas Jewboy, not much better than his jokes, which are as hit-and-miss as "Arsehole From El Paso" -- actually, sounds like "asshole," set to "Okie From Muskogee"; "Wile Man From Borneo" isn't, and "Homo Erectus" belongs in the Creation Museum, but he is right once: "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore." B [R]

Eliza Gilkyson: Live From Austin TX (2001 [2007], New West): Singer-songwriter, grew up in Hollywood where her father wrote songs like Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This"; I never noticed her before, but she has over a dozen albums, and her ten originals here are smart and seductive over spare guitar; eleventh song is a cover from someone named Dylan. B+(***) [R]

Guided by Voices: Live From Austin TX (2004 [2007], New West, 2CD): Robert Pollard's lo-fi postpunk band from Dayton, OH, been around since mid-1980s with a lot of quick and dirty albums; one irony is that a band which prides itself on 2-3 minute songs wound up with the series' only double -- overshoots barely at 88:56, evidently no one could figure out which of 30 songs might be done without -- the encore get better while the others fade in memory. B [R]

Merle Haggard: Live From Austin TX '78 (1978 [2008], New West): Haggard's previously released 1985 show is one of the best in the series; this one is exceptionally laid back but a vocal marvel, bookended by two working man songs, with "Cherokee Maiden" and "San Antonio Rose" in the mix, his fightin' side nowhere to be found. B+(**) [R]

John Hiatt: Live From Austin TX (1993 [2005], New West): Nashville veteran, originally from Indiana where he once killed an ant with his guitar, never considered country because he started out way too idiosyncratic a singer-songwriter then had a taste of success when he moved MOR; this tends to go with what brought the money. B+(*) [R]

Waylon Jennings: Live From Austin TX (1989 [2006], New West): Never been tempted to consider Jennings as a major artist, but over thirty years he's begged, borrowed, and occasionally even written enough songs to fill a set, and he finally grew out of his penchant for sounding whiney; even so, he namechecks Hank, Willie, and Bob Wills, and with Jessi Colter marries Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells, as if all he ever wanted to be was David Allan Coe. B+(***) [R]

Waylon Jennings: Live From Austin TX '84 (1984 [2008], New West): Earlier set, released later, seems more caught up in the outlaw thing, not that he always thinks it should be; actually a fairly mild set, especially for someone who sings "I've Always Been Crazy" and "I Ain't Living Long Like This." B+(**) [R]

Eric Johnson: Live From Austin TX (1988 [2005], New West): Guitarist from Austin, sings a little bit but not well enough or often enough to detract from his instrumental rock rep; a lot of fancy fretwork, nothing that strikes me as jazz (despite an original title "East Wes"); two Hendrix songs, but a much more subdued tone. B+(*) [R]

Robert Earl Keen: Live From Austin TX (2001 [2004], New West): Texas singer-songwriter, with more than a dozen albums since 1984, the sort of guy who might benefit from closer study but rarely inspires it; I hadn't bothered with him, but this does start to kick in toward the end. B+(*) [R]

Kris Kristofferson: Live From Austin TX (1981 [2006], New West): A fine actor, an occasionally inspired songwriter, a so-so singer; this ends a decade of working hard at his songcraft -- he didn't cut another album until '86 and then '90 -- so it's as representative and concentrated as he ever got, even if most songs (other than "Why Me" at the end) remind you of someone else. B [R]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Live From Austin TX (1983 [2007], New West): As "You Win Again" proves, a fine ballad singer, but lots of people are; Killer's real bread and butter is pure excitement on the piano, which is never more clear than in his rock-the-house ending here: "What'd I Say," "Great Balls of Fire," and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." A- [R]

John Mayall: Live From Austin TX (1993 [2007], New West): British blues band leader, would likely have remained as obscure as dozens others I can't recall but for his hiring Eric Clapton away from the Yardbirds in 1966; Clapton didn't stick long, and Mayall's been reshuffling talent ever since -- Chico Montoya is the hot hand here; about par for contemporary blues, strong on guitar, not much to sing about. B+(*) [R]

Delbert McClinton: Live From Austin TX (1982 [2006], New West): Lubbock singer, doesn't write much, plays some harmonica, leans toward blues, especially when he can line up a horn section; developed a small following in his especially prolific 1970s, which sets up this rousing, horn-filled, but not all that interesting set. B [R]

