TIME AS WE KNOW IT. THE SONGS OF JERRY JEFF WALKER
Todd Snider (Aimless Records)
There may be no one better than Todd Snider to do a well-conceived tribute to the work of the great Texas songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker.
Snider's an excellent writer in his own regard, and his sardonic humor and combination of sensitivity and acerbic observations on human foibles makes him the ideal acolyte to run through some of Walker's better known songs and deep cuts.
Working with producer Don Was (the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), Snider presents 14 of the 30 songs he recorded in these sessions, all of which were either recorded by Walker or written by him. Snider chooses wisely from the hundreds of songs he could pick, offering a dark, bluesy reading of "Mr. Bojangles," simultaneously emotional and laid back interpretations of sublime ballads such as "Derby Day," "Hill Country Rain," and "Little Bird," and back-porch stoner honk on feel-good party anthems such as "Vince Triple-O Martin" and "Takin' As It Comes."
Guest appearances by Kix Brooks, Elizabeth Cook, and Amy Levere provide him with ideal foils on what is a uniformly excellent disc and one that does its creative inspiration great justice. We can only hope Snider releases the rest of the Walker tunes he recorded sometime soon.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
I BELONG TO THE BAND: A TRIBUTE TO REV. GARY DAVIS
Rory Block (Stony Plain Records)
Singer-guitarist Rory Block, a longtime aficionado and interpreter of traditional country blues, first met the iconic Rev. Gary Davis at his house in the Bronx in 1964, when she was 14. She was taken there by guitarist Stefan Grossman so they could both get a lesson.
Davis was approachable to them and that's what Block has delivered in this tribute album, a sense of how his deep, down-to-Earth country blues can resonate with ordinary folk. She conveys his style that is part gospel preacher and part singer-songwriter with an acoustic folk, gut-bucket guitar sound.
This disc, released Tuesday, is Block's third in what she calls her "mentor" series, a salute to blues masters who helped shape her musical vision after she met them in person. It follows earlier ones she did on Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
This latest disc features Block on 11 reinterpretations of Davis' work, including "Samson & Delilah" and "Death Don't Have No Mercy."
-- TOM HENRY
THE MUSIC OF SMASH (Soundtrack)
Various Artists (Columbia)
Smash is no Glee and that's a good thing.
Smash has pop, but doesn't drench the listener with cutesy bubblegum pop. It features Broadway-caliber songs written for NBC's hit TV show by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, winners of Tony and Grammy awards, plus a little sultry and sass.
This collection from the first season includes a fine adaptation of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" by one of the stars, Katharine McPhee, and co-star Megan Hilty's performance on "Crazy Dreams," as well as other originals.
The show's already been renewed for a second season and, while Broadway songs may not have the same mass appeal as others, these have lyrics with some depth and performers who can woo listeners with their charisma and powerful vocals. You could do much worse.