Previewing new albums from John Coltrane, John Doe, Layo & Bushwacka!, Porter Wagoner, and more.
The Master's 'Legacy'
Verve Music Group will wrap up a year-long celebration of the 70th anniversary of John Coltrane's birth with the release this week of "Legacy," a four-CD boxed set surveying the breadth of the saxophonist's work. The box, compiled by Coltrane's son Ravi, draws from Coltrane's recordings as a leader for Prestige, Blue Note, and Atlantic as well as for Impulse!; it also includes examples of his work as a sideman with Miles Davis (on Columbia) and Thelonious Monk (on Jazzland/Riverside).
"One disc features live performance," Ravi says. "Another features his relationship with [Coltrane's longtime drummer] Elvin [Jones]. One disc focuses on his harmonic and melodic approach, and another focuses on his rhythmic concepts." By exploring Trane's work thematically rather than strictly chronologically, the set strives to make sense of what are, for most listeners, the saxophonist's most challenging recordings of 1965-'66, which employed expanded lineups, furious rhythmic explosions, and sometimes extreme atonalities.
"You're going to hopefully feel this link between things," Ravi says, "and you can hopefully feel this progression of events, and by the time you get to 1965 or 1966, it's not going to be so shocking. Hopefully, you can see the things that led up to it."
X frontman John Doe's first all-acoustic effort, "Dim Stars, Bright Light," finds him collaborating with such vocalists as the Wallflowers' Jakob Dylan, Aimee Mann, the Go-Go's' Jane Wiedlin, Juliana Hatfield, and Old 97's' Rhett Miller. "The misconception about my solo work is that it's alt-country," Doe says of the set, due this week from iMusic. "I suppose this album is closest to that incorrect idea, but for me it's more Elliott Smith than Gram Parsons."
"Dim Stars, Bright Lights" was produced by Doe and singer/songwriter Joe Henry. Backing Doe on the album are such longtime collaborators as guitarist Smokey Hormel (Beck, k.d. lang) and drummer Joey Waronker (Badly Drawn Boy, Elliott Smith). Other performers include keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac (Alanis Morissette, Iggy Pop), pedal-steel guitarist Ben Peeler (the Mavericks), bassists Dave Carpenter (Will Downing) and Dave Pilch (Joe Henry), and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. (Paul McCartney).
Doe joins former Throwing Muses leader Kristin Hersh and Grant Lee Buffalo's Grant Lee Phillips for a North American tour beginning Sept. 18 in Atlanta.
'Night' On The Town
On the eve of the North American release of their new album, "Night Works" (XL Recordings/Beggars Group), Layo & Bushwacka!'s Matthew Benjamin recalls the one rule the U.K.-based duo imposed on its debut album, 1999's "Low Life." "As long as it doesn't have a four/four kick drum in it, anything goes," he says with a chuckle. "We didn't have that rule on this album. We wanted a complete journey; one that contained the energy of our DJ sets and the musicality of our studio work."
The genre-bending "Night Works" blends musical styles with startling intuition, employing an artistic and technical sophistication that stretches the boundaries of dance/electronic music. The result is warm, dramatic, and deeply sexy, a guitar-drenched landscape where live horns and scat vocals flirt languidly with taut beats, exotic samples, and thick, stabbing synth lines. From start to finish, "Night Works" deftly dances the line between peak-hour mayhem and chilled-out melancholia.
"We sampled things, and then we would write around them," Layo Paskin, the self-proclaimed "sample researcher," explains. "The samples inspired a ride, and then we lost them. It was a good way to work . . . We tried to bring together a lot of our own influences, including house, techno, trip-hop, breakbeat, hip-hop, electro, and drum'n'bass. We don't think they need to be disparate forms of music."
First single, "Love Story," which alchemizes the bassline from Devo's "Mongoloid" and a filtered vocal from an obscure Nina Simone track, is No. 38 on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart this week.
Just in time for his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Porter Wagoner is releasing "Unplugged." With a legendary recording career spanning nearly five decades under his belt, Wagoner believes the acoustic project is his best to date. If so, the Sept. 10 release, his second for Select-O-Hits-distributed Shell Point Records, would at least top the title of his acclaimed 2000 label debut, "The Best I've Ever Been," Wagoner's first to include all new material in 25 years.
Wagoner had been aware of other acoustic, unplugged-type albums and thought the idea of "Porter - Unplugged" had the right ring when his steel guitarist Fred Newell suggested it. "I didn't want to do a bluegrass album -- though I love bluegrass," he says. "The first music I was interested in was Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys, and I listened to bluegrass religiously on the radio while growing up. But I felt so many bluegrass albums are out now since 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' -- which is a wonderful thing -- but I wanted to do a country album, because I'm a country music person."
Wagoner, who recorded Monroe material on his 1965 RCA album "The Bluegrass Story," returned to his Monroe roots on "Unplugged" with "Girl in the Blue Velvet Band," altered from its original waltz time. He also included the Dolly Parton-penned "Lost Forever in Your Kiss," which he and his former protege previously recorded as a duet on their 1972 RCA album "Together Always." But Willie Nelson is the star guest of "Unplugged," dueting with Wagoner on Nelson's own "Family Bible" and "Silver Eagle Meets the Great Speckled Bird," both of which Wagoner previously recorded. "We'd never sang together, so it was the icing on the cake," says Wagoner.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- A live album from singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco, "So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter" (Righteous Babe).
-- Rapper Shade Sheist's "Informal Introduction" (MCA), with guest appearances from Timbaland, Fabolous, and Knoc-turn'al.
-- Saxophonist Joshua Redman's "Elastic" (Warner Bros.).
-- A covers album from New York pop/rock trio Ivy, "Guestroom" (Minty Fresh).
-- Veteran bluesman T-Model Ford's "Bad Man" (Fat Possum).
-- An anthology from electronica veteran/producer BT, "10 Years in the Life" (ffrr/Reprise).
-- The sophomore album from U.K. DJ David Kosten's Faultline project, "Your Love Means Everything" (Elektra), with guest spots from Coldplay's Chris Martin, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, and the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne.
-- A best-of from legendary rap trio Run-DMC, "Greatest Hits" (BMG Heritage).
-- Former Arrested Development rapper Speech's "Spiritual People" (iMusic).
-- Indiana-based singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer's "Gathering of Spirits" (Rounder).