Tom Wilk, August 2014


Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ★★★1/2

CSNY 1974

CSNY Recordings/Rhino

Forty years after their reunion landmark reunion tour, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young have released CSNY 1974. The three-CD, one-DVD package offers a snapshot of a band once regarded as the American Beatles. The music is divided into one acoustic and two electric sets and spotlights their peerless harmonies on such classics as “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Our House.” A version of the Beatles “Blackbird” is one of the highlights of the collection.

In a marked departure from current practice, band members presented a good helping of then-unreleased material. Neil Young’s “Hawaiian Sunrise” evokes an island feel, while Graham Nash’s “Fieldworker” is a vocal showcase for him and David Crosby. Young and Stills present a wistful, acoustic rendition of “Long May You Run,” two years before its official release. Other songs haven’t aged well. Lyrically, Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” feels as dated as a leisure suit and “Wooden Ships” is only marginally better. Nash’s “Immigration Man,” however feels just as relevant today with the ongoing debate over immigration policy. In their electric sets, Stills and Young generate sparks with their guitar interplay on Young’s “Revolution Blues” and a nearly eight-minute version of “Pushed It Over the End.” Crosby’s “Déjà Vu” has a free-floating, jazzy feel. The DVD offers a cross-section of electric and acoustic songs, highlighted by Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “Old Man.” CDs: 40 songs, 186 minutes. DVD: 8 songs, 45 minutes

Dan Cohen ★★★


Weston Boys Entertainment

Dan Cohen uses a diverse instrumental palette to create a rich tapestry on Bluebird, his latest solo album. He and his backing musicians incorporate mandolin and dulcimer alongside electric guit
ar and saxophone to put an individual stamp on the songs. The use of cello elevates “I Want You” beyond a normal love song and plays off Cohen’s rich tenor voice. “Don’t Make Me Wait” is an infectious pop song that recalls mid-1960s Beatles with its layered vocals. The title track is presented in a melodic folk style. “Love is Gone” serves as a lament for lost opportunities. “I met you in the world but I was going to wait awhile for feelings to unfurl,” Cohen sings, “but you just turned away and smiled.” The upbeat tune helps to soften the loss expressed in the lyrics.

A former resident of Philadelphia, Cohen unfurls a Dylanesque tale in “Pennsylvania,” a song inspired by his time in the Keystone State. Only “Descent,” a six-minute instrumental that wraps up the CD, feels a bit out of place. It’s an anticlimactic end to a strong album. 10 songs 36 minutes

Chris Smither ★★★★

Still on the Levee

Signature Sounds

Chris Smither is observing two major milestones in 2014: a half century in the music business and his 70th birthday in November. To mark the occasions, the longtime bluesman has released Still on the Levee, a two-CD collection that highlights his strengths as a songwriter and keen observer of the human condition. The title is a reference to his native New Orleans, where Smither re-recorded 24 songs that span his entire career. One song, “Leave The Light On,” was recorded twice and is used to conclude both CDs. The result is an entertaining journey through his back catalog that allows Smither to reimagine his songs.

“Love You Like a Man” is a playful boast of sexual prowess that’s became a standard of sorts. Both Bonnie Raitt and Diana Krall have recorded it as “Love Me Like a Man” to offer the song from a feminine perspective. “Devil Got Your Man” is a quality blues about lost love that recalls the work of the legendary Robert Johnson.

Lyrically, Smither’s songs transcend standard blues fare. “Train Home,” a mystical song about death and the hereafter, gets a New Orleans treatment, thanks to the piano work of Allen Touissant. On “No Love Today,” a song inspired by Smither’s childhood memory of a fruit peddler in the city, Touissant’s piano underscores the romantic hunger of the lyrics.

The rhythmically hypnotic “Link of Chain” spotlights Smither’s driving guitar work. “What They Say,” performed as a duet with Loudon Wainwright III, offers Smither’s philosophical take on life. “Friends in need are friends in need are friends in deed,” he sings, “Friends who think are what we need.” 25 songs, 93 minutes

David Olney ★★★1/2

When the Deal Goes Down

Deadbeat Records

David Olney maintains his high standards of songwriting on When The Deal Goes Down, an
exploration of American roots music styles.

“Servant, Job,” a horn-fueled slice of rhythm and blues, imagines a dialog between God and Satan, as they debate the nature of humanity over the Old Testament figure of Job. Olney adeptly portrays the struggle between good and evil while maintaining a sense of humor. The title track, a spirited rocker, recalls Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” and gives Olney the chance to stretch out vocally The acoustic “Soldier of Fortune” captures the mood of soldiers returning from an unpopular war, as Olney describes in the notes for the album. “Why So Blue?” is cast as a jazz/pop tune that could have predated the rock ‘n’ roll era. Olney shows his skill as a crooner and scat singer. “Mister Stay at Home” is another throwback song, recorded in a jug-band style about searching for the heart of Saturday night. “Big Blue Hole” is a folk-styled examination of the afterlife as Olney contemplates the passing of historical figures from Cleopatra to James Dean. 12 songs 48 minutes

Billy Joe Shaver ★★★1/2

Long in the Tooth

Lightning Rod Records

Billy Joe Shaver’s songs have been recorded or performed by some of the top artists in the music business, including the Allman Brothers Band, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Long in the Tooth, Shaver’s first studio album in six years, shows he remains a stellar performer of his own material. Shaver turns 75 in August and he tackles the topic of aging with his dry wit. “What I used to do all night takes all night to do,” he declares in the title track, using a tone that falls between ruefulness and defiance.

“Hard to be an Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson, looks at getting older and the state of country music. “It’s hard to be an outlaw when you’re not wanted anymore,” Shaver observes in his distinctive, rugged voice.

On Long in the Tooth, Shaver branches out into bluegrass with “Sunbeam Special,” featuring a lively banjo-and-fiddle arrangement and classic honky-tonk with “Last Call for Alcohol.” Both “I’ll Love You as Much as I Can” and “I’m in Love” show Shaver’s knack for ballads. Artistically, Shaver is still clicking on all cylinders and isn’t ready to go gentle into that good night. 10 songs, 32 minutes.