Al Kooper is one of the true unsung heroes of popular music over the last 40 years.
His resume contains everything from playing the definitive organ line on Bob Dylan's “Like a Rolling Stone,” to redefining how horns are arranged in a rock band by forming Blood Sweat and Tears, to helping establish the sound of southern rock by producing Lynyrd Skynyrd's early albums.
He has also created his own body of work that gets a much-deserved exploration on this 33-song, two-disc retrospective that includes material spanning 1964 to this year.
Included among the previously released material are the definitive 11-plus minute version of “Season of the Witch,” with Stephen Stills on guitar; classic blues workouts like “I Can't Keep Her From Crying Sometimes” and “Albert's Shuffle,” and Kooper's version of “This Diamond Ring,” which was a hit for Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
The 18 unreleased rarities are a little more spotty, revealing a few experiments that went awry. But they also include a wildly inventive big band rearrangement of “Hey Jude” and dead-on homages to the Beach Boys and The Band.
Serious fans of rock and roll should own “Rare & Well Done.” Not only is it a fascinating peek into one of the music's most creative minds, but it's also an excellent set of blues, pop, and rock that goes well with any party.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
These three talented young ladies just graduated from high school and into contemporary country success. The teen trio blends fine voices on some dandy songs, trading lead vocals and some of the most beautiful harmonies heard in ages. The lyrics and melodies avoid the pitfall of sounding inexperienced, rather matching in maturity what many veterans are doing. In this case, it simply sounds fresher.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
From Saving Private Ryan to Platoon, great war movies have become synonymous with great classical music. The best know when to hold something back and eventually strike a compassionate chord. This original score by Oscar-nominated composer Michael Kamen is another one that manages to capture the power, passion, and hope of its subject matter. Written for the HBO miniseries, this soundtrack earns a place next to other albums of its kind.
- TOM HENRY
Today, Basement Jaxx are top writers and producers of dance music, and their recent disc, “Rooty,” made chart inroads. This compilation is the roots of “Rooty” in a sense; it contains tracks released by Jaxx and other artists on their Atlantic Jaxx label, going back to 1994. Predominantly in the house style, some cuts add a nicely rhythmic Latin edge or soulful vocals and even Gap Band-style, bass-heavy funk. Others have not withstood the test of time, but overall this is a retrospective with up-to-date appeal.
- RICHARD PATON
Charlie Hunter on 8-string guitar, John Ellis on tenor sax, and Chris Lovejoy and Stephen Chopek on drums and percussion step way off the track into soul, funk, blues, and rock. Playing to Hunter's vision is the appearance, on a number of tracks, of modern singers, including rapper Mos Def and Norah Jones. High-energy soul is spread across this disc, but there is a sleeper here — “Spoonful,” a blues number featuring vocals by Theryl De Clouet. It is mournful and sad, with sax and voice making these blues especially spooky.
- LARRY ROBERTS
Once again, and it's no surprise, Yearwood delivers an album of solid, mature, contemporary country. There's some slick production work here, but it's still Yearwood's powerful voice that keeps you coming back for more. The musicianship is very good, as expected, occasionally with a twist or two in the beat, and restraint is shown to let those splendid vocals shine through. The tunes are fresh, the lyrics grab attention, and the delivery holds it tightly.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
“Glitter” is the soundtrack to Carey's motion picture debut by the same name - an ode to the '80s heavy on the dance sounds of groups such as Cameo, Atlantic Starr, and Klymaxx. Carey kicks off with “Loverboy,” the remake of Cameo's 1987 hit, “Candy.” She also performs versions of Cherelle's “I Didn't Mean to Turn You On” and “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” and dabbles in rap. Plus, no Carey album would be complete without her ever-present ballads. She appears to be growing into her voice, which is richer, deeper, and better.
- JOHN HARRIS