Mighty Fine (The Best Albums of 2015)

keith-gardot

 

It has always been our practice at Deep Roots to honor multiple albums as Album of the Year. It certainly strikes us as folly to designate only one album as such, given the variety of music out there; but we’ve found this year that even increasing our number of Album of the Year winners to six leaves out some quite worthy contenders. Any one in the top 10 of our Elite Half Hundred could lay legitimate claim to being an Album of the Year.

But in the end we found we couldn’t deny these six the top honor, even if only a scintilla of difference distinguishes an Album of the Year from one of the top Elite Half Hundred selections. Everyone’s a winner, as Hot Chocolate once proclaimed.

In last year’s Albums of the Year essay we asked “How do you not honor the vocational nuns of Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles for their Lent At Ephesus, a 23-track masterwork of poignant chants, intricate harmonies and rousing hymns of glory and redemption released in time for Lent?” Well, we did not honor them then, but we do now. This year the sisters’ Easter at Ephesus would not be denied. Once again produced by now-11-time Grammy winning producer Christopher Alder, the sisters offer stirring, deeply reverent new arrangements of familiar hymns as well haunting spiritual ruminations from early music, including Palestrina’s four-part “Sicut Cervus” and a terse, somber reading of Herman the Lame’s “Veni Sancte Spiritus.” The album also includes three original hymns.

Do not mistake it, though, as being applicable only to Easter. This past summer I made my annual trek to Death Valley in August, the hottest time of the year. After a day of hiking in 125-degree temperatures, as the sun was finishing its work, I headed out of the Valley towards Beatty, Nevada, where I was staying the night. The beauty of the desert at that golden hour was breathtaking, with the setting sun partially obscured by the Grapevine Mountains and the sky a striking hue of vivid orange and soft blue. At that moment, as if some divine hand had ordained it, the Benedictines of Mary came over my iPod through the car’s sound system, and the intense, swirling polyphony of the anonymous composition “This Is The Day” hit its mark—my heart, my soul. As the sisters’ cascading voices heralded, “We will rejoice and be glad in it/we will rejoice and be glad in it,” I simply had to stop by the side of the road and sit still, absorbing the full majesty of God’s creation. Suddenly the looming mountains, the humble, hardy creosote bushes and the scattered rocks from the basement of time were living, breathing features of a landscape so perfectly beautiful and beckoning and at the same time so mercilessly lethal as to send the mind reeling—no, as to make a person thankful to be alive and in this moment, “living well in the presence of God,” as the Benedictines’ Mother Cecilia told the National Review. Easter at Ephesus is a work for all seasons.

Powerful female voices also carry the day in 1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War by Anonymous 4. Marking the 150th anniversary of the War’s end, this A4 collection represents the final flowering of an Americana trilogy the group inaugurated in 2004 with American Angels, which did nothing less than reach #1 on Billboard’s chart, followed by 2006’s Gloryland. The song selections encompass the entire human experience of a war that was about, as A4’s Susan Hellauer notes, “more than just battles or a peace treaty or the assassination of Lincoln. It’s also about the smaller-scale human emotions, which we recognize because they’re bound up in what it means to be human.” Indeed, in the song selections here so many sentiments are expressed not for a North or South victory but simply for it all to end, for families to be reunited in flesh, not in spirit or in Heaven. Adding to the impact 1865 can have on a listener, it happens to be A4’s final recording for Harmonia Mundi. This year will see the incomparable quartet making its final concert appearances before disbanding after a near-30-year run that has produced 22 albums with some two million of those sold. Although fine practitioners of early music remain, and there will be others, A4’s achievement as musicologists and as artists is unmatched.

So A4 is mortal after all, alas, but by their own choosing. On his long-awaited debut solo album, Persuasions founder and former lead singer Jerry Lawson wants us to believe he is Just a Mortal Man himself. In some respects he is, because during the recording sessions he contracted a near-lethal infection, dangerous enough that his producer, Eric Brace, wrote “We’re lucky he’s still here!” in a note to yours truly. But Lawson made it through, and the 15 years it took he and Brace to get their schedules matched up in order to make this record happen turn out to have been worth the wait. Lawson, now 71, no longer possesses the dynamic, muscular voice that seemed handed down to him from the Rev. Julius Cheeks and Wilson Pickett and… but he’s not trying to be that Jerry Lawson. Instead, nuance, subtlety and richer emotional textures have moved in, much as they did with the mature Bobby Blue Bland, and Just a Mortal Man impresses as the gem Lawson fans knew he would deliver. Brace the producer understands Lawson as he should be understood—as a great stylist with an infallible instinct for the essence of every song he sings, and indeed, as he did with the Persuasions, so effectively putting his stamp on borrowed material as to make you could almost forget the original recordings ever existed.

