Monday, Oct 24, 2016
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CD reviews: New release 'Man Alive' is solid solo outing from Stephen Stills


Stephen Stills (Pyramid)

This is Stills first solo CD in 14 years. The reason for the wait? He says that for a long time he would give songs to CSNY mates Graham Nash, David Crosby, and Neil Young, and finally decided: No more for them until he recorded his solo album.

His bandmates can t have been too upset by his decision as two of them, Nash and Young, join him for a couple of songs apiece here.

Stills remains one of rock s most emotive and recognizable singers. The proof s on his rocking Drivin Thunder with Neil Young, the song given added power from some sweet slide guitar, or equally tough rocker Round The Bend. And for a turn round the blues, he takes Booker T. Jones Old Man Trouble at a lazy pace with smooth keyboards, but he really lets it out vocally.

As you might expect, the softer side of Stills also emerges. It s in the island beat, lush harmonies, and socially conscious sentiment of Feed The People. And his trademark acoustic finger-picked guitar is evident on the country blues Different Man.

The centerpiece of the disc is the 11-plus minute Spanish Suite, sung in Spanish and English, and featuring Herbie Hancock. It s an ambitious piece, mellow with a distinct Spanish flavor both instrumentally a trumpet solo and acoustic guitar and in Stills vocal timbre.

Man Alive, due for release next week, is a solid solo return for Stills. He s not regurgitating old hits but making new music, though it seems immediately familiar because he has such an individual sound.



Various Artists (Superb)


Mark Isham (Superb)

These two discs from the movie Crash, packaged separately, are each outstanding in their own right. They re full of cool, evocative rhythms and sly backbeats that create feelings of anger to hope and darkness to inspiration, all in a somewhat avant garde style. Music From and Inspired By The Film is a seamless collection of rock, rap, and electronica expertly woven together with obvious care given to the lineup. Isham s original score is even better. It s stark at times and uplifting at others, but hits the right pitch between power, beauty, and melancholy. Both discs end on the same high note, with the Stereophonics performing Maybe Tomorrow.



Tinsley Ellis (Alligator)

There s something very special about live blues albums, and this one is no exception. The dozen dandies here were recorded in just two nights, and the only reason a second night was used was that Ellis appeared to play just a tad better. His stage band is solid and tight, a perfect complement to his low-down vocals and sizzling six-string. Ellis also wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes on the disc, which are often complex, switching from high-energy to laid-back, then cranking up to off-the-chart voltage.



Al Kooper (Favored Nations)

One of the truly legendary figures of rock, Kooper for 30 years has been laying low. Until now. Black Coffee is a thoroughly modern blues effort that over its 14 songs covers funky R&B-based pop on the opening track My Hands Are Tied to the smoky balladry of How My Ever Gonna Get Over You. He also includes live workouts on Green Onions and Comin Back in a Cadillac. The 61-year-old Kooper still has something viable to offer, which says a lot for his legacy as a musician and producer.



SHAMBHALA DANCE, Barbara Markay (My Thing Music) This is a delightful, exotic package of New Age/World Beat melodies and rhythms that make for good listening or meditation. Pianist/composer Markay blends flamenco, Asian, and Middle Eastern sounds with violins, guitars, and sensual background vocals. K.R.

OS 03, Various Artists mixed by Luke Fair (Bedrock) At first listen, Fair s mix CD sounds a bit all-the-same, with lots of tech-y, prog-y beats and electro influences. But listen again. Then the subtle funky undercurrent breaks through, the understated melodies can be heard, and the mix takes shape. Not an immediate hit, but worth delving into a few times to fully enjoy. R.P.

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