PLAYLIST

Otis Rush
Ain't Enough Comin' In
(This Way Up/Mercury)

If you're curious as to what blues aficionados mean when they describe guitar solos as "stinging," pick this up. Rush, who's worked in something akin to obscurity since the mid-Fifties, is a lethal force, and when he straps on his weapon of choice (a Fender Stratocaster), he makes a sound sharp and precise enough to cut through anything in its path. Because the arrangements on his latest release aren't exactly spare, that's a good thing: A frontman with less passion and style would be overwhelmed by John Porter's production. For the most part, the material Porter has chosen is a bit too familiar. Still, Rush makes each tune his own, thanks to his rough, extremely ready vocals and an instrumental approach that, on the title track (the only Rush-written song here) is as individual as it is timeless. With more cuts like this, Ain't Enough Comin' In could have been a classic on par with Rush's hard-to-find disc Right Place, Wrong Time. Instead, it's merely exceptional. Tough luck.--Michael Roberts

Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet
Live at the New School: The Complete Concert
(Chiaroscuro)

The Braff/Barnes Quartet did not have a long life--it was formed in 1973 and disbanded less than eighteen months later. Nevertheless, the band has attained legendary status, and the sharp spontaneity of this recording of twenty tracks performed at New York City's New School for Social Research in 1974 shows why. Braff, a supreme cornetist with a strong melodic sense and a honey-warm tone, is at his best, effortlessly delivering rippling flurries of notes, and Barnes, an electric-guitar innovator who died in 1977, matches him stride for stride. On this date, the quartet, featuring rhythm guitarist Wayne Wright and bassist Michael Moore, plays just one original (a Braff composition), focusing instead on a variety of classics from the pens of Ellington, Gershwin, Kahn, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin

and Lennon/McCartney (whose "Here, There and Everywhere" displays a poignant whimsy). Live at the New School may be hard to find, given the small size of the Chiaroscuro label, but if you choose to special-order it, you won't be sorry.--Linda Gruno

Johnny Cash
American Recordings
(American)

When it was announced that Cash had been signed by Rick Rubin, the former Beastie Boys producer known for releasing albums by groups such as Slayer, all the warning flags went up; you had to figure that the disc that emerged would be a tortured, all-star affair dominated by alternative and metal performers wanting to borrow some of the Man in Black's hip quotient. Instead, Rubin made a brave, probably foolhardy choice: He recorded Cash in his living room without any backing musicians (the only exceptions being two tracks recorded live at Johnny Depp's Viper Room). The quiet, ominous sound that he captured has all the commercial appeal of a five-CD box set of spoon playing, but it's as intense and evocative as any disc Cash has made in his career. It's also notably self-conscious: "Dehlia's Gone," in which Johnny croons about tying his beloved to a chair and shooting her to death, is an attempt to update "Folsom Prison Blues" that's probably too on-the-nose, while "Let the Train Blow the Whistle," which features the lines "No regrets/All my debts/Will be paid/When I get laid," probably would sound better if sung by Cash's stepdaughter, Carlene Carter. Nonetheless, the recording as a whole suggests a certain majesty: It calls to mind the Sermon on the Mount as delivered by a Jesus who's spent some time in stir and sometimes enjoys kicking the shit out of those who deserve it. Cool.--Roberts

Crescent City Gold
The Ultimate Session
(High Street Records)

Here's a release made to order for those who've fantasized about the quintessential New Orleans jam session; the six players assembled for this album provide the makings for the ultimate musical wet dream. Legendary funk and party giants Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, who share lead vocals, are joined by pianist Ed Frank, drummer/ vocalist Earl Palmer, saxophonist/percussionist Alvin Tyler and saxman Lee Allen, performers whose credits include work with Little Richard, Professor Longhair, Big Joe Turner, Lloyd Price and Fats Domino. While each of the sixteen tunes featured stands as a finely executed piece, the covers of funk classics and new songs written by the group's composing members take a backseat to the instrumental tracks. On these, Toussaint's organ, synth and piano provide a grooving, delicate contrast to the rockety-plinkety funk of Dr. John's piano style; as an added bonus, the Doctor plays a song on his first instrument, the guitar. Some of the work here is reminiscent of an upgraded period piece, but even the good old days didn't sound this good.--Gruno

 
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