Record Report (#5): August 31, 2006

Willie Egan: Wow Wow/Rockin' the Blues: The Complete Vita/Mambo Sessions (1955-56, Empire Musicwerks): A jump blues pianist from rural Louisiana. Some may complain that he sounds too much like too many others. On the other hand, the people he sounds like -- Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Otis Spann -- are greats, and he does them well enough to have developed a cult following. Once you've worked you way through those greats, if you're still not sated he's the kind of obscurity who can get your pulse hopping. A- [r&b]

Hallelujah Chicken Run Band: Take One (1974-79, Alula): Thomas Mapfumo's chimurenga -- the Shona music of struggle against Zimbabwe's colonialist regime -- starts here. The band was formed by the owners of the Mangura copper mine to play for their workers. They attracted young pros like Mapfumo, and won a record contract. Mapfumo only appears on four early tracks, but the band tracked his progress. Zimbabwe's music, as a glance at the map suggests, is a mix of South African melodic elements and Congolese guitar charge. This delivers both. A- [world]

Thomas Mapfumo: Spirits to Bite Our Ears: The Singles Collection (1977-1986, DBK): Comparisons to Bob Marley if anything understate Mapfumo's impact on Zimbabwe's struggle against colonialism. But unlike Marley, Mapfumo's lyrics, mostly in Shona, don't speak to us. Instead, we focus on the electric guitar, bass and drums that soup up his mbira-based chimurenga. He doesn't exactly rock out, but combines sweet and sour with an undertow of strength that signifies he means business. A- [world]

The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue (Definitive Jux): You know they're underground because they don't have the budget for commercial samples, but you suspect that also they figure the words should be hooks enough. But as alt-rap goes, DJ Fakts One's beats are downright effervescent, and rappers Akrobatik and Mr. Lif, with worthy solo albums under each belt, make a credible supergroup. The only false moment comes in their perplexed-soldiers-in-Iraq "Memorial Day" -- aren't they much too smart to fall for the war line? They even tell you Bush was bluffing. A [rap]

Bruce Robison: Eleven Stories (Sustain): Austin singer-songwriter, best known as the author of the Dixie Chicks' "Travelin' Soldier." His two covers, one from Webb Pierce and one from the Grateful Dead, jump out on the first spin. His own songs kick in more slowly. Their careful everyday observations remind me of John Prine in the details, but lacking the cosmic grace and humor. B+ [country]

Bob Rockwell Quartet: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (Stunt): Of course, you should start with the master: the tenor sax great crowned Duke Ellington's most legendary band, then broke out to become his generation's definitive balladeer. For his early work, see Ellington's Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band (Bluebird, 3 CDs, but you don't know jack about jazz if you missed this); on his own, good places to start include Soulville and King of the Tenors (Verve), Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (also Verve), and his session with überpianist Art Tatum, The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 8 (Pablo/OJC). But this one stands on its own. Rockwell's a mainstream tenor saxman who followed Webster to Copenhagen two decades later, settling into a respected if unspectacular career. He has the master's broad tone but none of his signature vibrato, so he keeps a respectful distance while luxuriating in a dozen ballads -- an easy tribute, but an undeniable pleasure. A- [jazz]