Various Artists (from the album God Don’t Never Change , the Songs of 'Blind' Willie Johnson on Alligator Records) - The songs of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson have crossed over the threshold from church hymns out into the secular world, though the initial fervor that Willie put into his Gospel Blues is present once again on God Don’t Never Change, The Songs of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson. The music of Willie Johnson has proved that it cannot be stopped by the calendar pages as the fall. Led Zeppelin snagged the chorus of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, performed on God Don’t Never Change by Lucinda Williams. Many artists have covered the songs of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson with Hot Tuna offering a version of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” on their debut, and performed on this compilation by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi while The Blind Boys of Alabama slow “Mother's Children have a Hard Time” from the amped of version by Eric Clapton on his 1974 release as “Motherless Children” on 461 Ocean Boulevard.

The artists tributing ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson on God Don’t Never Change are as familiar as his songs.  Rickie Lee Jones takes on “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground”, a song that made the 1977 flight of Voyager 1 as a piece of the music from earth that was sent out into space. Lucinda Williams contributes the title track, Cowboy Junkies announce “Jesus is Coming”, and Sinead O'Connor sees glory as “Trouble Will Soon be Over “. The rhythms shift under Luther Dickinson as he is joined by Rising Star Fife and Drum Band as they sing “Bye and Bye I'm Going to See the King”, and Maria McKee performs “Let Your Love Light Shine on Me”. Tom Waits inhabits the spirit of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson as he opens God Don’t Never Change, the Songs of Blind Willie Johnson with “The Soul of a Man” while he stomps the ground with beats to raise up the dead with rattle rhythms on “John the Revelator”.

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The Connells (from the album Stone Cold Yesterday, The Best of The Connells)

The Connells carved out a niche for their music in an era when college radio made careers. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the band formed in 1984, recording albums with late 80’s/early 90’s A-list producers such as Mitch Easter and Lou Giordano. The Bicycle Music Company has gathered tracks for a Best of The Connells collection, Stone Cold Yesterday. The title track was the first hit from The Connells that caught radio ears with their cut, “74-75”, breaking the band internationally, the tune reaching number one status in several European markets. Musically, The Connells’ songs became templates for the emerging Indie Rock scene that made the focus for the tracks in a singer/songwriter styles, bringing the more structured arrangements into a Rock format.

Easy rock is the backing track for The Connells as a slow shuffle lazily wraps around the jangle of “Uninspired” while “Carry My Picture” puts an edge into a Southern sway with sharp guitar notes as “Slackjawed” barrels along with a solid groove, and “Over There” rumbles its rhythm with train track beats, assured percussion and gentle vocals. Stone Cold Yesterday captures cuts from a Carolina band that wrote history for Indie music with their take on Rock. The Connells became an ever-present soundtrack for college radio, supporting studies with intelligent lyrics, adding a touch of Celtic tones to “Scotty’s Lament”, casually stalking love on the hardened beats and sparkly guitar jangle of “Fun and Games”, and bending notes with a slightly Country twang as Stone Cold Yesterday counters claims that ‘she never listens to me a night’, with suggestions on “Get a Gun”.

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Various Artists (from the album Let Us In Americana, the music of Paul McCartney) - Like many of us, Paul McCartney has been affected by cancer and, like many again, gets tripped up on the how to help. Music aids in ways that money cannot and when asked to lend a hand by lending a pen, Paul McCartney wholeheartedly agreed with a blessing for the use of his music to bring awareness to women’s cancers and raise money for the charity in the name of his late wife Linda McCartney.The Let Us In Americana campaign features an album born and raised in Nashville to benefit The Women and Cancer Fund. Phil Madeira produced a collection showcasing the songs wearing Americana skin. The artists included have not covered the songs as much as explored and achieved possibilities within the tracks that give them a new way to walk.

Let Us In moves gracefully into the world via The Wood Brothers’ take on album opener “Come and Get It”. The Beatles early catalog provides “I’m Looking Through You” (Jim Lauderdale) and “Yesterday” (Matraca Berg), their film years with “Yellow Submarine” (Buddy Miller) and the later output with “Fool on the Hill” (Bruce Cockburn) and “Get Back” (Ollabelle). The McCrary Sisters were a natural choice for “Let It Be” and they are joined by Amy Helm, Fiona McBain and Alison Moorer as a church organ gets pushed by a hard backbeat. Will Hoge re-dates the “Band on the Road” tour diary; Teddy Thompson delivers a slow southern soul take on “Let Me Roll It”, and Rodney Crowell gives “Every Night” a more dangerous edge to going out, which in turn gives his confession to “be home with you” even more power. Let Us In: Americana, the music of Paul McCartney is a playlist full of innovative interpretations that take the songs to the mountains and the delta to be re-born. Old Crow Medicine Show frontman Ketch Secor takes Appalachia back to its Irish homeland with “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”.

