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  Listen Up! 11/14/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Nov. 14

The Blind Boys of Alabama, “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” Real World. I’m feeling like making a declaration, so here goes. This is the most wonderful Christmas record released in the last couple of decades. I’ve gotten so sick of pro forma runs through carols and seasonal pop tunes. Even when I’ve heard things I’ve liked a lot, they’ve been surrounded by drek, as if nobody could put together a consistently musical approach to these great songs. Well, the Blind Boys aren’t afraid of anything, I’d say. I’m not even saying every cut on here is a success, but they all take chances. There’s no point to singing “Little Drummer Boy” the same way 200 other recording artists have done it. So, why not make “Away In a Manger” a blues, and rope in Robert Randolph to play smoking steel guitar on it? Why not let Aaron Neville quaver away with a gorgeous rendition of “Joy to the World”? Why not let Me’shell Ndegeocello intone the words to “O Come All Ye Faithful” as if they were the latest poetry slam effort, while the most amazing male harmony group in the world today hums the melody in the background? There are only two cuts here without guest stars, which is both a complaint and a source of strength. Because the collaborations push the Blind Boys to try new things, I’m glad they’re here. But, the versions of “Last Month of the Year” and “Silent Night” are enough to stand up every hair on my body. If you like Christmas music, prepare to be overwhelmed. If you don’t think you like Christmas music, buy this one anyway. You may change your mind.

Al Green, “I Can’t Stop,” Blue Note Records. I just can’t get enough of this album. The world at large will know what I’m talking about starting next week, when this finally gets issued for sale. The only complaints I’ve heard from people are that the songs aren’t up to the standards of Green’s classics from the 70s. No, they probably aren’t among his ten best, but they are good enough, and Green’s vocals are at the top of his game. He’s singing like a master boxer, jabbing, feinting, socking hard when he needs to. And the musicians, many of them (including Teenie Hodges on guitar and his brother Leroy on bass) who played on the classics with him, sound fired up.

Richard “Groove” Holmes, “The Best of the Pacific Jazz Years,” Pacific Jazz Records. The Pacific Jazz Years lasted from 1961 through 1968, and the late St. Louis organist got to record with the likes of Gene Ammons, Ben Webster, Joe Pass, and Les McCann in those days. So, yeah, giants were walking the earth, and swing was the common denominator. This is one smokin’ hot collection.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Essential Bruce Springsteen,” Columbia Records. At first, I wasn’t too interested in this. I have every Springsteen album already, and they’re all well worth owning. Picking out only two CDs worth of great Springsteen songs would seem to be a formidable task. But, then I remembered how good the modern day remastering is getting, and even more, I remembered they haven’t done it to any of Springsteen’s work yet, so I had to own this. The rarities disc isn’t exactly revelatory, though it’s nice. The original version of “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)” is very cool – remember Dave Edmunds had a great version of this once. Since Springsteen’s box set of rarities a few years back scarfed up the best unreleased material, most of this is merely okay. But, as you may know, merely okay Springsteen is still pretty damn good.

--Steve Pick

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