The young whippersnapper among our group of Albums of the Year is Lockwood, by Jeremiah Lockwood, simply one of the most interesting musicians on the planet. Born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lockwood—intense, warm, voraciously intellectually curious and a dauntingly gifted artist—is the son of composer Larry Lockwood and the grandson of the legendary Cantor Jacob Konigsberg. For years he has been fronting The Sway Machinery, a blues/world beat/Cantorial music ensemble ever gaining a larger global audience, but he’s also always had a side job, if you will, as a solo blues artist who was schooled by the late, great Carolina Slim, a New York subway musician decades his senior, and something of a Piedmont blues legend. Slim not only taught young Lockwood the foundations of his musical style but impressed upon him the virtue of looking sharp, no matter whether the stage be a subway platform, a sidewalk or in a club, and of giving it your all on every song. Well, his second unassumingly titled solo album returns him to the genesis of Jeremiah Lockwood, if you will, as a powerful acoustic blues artist. The only tune among its 14 that hints at his Sway Machinery incarnation is a sparkling, eerie rendition of “Soundiata” penned by the towering Mali singer-songwriter Boubacar Traoré that sounds, in its wordless, driven chanting, like a cross between the worlds of Mali, Israel and Native Americans—make that “a bridge” between the worlds of…in true Sway Machinery fashion. The rest of it, however, plumbs the roots of at least a couple of branches of The Sway Machinery’s, as well as Lockwood’s, roots.

Melody Gardot’s astonishing Currency of Man is a deep record; so deep I spent six months with it before writing one word about it. Then came some 12 hours of work on the review itself, and I’m still uncertain as to whether I got everything the brilliant Ms. Gardot is offering on her new album. Let’s say it helps to know a little Dostoevsky, a little Nathanael West, some Joan Didion, some Tom Waits and maybe be familiar with the films of Robert Altman and Bernardo Bertolucci as well. Currency of Man is the product of Ms. Gardot’s stay in Los Angeles and it does not sound like she was hanging out at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s dark, it’s lovely, it’s hard-boiled, it’s empathetic, it’s angry. It’s not about the city itself in flames—about which phenomenon Mr. West and Ms. Didion both have written eloquently—but rather about Ms. Gardot’s disenfranchised characters being consumed by fires of another type—“fires ignited by neglect, heartbreak, lack of simple human kindness, deficits of love.” It’s more than a worthy followup to her 2012 Album of the Year, The Absence; it establishes a fully formed sonic universe that picks up where its predecessor left off and is singularly, immutably Melody Gardot’s world. Witness another tour de force by an artist as unflinchingly daring as she is wholly accessible.

Not least of all, how could we ignore the new Keith Richards solo album, Crosseyed Heart? Hey, it’s Keef! Here’s a smidgen of what Billy Altman has to say about it in Deep Roots: “And groove they do: On this, his first solo outing since 1992’s Main Offender, and with the help of his longtime non-Stones homeys, most notably drummer (and songs co-writer) Steve Jordan and guitarist Waddy Wachtel, Richards keeps things moving without too much fretting (pun intended) about form over content. The feel’s the thing, and on that count, while it’d be a stretch to say that a lot of the tunes here truly stick in your head melody-wise–the exceptions being two standouts, the simmering “Robbed Blind” and the strutting “Trouble”–the album overall has a comfort level, an ease, that’s pretty much in line with how I think most of us who grew up with the Stones’ music feel about our relationship with Keith Richards at this point in time.”

This year’s Albums of the Year await you…in alphabetical order. –David McGee, January 2016

[divider]

A4-1865

1865, Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi)

To appraise Anonymous 4’s 1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War (marking the 150th anniversary of the War’s end) is to be engaged in a most melancholy task—not, mind you, because the album is lacking in any way. It is, in fact, the first great album of 2015. It is also, alas, the great Anonymous 4’s final long player for Harmonia Mundi. This year and next will see the incomparable quartet making its final concert appearances before disbanding after a near-30-year run that has produced 22 albums with some two million of those sold. Although some fine practitioners of early music remain, and there will be others, A4’s achievement as musicologists and as artists is unmatched. To them goes the credit of elevating early music to a level of popularity even they would not have envisioned when they set out on this path; on their journey they have unearthed and preserved many ancient medieval texts otherwise thought lost, including Hungarian Christmas music (as collected on the album A Star In the East) and, most notably, the daring music of the 12th century abbess of many talents, Hildegard von Bingen, which A4 singlehandedly brought out of history’s deepest shadows on The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen and thus spurred a full-on Hildegard revival.