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Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (from the album The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957 - 1966 on Omnivore Recordings)

The early days of California Country are compiled by Omnivore Recordings on a double-disc release of Buck Owens, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957 – 1966. When Buck was signed to Capitol Records in 1957 he and The Buckaroos had logged over a decade playing bars and honky tonks in Bakersfield, California and beyond. Like musicians down through recorded music history, Buck Owens first reaction was ‘man, this is it! After all these years workin’ my ass off in all those dark, smoky clubs and taverns, I’ve finally got it made’. The reality was a lot different. The first few singles did not even make the charts, Buck Owens aware that the production of his music did not matching the live sound of The Buckaroos. He recalled in his autobiography that ‘on those early records, the producer had insisted on including all these damn background vocals…lots of guys and gals singing oohs and aahs under my stone Country vocals. It sounded ridiculous. As a matter of fact, it came out sounding a whole lot like the kind of stuff they were recording in Nashville back in those days, and the last thing I wanted was for my records to sound like those Pop-Country things they were doing down there’. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos saw a glimmer when they released the single “Second Fiddle”. Though not a huge hit, the tune rose enough to get some love for the California band and their next single release, “Under Your Spell Again” caught air, landing at number five on the music charts and jumpstarting the career of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

The music of Buck Owens conquered the world, his music influencing artists from The Beatles, who recorded the group’s 1963 hit “Act Naturally”, included on the Omnivore release, to Dwight Yoakam, who claims that ‘there have been four, maybe five, other artists in the history of the entire Country music genre who have left as indelible a sonic imprint’. One of the reasons that the songs collected on The Complete Capital Singles: 1957-1966 still sound as crisp as their original recordings was the care and consideration that Buck Owens put into the production. His goal was defined, Buck knowing what would work as he went into the studio, claiming that ‘the reason my Capitol records sounded the way they did—real heavy on the treble—was because I knew most people were going to be listening to ’em on their AM car radios. At the time, nobody else was doing anything like that, but it just seemed like common sense to me. And it was one more reason that you knew it was a Buck Owens record as soon as it came on the radio—because it just didn’t sound like those other records.’ The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 dials in twang with “Before You Go”, “(I Want) No One but You”, “Gonna Have Love” and revisits attacks on the heart with ballads that slowly turn around the honky tonk dance floors on “Only You (Can Break My Heart” and “In the Palm of Your Hand”. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos partner with Rose Maddox on vocals (“We’re the Talk of the Town”, “Sweethearts in Heaven”) as the Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 includes chartoppers such as “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” and a cover of the Ray Charles classic “Cryin’ Time”.

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Joe Cocker (from the album Mad Dogs and Englishmen)

There are many factors that go into forming a band---shared musical tastes and family members becoming official after years of singing and playing together are just two of the many ways.  For Joe Cocker, the impetus behind forming Mad Dogs and Englishmen was contractual obligations…..hey, whatever it takes. From 1966 through 1969, Joe Cocker had released two albums with The Grease Band. After grueling tours in support of the albums, and a stint at Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, Joe and the band split amicably. Joe set up camp in L.A. to get some rest in 1970. The most popular legend is that Joe's manager, Dee Anthony, had booked a seven-week (48 nights in 52 cities) tour set to kick off in one week. He further dropped the bomb that should Mr. Cocker choose not to tour, the Musicians' Union, immigration authorities and concert promoters would not allow him back in the U.S. for future touring.

Local L.A. musician, composer, and producer, Leon Russell, saw a way to help his friend and his own career and, acting as band leader, guitarist, pianist and musical director, he pieced together a group. Using former Grease Band members and various musical friends from Russell’s native Oklahoma and nearby Texas, Mad Dogs and Englishmen were born, the title coming from a 1931 Noel Coward song. Logging in a few ten-hour rehearsals, the band hit the road, gaining both momentum and members as they stretched from opening night in Detroit and tours end two months later in San Bernardino.

The live recording of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen is plucked from a four-show, two-night run at New York City’s Fillmore East on March 27 and 28, 1970. Leon Russell took some knocks from period press about using Joe Cocker as a stepping stone for his career but looking at the band members, it is tough to cite many that did not go on to more after then they had before. A few immediately joined up with The Rolling Stones and Derek and the Dominoes when the tour ended. The musicians and band members for the traveling show featured additional vocals by Don Preston, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Donna Washburn, Claudia Lennear, Denny Cordell, Daniel Moore, Pamela Polland, Matthew Moore, Nicole Barclay and Bobby Jones. Leon joined Don Preston on guitar and Chris Stainton on keyboards. Drummers included Jim Gordon, Chuck Blackwell, Jim Keltner and Sandy Konikoff, saxophones from Bobby Keys and Jim Price on trumpet.

Mad Dogs and Englishmengathered a few songs from Joe Cocker albums but let the remainder of the 61 tracks from the Fillmore East spread equally over rock (The Rolling Stones, Traffic, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen) and soul (Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes). The collective hit a chord on many levels beside music. The tone of the times was freedom and Mad Dogs and Englishmen went beyond the traditional touring. In some ways, they were taking what artists like Delaney, Bonnie and Friends had been working on with big rock and soul shows for a white audience. Mad Dogs and Englishmen is the sound of community. It is top shelf playing from musicians that were a part of a family as much as they were part of a band.

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