John McVicker: My Top Albums of 2013

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This is the sixth in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors. Check out all of this year's lists at this link.

Paul Chambers, Bass On Top (Blue Note/EMI, 2007); Roland Kirk, Kirk's Work (Prestige/Concord, 2007): Growing up in Chicago and, as a pre-Beatles teen, tuning into DJs like WAAF's Daddy-O Daylie, the music I listened to most was jazz.

Many of my most prized jazz albums were on the Blue Note or Prestige labels. Often, those albums had been recorded by jazz engineer supremo Rudy Van Gelder in his New Jersey studio. Both labels, now owned by bigger music companies, have been doing a nice job of remastering and re-releasing some of this wonderful music–just look for Van Gelder's name on the cover.

If you're looking to either investigate this fertile era or to expand your jazz collection, this is a great place to start. Among my favorite buys during 2013 are these two. Paul Chambers was sort of "bass player for the stars," (played on the ubiquitous Kind of Blue, for instance) and this 1957 horn-less quartet date features him along with guitar wizard Kenny Burrell. The 1961 Rahsaan Roland Kirk album, his second as a leader, features the great multi-reed player with soul-jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff. Neither album was a hit, but both deserve your attention–and the sound is great.  

Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble, A Trumpet In the Morning (New World Records, 2013): Here's a collection of big band jazz tunes written, arranged and conducted by talented reed player Marty Ehrlich. For the most part, Ehrlich leaves the playing to others (there are lots and lots of hot contemporary jazz players on this one), but the results are both moving and fun. Be prepared for a sonic roller coaster, complete with poetry (the title piece is a setting for a poem by Saint Louis poet Arthur Brown). These folks can P-L-A-Y.

Blind Lemon Jefferson, The Rough Guide to Blind Lemon Jefferson (World Music Network, 2013) Lots more folks would like (love!) older recordings of all types if they the sound wasn't so rough! Here's a nicely selected and very nicely mastered collection of hits from the first great star of country blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson. The sound is good enough (not great–we're talking about records made in the mid-1920s with primitive recording technology) that you can appreciate why he had such an influence on Texas and other blues singers.

BARGAIN NOTE: Priced as a normal CD release, this double-album includes a bonus disc with tunes from a few of the many folks who were influenced by him (he influenced everybody; even the Beatles covered Blind Lemon!).

Various Artists, The Fame Studios Story: 1961-1973 (Ace/Kent, 2011): Did you happen to see the 2013 documentary, Muscle Shoals, about this amazing recording studio in rural Alabama where Aretha Franklin discovered deep soul and launched her fabled career on Atlantic Records? It was neat movie about a remarkable place and time. This 2011 3-CD compilation from UK reissue heroes Ace/Kent has great sound, lavish notes and lots and lots of photos, along with music from Aretha, Wilson Pickett, James & Bobby Purify, Otis Redding, Etta James and a host of lesser-known but worthy artists.

Various Artists, A Road Leading Home: Songs by Dan Penn (Ace/Kent, 2013) As some may have heard, I'm a major fan of songwriter Dan Penn, creator of hits like "Cry Like a Baby" (Box Tops), "I'm Your Puppet" (James & Bobby Purify), and "Do Right Woman" (Aretha Franklin). This collection of some of Penn's better tunes focuses on less well-known versions of familiar songs, and you'll hear pop, country and soul performers having fun with them. For instance, Brenda Lee, not Aretha, is featured on a lovely, country-tinged version of "Do Right Woman."

Various Artists, Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul, Volume 1 (Ace/Kent, 2012) and Sweet Dreams: Where Country Meets Soul, Volume 2 (Ace/Kent, 2013): Aaron Neville covering George Jones? Al Green covering Hank Williams? You get the idea, but it's hard to describe the magic that is made when these R&B folks don their rhinestone suits and cowboy hats. Buy both volumes and you'll be a happy camper.

Various Artists, Shattered Dreams: Funky Blues 1967-1978 (BGP, 2011): This is a very nice collection of funk-influenced tunes by veteran blues musicians from reissue pros Ace/Kent (gee, I LOVE that label) on a sub-mark, BGP. Could folks like Little Milton, Albert King or Buddy Guy have fun with funk? You betcha! You will be up and boogieing from the very first cut, a 1970 tune by Guitar Slim Green called "Shake 'em up," featuring backup by the great Shuggie Otis.

Back in the dawn of time, John McVicker was the guy who turned jazz great John Zorn onto jazz. Later, he taught English as a Second Language in Switzerland, France, Kansas and at Ohio University. Later still, he retired and turned his heart, soul and ample free time to painting pictures. Through all of this, John has nursed a serious music Jones.