Live albums can be many things, from career-defining to a dreary repetition of hit songs minus the saving grace of studio production. And occasionally they shed new light on an artist, exposing manifold facets of their talent, bringing a fresh appreciation for their songs and performance.
The latter is the case with Mayer's 2-CD set.
The first disc comprises a five-song acoustic set and an eight-song set with the John Mayer Trio. Disc Two is nine tracks featuring several from his Grammy-winning "Continuum" album as Mayer fronts a full band.
The acoustic set establishes his bona fides as a versatile and fluid guitarist as well as a singer with a nicely emotional, sometimes raspy quality to his voice. That's a feeling reinforced in his trio set that includes blues workouts such as the standard "Everyday I Have The Blues'' and also a version of Hendrix's "Bold As Love."
The full-band set allows Mayer to stretch out on guitar, mixing up fluid solos, chunky riffs, and both blues and rock stylings. It also permits a focus to be put on his chops as a singer on songs that have melody and musical punch in about equal measure.
"Where The Light Is" is a fine live CD - and a good overview of Mayer's musical range. But more than anything, it sets an exclamation point on his trifecta of abilities as guitarist, songwriter, and singer.
- RICHARD PATON
Chicago-style blues guitar giant Buddy Guy comes out firing so fast and hard on his latest release that he puts the rest of the 11 songs on "Skin Deep" in jeopardy of being let-downs.
Not to worry, though. Despite the scorched-earth assault of "Best Damn Fool," which features a series of down and dirty solos and a smoking blues funk drive, Guy maintains his grip and produces another stellar album.
Working with guest artists Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Eric Clapton, and Robert Randolph, Guy never cedes his alpha guitarist status despite their star power. In fact, with the exception of Tedeschi and Clapton, who take some vocal turns, it's hard to recognize the contributions of anyone but Guy.
He might be 62 years old, but there's no stutter in his step, and songs like "Show Me the Money," "Lyin' Like A Dog," and the ode to all the blues greats who've come before him, "Who's Gonna Fill Those Shoes" are a testament to experience over youth.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Gaines brings an unusual list of accomplishments to her career as singer/songwriter/television host. She became a world-champion snowboarder and well-known fly fisherman by day while she honed her singing skills in the evenings in bars in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Later, she was the host of shows on MTV and ESPN2, using her own musical creations as theme songs.
Now she's placing the emphasis on her singing career, dipping deep into an extensive repertoire of her own songs. Gaines describes her music as hippie country, Southern rock, and that pretty much covers it. Her voice moves from smooth and sultry to a smoky growl, mixing rootsy blues with the country and the rock.
The dozen numbers here don't fall neatly in any sort of traditional category. They're quintessential Gaines, which means unique and completely non-establishment. It's those qualities that make it worth a listen. You can pour a shot of "Whiskey Thoughts" in stores this week.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Whatever happened to great Dixieland? It's in fine hands with Dr. Michael White, a clarinetist born and raised in New Orleans, whose near-perfect tone is so soothing and soul-nourishing that it gets deep inside your bones.
White teaches African-American music with an emphasis on jazz at Xavier University. A musicologist who collects books and antique musical instruments, he was among those devastated by Hurricane Katrina, not only financially but also in terms of the irreplaceable art and research archives he lost.
This is his comeback recording. Rather than being maudlin, he wanted to celebrate the survival and timelessness of New Orleans jazz with a bit of a modern tempo. The album has verve and passion that go beyond the ordinary.
Among the most memorable songs are a pair of hymns, "Sunday Morning" and "He Leads Me On This Journey," as well as more traditional-sounding dirges. The disc features a dozen well-done original compositions, plus two standards, "St. Louis Blues" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"
Those joining him include trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Gregory Stafford, as well as drummer Jason Marsalis.
- TOM HENRY