"Rise" is not your typical blues album, although King has a rich, emotionally resonant voice and can bend a blue note with the best guitarists. It stands apart because it rings true to the soul of the blues in a way few discs do.
King knows the blues. His home in New Orleans was flooded during Hurricane Katrina, and he was forced, like so many others, to evacuate. And to compound that tragedy, not long afterward he lost his mother.
That sense of loss permeates much of the disc, which embellishes the blues style with gospel, folk, and a cover of "Big Yellow Taxi," because after all, in New Orleans a paradise of sorts was lost.
The 11-track CD begins with "What Would Jesus Do?" and "Faith," a track that resonates with Katrina images of "standing on roof tops/ 12 feet of water all around."
The soulful/gospel influence is strong, but while water imagery reappears on "Baptized in Dirty Water," the blues kick in on that slow-burning track with passionate and technically versatile lead guitar.
On other cuts, King writes of the sky "crying in New Orleans/ water rushing in through my door" ("Flow Mississippi Flow"); of Gabriel on "Deepest Ocean," and of death on a majestic version of "St. James Infirmary."
But after visions of destruction, King rounds off the disc with a simple, beautiful, and Celtic-styled folk lament "●'Tis The Last Rose of Summer," and, ultimately, with a song of hope - "What A Wonderful World."
It's a brave statement of belief in a better world after the devastation wrought by nature.
And it seals a CD on which King redefines the blues in a personal, raw, and emotional way, setting a new benchmark for the genre.
- RICHARD PATON
Cracker's eighth release is a melancholy hangover of a disc with a sense of regret and tired desperation lingering in the corners of nearly every cut.
It kicks off with two of the band's best songs in years: the sad ode to appreciating what you've just lost, "Something You Ain't Got," and "Maggie," a simple plea to a woman to take it easy with a man's heart.
From there, it's a travelogue through songwriter David Lowery's bruised psyche. "Greenland" is typical Cracker musically - a mix of Americana, hard rock, country - but lyrically Lowery's usual sardonic edge is tempered with a sadness that lurks in the heart of every song.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
This Albany, Ga., duo scored hits with 2000's "Project Dreams" and 2002's "Sick of Being Lonely," and since signing with Ludacris' Atlanta-based DTP label last year has been receiving more attention, scoring a Top 10 single with the Jazze Pha-produced "So What," featuring Ciara, which is included on "Light Poles."
The disc also features Smoke flexing his lyrical muscle on "Blacker The Berry," rhyming about his childhood issues with skin color. And Shawn J vents about his baby mama drama on "I Hate U So Much."
With tight production and strong lyrics, this should be the disc that takes Field Mob to the mainstream.
- ANDRE MONROE
The blues as heard through the vocal chords of this veteran artist is appropriately lowdown and authentic all the way to its roots, yet there is a sometimes subtle, but distinct, difference. Keb' Mo' brings a more contemporary sound to the blues party, adding steel dobro and pedal steel to the mix with the usual instruments.
His songs are more often stories than drawn-out laments, and he goes beyond well-worn blues rhythms and a solid beat in a groove.
The wide-ranging melodies are interesting in a different way than the standard riffs that serve as the musical backbone for many blues singers.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Vuckovich, an accomplished West Coast pianist who played with Toledo's Jon Hendricks in Scandinavia in the 1960s, produces a gorgeous, earthy sound on his first full-length disc with his own trio. Vuckovich found his way to San Francisco's bebop scene in the early 1950s after emigrating from Yugloslavia. There he found solace in jazz - something which seems evident in his soothing, earthy style and effortless playing as mixes in three of his own compositions, including one that draws from Dexter Gordon.
There also are unique takes on several film noir classics, among them a bouncy, jazzed-up version of Casablanca's theme song, which Vuckovich calls "As Time Goes By Mambo."
- TOM HENRY