current listening 02/27/10

+ Pretenders: Live in London (2010) – “This is one for all the gentlemen in the house, if there are any,” says the magnificently ageless Chrissie Hynde on this jaw-dropping-ly great CD/DVD package. Here, her present day Pretenders (still with Martin Chambers in the drum chair but now fortified with pedal steel demon Eric Heywood) rip through two dozen rockers new (Boots of Chinese Plastic) and vintage (Precious). What a blast.

+ Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (1969/2003) – Quite possibly the most accessible album Dylan ever made. And on the 2003 remastered edition, its country ambience sounds even more spacious. That’s especially true on one of my all time favorite Dylan tracks, Tell Me It Isn’t True, where pedal steel and organ seem to echo for miles. Of course, having an in-his-prime Johnny Cash helping out on Girl from the North Country is pretty cool, too.

+ Aretha Franklin: Live at Fillmore West (1971/2006) – Her hysterical new TV commercial for Snickers (“everytime you get hungry, you turn into a diva”) prompted a friend to ask what my favorite Aretha album was. This is it, hands down. On a 2006 double-disc edition, there is, as they say, more to love. Shoot, Aretha is so cool with her King Curtis-led band that she even makes Bread’s Make It With You sound soulful. And that’s impossible.

+ Focus: Live at the BBC (2004/1976) – For an archival album like this to even exist, one has to believe the BBC has retained recordings of every live performance it blasted across the airwaves during the ‘70s. But this is a real find – Dutch rockers Focus playing in 1976 with the Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine in the place of the great Jan Akkerman. The result is a jazzier take on Focus’s prog sound. A beautifully dated, neo-fusion getaway.

+ Joe Martin: Not By Chance (2009) – I did something I almost never do with this record. I bought it based on a review written by someone else. But the rave from The New York Times proved worthy. Bassist Martin is an in-demand jazz cat in New York and Not By Chance is a warm, unassuming post-bop session that employs two of his former employers – pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Chris Potter – as bandmates.

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