Still playing that good old catch up game. Shout to Grassroots, once again, for a good chunk of this update. . .
Kenny Burrell —Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane (1958)
Can't believe I didn't already have this one. I've certainly had the chance to buy it on numerous previous occasions. Trane didn't record with guitarists very often, so it's a unique one in terms of his catalogue. And it's great to hear Kenny Burrell inspiring him to dig down and get soulful with his playing. The classic rhythm team of Paul Chambers (bass) and the always amazing Jimmy Cobb (drums) is assisted here by the great Tommy Flanagan on piano, so the whole thing is just a meeting of giants. The ballad 'Why Was I Born?' is a duet between Kenny and John and it's a good one. The super easy and groovin' Tommy Flanagan original 'Big Paul' closes the album on a downright badass note (check out Trane's long solo — it's almost like he's laughing at how good Jimmy Cobb is!). When Kenny finally enters for his solo nearly eight minutes in, the groove has hit simmer and it's just a masterpiece. The whole thing is just about as classic as it can get for this style and time period. Really excellent music. This generous person put the entire album up to stream, check it out.
Kenny Burrell — Blue Lights Volume One (1958)
Recorded about a month after the above album, this was definitely a Blue Note affair. Amongst the band here are definitely players that were known as Blue Note artists: Art Blakey on drums, Duke Jordan on piano and the one and only (and criminally underrated) Tina Brooks on tenor. As the title implies, this is a heavily bluesy affair, which makes sense, as it's essentially a jam session caught on tape. An interesting tune here is the long, album closing workout 'I Never Knew.' It's of note because Kenny had just recorded it on the album discussed above in a much more soul jazz groove. The version here swings a lot harder and it's interesting to hear what Tina Brooks (one of Trane's forgotten peers) does with his solo. Good stuff. The Andy Warhol cover art is pretty "groovy man."
R.E.M. — Eponymous (1980's)
Darn good hits collection. It's got all the reasons why R.E.M. got so popular in the 80's: 'So. Central Rain', 'Fall on Me', 'The One I Love' and 'It's the End of the World as We Know it.' The draw here for me as a huge fan are the four rarities: the even more garagey original recording of 'Radio Free Europe', the secondary take on 'Gardening at Night' where Michael Stipe nearly shouts his vocals, the "Mutual Drum Horn Mix" of 'Finest Worksong' that indeed adds a big cheesy 80's horn section and the otherwise unissued (at least at that point) 'Romance.' Good stuff. I can't imagine how overwhelmed I would be if this was my first time hearing some of these songs.
Chris Isaak — Silvertone (1985)
Very easy at this point to just write Chris Isaak off as a one hit wonder. A borderline crooner that managed to make a career out of one incredible song. But what a lot of us snobs like to ignore is that the guy had been recording since the mid-80's. And yeah, those first couple albums? Totally great the whole way through. Yeah, he sounds like Roy Orbison and Elvis vocally, but the musical backing here is a jangly, understated 80's update of the best aspects of those two icons. There's an incredible melodrama present, especially on this first album, that some people might hear as cheesy, but that I hear as an instance of how the infamous 80's production sheen could actually make someone sound entirely unique, despite clear as day influences. 'Back on Your Side' and 'Another Idea' are just a magically jangly numbers that somehow manage to validly conjure up images of Roy Orbison in equal measure with the Smiths. 'Funeral in the Rain' even manages to sound vaguely Cure-ish (!), while 'Gone Ridin' seems like the jumping off point for Morrissey's excursions into faux-rockabilly. I can't even convey how much butt this album kicks. Seriously, play 'Dancin' for anybody who doubts you when you say you like Chris Isaak (because, after hearing this album, you should). Beneath it all, there is a base of that good ol' twang, which keeps it all grounded and human. The pedal steel-laden ballad 'Western Stars' should be a good indicator of this. Man, it's good.
Chris Isaak — Chris Isaak (1987)
Basically just a reassertion of the first album. There's nothing here that stands out like anything from the first album, but it hangs together a lot stronger in the bigger picture. It's a bit darker in overall mood, highlighted by the single 'Blue Hotel.' 'Waiting for the Rain to Fall', despite being the album closer, is actually my favorite tune here. But the whole thing's great. It's perhaps a little less rockabilly-revival-ish than the first album is (if Silvertone can even have that tag thrown at it), but in place of that, it's even more jangly. Which is just a complete win for me. Check out 'Lie to Me' while you're at it. That's a good one too. Again: the whole album is strong. I've gotten into Chris Isaak previously, but I ditched him because of my own snobby inhibitions. This time, I can see clearly.
Kenny Burrell — Blues-The Common Ground (1968)
Kenny Burrell in his Verve prime hitting a perhaps predictable note. Horn charts and arrangements by Don Sebesky are definitely in the Creed Taylor mold of the time, so the band is not really allowed to let loose very much here. Kenny's up front the entire time and his solos are pretty much as good as always, it's just those big horn blasts mid solo that rub me the wrong way. A surprise cover of Buffalo Springfield's 'Everydays' kicks off the album, while the acid jazz of 'Burning Spear' gets funky funky. While elsewhere, Kenny explores his thoughtful side on the solo 'Were You There?' and the closing ballad 'Sausalito Nights.' It's not a total wash, as Kenny plays with his heart the entire time, but those larger arrangements do begin to grate after a while.
Kenny Burrell — Blue Bash! (1963)
Kenny and the godfather of soul jazz himself (that would be one very incredible Mr. Jimmy Smith on organ) getting down to it and meaning it. It's all quartets here, with Kenny and Jimmy taking the leads. Plenty of soulful licks here; just check out 'Travelin' for some serious business. The boys' take on 'Fever' is almost laughably good, while the ballad 'Easy Living' is as bluesy and beautiful as they come. The album closing rendition of 'Kenny's Sound' is in favorable contrast to the version recorded for Kenny's Blue Note session the same year, just on the basis of the sparseness of this recording. The bonus tracks on this 1999 reissue present the majority of the album in alternate takes, nearly doubling the running time (the highlight of which is the considerably longer take on 'Easy Living'). Early soul jazz at its best. Hard to go wrong here.