current listening 04/23/11

+ Crowded House: North America Travelogue 2010 (2011) – A favorite among the releases issued last weekend for Record Store Day, Travelogue is also the sort of bargain that will make Crowded House fans drool. A 3-CD set with only perfunctory packaging, it gathers nearly 50 separate songs from the band’s summer tour last year – from House favorites to Split Enz gems, all beautifully performed and recorded. And all for $18. What a deal.

+ Poco: Crazy Eyes (1973) – The last studio album to feature Poco founder Richie Furay, outside of superfluous reunion efforts, Crazy Eyes was also the country-rock ensemble’s bravest effort. Furay’s nearly 10 minute title tune, a sort of ambient orchestral country fantasy, may just be Poco’s finest studio work. But the calming cover of J.J. Cale’s Magnolia and Rusty Young’s regal pedal steel playing ignite the rest of the album.

+ Melvin Sparks: Legends of Acid Jazz (1996) – The recent death of Texas-born guitarist Sparks went largely unnoticed by the pop mainstream. But this no-frills primer, which gathers two early ‘70s Prestige albums (Melvin Sparks and Spark Plug) asserts Spark’s sleek soul jazz lyricism on classics by Sly and the Family Stone, Rodgers & Hart, Eric Burdon and Kool and the Gang as well as some tasty Charles Earland-style originals.

+ Free: Free (2001/1970) – Part of an overhaul of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s Island albums by Brit rockers Free, this self-titled sophomore release comes with 10 bonus tunes, which doubles the album’s original running time. More important, multiple versions of acoustic works like Mouthful of Grass (especially Paul Kosoff’s killer solo instrumental version) and Mourning Sweet Morning help balance Free’s looser electric grinds.

+ Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (1982) – A departure from the ECM label’s usual school of Nordic jazz cool, The Struggles Continues is a wonderfully animated quartet session by tenor sax great Dewey Redman (father of Joshua Redman). The whole session swings with bright, immediate authority, from the summery Thren to the Monk-like Dewey Square. Drummer Ed Blackwell sounds like a million bucks, too.

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