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Noteworthy recent albums

Noteworthy recent albums

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm 

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm

It’s surprising how Hi Records–worthy Cray can make his voice sound, especially on the slow numbers “You Had My Heart” and “Aspen, Colorado.” It’s almost as surprising as how discreetly the drummer (and producer) Steve Jordan locks in with Leroy Hodges’ bass and Charles Hodges’ organ. What’s not surprising is that Cray’s politics are standard-issue prog-lib, a fact that he makes clear in “Just How Low” by coming out against walls. Seriously, what do such people think is holding up the roofs over their heads?

Transatlantica 

Bill Kirchen, Austin de Lone

The U.S. edition (black cover, white lettering) of this Bakersfield-country/pub-rock showcase came out last year. This 2017 U.K. edition (white cover, black lettering) boasts two bonus cuts, one a run-through of the novelty classic “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette).” In versions by Tex Williams and Phil Harris respectively, it topped the charts twice in 1947, and its inclusion here is enough to nudge the album onto Doug Sahm turf, which remains an ideal place for roots rockers to sink their roots into.

Recorded Live In Lafayette

Sonny Landreth

Venues don’t come more performer friendly than Lafayette, La.’s Acadiana Center for the Arts, and Landreth is a hometown hero. So he might’ve been forgiven for flexing his muscles and approaching this blues-based material like a home-run derby. Instead, he eases into it like a skilled contact hitter. But enough with the baseball similes. “The U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile” concludes the acoustic half with motorvating aplomb, and an instrumental triptych overrides the electric half’s cruise control. And his guitarist’s guitarist reputation notwithstanding, Landreth sure can sing.

Tajmo 

Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’

Mo’s smooth blues voice and Mahal’s gravelly one don’t blend, but they do gel. And the relief that each singer seems to derive from not having to carry an entire song by himself gives the album a relaxed, playful mood. That mood cools the heat of the sexy double-entendres and makes the universal-brotherhood anthem “All Around the World” seem more innocent than naïve. And speaking of innocence, the contexts of at least two of the three songs in which the sexy double-entendres occur are marital.

Laura Farr/Zuma Press/Newscom

Raspberries (Laura Farr/Zuma Press/Newscom)

ENCORE

On the evening of the day after Thanksgiving 2004, the four original members of Raspberries, the band best known for its top-five paean to teenage hormones “Go All the Way,” inaugurated Cleveland’s House of Blues with their first concert in over 30 years. Had they phoned it in, the event might’ve sunk beneath the waters of Lethe. Instead, they played, sang, and interacted with the crowd as if they might never get the chance again.

With Pop Art Live (Omnivore), that show finally takes hard-copy shape. But its hooks, harmonies, and inspired Beatles covers notwithstanding, the event feels somewhat anti-climactic, if only because similar versions of 19 of the 28 tracks have long been available on Live on Sunset Strip (Rykodisc’s document of an October 2005 Raspberries show). Will Pop Art’s superiority (more songs, fewer and smoother edits) end up kicking Sunset Strip to the curb? Probably. But that a competition even exists undercuts the fun. —A.O.