Here are some smoking cool collections that have come out recently – just the thing for last minute holiday consumerizing:
Rod Stewart – Reason to Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings
If you are under 40, you probably think of Rod Stewart as a an aging, silly, foppish playboy who has about as much to do with rock ‘n’ roll and gritty roots music as Barry Manilow. This collection proves you would be wrong, covering the dawn of Stewart’s solo career from ’69 to ’74.
Disc 1 has some memorable, promising moments like “Handbags and Gladrags,” “Gasoline Alley,” and Elton John’s “Country Comforts.” But like a telescope suddenly coming into focus, everything falls into place on disc 2, covering two of the greatest albums in rock history: Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment.
Stewart’s rootsy, rasping, organic sound combines Celtic folk, Southern soul, Ron Wood’s bluesy guitar, the uncannily propulsive Mick Waller on drums, and Stewart at his peak as singer, songwriter and producer. Amazing stuff, and while Every Picture gets most of the attention, Never may be even better, being consistently great from start to finish.
By disc 3 Stewart had already lost some focus, demonstrating he didn’t really understand his own strengths – a problem that has plagued him now for 30 years. But that brief period of perfection will never go away as this collection attests.
Sam Cooke – With the Soul Stirrers
Stewart’s hero Sam Cooke also has an edifying collection out. Before Cooke became a soul/pop legend, he was the young heartthrob lead singer of gospel sensations the Soul Stirrers. Cooke was such a gospel star that the owner of his label, Art Rupe, feared he would lose sales if Cooke moved to pop.
The fact that Rupe was wrong has nothing to do with the power of the Soul Stirrer’s music, powerfully represented on this three-CD set with classics “He’s My Friend Until the End,” “Be With Me Jesus,” “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” and “That’s Heaven to Me.” The 20-minute live recording from a legendary ’55 show at the Shrine in LA generates tingles and elevates the soul.
None But the Righteous: the Masters of Sacred Steel
Continuing in service to the spirit, this collection uncovers a gospel-sacred underground of black church music with the pedal steel guitar – typically associated with country music – at the heart of the instrumentation. John Medeski selected this rousing survey featuring masters Sonny Treadway, the Campbell Brothers, Glenn Lee, Aubrey Ghent, Maurice “Ted” Beard Jr., and Calvin Cooke – strange yet beautifully familiar at the same time.
American Roots Music: Highlights
The cream of the 4-CD companion set to the PBS series, this single set surveys the incredible riches of indiginous American music. It doesn’t get much more iconic than Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family, Bob Wills, Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson and Edwin Hawkins, Woody Guthrie Leadbelly and Bob Dylan, Clifton Chenier, Steve Riley, Flaco Jimenez, and R. Carlos Nakai.