Record Report (#8): September 21, 2006

Big Al Anderson: After Hours (Legacy): He's the founder of NRBQ, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet -- a group meant to be to rock and roll what the Modern Jazz Quartet was to jazz, but wasn't because rock had no interest in genteel formalism. Warm, good-natured, folksy, everything you'd want except great. B+ [rock]

Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way (Open Wide/Columbia): The first three songs whine about how the country bigots blacklisted them, but while they offer no apologies -- they're "Not Ready to Make Nice" -- they're still taking "The Long Way Around," studiously avoiding repeating the words that got them trouble: something about Bush being an embarrassment to Texas. The fact is Texas has always been torn between the Waco rightists who rule and ruin, and the Austin hippies that make the music. They came from Austin, but I wish they'd be more forthright about it. B [country]

Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia): Constant touring has been good for Dylan, musically anyhow. Having a steady working band he can lean helps flesh out his underrated melodic ideas. It may also have helped him realize he doesn't have to be profound each time out, although he still has no problem dropping in clever couplets. With its blues and jazzy shuffles, this album feels less labored than any good album he's done in ages. After forty-some years, he's turned into a natural. A- [rock]

Jewels & Binoculars: Floater (Ramboy): Anyone who doubts Dylan the melodist should check this out. The group is a Netherlands-based trio with Michael Moore on clarinet and alto sax, Lindsey Horner on bass, and Michael Vatcher on drums. They've struck real Americana here: bits of folk, blues, and gospel that waft through the air on the light breeze of Moore's reeds. But the real surprise is how the respectful improvisations grow out of the melodies. Also recommended: the earlier Play the Music of Bob Dylan. A- [jazz]

Earl King: The Sonet Blues Story (1977, Verve): Born Earl Johnson, label owner Art Rupe meant to name him King Earl, but the typesetter thought better. So little of his early work remains in print that you can excuse him recutting it here. Producer Sam Charters calls this "the real New Orleans rock and roll," and he's right -- sweet, sly, good-natured, those good times just roll on and on. A- [r&b]

Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door): A couple years back Snider came to Wichita, opening for his label master, John Prine. His set recapitulated his live album, with wit clever enough it helped to have heard it before. But what commended him to Prine was only the start. Two albums later he rocks harder but his humor has a darker edge, mostly because the losers he relates to but never coddles have had rough years -- like the construction worker who learned in jail to "watch what you say to someone with nothing/it's almost like having it all." On the other hand, one song is about the winners -- a couple of frat boys who always got away with it, even at Camp David. A [rock]

Neil Young: Living With War (Reprise): I remember "the days of shock and awe" more as disgrace than anything else. What shocked and awed was how the politicians and pundits cozied up to the idea of killing folks to set them free -- a notion that George Orwell and Country Joe once played for irony. So "Let's Impeach the President" is a slam dunk, even though Young's analysis elsewhere leads him to foolishly propose Colin Powell to replace Bush, while his patriotic sentiments drag us through yet another "America the Beautiful." Still, "Roger and Out" is a good old Neil Young song, right down to the hippie highway. Wish there were more of them. B+ [rock]