Greg’s Grab Bag – Neil Young/Louis Prima/George Jones
Neil Young – A Treasure
Neil Young was a bit of an artistic chameleon in the early ‘80s, jumping quickly between disparate musical genres. In just five short years, he dabbled in a broad range of styles including acoustic country folk, hard rock, country, rockabilly and even synthesizer-based electronic music with vocoder-laden vocals, all without ever settling into one style for an extended amount of time. Although this is not a particularly memorable stage of Young’s storied career, a new archival live album gives a fresh perspective to his country music phase, especially his 1984-1985 tour with his supporting band, the International Harvesters.
Young recruited some of Nashville’s finest players including Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar) Spooner Oldham (piano), Rufus Thibodeaux (fiddle) and Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano) to give the International Harvesters the authentic country sound he desired. The 12 tracks on this set, pulled from different gigs with the band, showcase the band’s instrumental acumen while also demonstrating how easily Young slips into his country personae and how well his music translates to that genre. Young and the International Harvesters complemented each other nicely and this recording is the proof.
Young breathes new life into some older songs on this set. A twangier take on Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong” doesn’t stray too far from the original, while reworked versions of “Southern Pacific” and “Motor City,” both from Young’s 1981 rock album Re-ac-tor, improve upon the originals by trading in the characteristic Crazy Horse guitar crunch for a more laid back country sound.
Although the country updates of earlier Young compositions impress, the real treasure on this set comes in the form of five previously unreleased songs. The catchy and clever “Let Your Fingers Do The Walking” is an ideal slice of western heaven while the dramatically hard-charging “Grey Riders” is the perfect union of Young’s distinctly separate Crazy Horse and International Harvesters sounds. “Amber Jean,” a playful and simple ode to his daughter is another highlight.
On the album’s second track, Young poses the question, “Are you ready for the country?” Thanks to this outstanding new collection, the answer is a resounding yes.
Louis Prima with Sam Butera & Keely Smith – Jump, Jive An’ Wail: The Velvet Lounge
The latest installment in Bear Family Records’ Velvet Lounge series showcases the eccentric Louis Prima and his frequent collaborators, singer Keely Smith and saxophonist/vocalist/bandleader Sam Butera. Featuring recordings made between April 1956 and February 1962, this generous 30-track collection really captures Prima’s greatness as a vocalist, trumpeter, bandleader and his inate ability to entertain.
Prima is a hard artist to categorize because of the diversity of his sound. He performed styles like jazz, swing, straight popular music and even a little bit if rock and roll over the course of his career, but no matter what he was playing, Prima was consistently a high-energy and crowd-pleasing showman. That sense of fun comes across loud and clear on this collection, making it a very light and enjoyable listen from start to finish.
Most of the biggest songs associated with Prima make their way to the disc including “Oh Marie,” “Buona Sera,” Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” and a rousing live version of the funny “Angelina/Zooma Zooma” medley. As the album’s title suggests, “Jump, Jive An’ Wail,” arguably Prima’s best-known composition, is also highlighted as the collection’s lead-off track. Sam Butera sings lead on seven songs and his R&B tendencies nicely counter the three jazzier duets between Prima and the sultry Keely Smith.
As if the music weren’t enough, this set also includes an extensive 34-page booklet with lots of photos, a chronological discography of the album’s recordings and a nice essay penned by Billy Vera.
George Jones – Great Country Hits Of The ‘60s
Don’t be fooled by this album’s title, Great Country Hits Of The ‘60s is not a collection of George Jones’ biggest hits of the 1960s. Rather, this new 12-song set collects older recordings of “The Possum” singing some of the biggest country music singles from that decade as originally performed by other artists.
Jones’ distinctive and pure voice makes this is a pleasant enough collection of classic country cuts, there just isn’t much of a wow factor here. The singer’s straight rendition of the Dallas Frazier-penned weeper “There Goes My Everything” and his twangy and energetic version of “Six Days On The Road” stand out.
Two songs previously unreleased in North America are the most notable selections on this set. Jones’ take on Merle Haggard’s hits “Okie From Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side Of Me” both lack the fire of their original versions, but they still showcase the singer’s smooth vocals.
Until next time, enjoy the music!