For their final album, these gifted ladies are returning to more contemporary turf—in the context of their history, that is—with an album of songs from the Civil War era. It’s not unfamiliar terrain for A4: 1865 represents the final flowering of an Americana trilogy the group inaugurated in 2004 with American Angels, which did nothing less than reach #1 on Billboard’s chart, followed by 2006’s Gloryland. Known for its precision a cappella arrangements, A4 is here accompanied on several tunes by a true mountain music scholar and multi-instrumentalist, Bruce Molsky. In addition to his empathetic accompaniment on banjo, guitar and fiddle Mr. Molsky also has a couple of memorable lead vocals, on a moving version of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and a wrenching one on “Brother Green,” the lyrics being the dying words of a Union soldier (“…for I am shot and bleeding/and I must die, no more to see/my wife and my dear children”). Of her fellow Bronx native, A4’s resident historian, Susan Hallauer (who met Molsky a decade ago when she took banjo lessons from him) notes (in press materials accompanying the review copy of 1865), “Bruce is in the line of Northern folk musicians who went into Appalachia and down South to sit at the feet of great traditional musicians, absorbing the sound and feeling of a previous generation—he’s one of those keepers of a cultural heritage. For me, for all of us, it was a real discovery to find that we could collaborate with a musician who doesn’t read music—but who, playing by ear, is the ultimate musician in so many ways. He’s not a strict traditionalist, never slavish. For him, folk music is always a living thing, and he helped us live in this music. Moreover, he can break hearts every time. The way Bruce sings ‘Brother Green’ on the album—when I her it, I just can’t keep it together.”

Anonymous 4, with Bruce Molksy, ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ (written by Stephen Foster), from 1865

And what does Mr. Molksy support, when he does play? The impeccable beauty the women of A4—Ms. Hellauer, Marsha Genesky, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and Ruth Cunningham—bring, solo and ensemble, to songs from the most horrible time in this country’s history. Some of these selections—such as the spiritual “Shall We Gather at the River” and the aforementioned “Hard Times Come Again No More”—have found a permanent place in old-time music and are still frequently performed and recorded; others have had no life beyond the terrible, anguished moments of their creation. But to hear the plaintive A4 harmonies on the album opening “Weeping, Sad and Lonely” (or “When This Cruel War Is Over”), so delicately rendering those literate, searing lyrics (“If, amid the din of battle/Nobly you should fall/Far away from those who love you/None to hear you call/Who would whisper words of comfort/Who would soothe your pain/Ah! The many cruel fancies/Every in my brain..”) is to feel at least a smidgen of the wrenching pain in which those words were composed. As they have done with medieval polyphony so have they done with American popular and gospel songs: lend them immediacy, a vibrancy, that captures a listener’s heart and makes the lyrics’ message transformative—you will never hear these songs the same way again or ever be touched more vitally by their sentiments: “Let us pause in life’s pleasures, and count its many tears/while we all sup sorrow with the poor; there’s a song that will linger forever in our ears; oh, hard times, come again no more.”

Follow this link to the full review in Deep Roots, “A Final Flowering,” February 10, 2015.

[divider]

benedictines-easter

EASTER AT EPHESUS, Benedictines of Mary (DeMontfort Music)

The young order (formed in 1995) of contemplative nuns based in Missouri and known as the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles quietly continue releasing new albums and asserting itself as the #1 selling Billboard Classical Traditional Artist for, now, three consecutive years (2012-2014). The sisters’ repertoire—mostly centuries old with a new original song dropped in here and there—is a meditative antidote to the vulgarity, gimmickry and moral and aesthetic bankruptcy of much of contemporary music. The latest example of this spiritually elevating music comes in the form of Easter at Ephesus, the order’s fourth major release. Once again produced by now-11-time Grammy winning producer Christopher Alder, the sisters offer stirring but reverent new arrangements of familiar hymns such as the beautiful anonymous composition “This Is The Day,” with its dazzling, swirling polyphonic parts; the inspirational “alleluia” of “The Clouds of Night” from the Kôln Jesuit Student Hymnal; and the jubilant, exquisitely rendered evergreen (also anonymous) “Jesus Christ is Ris’n Today.” Those drawn to truly ancient meditations on the power and the glory will find themselves moved by the stark beauty of the sisters’ delicate polyphony on Palestrina’s four-part ‘Sicut Cervus’ and their terse, somber reading of Herman the Lame’s “Veni Sancte Spiritus.” Of the Benedictines’ three original hymns, “Queen of Priests” stands out for its understated, haunting beauty, although the gravity of the text and voices in “Her Triumph” is most arresting. The sisters’ original contributions are in English, as are several other more current tracks, with the bulk sung in Latin.

