Either side of the beat
Blues, jazz, funk or country, MARK ELLEN’S album selections are smokin’
The historic big encounter between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took place on 17th October 1961 at Dartford station – a magnetic coming-together since Mick was carrying some rare blues albums and Keith had a guitar. I dare say thunderbolts cracked in the heavens. Coming out on 9th November, the fabulous Confessin’ The Blues, compiled by the Rolling Stones, contains 42 classic tracks they adored and often played on the early Sixties club circuit, among them Howlin’ Wolf’s haunting Little Red
Rooster, John Lee Hooker’s locomotive Boogie Chillen’ and rippling tunes by Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James. There’ll also be a vinyl version of this sumptuous package, with a book pack that echoes the original 78rpm releases: magnificent (BMGCAT 155EPXX £12-£60).
Also reliving her past is ‘new traditionalist’ country singersongwriter Kelly Willis. If your idea of country music involves rhinestone-encrusted cowgirls with maudlin tales of domestic tension then Back Being Blue ought to cleanse the palate, recorded in her rural Texan studio and echoing the rockabilly, blues and western swing of her Sixties youth. She has a voice so gorgeous it makes my vest run up my back like a window blind (Premium B07B5B23XY £9.99).
The reigning king of country is still, of course, the divinely weatherbeaten Willie Nelson, now 82, whose back catalogue includes excursions into the Great American Songbook and covers of Gershwin gems. He’s just released My Way, his version of songs made famous by old friend and rival Frank Sinatra (including Fly Me
To The Moon, Summer Wind and It Was A Very Good Year), all delivered in that aching, bourbon-stained tenor and embroidered with soft orchestral arrangements and the spangled twang of his gut-stringed guitar (Legacy B07FKF5L8J £9.99).
Elvis Costello adored Sinatra too and grew up with the symphonic pop and rich balladry of the great Tin Pan Alley composers, so it’s fitting that three of the tracks on this new album are co-written with two of his heroes, Carole King and Burt Bacharach (who supplies the piano). His voice isn’t as demanding as it used to be and the raw and accelerated pitch of old has evolved to a wistful middleaged curiosity. Look Now is a collection of prying vignettes about the lives of others and nervous squints in the rear-view mirror (Decca B07FSW11KJ £12.99). John Prine’s wise and whimsical Tree Of Forgiveness (Oh Boy
B079FLRBVM £9.99) finds him whooping it up in the present as befits a seasoned American singersongwriter, whose backing group includes someone on ‘handclaps and kazoo’. There’s a compelling jug band pace to a fast number that recommends strong cocktails and ‘a cigarette that’s nine-miles long’.
The good times surge onwards with the return of funk-dance troupe Chic, 30 years after their hay-making hits Le Freak and I Want Your Love, which it now seems quaint to call disco. Happily, the crisp and nostalgic It’s About Time takes up where they left off (Virgin B07DL34R8F £9.99).
Aretha Franklin died in August, leaving a legacy of immaculate recordings. If you need reminding of her dynamic range and breathtaking ability to lift the spirits, it’s hard to beat the 1968 album that sealed her reputation, Lady Soul, which includes Chain Of Fools and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. She had a head-spinning way of sounding tough, tender, broken and triumphant in the space of seconds, while swinging magically either side of the beat. Hear this and you feel giddy and liberated. You feel ten feet tall (Atlantic B0028SEMVK £5.99).
Another solid gold legend in the news this year was jazz composer and saxophonist John Coltrane. On March 6th 1963 he and his classic quartet taped an entire album in New Jersey. He took it home, stuck it in a cupboard and made another record next day. It has finally surfaced, 55 years later, as Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album. Flag down a glass of full-bodied red and a wedge of Stilton and immerse yourself in its skittering drums, clambering bass, curdled piano chords and the mesmerising ribbon of notes from Coltrane’s sax, as they chisel their fragile tunes from the ether. And feel smug that you own an unearthed treasure. As the venerated jazzer Sonny Rollins puts it, ‘a lost Coltrane album is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid’ (Decca B07D4ZP9K3 £13.99). Note: retail prices may vary
John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson