blues for black friday

Black Friday. Seems like an awfully sinister name for the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza that officially christens the Christmas season as act of unforgiving commerce. But there you have it.

By the time you read this, the 4 a.m. department store runs are history, so maybe that wacko lady from the Target commercials can finally chill. But we couldn’t let the rest of Black Friday slip by without presenting our annual shopping guide of newly released music.

We’ve been assembling these guides since at least since 1983. Originally, they were split into genres. Of late, the decision was made to simply streamline everything. Gone are the categories. Instead, we offer 25 critic’s pick selections, all of which are designed to ease holiday blues and bring a little holiday color to Black Friday.

Here we go…

elvis costello: national rannsom

elvis costello: national rannsom

+ Elvis Costello: National Ransom – Ever the artful cynic, Costello offers up 16 T Bone Burnett-produced songs that merge his Imposters and Sugarcanes bands. The resulting music, all of which is rich in themes of death and deceit, rocks, pops, swings and stings.

+ John Legend and The Roots: Wake Up! – A soul summit teaming R&B champ Legend with hip hop warhorses The Roots for hits by Harold Melvin, Donny Hathaway, and Curtis Mayfield as well as Bill Withers’ anti-war manifesto I Can’t Write Left Handed.

+ Bob Dylan: The Witmark Demos, 1962-1964 – Some of Dylan’s earliest recordings outline the folk genius to come. Blueprint versions of Ballad of Hollis Brown and Girl from the North Country are balanced with Woody Guthrie-style ruminations.

+ Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams: Small Craft on a Milk Sea – A mix of the serene ambient soundscapes Eno began to promote in the late ‘70s and modern indie-pop distractions. The resulting album sounds like a soundtrack full of grace and tension.

+ Bruce Springsteen: The Promise – A two-disc set of 21 unreleased recordings from the sessions that gave us 1978’s classic Darkness on the Edge of Town. As such, the music is full of Jersey-inspired pop soul romanticism but with a deep lyrical restlessness.

cassandra wilson: silver pony

cassandra wilson: silver pony

+ Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony – Pulling from intimate concert and studio performances, vocalist Wilson again blurs lines between jazz, soul and blues with a striking revision of Forty Days and Forty Nights and the regal, rootsy resolve of Beneath a Silver Moon.

+ Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller – The bass, percussion and brass accents may be rooted in multi-cultural swing and blues, but jazz pianist Weston still tells a mighty story on the keys with bright, boppish melodies.

+ Marc Ribot: Silent Movies – Part avant garde renegade, part progressive Americana artist, Ribot tones down the abstractions along with the guest list for a spacious set of predominantly solo guitar selections. An album of quiet but uneasy beauty.

+ The Doors: Live in Vancouver 1970 – This latest unearthed Doors concert recording centers on a full performance from June 1970 (roughly a year before Jim Morrison’s death) that is highlighted by four jams with blues/soul guitar great Albert King.

mavis staples: you are not alone

mavis staples: you are not alone

+ Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone – The veteran gospel dynamo hooks up with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy for a set of spirituals and forgotten rock classics, like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Wrote a Song for Everyone, that sound righteous enough for a Sunday service.

+ Oregon: In Stride – On the sublime In Stride, Oregon sheds much of its world music profile to become a more streamlined jazz quartet. But the sound remains distinctive with the blend of Ralph Towner’s classical guitar and Paul McCandless’ unearthly reeds.

+ Charlie Hunter: Public Domain – The inventive jazz/jam band guitarist goes it alone on an album that, as the title implies, focuses on folk and blues gems from past generations. The grooves however, on Ain’t We Got Fun and St. Louis Blues, couldn’t be fresher.

+ Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend – A two disc collection that covers music from 17 albums Brubeck cut for Columbia Records between 1954 and 1970. Designed to celebrate Brubeck’s 90th birthday, Legacy is an ideal introduction to the piano jazz titan.

+ Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band: Almost Acoustic/Ragged But Right – A re-issue of 1988’s Almost Acoustic with the previously unreleased Ragged But Right (collected from several 1987 shows). Both highlight Garcia’s blues and bluegrass temperaments.

john lennon: power to the people

john lennon: power to the people

+ John Lennon: Power to the People, The Hits – Part of Capitol Records’ reissue campaign of John Lennon’s solo recordings is this essential single disc primer anthology. The music spans a mere decade, from 1969’s Give Peace a Chance to 1980’s Starting Over.

+ Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run – Not to be outdone by the Lennon reissues is a complete overhaul of McCartney’s solo catalogue. First up is this 1973 smash, which remains, hands down, Sir Paul’s strongest post-Beatles outing.

+ Punch Brothers: Antifogmatic – Chris Thile picks up a new bass player (Paul Kowert), enlists a major league pop producer (Jon Brion), cools the compositional design from multi-movement suites to concise songs and emerges with another new grass delicacy.

+ Vijay Iyer: Solo – An industrious unaccompanied work by jazz piano sensation Iyer. The repertoire shifts from Duke Ellington to Michael Jackson, while the inspirations on this rich, dark piano adventure echo such challenging giants as Andrew Hill and Sun Ra.

+ Jimi Hendrix: West Coast Seattle Boy – A single disc distillation of the mammoth four-disc anthology of the same name, West Coast Seattle Boy relies mostly on alternate takes of hits and newly unearthed gems, such as a stunning, mostly solo version of Tears of Rage.

old 97s: the grand theatre

old 97s: the grand theatre

+ Old 97s: The Grand Theatre, Volume One – An album more in line with the jittery pop Old 97s frontman Rhett Miller has cut on his own, The Grand Theatre is nonetheless a fun and efficient arsenal of big beat pop enhanced with nervous country energy.

+ Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson: At Edwards Barn – A crisp concert document that doubles as a dual career retrospective of a decades-old musical friendship. The singing and musicianship is sterling throughout, yielding a glowing Americana intimacy.

+ Trey Gunn: I’ll Tell What I Saw – A double-disc anthology highlighting 17 years of solo encounters and side projects by ex-King Crimson-ite Gunn. The music may be proggish in design but the spacious, often orchestral charm makes the songs gloriously indefinable.

+ Eric Clapton: Clapton – A new Clapton album that is actually worth recommending? Believe it. On Clapton, the guitarist purposely cools his own star power to examine lanky blues jams with J.J. Cale and Derek Trucks along with deep pocket New Orleans swing.

+ California Guitar Trio: Andromeda – Two decades on, the CGT finally give us an album of all-original material. It’s a beaut, too. Global references abound, but so do wonderfully lyrical feats like Cathedral Peak. As always, three acoustic guitars lead the charge.

+ Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers – A guitar/cello/drums trio session from the always astounding Frisell that weaves wiry, wheezy original melodies together with generously reworked music by The Carter Family, Benny Goodman and, of course, Stephen Foster.

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