A feature on the Benedictines of Mary and Easter at Ephesus, on World Over, hosted by Raymond Arroyo and featuring DeMontfort Music co-founder Monica Fitzgibbons.

‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today,’ anonymous hymn featured on Easter at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

As Patrick Novecosky, editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine notes in his review of Easter at Ephesus, “The sisters succeed in drawing hearts deeper into the Easter season as they accompany the listener from Easter through Pentecost with angelic renditions of ‘Ascendit Deus’ with text from Offertory of Ascension Thursday, as well as tracks such as Ravanello’s ‘Pascha Nostrum’ from the Communion Verse for Easter Sunday Mass.”

Needless to say, Easter at Ephesus is another unqualified triumph for the Benedictines of Mary. It’s already made its debut atop the Billboard Classical Chart but its more important achievement is in speaking to our time’s deepest needs. As the Benedictines’ Sister Miriam Esther told Christendom College News, “There is a natural hunger in the human person for beauty, truth and goodness. In traditional philosophy, those are known as transcendentals. It’s a complicated term, but we can see here on a very basic level how they can transcend cultural boundaries to stir the heart and captivate the mind.”

Follow this link to the full review in Deep Roots, “Stirring the Heart, Captivating the Mind,” March 30, 2015

[divider]

gardot-currency

CURRENCY OF MAN, Melody Gardot (Verve)

Some time between the release of her 2013 masterpiece, The Absence (a Deep Roots Album of the Year selection), and the recording of her 2015 monument, Currency of Man, Melody Gardot—born in New Jersey, raised in Philadelphia–wound up living in Los Angeles and reuniting professionally with producer Larry Klein, who steered her 2009 Grammy-nominated album My One and Only Thrill. Not an insignificant fact, this, because one of the many mysteries surrounding Ms. Gardot is where she calls home. After finishing My One and Only Thrill she gave up her Philadelphia apartment and traveled throughout South America and Europe “haphazardly by the seat of my pants, booking a ticket the day before, sometimes changing it,” she has explained. “I was trying to find something about these cultures, the basis of which was I felt that no matter what country you’re in, or what language you’re singing in, you wind up united through the sounds.”

Her extended stays abroad fueled the entire approach to The Absence. As your faithful friend and narrator noted in his Album of the Year review, “Working with Brazilian composer Heitor Pereira and recording in Brazil, Morocco, Hawaii and Portugal, the music of The Absence fuses flamenco, samba and fado styles with the classic pop-jazz that is the artist’s forte (consistent with the multinational aspect of the project, Ms. Gardot sings in three languages on the disc).”

‘Don’t Misunderstand,’ the opening track on Melody Gardot’s Currency of Man (co-written with Jesse Harris)

A live version of ‘If Ever I Recall Your Face,’ dated January 6, 2015. The studio version is one of the revealing ballads on Currency of Man.

Recording once again in the U.S. (primarily at The Village and Paramount Studios in L.A., with some sessions taking place at Plus XXX Studios in Paris), Ms. Gardot makes a couple of pertinent points from the outset of the eerie, slow boiling opening track, tellingly titled “Don’t Misunderstand.” For one, the world she created in The Absence lives on in Currency of Man’s seductive ambiance, in her husky, come-hither vocals and most especially in what might be termed the “marginalia,” meaning the whispered, mostly indecipherable mumblings mixed deep below her voice, like the overlapping dialogue in a Robert Altman film or in Bernardo Bertolucci’s scintillating The Conformist. Best guess as to its meaning: having fully embraced her wanderlust as a state of being, Ms. Gardot is no longer a static presence on her recordings; she’s moving through her songs much as she moves around the world, and what we hear in the background are the malevolent, sotto voce asides and street cacophony as she materializes in different locales—for example, the swirl of mutterings (only the words “America” and “fire” are recognizable) under her weary, intermittent moans in advance of her vocal entrane more than a minute into the abovementioned “Don’t Misunderstand”; church bells pealing and a gruff male voice asking, “Baby, spare some change?” in the early going of “It Gonna Come.”

