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Published: Sunday, 2/22/2009

Good road map to early rock

This is the mother lode of rock and roll and pop captured on one modest disc. Yes, you could put together endless compilations and box sets - lord knows it's already been done - that gather essential early rock in one place, but that always leads to overkill.

This modest collection of 16 original songs that were re-recorded for the movie Cadillac Records about the Chess record label gets the job done just fine.

The key riffs created by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, the vocal stylings of Etta James, and the blues bedrock of Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Bo Diddley are all here and they're all priceless.

Kicking off with Berry's "No Particular Place To Go," an ode to sexual frustration set in a car, the disc is the musical equivalent of a full-court press. Following Berry it immediately launches into the definitive version of James' "At Last," which is so intimate that you can here her lips pop when she sings the world "up."

The rest of the disc is an embarrassment of riches of Chess sides from the '40s, '50s, and '60s, really, with songs like "Maybelline," "I'm a Man," "Smokestack Lightnin'," "Forty Days and Forty Nights," and "(I'm Your) Hoochie Koochie Man."

Unlocking its secrets provides an intimate and thrilling peek into the songs that provided the emotional and stylistic musical template that still resonates.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

This group has been making country music for more than a decade with the same four members, which should qualify for some sort of longevity award in the tumultuous entertainment business. Four-part vocal harmony is the quartet's stock in trade, and three albums have resulted in 11 songs to hit the charts.

"A Place To Land" qualifies as interesting for more than the 16 tracks that pack the disc. It is a reissue, which is normally not worth a mention here. But it is worth a review partly because so few heard of the album when it came out at the end of 2007 on a tiny label with little or no promotion. Mostly, however, it deserves a review because the music is outstanding.

The title is self-fulfilling becauase the group found a new home with a change of label. Additionally, four new tracks - three studio and one live - have been added since the original release.

The music is contemporary country, mixing hypnotic backbeats, great vocals, and interesting melody hooks as group members take turns as lead singer. Now, with their fourth label and a fresh life, a new world of prospective fans awaits.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

Tampa-area guitarist Damon Fowler's style has been compared to that of Johnny Winter and Jeff Beck, with hints of Ry Cooder and the late Duane Allman.

Though he's been playing for audiences since he was a teenager, he's still a relatively young swamp-blues talent with a mature-beyond-his-years command of roots, Southern rock, and sacred steel. He's also versatile, coming out on top in one poll last year as Tampa's favorite guitarist, slide guitarist, lap steel player, and Dobro player.

This album, Fowler's fourth overall and his debut on the Blind Pig label, showcases his ability to merge old school atmosphere with a modern bluesy-rock tempo - though there are times one gets the sense someone's holding him back from going full throttle into the wild jam-fest mode he seems destined to do.

Most of the album is Fowler's original material, with him doing his own somewhat gruff-but-endearing vocals. He also does a fine job on covering tunes by Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, and Amazing Rhythm Aces.

- TOM HENRY

Tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, the second son of John and Alice Coltrane, advances his rightful status among today's jazz world's elite with this beautiful collection of 10 songs that includes an eclectic mix of improvisations by himself and others in his stellar quartet.

A wonderful follow to Coltrane's Grammy-nominated 2005 album, In Flux, Blending Times has a mellow musical texture, yet a bold, subtle power of its own with its vision, tone, and heart.

It is in the classic style of innovative jazz at its core, with the freedom and meshing of sounds and rhythms, while offering something fresh and new even with the inclusion of a Thelonious Monk number. The finale features Coltrane, bassist Charlie Haden, and harpist Brandee Younger as a unique trio.

- T.H.



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