By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
What's Going On? (Shout! Factory)
Marvin Gaye's soul classic gets a New Orleans brass band overhaul at the hands of the Dirty Dozen, and the band makes the most of both Gaye's masterpiece and today's prevailing post-Katrina /blunders-of-Dubya atmosphere of paranoia and resolve. Bettye LaVette growls a star vocal turn on "What's Happening Brother," "Right On" funks along with righteous fervor, and "Flyin' High (in the Friendly Sky)" is best of all, a second-line funeral parade that encapsulates the whole album—and the essence of New Orleans—in five glorious minutes.
With the partial exception of New Orleans jazz culture, young black American musicians rarely spend much time looking to the distant past for inspiration. One exception is Cedric Watson, a 22-year-old Creole fiddler from the prairies just west of the zydeco hotbed of Houston. Watson's interests extend beyond zydeco, back to the music called "la-la," the pre-electric folk material of his Louisiana Creole ancestors. Here, he performs these French-language waltzes, reels and two-steps with a couple of the few remaining older practitioners, and the result is as joyous and unexpected as that ivory-billed woodpecker sighting a few years back. This music was supposed to have gone extinct a decade or so ago, and now it appears safe for another couple of generations.
Post War (Merge)
A melancholy imagining of what American life will be like once our wars against terrorism are finally over, young neo-traditionalist rocker M. Ward has created the most beautiful record of his short, already distinguished career. While his acoustic guitar-playing retains its folky, John Fahey-esque bluesiness, Post Warfinds Ward's arrangements lushed up with strings, piano and kettle drums and other such sonic grandeur, creating a vast panorama for his understated and, at times, eerie tenor. It's schizoid, by turns achingly gentle and violently boisterous, utterly joyous and profoundly depressed. In other words, it's the perfect album for our imperfect times.