Follow this link to the full review in Deep Roots, “The Mystery Endures,” January 20, 2016

[divider]

lawson-mortal-man

JUST A MORTAL MAN, Jerry Lawson (Red Beet Records)

It has been a long and winding road for Jerry Lawson since he called it a day with the Persuasions in 2003—four decades and 22 albums after the group had convened “down on Fulton Street in Brooklyn,” harmonizing “in the subway, in lobbies and in halls, even in the doorways, singing doo-wops to the wall,” as they sang in their personalized version of Kenny Vance’s “Looking for an Echo” (the signature song from their most celebrated album, 1977’s Chirpin’). That road has taken him to a brief tenure with another vocal group, Talk of the Town (see the April 2010 review in TheBluegrassSpecial.com); dalliances with jazz combos and big bands; a tribute to the Rev. Claude Jeter and a Hurricane Katrina benefit with Rod Stewart; even an appearance on NBC’s The Sing-Off. And since relocating to Arizona several years ago he’s been working with developmentally disabled children, a calling that has brought him more satisfaction than almost anything else he had done professionally.

Noticeably absent from his resume, lo these many years: a solo album. It seemed the most natural evolution for a singer the critic Rip Rense has accurately pinpointed as one of the past half century’s greatest vocalists. What was he waiting for? Perhaps he was waiting for roots great Eric Brace, whom he met some15 years ago and with whom, at that time, he vowed to do a project. They went their separate ways, pursuing their own career goals (Brace has become almost a regular fixture in Deep Roots, both for his wonderful duo records with his Red Beet Records partner Peter Cooper and, last year, for a conceptual album he fashioned with another compadre, Karl Straub, Hangtown Dancehall, #8 on the Deep Roots Elite Half Hundred of 2014). Or Brace was waiting for Lawson. No matter: it has finally come together, and gloriously so. Lawson, at 71, no longer possesses the dynamic, muscular voice that seemed handed down to him from the Rev. Julius Cheeks and Wilson Pickett and… but he’s not trying to be that Jerry Lawson either. Instead, nuance, subtlety and richer emotional textures have moved in, much as they did with the mature Bobby Blue Bland, and his long-awaited first solo album, Just a Mortal Man, impresses as the gem Lawson fans knew he would deliver. The 15-year wait for he and Brace to get together turns out to be worth it, because Brace the producer understands Lawson as he should be understood—as a great stylist with an infallible instinct for the essence of every song he sings, and indeed, as he did with the Persuasions, so putting his stamp on his borrowed material that you could almost forget the original recordings ever existed (ever hear the Persuasions’ version of “Dream,” the Everly Brothers classic? Only a singer of Lawson’s stature could make you believe his might well be the definitive version.).

Jerry Lawson with Peter Cooper and Eric Brace (on guitar), with a live studio version of Sam Cooke’s ‘I’ll Come Running Back to You,’ from Just a Mortal Man

Fact is, Mortal Man is more than an album title. During the recording sessions, Lawson fell ill with what became a near-lethal infection. “We’re lucky he’s still here!” Brace said in a note to your faithful friend and narrator. He remains in recuperative mode but is back on the boards now, playing select concert dates. Ain’t that good news, man, ain’t that news?

Follow this link to the full review in Deep Roots, “No, No Mortal Man This,” July 21, 2015

[divider]

lockwood

LOCKWOOD, Jeremiah Lockwood (System Dialing Records)

At the moment Jeremiah Lockwood is on his way to being Dr. Lockwood, having been accepted for Stanford University’s PhD program in Jewish studies/ethnomusicology. While he toils away at his doctorate on the west coast, he’s back with a solo album, titled simply Lockwood, that returns him to the genesis of Jeremiah Lockwood, if you will, as a powerful acoustic blues artist. The only tune among its 14 that hints at his Sway Machinery incarnation is a sparkling, eerie rendition of “Soundiata” by the towering Mali singer-songwriter Boubacar Traoré that sounds, in its wordless, driven chanting, like a cross between the worlds of Mali, Israel and Native Americans—make that “a bridge” between the worlds of…in true Sway Machinery fashion. The rest of it, however, plumbs the roots of at least a couple of branches of The Sway Machinery’s, as well as Lockwood’s, roots.