Cory Morrow: Live From Austin TX (2002 [2007], New West): Yet another Texas singer-songwriter, in one name-dropper claims he's "too young to have a point of view," but at least he has good taste in his Nashville models, and has a sound -- if he ever gets off the road and back into life he might have something to say. B+(**) [R]

Buck Owens: Live From Austin TX (1988 [2007], New West): Short set, runs just eleven songs totalling 29:36, standard stuff if you're familiar with Owens' songbook -- "Act Naturally," "Together Again," "Love's Gonna Live Here," "Crying Time," "Tiger by the Tail," etc., with two Chuck Berry songs to rev up the end. B+(*) [R]

The Polyphonic Spree: Live From Austin TX (2004 [2007], New West): Dallas-based self-described "choral symphonic rock" group, with 10-person choir, lots of instruments including violin, harp, French horn, and pedal steel; doesn't sound like a good idea, and isn't really, but sometimes they make something improbably magnificent. B [R]

Doug Sahm: Live From Austin TX (1975 [2007], New West): Post-Sir Douglas Quintet, although Sahm regrouped his fake Brit-invasion group for a memorable 1981 date, and he still feels compelled to close with "She's About a Mover" here; midway he croons "you can't live in Texas if you don't have a lot of soul" -- didn't add "or unless you're dumber than shit" because that case never occurred to him; great medley, lots of organ. A- [R]

Susan Tedeschi: Live From Austin TX (2003 [2004], New West): The best hyped of a spate of white female blues slingers coming out of the 1990s never struck me as someone with something to say, but her cover of Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today" surprised me, the Dylan was hard to fault, the organ pushed "Voodoo Woman" over the top, I found myself enjoying the guitar on "Lost Lover Blues," and she ended with John Prine. B+(*) [R]

Richard Thompson: Live From Austin TX (2001 [2005], New West): Ranks among English folksingers much like Jimi Hendrix to rock singer-songwriters -- an exceptional guitarist, an adequate vocalist, a songwriter of occasional note -- but he has seemed somewhat narrow ever since Linda Thompson left in the wake of their best album together -- memorialized here on the still powerful "Shoot Out the Lights." B+(***) [R]

Tony Joe White: Live From Austin TX (1980 [2006], New West): Louisiana swamp rat, part Cherokee, had a freak hit in "Polk Salad Annie" and wrote some songs you associate with others -- "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Mama Don't Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies" -- talks and sings over bare guitar riffs, including more than a few gators. B+(**) [R]

Dwight Yoakam: Live From Austin TX (1988 [2005], New West): From Kentucky, but adopted Buck Owens and Bakersfield for his twist on neotrad; three albums in, all it took for his first best-of; strong singer, solid songs, plus Flaco Jiminez gives him a Tex-Mex welcome. B+(**) [R]

Briefly Noted

Asleep at the Wheel: 20 Greatest Hits (1972-2003 [2003], Capitol): A fine backup band with a good record collection, Ray Benson's group never had any real hits of their own, but they could play other peoples' songs and occasionally slip an original in as moldy as their covers, and they've networked like crazy to find vocal alternatives to Benson's serviceable baritone; a good but inessential sampler. B+(**) [R]

Jim Guttmann: Bessarabian Breakdown (2009 [2010], Kleztone): Bassist, a founding member of Klezmer Conservatory Band, with so many old hands not really on his own, but he does manage to dispense with the vocals, and he perks up the rhythm with occasional Latin touches; also draws on Frank London and Alex Kontorovich, who threaten to break through klezmer into jazz at any time. B+(**)

Klezmer Conservatory Band: Old World Beat (1992, Rounder): An old-timey Yiddish Soul Music group, founded in Boston in 1980 by Hankus Netsky, full of conservatory-trained musicians who play the music fine without quite getting under its skin, much less bringing it into the modern world; one clue here is how much better the fast ones are than the slow ones. B+(*) [R]

Madonna: Celebration [Deluxe Edition] (1982-2009 [2009], Warner Brothers, 2CD): Plenty of later material to add a full disc to 1990's perfectly named The Immaculate Collection; I can't say they've picked the right ones, the new bait cuts are nothing special, and the non-chronological order tends to thin things out, but it's still an impressive show; a single-disc edition is also available, choicer, but still not immaculate. A- [R]

