Alejandro Escavedo: Boxing Mirror (Back Porch)
Miracle Number One: after a bout with Hep C brought him face to face with the grim reaper, Alejandro has emerged healthy and in a fighting mood. Miracle Number Two: this dark and unnerving recording, produced by Velvet Underground vet John Cale, is one of Escavedo’s best, which means its among the best of any artist over the past decade. Boxing Mirror is a return to Escavedo’s punk roots, seasoned with the scars and experience of a soul survivor. Send a copy to a Minuteman near you.
Louvin Brothers: Weapon of Prayer (Gusto)
One of the strangest (and greatest) tandems in country music, the Louvins schooled themselves in the work of the Delmore Brothers, secretly soaked in the lessons of rockabilly and melded them both into a southern gothic all their own–until Gram Parsons looted their catalog for his own elevated purposes. The Louvins’ “Great Atomic Power” may not be the first anti-nuke song (in fact, I’m not at all sure that it is an anti-nuke song), but it does offer a chilling gospel prophesy of the looming thermonuclear apocalypse. Whether the Rapture follows or not remains open to question.
Cowboy Junkies: Trinity Sessions (RCA)
Forget methadone, the Cowboy Junkies are the perfect substitute for heroin. Margo Timmons’ narcotic voice slows down Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” to an eerie, writhing crawl, which is the way Reed should have sung that strange anthem to opiated existentialism to begin with. But Lou’s no singer; Margo is. Even better than “Sweet Jane” is Margo’s sultry cover of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”–which breathes new life into one of Hank Williams’ most overworked songs.
Grover Washington, Jr.: Winelight (Elektra)
In the pre-Viagra 1980s, Grover Washington’s sax was a surefire remedy for almost any sexual malfunction and for tens of thousands this record was the ultimate music to fuck to. Yes, Washington’s excesses helped spawned Kenny G. and a whole generation of wimpy, New Agey elevator jazz and for that abomination he’ll be doing some serious time in Purgatory. But Grover must eventually be released to join Marvin and Miles because even now “Just the Two of Us” is capable of stirring the iciest of veins.
The Delfonics: La-La Means I Love You (Arista)
Philly soul never sounded any sweeter.
Lonnie Mack: Memphis Wham! (Ace)
My fellow Hoosier Lonnie Mack still plays the same Flying V Gibson that he bought in 1958, when he was humping along the roadhouse trail in Indiana and Kentucky and doing session work for the two great Cincinnati labels, King Records and Fraternity Records, where he worked with James Brown, the Five Royales and the great Freddie King. In 1963, Mack cut a scorching instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” which vaulted to number 5 on the charts before Mack even realized the song had been released. In my mind, Mack is the great white blues guitarist, a true master and innovator of the Chicago style who, for better or worse, set the template for the likes of Clapton, Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Oh, yeah, the guitar solo on The Doors’ cover of “Roadhouse Blues”? That’s Lonnie Mack, man, and don’t you forget it.
Charlie Haden and Quartet West: Haunted Heart (Polygram)
Haden, a political and musical radical, is the most influential bassist in avant-garde jazz (See his work with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry). But this tenebrous recording is a return to the after hours music of Hollywood jazz clubs in the 1940s. A soundtrack for a film noir of the senses.