Author

Tony Scherman

On this quasi-star-studded, rich salute to the blues of John Hurt (1892-1966), Beck plays it surprisingly straight, a subdued folkie giving us the plain facts about ”Stagolee”; Lucinda Williams spins her usual forlorn haze around ”Angels Laid Him Away.” Of all the performers – Ben Harper, Steve Earle, producer Peter Case, etc. – the ringer is that wily old bluesman John Hiatt (”I’m Satisfied”), a master of the sly charm that made Hurt one of the 20th century’s great folk musicians.

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Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels; The Emmylou Harris Anthology

Harris’ recent work has brought her far from her beginnings as Parsons’ backup singer, but it’s the Gram-inspired music of the ’70s and early ’80s — the bulk of the Harris anthology — that is her real legacy. Parsons, the Harvard dropout who founded country rock and died in ‘73, is eternally fresh-sounding, dolefully wise.

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Born in 1896, Rev. Davis was a guitar virtuoso, one of the great practitioners of Southeastern (as opposed to Mississippi Delta) blues. In the ’60s, when Jorma Kaukonen, Ry Cooder, and others sat at his feet, Davis became one of the pillars of the folk-blues revival. But his work has more than documentary value. Demons and Angels’s a joyful mix of blistering musicianship — the sort of stoic wisdom that’s gone the way of rural America.

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It must’ve been hard for this No. 1 hitmaker to face the truth that in today’s Nashville you can make music that matters or music that sells, but not both. Self-bankrolled and straight from the heart, Kid lands triumphantly in the former camp. A song cycle based on Crowell’s childhood, it rocks hard and is deeply moving — maybe the best album ever from the gifted singer-songwriter. A-

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If this recently exhumed ‘76 concert rocks with a fatter, funkier bottom than just about anything Garcia recorded, it’s because his soaring leads are anchored not by the meandering Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, but by a master of soul: longtime Elvis drummer Ron Tutt. The other accompanists range from pedestrian (bassist John Kahn, keyboardist Keith Godchaux) to grating (barely on-key vocalist Donna Godchaux). B

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The 73-year-old bluegrass great’s high-profile appearance on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? is currently giving him some mainstream exposure — hence this best-of from tiny Rebel, Ralph’s home for the last 30 years. Some of these are classics in themselves; others (”Angel Band” and the title cut) are remakes of hits from an earlier, even greater phase of Stanley’s career: the mythical Stanley Brothers band, which roared through the South from ‘47 to ‘66. B+

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The accompanying disc to the new Coen brothers picture is a who’s who of today’s traditionalists, including Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, bluesman Chris Thomas King, and Norman Blake – whose austere take on ”You Are My Sunshine” steals the show. Brother beautifully re-creates the sounds of the Depression-era Deep South and, as an album, easily stands on its own. Ironically, only as a supporting project would something this resolutely noncommercial get major-label backing.

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This extremely sunny batch of traditional and original songs for kids was masterminded by Zanes, cofounder of the defunct post-punk band the Del Fuegos. Joining his appealingly ragtag ensemble are guests Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, dancehall toaster Rankin’ Don (who steals the show with ”Father Goose,” a string of reggae-fied nursery rhymes), and others. Beach is currently getting a workout from the most reliable kids’-music critic I know: my 3-year-old daughter. A-

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Dwight Yoakam’s style is so seamless, his taste so sterling, that his recent music is just this side of boring. Tomorrow’s Sounds Today’s sound, grittier and dustier than ‘98’s poppish A Long Way Home, masks the album’s core blandness; too much of the material is just plain forgettable. Yoakam’s one wild card remains the insanely inventive picking of producer-lead guitarist Pete Anderson, whose exhilarating solo on ”A Place to Cry” is the album’s high point. C+

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Famous in New Orleans, unknown almost everywhere else, Johnny Adams sang with a regret-stained baritone, by turns velvety and clenched. Like many Crescent City compatriots, he mastered virtually every genre: R&B, jazz, gospel, country. Culled from his 10 albums cut for Rounder between ‘84 and his death in ‘98, the 15 songs on There Is Always One More Time remind us, again, that some of pop’s greatest singers have lived and died far from the publicity mills. A-

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