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  Listen Up! 1/24/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Jan. 24

Emory Joseph, “Labor & Spirits,” Capsaicin Records. This former St. Louis has some heavy hitters sitting in with him on what is apparently his debut album. Kenny Aronoff, Levon Helm, and Dave Mattacks take turns sitting in the drum chair, for instance. T-Bone Wolk plays bass, and Duke Levine contributes guitar parts. But, the record succeeds on the strength of the songs, some of which are really strong, and on Joseph’s pleasant vocals, which are kind of breathed out there like Jules Shear does, only more often on pitch. (Not that I would ever have a problem with Jules Shear, but I know when even my favorites miss notes.) Any way, for a first listen, this sounds pretty good to me.

Merle Travis, “Guitar Rags and a Too Fast Past,” Bear Family Records. Bear Family tends to overwhelm casual listeners like me. I’m blown away by the skills of Travis on guitar, and the depth of his songwriting talent, but I’m not likely to need five long, long CDs of this stuff for actual listening purposes. That said, the disc Lew put on is full of great cuts. About half are first rate classic country songs, and the other half instrumental rags made out of sources as diverse as “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Lazy River,” and “Rockabye Baby.”

Neville Brothers, “All My Relations,” A&M Records. I don’t remember even seeing this album before, though it came out in 1996. It’s a typically pleasant Neville Brothers album, with some gentle funk, some beautiful vocals from Aaron, some dull songs from Cyrille, and some nice harmonies. Nothing that will blow you away, but nothing that will make you cringe, either.

Jerry Lee Lewis, “16 Thrillers From the Killer,” Fuel 2000 Records. I have no idea what the source for this thing is. Fuel 2000 is a frustrating label, putting out lots of interesting and great reissues, often adding intelligent liner notes, and rarely telling us anything about the actual sources of the recordings. This is live, and I’d guess it can’t be older than the 1970s. It’s as good as any late period Killer, which is to say a very good way to spend a half hour or more of your life any time. I saw him about five years ago, with James Burton on guitar, and he was probably slightly more fired up than he is here. But, Jerry Lee ain’t about to lay down and not get worked up on stage. He’s sung most of these songs for 45 years now, and they are merely templates for delivering his magnificent sense of entitlement, power, and vitality.

--Steve Pick

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