SELECTED TRACK: Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘How You Want Your Rolling Done’ as performed by Jeremiah Lockwood on Lockwood

For starters, there’s the folk blues of Elizabeth Cotton. No, Lockwood doesn’t give us another rendition of the wonderful “Freight Train,” but instead offers three other wonderful Cotton songs, one kicking off the album and two others blended into a melody nine songs in. The opening cut, “Babe It Ain’t No Lie,” is a tune Cotton wrote in her youth after a caretaker lady told little Elizabeth’s mother about some of the girl’s misdeeds, none of which were true. Cotton sings it with a bit of a jaunty air—she actually sang it for the caretaker lady and got a kick out of the latter not knowing who it was about–but Lockwood sounds frightfully wounded in taking it at a bit slower tempo, although he retains the Cotton arrangement’s delightful syncopation. As he does here, and so often on this album, he finds the point where lyrics can be shaded just so to achieve emotional resonance in the most unexpected places, and yet remains true to the original recordings’ structure and style. “Babe It Ain’t No Lie” signals as well the degree to which Lockwood has matured as a vocalist. Not only is his voice deep, rich and full now, he’s become a fearless, idiosyncratic stylist who’s mastered the art of pauses, whispers and, for lack of a better term, vocal exclamation points when warranted. Listen to the way he softly clips the word “oh” when he sings “oh, babe it ain’t no lie”—the hurt is right on the surface, near palpable and indicative of how personal he’s made the song. One of many interesting facets of his Elizabeth Cotton fixation here is that the three songs he includes are the last three tracks from her first album, Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (as it’s known in its complete reissue by Smithsonian Folkways). There’s likely not much to make of that, but still… The other two Cotton numbers are found in the medley combining her gentle rendition of an old parlor guitar piece she titled (or re-titled) “Spanish Flangdang” (others refer to it as “Spanish Two-Step”), wherein Lockwood’s ruminative steel string picking (note a weird, out-of-nowhere bent note at the one-minute mark that momentarily but by design disturbs the melody’s graceful flow) conjures a pastoral atmosphere from which emerges an understated but determined reading of her forthright salvation song, “When I Get Home”—a seemingly unlikely pairing of the sort common to John Fahey, which gives you an idea of the turf Lockwood is working. 

Follow this link to the full review in Deep Roots, “Discovering Something Outside the Realm of the Everyday,” January 28, 2015

[divider]

richards-crosseyed

CROSSEYED HEART, Keith Richards (Republic/Mindless Records)

I don’t know about you, but listening to Keith Richards casually strumming his way through the Lead Belly classic “Goodnight Irene” on his third solo album, Crosseyed Heart, it’s hard not to break into a knowing grin when he hits the verse that says, “Sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town/Sometimes I take a great notion, to jump in the river and drown.” We are, after all, talking about someone for whom there is actually a dedicated web page entitled “10 Times Keith Richards Almost Died,” which references things like: the Blitzkrieg bop bombing of the building he and his family were living in he was a toddler during World War II; the 1973 house fire at his country home in Redlands, England that was supposedly caused by a mouse chomping through an electrical wire (and not by the old “high and passed out with lit cigarette in bed” MO; that one was in France a few years before); 1998’s rib-breaking fall from a chair in the library of his suburban Connecticut home; and–last but very certainly not least–his skull-fracturing tumble out of a palm tree while vacationing in Fiji in 2006.

‘Amnesia,’ Keith Richards, from Crosseyed Heart

‘Robbed Blind,’ Keith Richards, from Crosseyed Heart

That last one, it would appear, was the inspiration for “Amnesia,” another track on Crosseyed Heart that’s sure to induce a smile or two, what with lines like “Knocked on the head, Everything went blank/I didn’t even know the Titanic sank”–and which also, and perhaps more importantly, sports a sort of wizened old Bob Dylan vibe in its wheeze-worthy, talk/sing delivery. And, in truth, one keeps mentally referencing fellow soul survivors/hipster geezers Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits throughout many of the tracks here, even as those ever-scruffy, there-but-for-the-grace-of-Chuck-Berry-go-I signature Keef choppy guitar riffs permeate most of the collection’s instrumental grooves.

Follow this link to the review by Billy Altman in Deep Roots, “Down the Road Apiece,” January 20, 2016

 

Follow these links to:

The Elite Half Hundred Part 1

The Elite Half Hundred Part 2

 

 

muted-posthorn