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Provogue Records PRD76431
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Steve Cropper is a guitarist many people know without actually knowing his name. His guitar riff opens Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” and he appeared on countless other recordings on the Stax Records label, and on sister label Volt Records, as a member of the Stax/Volt house band, Booker T. & the MGs. He cowrote a number of songs with Otis Redding, including the singer’s biggest hit, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” After the Stax/Volt years, he played on, or produced, records by Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon, to name just a few.

Blue Note Records B003313501, B003313402
Formats: LP, CD, 24-bit/96kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Tone Poem is Charles Lloyd’s third outing as leader of the Marvels, the quintet that derives much of its unique sound from the combination of Bill Frisell on guitar and Greg Leisz on pedal steel. Lloyd’s stalwart rhythm section, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers, who have appeared on many of Lloyd’s recordings since the mid-2000s, completes the group.

EmArcy Records/Verve Records MG 36037/B0032412-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car accident in 1956, but during the four years he recorded as a leader and sideman he developed a strong following among fans and fellow musicians. His sure tone and melodic inventiveness led critics to compare him with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but his greatest influence was Fats Navarro, who, like Brown, died young. Highlights of Brown’s short recording career include working with jazz drummer Art Blakey and sessions with West Coast jazz players—both as leader and as coleader with saxophonist Lou Donaldson—but he hit his stride in the quintet he cofounded in 1954 with drummer Max Roach.

Blue Note Records B0032112-01 / BST 84426
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff supervised countless recordings for Blue Note Records over the years, but some they decided not to release. Often, they were trying to avoid crowding the market, but sometimes Lion’s rigorous quality control standards caused him to shelve a session. Many of the performances on those shelved tapes are as good as anything Blue Note ever released, before the label was suspended in the late 1970s. When such recordings are eventually made available they give jazz lovers a fuller picture of a musician’s association with the label.

Anti- 87790-1
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

The first time Portland, Oregon singer-songwriter M. Ward heard the Billie Holiday album Lady in Satin (1958), he was in a California shopping mall, more than 25 years ago. The sound came from a distance, on the other side of the mall. “I remember mistaking her voice for a beautiful perfectly distorted electric guitar,” he says in the press release for his new album, Think of Spring. He described what he heard as “some other-world thing floating there on this strange mournful ocean of strings” and he was “hooked for life.”

Verve Records B0032589-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

“The sound of popular music in the third decade of the 21st century is predominantly electronic,” Stuart Nicholson writes in his liner notes to The Lost Berlin Tapes, a newly released live recording of a March 1962 performance by Ella Fitzgerald. Nicholson notes that while the current generation of singers frequently perform with the aid of electronic enhancements, Fitzgerald required only her voice, a microphone, and—for this performance—a jazz trio playing acoustic instruments. She’s so well known, even nearly 25 years after her death, that her first name alone is listed on the cover of the new album; just as it was in 1960, when Verve released Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin.

Impulse! Records B0032077-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

In 2019, Verve Records and Impulse! Records, both now owned by Universal Music Enterprises, reissued titles from their catalogs on LP in a series they called Vital Vinyl. Sales were undoubtedly good, because Universal has now partnered with Acoustic Sounds to release selections from its extensive vault of jazz recordings on vinyl. The Acoustic Sounds releases will include LPs that originally appeared on the Impulse!, Decca, EmArcy, and Philips labels. Recordings from its Blue Note holdings will continue to be reissued in its Blue Note 80 and Tone Poet series, which launched in 2019.

Merge Records MRG 730LP
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Bob Mould is mad as hell and wants you to know it. In an online interview he describes his new album, Blue Hearts, as “the catchiest batch of protest songs I’ve ever written in one sitting.” Even when he’s contented, as he was on Sunshine Rock (2019), Mould plays exhilaratingly loud and fast rock’n’roll. Add anger to the equation and you get, well, punk rock. On “American Crisis,” the first single from the album, Mould and his band sound more like the Sex Pistols or the Clash than anyone else.

Keeping the Blues Alive KTBA61081
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Dion DiMucci, one of the early fathers of rock’n’roll, has been making records since 1957, and turned 81 in July. Dion, as he’s best known, has gone through several musical transformations in his recording career, but in late 2005 he released Bronx in Blue, the first of half a dozen albums that have highlighted his guitar skills and his command of blues and traditional country music. His records since then, among them Son of Skip James (2007) and Tank Full of Blues (2012), showed him in strong voice and let his guitar playing shine.

Polydor 0859857 (LP), 0880405 (CD), 0880406 (CD, Deluxe Edition)
Formats: LP and CD

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Paul Weller doesn’t enjoy the level of stardom in the US that he does in his native UK, but his Stateside following is strong enough that his records have always been released here. Many of us in North America became fans when Weller fronted the Jam and, after that, the Style Council. We’ve stayed with him during his solo career of almost 30 years because his songwriting skills have never faded -- if anything, they’ve continued to grow -- and his records always surprise and challenge.