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  Listen Up! 11/21/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Nov. 21

Mindy Smith, “One Moment More,” Vanguard Records. Smith darn near steals the recent Dolly Parton tribute record, “Just Because I’m a Woman” with her stunning rendition of “Jolene.” So, I was pretty excited to be able to hear this advance of her forthcoming debut album (not due out until late January). The first cut, “Come to Jesus,” lives up to her promise, a dark, rumbling tone applied to an interesting song. Then, it all goes to crap. Suddenly, Smith’s sense of gravitas disappears, and her vocals become typical ethereal singer/songwriter crap. No melody, no punch, no suggestion of anything beyond immediate concerns. A song or two here and there may be a little more interesting, but mostly, this is a major failure of nerve.

Robert Bradley and Blackwater Surprise, “Still Lovin’ You,” Vanguard Records. I’ve heard about this guy for years, but never got around to actually hearing him. Here’s a soulful singer who got his start busking in the Detroit subway system before joining a bunch of average rock/r’n’b musicians in touring the country. The original Blackwater Surprise has apparently been replaced by an entirely new crew for this album. That’s about all I know, except the music on here is really good. Bradley never oversings, he has a pleasing, gravelly voice just perfect for the deliciously classic melodies he puts to these songs of love, devotion, and loss. A beautiful record.

Leon Russell, “Live at Gilley’s,” Q Records. This has been available for three years now, but I never saw it before. This is a very cool live recording from 1981, when Leon was one of the greatest live performers in the world. He’s got a killer band – no indication anywhere of who these guys are – and a great selection of mostly country songs. But this is country filtered through an old time gospel sensibility, revved up by a fiery rock’n’roll sound. The crowd is whooping it up in a frenzy, and Leon and his mates give it back as good as they get. A great addition to your Leon Russell catalogue.

Various Artists, “Maybe This Christmas Too?” Nettwerk Records. A new Christmas compilation that has three genuinely great cuts, and two or three other decent ones, is a victory in my books. Of course, I’m not paying for this. That’s your decision. How much do you love Rufus Wainwright? It’s no surprise to me that he’s got the best song here, a brand new knock-off about the Christmas season called “Spotlight On Christmas,” that could easily have fit on his “Want One,” the very finest record released in the year 2003, in case you didn’t remember. Eisley? Who the heck is Eisley? Whoever, they follow Rufus with an equally terrific orignal, “The Winter Song,” which is a pure pop pleasure. The third great cut comes courtesy of some country group called Oh Susanna, who contribute an amazing new take on “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” which includes verse material I can’t ever remember hearing before. The low points are the Flaming Lips oh-so-ironic take on “White Christmas,” and Dave Matthews’ bland original called “Christmas Song” which shows as much inspiration as he gave to the name.

Various Artists, “Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot,” Northernbluesmusic. I never much cared for Gordon Lightfoot, but I read a good review of this album. I figured, ya never know. Maybe I managed to overlook something. Nah, it’s not just the performance. I’m just not impressed with the songs. Melodically, they’re usually pretty dull. Lyrically, hm, I don’t know. If I could read your mind, blah, blah, blah. I do think Jesse Winchester nails “Sundown,” which is one of Lightfoot’s most memorable songs. And, the Cowboy Junkies rendition of “The Way I Feel” opens the record with a nice, gently rocking feel. But, eventually, the bathetic balladry takes over, and I lose interest completely.

--Steve Pick

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