Tift Merritt: Home Is Loud (2005 [2009], Blue Rose): Limited edition live album after her second album, reissued a couple of albums later; plays her countryish songs loud, picking up some juice from the crowd. B+(**) [R]

S.E. Rogie: Palm Wine Guitar Music: The 60s Sound (1960-69 [2002], Cooking Vinyl): Early tracks from Sierra Leone's best known musician, shows a calypso influence at a much diminished level of wordplay, sweetened by his shimmering guitar, an affect not far removed from pedal steel; his stabs at American folk and cowboy music are amusingly inept -- check the yodel on "I Wish I Was a Cowboy." B+(*) [R]

Doug Sahm: San Antonio Rock: The Harlem Recordings 1957-1961 (1957-61 [2000], Norton): Sahm was born in 1941, so you can chuck his teenage recordings off as juvenilia, but you'll recognize the voice and note that his rock and roll was above par for the period's local bands; no keyboard, no Augie Meyers, fluffed up to 18 cuts with lots of alternate takes; reports say the booklet is loaded. B+(*) [R]

Tony Joe White: The Best of Tony Joe White (1969-73 [1994], Warner Archives): The "major label" years, reducing three Warners albums plus "Polk Salad Annie" from his three-album tenure at Monument into a tidy little package; at best an idiosyncratic swamp music storyteller, done few favors in the studio. B+(*) [R]

Dwight Yoakam: The Very Best of Dwight Yoakam (1986-2000 [2004], Rhino/Reprise): Third best-of, not counting some miscellany, the first looking for a hit, the second closing out the millennium but limited to the 1990s; only one newer song here, but some from the 1980s round out his career, always solid and most likely plateaued. A- [R]

Dwight Yoakam: Dwight Live (1994 [2009], Rhino Flashback): A deeper songbook, a little hotter, a bit more mature than the Austin City Limits set, but fundamentally redundant, as live hits albums tend to be, but strong enough to serve as a fine intro, and cheap at $6.97 list. B+(**) [R]

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered.

Update: Tom Lane wrote in to suggest that I had confused Tony Joe White's Mama/Cowboy song with Willie & Waylon's. Maybe I did, which weakens the association but doesn't eliminate it.

Additional Consumer News


Performance dates for Austin City Limits releases:

  • 1975: Kinky Friedman [CD|DVD]
  • 1975: Doug Sahm [CD|DVD]
  • 1970s: Roy Buchanan [DVD]
  • 1981: Sir Douglas Quintet [CD|DVD]
  • 1983: Jerry Lee Lewis [CD|DVD]
  • 1984: Waylon Jennings [CD|DVD]
  • 1985: Merle Haggard [CD|DVD]
  • 1988: Buck Owens [CD|DVD]
  • 1989: Waylon Jennings [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Guy Clark [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Eric Johnson [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Dwight Yoakam [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Johnny Cash [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Fats Domino [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Steve Earle [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Billy Joe Shaver [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Delbert McClinton [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Kris Kristofferson [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Tony Joe White [CD|DVD]
  • 1990: Willie Nelson [CD|DVD]
  • 1991: Texas Tornados [CD|DVD]
  • 1998: Lucinda Williams [DVD]
  • 1990s: Dave Alvin [CD|DVD]
  • 1990s: Lynyrd Skynyrd [DVD]
  • 1980s: Clarence Brown [DVD]
  • 1980s: Outlaw Country [CD|DVD]
  • 1980s: Son Volt [DVD]
  • 1980s: John Mayall [CD|DVD]
  • 1990s: Asleep at the Wheel [CD|DVD]
  • 1990s: Albert Collins [DVD]
  • 2000s: Drive-By Truckers [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Norah Jones [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Ghostland Observatory [DVD]
  • 2000s: Tift Merritt [DVD]
  • 2000s: Polyphonic Spree [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Guided by Voices [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Neko Case [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Susan Tedeschi [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Cory Morrow [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: The Flatlanders [DVD]
  • 2000s: David Byrne [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Eliza Gilkyson [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: The String Cheese Incident [DVD]
  • 2000s: Richard Thompson [CD|DVD]
  • 2000s: Robert Earl Keen [CD|DVD]
  • 2000: Steve Earle [CD|DVD]
  • : Calexico [DVD]
  • : Amos Lee [DVD]
  • : Widespread Panic [CD|DVD]

Copyright 2010 Tom Hull.