A listen to three noteworthy reissues hitting record stores recently:
-- Absolutely the Best (Fuel 2000)
Absolutely the best Johnny Adams compilation? Absolutely not, since this compilation doesn't include any of Adams' '80s and '90s works on Rounder Records, where he branched out into jazz and big-band settings, and recorded some of his finest work, including his brilliant swan song, Man of My Word. Absolutely First-Rate might be a more accurate title here, as this CD focuses solely on Adams' late-60s and early-70s work for SSS Records, where he scored his one R&B Top Ten hit, "Reconsider Me." Besides that gem, which features two of Adams' most memorable falsettos, other notable tracks here include the classic "I Won't Cry," and the Dr. John-penned "A Losing Battle." Adams tackled a wide variety of material in this time frame, with "You Made a New Man Out of Me" sounding like a funky Stax outtake, "If I Could See You One More Time" riding a plaintive organ arrangement straight out of church, and "South Side of Soul Street" packing a grittier, Motown-meets-Chicago vibe. This is superb stuff from one of the world's all-time greatest vocalists, and a reminder of how much Adams is still missed. The one drawback to the collection is the uneven mastering; whoever mixed this collection must be hard of hearing, as the levels jump from track to track, with the worst offender being the snarling bluesy lead guitar of "I Can't Be All Bad," blasting out at a volume much higher than anything else on the album.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
-- The Man Who Cried Fire (Hyena)
Legendary record producer Joel Dorn (of Atlantic fame) continues his winning streak of boutique labels with his new Hyena imprint. The four debut CDs from his latest venture are live performances from a quartet of jazz giants: trumpeter Cannonball Adderly, saxophonist Eddie Harris, pianist Les McCann and saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. All these CDs were painstakingly culled from numerous live shows never originally intended for release, so they truly pack the spontaneity and authenticity of the best jazz performances. New Orleans listeners should take special note of Kirk's The Man Who Cried Fire. The CD's centerpiece is the 12 minute-plus "New Orleans Fantasy," which features a priceless recording of Kirk wailing alongside the Olympia Brass Band at Jazz Fest, spurred to amazing heights. (The Jazz & Heritage Foundation granted a license for the song's use.) But it's regretful that it's only a 45-second snippet spliced after Kirk's onstage musings on New Orleans, and before an introduction to his original dirge "Black and Crazy Blues." Kirk claims he wrote "Black and Crazy Blues" for himself, as he wanted "to be cremated and thrown in a big bag of hash and pot, and all his friends smoke him." As free-floating and ethereal as his sax playing is in the piece -- including holding an impossibly high note for an extended stretch -- the sentiment is fitting. Elsewhere on the album, there's a rare, full-steam ahead version of "Night Train" that hearkens back to Kirk's R&B roots, and "Slow Blues," a rare and delicate example of Kirk's clarinet playing.
Band -- The Best Of (Arhoolie)
There are a lot of Cajun bands in Louisiana who play traditional Cajun music, but few with the pedigree and drive of Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band. Behind accordion maker and accordionist Marc Savoy, guitarist Ann Savoy and fiddler Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil fame, Savoy-Doucet Band's mission is to preserve long-lost compositions from the Cajun songbook. All three musicians are also historians of Cajun culture, which accounts for impassioned versions of songs such as "La Valse Du Malchanceux (The Unlucky Waltz)," "Lapin Dans Son Nique (Rabbit in its Nest)," and "'Tits Yeux Noirs (Little Black Eyes)." They're all also sturdy vocalists, which allows for a rotating mix of feeling and emotion, from Ann's high and pure two-step "Quelle Etoile (Which Star)," Doucet's alternately loping and whooping reading of "La Valse de Vachers (The Cowboy Waltz)," and Marc's rustic and earthy timbre on "Reno Waltz." The most illuminating aspect of this collection is a trio of Marc Savoy's originals: the instrumental Amede Ardoin homage "Amede Two Step," and the vocal tracks "She Made Me Lose My Mind" and "Le Gros Guime a Sam (Sam's Big Rooster)." These performances blend seamlessly with the historical material, and are three conduits -- the Savoys and Doucet -- playing the unblemished sounds of the soundtrack to south Louisiana, on beautiful acoustic instruments.
- Absolutely the Best is a misnomer for a new Johnny Adams compilation CD, but it's still a testament to one of Louisiana's all-time greatest vocalists.