For something less traditional but no less killing, try Melvin Taylor & The Slack Band’s Bang That Bell. A post-Hendrix exercise in funky-blue wah-wah wailing, this one has more allusions to Prince and the Isley Brothers than Muddy and the Wolf. In the course of a single tune (“Another Bad Day”) he can blend jazzy, Wes Montgomery-styled octaves with over-the-top wah-wah work and metalesque speed picking. But in spite of all the virtuosic six-string technique, Taylor can also get up into some nasty real-deal shuffles and earthy funk, as he proves so convincingly on “It’s Later than You Think,” which features some brilliant harmonica playing by Sugar Blue, and on a super-funky updating of the Earl King classic “Trick Bag.” And he digs into a slow blues, “A Quitter Never Wins,” with fangs bared. The closer, “Even Trolls Love Rock & Roll,” is a wild fretboard scorcher featuring guest guitar slinger Eric Gales. A tremendous guitarist and soulful singer, Taylor is a major versatile talent on the crossover blues-rock circuit that includes the likes of Robert Cray, Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis are joined by two acclaimed musical forces - pianist Jeremy Denk and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, of which Bell is Music Director – in a landmark joint recording, For the Love of Brahms (Sony Classical). Available September 30, 2016, the new album is a unique project that features works of Brahms and Schumann that Bell calls “music about love and friendship.” Bell, Isserlis and Denk unite here in Brahms’s first published chamber work, the Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8 in its rarely performed original 1854 version. Isserlis also joins Bell – as violin soloist and director – and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in Brahms’s last orchestral work, the celebrated Double Concerto (for Violin and Cello) in A Minor, Op. 102. Bell, Isserlis and members of the Academy also offer the first recording of an unusual coupling: the slow movement of Schumann’s rarely heard Violin Concerto, in a version for string orchestra made by Benjamin Britten, who also added a short coda.
It does not take very long to realize that this is a nicely put together record. The singing is intense in somewhat of a Springsteen/David Eugene Edwards (Woven Hand) manner, but unique from them. The surrounding instrumentation weaves in and out in a folk rock manner at times and works as a full throttle rock band at others. The Singer-Songwriter category does not quite do justice to the songs. I would say rock fans will like this more than people wanting straight folk, but it has a good general appeal to both the crowds seeking lighter thoughtful material and those that want a good rock beat. The music is rather universal and what is truly interesting is that the California duo behind this band has historically done so much better in Europe than in the US. While I often can understand why some great European born music may not translate as well in the US (and vice versa), I have never understood why several great US bands (Wipers, 16 Horsepower) do so much better in Europe. Add this band to that list, as US listeners need to join in. I believe this album of eleven original songs comes with a bonus CD containing a full live set. (David Hintz)