Old favorites and instant classics

Four new releases for sweater season

By L. Kent Wolgamott and Alan Sculley

Gary Clark Jr. // Live // Warner Bros.

For several years now, Clark has been touted as the next great blues rocker – perhaps the one who will do what Stevie Ray Vaughan did before his untimely death and bring the blues to a mass audience. So far, though, Clark hasn’t connected with audiences on anything approaching that level. But that could change with Live, which captures the fire, passion and skill that hasn’t quite come across on his studio albums – even Clark’s Grammy-winning major label debut, Blak and Blu. His latest, Live, opens with a searing version of Muddy Waters’ rendition of Robert Petway’s “Catfish Blues,” then swaggers through “Next Door Neighbor Blues” before ratcheting up the energy on “Travis County.” The lean approach to his live performance puts the focus on the songs (which are strong) and, especially, on Clark’s playing, which is impressive – and, at times, downright stunning. The live setting also allows for a more freewheeling approach to his material, which, too, works in Clark’s favor. It may seem early in Clark’s career to release a live album, but for some acts, whole other dimensions of their artistry and talent emerge only on the live stage. One literally can’t fully appreciate these artists without seeing or hearing them live. Based on this two-disc set, Clark is one of those artists, and Live shows why he’s being so widely championed as the future of the blues.

File next to: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy

Rating: 4/5

– Alan Sculley 

Leonard Cohen // Popular Problems // Columbia 

An exercise in smoky reflection produced and largely co-written by frequent Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard, Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems finds his voice warm and gravelly – sort of like a smooth Tom Waits – and the songs are laid-back, brooding and bluesy. That feel starts with the opener “Slow,” which has a sharp, Cohenesque double entendre, moves into the bleak “Almost Like the Blues” and then comes to “Samson in New Orleans,” a tune that ties the Bible story into the destruction of a city. Never the fastest songwriter, Cohen includes a number he began after 9/11, the stunning “A Street,” which really doesn’t have a connection to the event. He’s also been kicking around the Egyptian-tinged “Born in Chains” for decades. Everything isn’t bleak on Popular Problems. It even goes out on a high note – “You Got Me Singing,” which feels like a mission statement from a man who, while surrounded by a crumbling world, has no intention of giving up. Nor should he.

File next to: Van Morrison, John Cale

Rating:  3.5/5

– L. Kent Wolgamott

 Trigger Hippy // Trigger Hippy // Rounder

With The Black Crowes on hiatus this year, we’ve already seen credible solo albums from singer Chris Robinson and his brother, guitarist Rich Robinson. But the best of The Black Crowes side projects comes from Trigger Hippy, a band started by The Black Crowes founding member and drummer Steve Gorman and guitarist/singer Jackie Greene. Add in another well-known member, singer Joan Osborne, and it’s easy to see why this group’s self-titled album is worth noticing. The music is pretty much what one would expect based on the resumés of the group’s best-known musicians – and that’s not a bad thing. The rootsy soul of the luminous “Heartache on the Line” and the easy-going “Rise Up Singing” are right in the wheelhouse for Osborne, who delivers her trademark lovely and sensual vocals, often in combination with Greene. “Turpentine” is a bruising Southern-tinged rocker that hangs with the best of The Black Crowes’ songs. Just as good are “Tennessee Mud” and “Cave Hill Cemetery” (both of which feature Osborne on vocals), while “Pocahontas” adds some funk to its rocking sound. Perhaps the biggest changeup is “Adelaide,” a folky Neil Young-ish ballad written by bassist Nick Govrik, who is a main part of the songwriting mix throughout the album. If Trigger Hippy can maintain the quality of this debut, we’ll have more reason than ever to look forward to the breaks between The Black Crowes projects. 

File next to: The Black Crowes, Tedeschi Trucks Band

Rating:  4/5

–  Alan Sculley 

Field Report // Marigolden // Partisan

Field Report’s second album, Marigolden, is a rarity, a sophomore effort that builds on the strengths of, and at least equals, its predecessor, which, in this case is really saying something. Chris Porterfield, the Milwaukee folk rock band’s singer and songwriter, has honed his poetic writing to a fine edge, crafting clever, evocative phrases like looking out the window and having the “memories flood the levies of my boredom” on opener “Decision Day” and “looking for the win-win in all this wishful drinking, got me thinking that I ought to pray in wordless groans,” the first line in “Ambrosia,” a song about his battles with alcohol. That somber tune sets Porterfield’s voice against a piano. Elsewhere, the arrangements range from acoustic folk to pop to the synthesized “Wings,” all of which are perfect for the songs. 

File next to: Bon Iver, Counting Crows

Rating: 4/5

– L. Kent Wolgamott

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Reach DCP freelance writer L. Kent Wolgamott at LKentWolgamott@DaytonCityPaper.com

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