One of THE great jazz quartets of all time: Coltrane (tenor & soprano), McCoy Tyner (piano), the earth-shaking Elvin Jones (drums) and Steve Davis (bass, though 'Trane's band would most often feature Jimmy Garrison and sometimes Reggie Workman), playing a blues-inspired program of originals. This band had an empathy shared by only the best bands in jazz: the Brubeck and Miles Davis groups, the Modern Jazz Quartet–and it shows here, with warmth, confidence, economy and relaxed interplay.
It’s hard to be ambivalent about Zooey Deschanel. She’s a polarizing personality, one whose deadpan movie roles and big Bambi eyes are either charming or too cute for their own good. The same can be said for She & Him, a soft rock duo that features Deschanel doing what she does best as a film star: acting utterly adorable alongside a quiet, talented male character. Her co-star in this case is M. Ward, who produces the band's second album and frames Deschanel’s voice with a Spector-sized pile of instruments. Those who already take issue with Zooey’s acting will almost surely pick this record apart – it’s too reminiscent of her cutesy turns in movies like (500) Days of Summer to change many minds – but for fans of retro pop (and Deschanel in general), Volume 2 is a gem. Whether they’re copping the Brill Building sound or resurrecting ‘70s beach-pop, She & Him always seem to have nostalgia on the mind.
Of all the post-Fathers & Sons attempts at updating Muddy's sound in collaboration with younger white musicians, this album worked best because they let Muddy be himself, producing music that compared favorably to his concerts of the period, which were wonderful. His final album for Chess (recorded at Levon Helm's Woodstock studio, not in Chicago), with Helm and fellow Band-member Garth Hudson teaming up with Muddy's touring band, it was a rocking (in the bluesy sense) soulful swansong to the label where he got his start. Muddy covers some songs he knew back when (including Louis Jordan's "Caldonia" and "Let The Good Times Roll"), plays some slide, and generally has a great time on this Grammy-winning album. This record got lost in the shuffle between the collapse of Chess Records and the revival of Muddy's career under the auspices of Johnny Winter, and was forgotten until 1995. The CD contains one previously unreleased number, "Fox Squirrel".
Some of the finer CTI recordings of the late '70s were those led by flugelhornist Art Farmer. Although the emphasis was generally on obscure material (in this case Farmer plays one original, two songs by Dave Grusin and one piece by pianist Fritz Pauer) and often featured musicians who did not normally play together, the results were generally quite rewarding. For this CTI LP (long out-of-print), the focus is almost entirely on Farmer who is joined by keyboardist Grusin, guitarist Eric Gale, flutist Jeremy Steig, either Will Lee or George Mraz on bass and drummer Steve Gadd. The moody music holds one's interest throughout.
Us and Us Only picks up where Tellin' Stories left off and twists that album's virtues around. Where that record was essentially a stripped-down, straight-ahead collection, Us and Us Only dresses up the band's continually impressive songcraft in a moody atmosphere, borrowed in equal parts from Blonde on Blonde, Beggars Banquet, and the Chemical Brothers. The album unfolds in a haze of keyboards and subdued beats, and this murky veil never really lifts throughout the record, even as harmonics and acoustic guitars break through the mist every once and a while. Consequently, the album can initially seem a little amorphous, albeit intriguingly amorphous, filled with deep grooves and tantalizing sonic textures. Repeated plays reveal that Us and Us Only is merely a step below their previous high point of Tellin' Stories. If nothing is as immediately grabbing as "North Country Boy" or "One to Another," that's not a problem, since nearly every song works its charms with subtle grace and considerable muscle. "Forever" soon reveals itself as a minor masterpiece of swirling menace and swagger, while the Dylan inflections of "A House Is Not a Home" and "My Beautiful Friend" seem natural instead of grandstanding.