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Slip another quarter into the jukebox

By Greg Cahill

J. J. Johnson Heroes Verve

A WELCOME RETURN by the former Basie sideman and bop-era trombone great who waxes mostly melodic on this strong outing (accompanied by pianist Renee Rosnes, reedman Don Faulk, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Victor Lewis). But listen to him growl and groan on "Thelonious the Onliest," an angular and dangerous-sounding track inspired by Thelonious Monk. At a mere three minutes and two seconds, it's the shortest song, but worth the price of admission alone.

Snooky Pryor Shake My Hand Blind Pig

I WOULDN'T GIVE you 10 cents for Blues Traveler and that hyperactive harp player that fronts the band. But I would walk through hell in a gasoline suit to catch this pioneer of the amplified harmonica, a man who understands the true art of saying more with less. Every track on this blues-drenched CD epitomizes the blue-collar grace of postwar Chicago blues. His cover of the Hank Ballard chestnut "Work with Me Annie" simply drips with conviction. Buy one for yourself, and a friend.

Aston "Familyman" Barrett Cobra Style Heartbeat

AS LONGTIME bassist to Bob Marley and the Wailers, Burning Spear, and many other reggae legends, the Familyman delivered a drop-dead bottom that helped define the genre. "Distant Drums" is the kind of laid-back ganga-soaked instrumental dub (Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer contribute special effects) that marked those glorious pre-dance hall days when nobody was making any money at this and the production was profoundly primal.

Abbey Lincoln Wholly Earth Verve

OK, it's a cliché to say that someone could sing the phone book and make it sound soulful, but with Abbey Lincoln it's true. Case in point: Who else could take a ditty like "If I Only Had a Brain" and--thanks in no small part to the enchanting vibes playing of the underrated Bobby Hutcherson--transform it into a spellbinding lament utterly devoid of any childishness while playfully wrapping her voice around the melody? With the recent deaths of jazz vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter, Lincoln steps to the forefront as the reigning jazz diva. Hail!

Gary Floyd Backdoor Preacher Man Innerstate

SINGER, SONGWRITER, and guitarist Gary Floyd made a pretty big splash (in cult circles at least) a couple of years ago as the driving force behind the Bay Area-based Sister Double Happiness. Here he mixes a handful of originals with such traditional country and blues as Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground." But Floyd gets down and dirty on the soon-to-be-a-rockabilly classic "A Better Man," a feverish lament full of woe. Pass the Lord, and praise the bottle, pardner.

Dave Biller and Jeremy Wakefield The Hot Guitars of Biller and Wakefield Hightone

LES PAUL meets Speedy West at a western swing hoedown. Labelmate Big Sandy drops in for a guest appearance, as does San Francisco alt-country heavyweight and co-producer Deke Dickerson. The track "Guitars on Fire" tells the boys' story, with lots of twangy telecaster helping to make "all that racket from wood and wire." The lo-fi production is a real charmer. Crank it way up.

Red Garland I Left My Heart ... 32 Jazz

DO YOU THINK God loves jazz players? Heaven knows there are some sweet sounds on high if they had the good sense to give the late Red Garland a set of keyboards. This Dallas-born pianist, who worked in Miles Davis' band from 1955 to 1958, was known as an idiosyncratic stylist whose tinkly right-hand solos were, well, divine. Need proof? Check out the soulful rendition of Percy Mayfield's classic "Please Send Me Someone to Love," newly released on this live 1972 date recorded at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco (and featuring Sonoma County bass player Chris Amberger). It's simply to die for.

From the March 11-17, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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