Ei­ther side of the beat

Blues, jazz, funk or coun­try, MARK ELLEN’S al­bum se­lec­tions are smokin’

The Oldie - - CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE 2018 -

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

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