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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: North Mississippi Allstars, Bob Marley and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2011

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North Mississippi Allstars

“Keys to the Kingdom”

Songs of the South

*** 1/2

“Keys to the Kingdom” is about the happiest album about death that you’re ever likely to hear. After the August 2009 death of their father, legendary Memphis producer and artist Jim Dickinson, NMAS’ Luther and Cody Dickinson came back from their other concerns — Luther in the Black Crowes, Cody and bassist Chris Chew in Hill Country Revue — and crafted a 12-song celebration of their father’s life, filled with sonic references to his work with the Rolling Stones, Big Star, the Flamin’ Groovies and many others. The songs reference mortality, of course, but in the most joyous way possible; it ends with the image of a man arriving in heaven and hoping “to see them angels shakin’ their heavenly thing.” That celebratory sensibility infuses “Keys to the Kingdom” with a life-affirming spirit heard on crunchy rockers such as “This A’Way,” “Hear the Hills,” “New Orleans Walkin’ Dead” and “How I Wish My Train Would Come,” the fervent gospel of “The Meeting,” the bluesy grind of “Ain’t None O’ Mine,” the rootsy hill country stomp of “Jumpercable Blues,” “Ol’ Cannonball” and “Jellyrollin’ All Over Heaven,” and a quick rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” Guests such as Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder and Alvin Youngblood Hart are also part of the party, while pianist Spooner Oldham and Funk Brother tambourinist Jack Ashford make essential contributions throughout. The credit for “Keys...” reads “Produced for Jim Dickinson, and it’s hard to imagine he’d be anything but proud of the send-off his boys have provided.


Bob Marley & the Wailers “Live Forever: The Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, September 23, 1980” (Tuff Gong/UMe) ***

There’s been no shortage of good and even great Bob Marley concert recordings over the years, including 1975’s seminal “Live!” and an assortment of archival releases and addendums for deluxe editions of his albums. “Live Forever” is not the late Jamaiccan legend’s best but it has enormous historical import as his final concert performance ever. Coming two days after the cancer-stricken Marley collapsed while jogging in New York City, it finds him charged if a bit ragged, while the Wailers are tight and swaggering behind him. Highlights include heady renditions of “Jamming,” “Positive Vibration,” “Them Belly Full” and “Exodus,” as well as a soulful rendering of “Redemption Song.” Less than eight months later Marley was dead, but on this night just about every little thing was indeed alright.

New & Noteworthy

The Civil Wars, “Barton Hollow” (Sensibility): After a live album, an EP and a “Grey’s Anatomy” hit (“Poison & Wine”), the rootsy Nashville duo delivers its full-length debut.

Steve Cole, “Moonlight” (Artistry): The contemporary jazz saxophonist teams with an orchestra and a rhythm section featuring members of the Yellowjackets and the Pat Metheny group.

Cowboy Mouth, “Mardis Gras” (Valley Entertainment): A five-song EP of N’awlins covers and an acoustic version of the original “The Avenue.”

Tina Dico, “Welcome Back Colour” (self-released): The Danish singer and Zero 7 collaborator’s two-disc set includes one of previous favorites and another of new material.

The Dirtbombs, “Party Store” (In the Red): The Detroit garage rock favorites put their spin on songs from the city’s rich techno scene, including nods to genre founders Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins.

Aretha Franklin, “The Great American Songbook” (Arista): While the Detroit soul queen continues to recuperate from surgery, fans can tuck into this new collection of 18 standards performed in her own inimitable style.

The Go! Team, “Rolling Blackouts” (Memphis Industries): The British troupe continues to fuse styles from roots to hip-hop on its third studio album, with help this time from members of fellow hipsters Deerhoof and Best Coast.

Paul Hardcastle, “Desire” (Trippin & Rhythm): The British keyboardist and electronic artist issues what he calls “the ultimate seductive album” just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Hot Club of Cowtown, “What Makes Bob Holler” (Proper American): The Texas swing trio pays tribute to Bob Wills with covers of 14 of his tunes.

Robert Hurst, “Bob Ya Head” (Bebob) and “Unrehurst Vol. 2” (Bebop): The Detroit-born jazz bassist delivers his first recordings as a bandleader in 10 years, with the former embracing electronica and the latter showcasing an acoustic trio live in New York City.

Bobby Long, “A Winter Tale” (ATO): The national debut from the British singer-songwriter whose first claim to fame came via the 2008 “Twilight” soundtrack.

David Lowery, “The Palace Guards” (429): The solo debut from the co-founder and frontman of Cracker and Campver Van Beethoven.

Ricky Martin, “Musica + Alma + Sexo” (Columbia/Sony Music Latin): Martin’s first studio album since 2005 is primarily in Spanish, though his duet with Joss Stone on “The Best Thing About Me” is a standout.

Matisyahu, “Live at Stubb’s Vol. II” (Fallen Sparks): The Hassidic performer returns to the Austin club that gave him his breakthrough with 2005’s “Live at Stubbs” for another CD/DVD set.

Marcus Miller, “A Night in Monte Carlo” (Concord Jazz): Trumpeter Roy Hargrove and guitarist Raul Midon are special guests on the jazz bassist’s live set recorded during November of 2008 in Monaca.

Gurf Morlix, “Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream” (Rootball): The veteran session hand, producer and artist pays tribute to late Austin fixture Foley, a beloved peer who was murdered in 1989.

Pushking, “The World as We Love It” (Eagle Rock): Alice Cooper, Kiss’s Paul Stanley, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Steve Vai are among the Western rockers helping the Russian rockers on this 19-song set.

Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle, “We Still Love Our Country” (Ninth Street Opus): The Austin (her)/Minneapolis (him) duo collaborates on a set that includes their own “Fire Alarm” as well as covers of songs by Townes Van Zandt, Chip Taylor, John Prince and the Everly Brothers/Nazareth hit “Love Hurts.”

Todd Snider, “Live: The Storyteller” (Aimless/Thirty Tigers): A welcome two-disc document of the Nashville troubadour’s pointed, topical and witty performing acumen.

From the Vaults: Billie Holiday, "Forever Lady Day" (Aao Music); Maysa, "The Very Best of..." (N-Coded Music); James McMurtry, "Childish Things" (Lightning Rod) and "Live in Aught Three" (Lightning Rod); George Michael, "Faith" (Columbia/Legacy); Rod Stewart, "The Best of...The Great American Songbook" (J)

New Music DVDs: Various Artists, "Best of Soul Train 2" (Time Life); Various Artists, "Essence Music Festival: Volume Three" (Music World) -- Gary Graff

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