When Bruce Springsteen hauled his Sessions Band on the road last year, only his hard-core fans were automatically convinced this daring experiment was worth seeing live.
Concerts that would've sold out with his E Street Band were only half full, and there seemed to be a collective decision in the Boss Nation that this was a show old-school fans could pass on.
Pity, because the shows were exuberant, joyful expressions of his love for American music and truly soul-stirring to see in person. For the folks who missed out on the action, Springsteen has released a double-CD collection and single DVD - sold separately but both called "Live In Dublin" - that do an excellent job of capturing a vibrant energy that practically crackles out of your speakers.
The Seeger Sessions band was large - 17 members, including backup singers, two fiddle players, and a horn section - and could've been unwieldy. But on tracks like "Old Dan Tucker," "O Mary Don't You Weep," and the anti-Bush scorcher "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" they're a supple, tight unit that finds room for the various instrumentations Springsteen called for in these boisterous, funky arrangements.
His reworking of old songs like "Open All Night," turned into a bawdy roadhouse workout; "If I Should Fall Behind," a country duet with wife Patti Scialfa, and "Growin' Up," given a loving folk treatment, are revelations.
The DVD's great, too, a no-nonsense production that under the direction of Thom Zimny effectively captures the shows' visual energy. Criticisms that there are too many quick-cut edits are unwarranted, and the sound quality is superb.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
With her third album, Wilson stays astride the horse she rode in on - proudly wearing the title of Redneck Woman, taken from the single of that name on her first release. Her second album, "All Jacked Up," again played heavily on the rough, tough side of country music, sort of like a feminine outlaw wannabe.
Now, Wilson mixes it up, singing about kicking butt in some tunes, while crooning sweetly and exuding warmth in others. With that warmth comes some real heat, however, as she shows a soft sexiness that wasn't apparent in most of her previous numbers.
Still, she emphasizes a harsh, in-your-face attitude in the uptempo stuff, not mincing words as she tries hard to maintain a female persona unique in contemporary country music. Yet, what weakens the believability of that hard edge is the huge gap between that sort of music and the ballads.
The poignant emotions of "Heaven Help Me" almost seem out of place when mixed with the raucous barn burners and George Jones-esque drinking songs. They are all done to perfection, however, so who really cares what mantle she chooses to wear.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
The band's moniker comes from a deadline the trio set itself to get a recording deal. Lucky for us things worked out, because its self-titled debut is rousing pop/rock, with a rich, guitar and piano-drenched sound contrasting with lyrics that are often somewhat downcast.
Think Keane, maybe even Snow Patrol for a frame of reference, with intense songs leavened by a strong pop melodic sensibility and wicked hooks.
The band has to make its mark in a hurry - the 10 tracks last only a little over 30 minutes - and it does so gloriously.
The disc is packed with short-but-oh-so-sweet pop gems like "Sleepless" with majestic guitar chords and an infectious chorus, or lush "What I've Done" with another killer chorus masking somber lyrics - "the darkness in my heart keeps me from letting go/ Of everything I fear the most," lead vocalist Josh Ballard sings- and rousing "Saddest Song." And that's just the opening three tracks.
Add poignant and mellow ballads with bittersweet melodies ("Unnoticed" and wonderful "Outer Space"), and fabulous, radio-friendly pop/rock ("Hindsight," and magical "This City") and you have a classic in the making.
- RICHARD PATON
Cajun bluesman Tab Benoit hails from the Louisiana bayou, but this is not simply a dedication album to his hurricane-devastated culture, even though the title track is a warning about Louisiana's love-hate affair with its mysterious lake near the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
On this disc, due to be released June 26, Benoit asks for shelter under the Lord's wings in a calm and collected style one minute, then puts a Cajun-blues twist on the protest movement classic, "For What It's Worth."
Through it all, he cooly weaves rock and soul with his native bayou sounds, always respectful of the line that divides roots music and mainstream, as he sings of love for women and his affection for home.
- TOM HENRY