The U.S.-Mexico border isn’t open, but a migrant surge and a mishmash of messages and policies have created another crisis
Sorry You Couldn’t Make It by Swamp Dogg: Technically, the version of Johnny Paycheck’s “She’s All I Got” on this part-country, part-soul, part-country-soul follow-up to 2018’s all-Auto-Tuned Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune isn’t a cover. Why? Because Swamp Dogg (under his real name, Jerry Williams Jr.) co-wrote it about 40 years ago, right around the time that he was springing his out-of-the-box soul-man routine on an unsuspecting public. That that public never paid much attention says more about it than it does about Williams. It also means that for lots of folks each new release of his may as well be his first. He’s 77, and his voice has seldom sounded brighter. John Prine, meanwhile, guests on “Memories” and “Please Let Me Go Round Again,” making this album part-epitaph too.
Everything Is Gonna Be Alright: Celebrating 50 Years of Westbound Soul & Funk by various artists: Detroit was home to both Westbound and Motown, so it’s no surprise that they rubbed off on each other—that a Temptations riff, for example, found its way into the Fantastic Four’s “Alvin Stone,” that the Jackson 5 decided to cover Funkadelic’s “I’ll Bet You,” and that the opening bars of Melvin Sparks’ “Get Ya Some” wound up undergirding Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” But whereas Motown acts usually functioned as emissaries of their company’s sonic brand, Westbound’s functioned more like independent contractors, sometimes very independent. No way would Motown have ever countenanced Donald Austin’s bare-bones “Crazy Legs,” Ohio Players’ sillier-than-thou “Funky Worm,” or C.J. & Co.’s disco-gospel “Devil’s Gun.” It’s a good thing Detroit was big enough for both of them.
Jesus Was Eclectic (Decades) by Darlene McCoy: The last word in this EP’s title, “Decades,” refers to McCoy’s attempt to reflect with each song the R&B sensibilities of a different era. Hence the wah-wah guitars of “Turn” (the ’70s song), the shimmering synthesizers of “Life” (’80s), the new jack swing of “Even Me” (’90s)—you get the idea. But to focus overmuch on McCoy’s gimmick is to miss the whole point of the first word in her EP’s title, “Jesus,” and, with it, to miss the forest for the trees. For whether McCoy is singing “It’s time to get back to God” or “Take up your bed and walk,” she’s exhorting for eternity.
Hide & Seek: The Lost Collection by Tom Jones: Maybe it’s simply their obscurity, but these 29 swings and misses from one of pop music’s heaviest hitters (19 U.S. Top 40 appearances, over 30 U.K.) sound fresh enough to qualify Jones for Rookie of the Year. (OK, no more American baseball metaphors.) In other words, undistracted by the extravagant kitsch for which Jones is best known (“Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat?,” etc.), listeners can banish from their minds images of Jones the overheated showman and concentrate on Jones the adaptable pop stylist. It’s not as if you can’t hear Vegas calling. But for the most part he doesn’t rise any higher to the occasions than the occasions demand. Prize oddity: “Keep a Talkin’ ’Bout Love,” which goes “Think about the Jesus way.”
Two of the most gifted musicians from the Acadiana region of Louisiana have released strong new albums. Blacktop Run (Provogue) is the latest by slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Lâcher Prise (Compass), the latest by fiddler and BeauSoleil leader Michael Doucet. Both rollick up a storm.
Six of Blacktop Run’s songs feature Landreth’s voice. The other four leave the singing to his guitar. Ordinarily, especially with a celebrated instrumentalist, such a ratio might signal compromise. But Landreth has always been an above-average lyricist and singer, and he continues to improve as both. And the instrumentals, in which the blues is a jumping-off point rather than a destination, really do cook.
Speaking of cooking, Michael Doucet’s Lâcher Prise is a prime example of why gumbo is the go-to metaphor for Acadiana music: Both have lots of ingredients, and both are hard to resist. Floating around in Doucet’s current soup are zydeco, the two-step, gypsy blues, and, believe it or not, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.