Laura Veirs
Troubled by the Fire
(Bella Union)

Easily my favorite record of the past year. Maybe the past five. How can these simple ditties be so wise? How can this music of banjos and Wurlitzers be so unpretentious? How can this voice, so unadorned and charming, deliver such a compelling masterpiece? You'll have a sweet time finding out.
Listen to: Ohio Clouds
Various Artists
Waza: Music of the Berta From the Blue Nile

Waza trumpet ensembles, an ancient tradition of the Berta, who live in the border region of Sudan and Ethiopia, comprise a dozen or so monotonic wood horns that create a stupefying, hallucinogenic mass of sound. The performers in these groups typically begin playing after sunset and continue the jam deep into the night, throwing down vertigo-inducing patterns, each horn adding to the undulating, overlapping, polyrhythmic wonderment.
Clarence Garlow
Clarence Garlow
(La Cienega)

Check out the first few bars of "Crawfishin'" and you'll know why this compilation—the first-ever full-length release of Garlow's music—made the cut. Garlow was a Louisiana-born R&B toiler who pioneered the early zydeco sound before moving to the Houston area where he spent years as a beloved radio jock on KJET. His landmark "Bon Ton Roula" from '49 isn't here, but two dozen other dancefloor fillers are.
Roswell Rudd with Toumani Diabate

Cram a jazz musician in a studio with an authentic African folk ensemble, and what's the typical result? Ersatz "world jazz" suitable for serenading Banana Republic shoppers, and little else. I usually avoid records like this and would have but for the presence of trombonist Roswell Rudd. With his hallmark speaking-through-the-horn sound, he blurts out his thoughts as if skanked up on truth serum. Overlooked and underappreciated, Rudd has appeared on precious few recordings. This one, as Rudd fans would expect, is magnificent.
Willie Nelson
Crazy: The Demo Sessions
(Sugar Hill)

A favorite indoor sport in Nashville is the chewing up and spitting out of earnest young songwriters. Nelson was a bit of gristle the town choked on in the early '60s. Prolific at writing tunes for others—he quickly penned smash hits for Faron Young, Patsy Cline and Ray Price—Nelson ached to move his own performing career out of the woodshed, and tales of his frustrated efforts are legendary. This fascinating collection of "not for public release" demonstration recordings, sporting weepers like "Opportunity to Cry," "I've Just Destroyed the World," and "Darkness on the Face of the Earth," reveals the ol' Redhead's state of mind during this period.
Cedric Im Brooks
Cedric Im Brooks & the Light of Saba
(Honest Jon's)

While many of his Jamaican compatriots were dabbling in Rastafarianism or mainlining Memphis soul, the sax-wielding Brooks fell under the spell of two religions: the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and John Coltrane. Brooks moved to the U.S. in the late '60s, to study music and pray closer to the "new jazz" godhead, winding up in Philly where he gigged with his neighbor Sun Ra. Back in Jamaica, he formed Light of Saba, a troupe of musician-mystics who developed a pan-Caribbean sound incorporating jazz, Afro-beat, rhumba and r&b—often propelled by a sweet but insistent Nyabinghi drumbeat. All that and more is here on these newly reissued tracks from the '70s.
Rev. Charlie Jackson
God's Got It

Corporeal and smoldering, the blues is the Devil's instrument. But fear not. God, never one to shrink from a fight, met fire with fire in the form of this sanctified soul-saving guitar slinger. Still active today, Jackson has been preaching and reaching for his Fender Mustang for over half a century, beating the Devil at his own game. Traded by few and coveted by many, these earthy, passionate gospel recordings have for years represented a holy grail of sorts for record collectors in the know.
Roxy Gordon
Crazy Horse Never Died

A posthumous release of spoken-words-set-to-music from this gentle West Texas outlaw misfit part-Choctaw adopted Assiniboine poet activist comrade of Townes and Brautigan storyteller magical realist troubadour stone cold American original.
Gétachèw Mèkurya
Ethiopiques Volume 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax
(Buda Musique)

Listen for ten seconds to any solo by this titan of Ethiopian saxophone and his primary influence seems obvious: free-jazz apostle Albert Ayler. But Mèkurya, only a year older than Ayler, actually began playing professionally when his American counterpart—whom he has never heard—was still taking private lessons. Chronologies aside, the abundant points of comparison are separated-at-birth spooky. They both play with a strained, breathless attack; a chanted-not-sung delivery; a wildly oscillating vibrato; and a pacific lyricism thinly veiling a molten spirit.
Babby Dodds
Talking and Drum Solos (& Country Brass Bands)

The story of Warren "Baby" Dodds is the story of early jazz. Born in New Orleans, he got his start as a kid drummer in parade bands. Later he jammed with his clarinet-playing brother, Johnny, in Kid Ory's outfit, joined up with Louis Armstrong while working the riverboat circuit, then hit the Chicago scene as a mainstay in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. By 1946, Dodds had seen, done and played it all, including a series of unusual-for-the time drum solos, released on a 10" LP by Folkways, that make up the bulk of this historic document. Also included are some fascinating reminiscences Dodds committed to wax that explain his pioneering technique.
Tom Brosseau
Tom Brosseau
(Bed Pan)

The old-timey music of the '20s and '30s was actually a revival of the music of an era half a century before. Tom Brosseau, a 27-year-old North Dakota native, sings songs of lost love that shimmer like aural tintypes, harkening back to that earlier time. His guitar is lovely, a harmonica adds color, the pump organ is a masterful touch. But the ingredient in this mix that will flat out give you chills is Brosseau's voice, which sounds eerily like a high-lonesome reincarnation of Jeff Buckley—with faint echoes of Karen Dalton.
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