WE WALK THE LINE: A CELEBRATION OF THE MUSIC OF JOHNNY CASH
Various artists (Legacy)
Johnny Cash was a big-tent artist, drawing followers from every corner. "We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash" is a perfect example of this.
The DVD/CD release chronicles a concert held earlier this year in Austin to celebrate what would have been Cash's 80th birthday. Drawing musicians from not just the world of country music, but also from rock, pop, and folk, "We Walk the Line" shows just how wide-ranging an influence the American icon remains.
The concert included a few key acts from the outlaw country music world such as Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, Cash's longtime friends and collaborators. Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings take over for Cash and Waylon Jennings in a moving re-imagining of The Highwaymen with Nelson and Kristofferson.
The rest of the lineup comes from all over the map and includes Ronnie Dunn, Brandi Carlile, Andy Grammer, Shelby Lynne, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow, Train's Pat Monahan, Iron & Wine, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who steal the show.
Like all such tributes, some of the song-artist pairings are head-scratchers. But there are some great moments: Nelson's guitar playing, Johnson's rumbling voice standing in for Cash on "Highwayman," Grammer's strangely beautiful shuffling take on "Get Rhythm," Dunn's sense of humor and horn section, and a crackerjack band led by Don Was and Buddy Miller.
-- By CHRIS TALBOTT, Associated Press
BEYOND THE BURNING GUITAR
Melvin Taylor (Eleven East Corp.)
He wields an electric guitar with the silky grace of Robert Cray and hobnobs across the jazz, blues, rock, and classical landscape with equal agility.
Melvin Taylor, one of the most talented guitarists you may never have heard of, is a former member of the late Pinetop Perkins' band who has, at various times, appeared on the same ticket as Carlos Santana, George Benson, Al Di Meola, and Chick Corea.
The Mississippi-born, Chicago-based virtuoso plays a dizzying array of hot licks and fast runs on this all-instrumental two-disc set from 2010 that was recently re-released by the Eleven East label. It's good, although Taylor's penchant for lightning-quick improvisation across scales can distract from his fluidity.
Even so, it's one of the few collections in which you'll hear everything from a tribute to Wes Montgomery to a blistering adaptation of Beethoven's Fifth set to a jazzy-rock tempo with pop overtones.
-- TOM HENRY
FOUR MFS PLAYIN' TUNES
Branford Marsalis Quartet (Marsalis Music)
Don't let the understated title of the new Branford Marsalis Quartet album mislead you into thinking this is some loosely arranged jam session. Saxophonist Marsalis leads one of the most cohesive, intense small jazz ensembles on the scene today. The group's three long-standing members -- Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo, and bassist Eric Revis -- each contribute original tunes to "Four MFs Playin' Tunes" and there are covers of Thelonious Monk's "Teo" and the 1930s ballad "My Ideal."
The quartet's tight interplay reflects that the group has undergone only one lineup change in more than a decade. That came in 2009 when Marsalis' collaborator of a quarter century, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, left and was replaced by then 18-year-old high school senior Justin Faulkner, who propels the band with new energy on his studio recording debut with the quartet. Faulkner confirms his rising-star status as he engages in intricate dialogues with the tenor saxophonist and pianist on Marsalis' "Whiplash" before climaxing with a riveting, powerhouse drum solo. On the next track, Calderazzo's ethereal ballad "As Summer Into Autumn Slips," the drummer displays his finesse with his soft mallet-and-cymbal accompaniment.
The CD begins with two tunes showcasing Marsalis' prowess on soprano sax -- Calderazzo's playful, energetic "The Mighty Sword," with a catchy calypso-like theme reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, and Revis' bluesy Monk-influenced "Brews," where Marsalis turns in a blazing solo. It closes with Marsalis turning down the heat on the romantic standard "My Ideal" with a touching, tender tenor sax solo and on the bonus track "Treat It Gentle," an original old-style Marsalis ballad that pays homage to his New Orleans roots.
-- CHARLES J. GANS, Associated Press