Time traveler Alvin Youngblood Hart's albums have darted from crusty Delta fingerpicking and hollering to Hendrixian hellfire to crunchy, primal rockin' blues, all with the ring of authority that comes from complete commitment to the music. This time, he's set the wayback machine to the early '30s, using guitars, mandolin, banjo, and a lot of heart to interpret tunes by Son House, Charley Patton, Skip James, Leadbelly, and others. Somehow, the dust of old Mississippi, the state where the Oakland-born musician now resides, seems to have gotten into his blood. Hart sounds like Parchman Farm's newest inmate as he wails and moans through "How Long Before I Can Change My Clothes," plucking notes from a National resonator guitar. Chiming out chords and quick runs on banjo, he makes Odetta's "Chilly Winds" seem like they're carrying the voices of lost ghosts, recounting their lives of misery under Jim Crow's wing. Hart tends to take many of these classics, like Patton's "Tom Rushen Blues" and Leadbelly's "Alberta," at slightly slower tempos, which gives him more time to squeeze gut emotions from his lightly graveled phrases and lets his pluck-and-drone playing work its hypnotic effect. Stark and impressive for the power Hart generates alone, this may be the acoustic blues album of the year.
This is as close to Latin purist Mongo as we have heard in recent years, an eight-piece salsa band – including several members of the 1997 Tito Puente ensemble, like trumpeter Ray Vega, altoist Bobby Porcelli and tenorman Mitch Frohman – playing a brace of Mongo classics and Latin jazz pieces live before a hushed crowd in Seattle's Jazz Alley. There are no pop covers, one electric instrument (a bass), lots of extended jazz solos (Porcelli and Frohman really burn on the pioneering Afro-Cuban classic "Manteca"), and an unusual (for Mongo) emphasis on the timbales on many tracks, which shoves the rhythms closer to the salsified Puente manner. However, tracks like "Juan Jose," "Home" and "Bonita" do have the smooth Mongo cha-cha and guajira grooves, and elsewhere, Mongo lifts himself out of the background often enough to deliver some stirring polyrhythmic conga salvos.