Easy Listening Fireplace Music
Lest readers think we've all suddenly gone soft, you won't find any reviews of the Lawrence Welk Basement Tapes this month. But sometimes even those who ride all year in every type of weather have to eventually get off the bike, kick off the boots, and relax. Here in SoCal, we may not be able to relate to those of you who own snow blowers-or even snow itself-yet we also occasionally put the kickstand down and relax in front of a fireplace. Ever notice that fireplaces go great with music? Of course you need that good old-fashioned thing we used to call the stereo. Yeah, those little dinky iPod things are great for travelling, but sometimes a man needs a matched set of speakers with real woofers, tweeters, and so forth. And with a properly aged Scotch in hand, a nice crackling fireplace, and comfy chair, listening to music is almost as good as that nice deserted twisty stretch of road on a spring day. So here are a few musical offerings to set the mood...
Buddy Guy is a survivor, the current reigning king of the blues, whose concert appearances still pack 'em in. Like nearly every other blues legend, Buddy's career began in the Delta but he eventually migrated to Chicago, where he hung with a "Who's Who" list of blues greats (it should come as no surprise that his hero is Muddy Waters).
His latest album, Living Proof, opens with "74 Years Young," a tune that could be Buddy's autobiography thus far. In fact, every song has an autobiographical theme of life on the road as a bluesman. Yet there's still plenty of room for the listeners to relate to their own road experiences, which is how it is with most blues and country songs. Buddy's guitar playing hasn't diminished in the slightest. He can still rip up the blues louder and faster, or carpet bomb with Hendrix-like solos better than anyone else playing blues, or rock for that matter. Guest appearances by B.B. King and Santana are neat surprises as well. It all goes to prove that Buddy has been getting better with every passing year and every new release, to which we can only say, keep 'em coming!
Sinners & Saints
Raul Malo was the leader of the Mavericks, one of the first-and best-alternative country bands, back when the genre was growing. The band's 1994 album What a Crying Shame became a hit and sent them into country superstardom for a short period. Throughout it all, Malo provided most of their songs and cited as his influences, among others, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Not bad. The sound on the Mavericks' latter albums began to evolve as the band moved away from strict country to incorporate other rhythms. The Latin infusions reflected Malo's Cuban heritage. He soon began releasing solo projects, one of which was a version of Springsteen's "Downbound Train," which ranks up there as one of the best Springsteen covers ever.
Fast forward to 2010. Saints & Sinners is Malo's seventh solo album. Begun at his home studio in Nashville, it was completed in Austin with the help of Augie Meyers (Sir Douglas Quintet, Texas Tornados), Shawn Sam (Sir Douglas' son), Michael Guerra, the Trishas (who lent background vocals), and other friends. From the opening notes of the title track, you're confronted with the south-of-the-border influences from Guerra's exceptional accordion playing-you'll swear you never knew an accordion could sound this good! Malo's guitar work on this track is described as one part "surf twang" and one part "Flamenco melodicism." Whatever, it sounds great and sets the mood perfectly for what follows. The real prize is his version of Rodney Crowell's classic "'Till I Gain Control Again":
"Out on the road that lies before me now
There are some turns where I will spin
Darlin' I only hope, only hope
That you will hold me now
Until I gain control again..."
It's enough to melt the steely resolve of any tough-guy biker, as is his original "Staying Here," another love song of sorts. This, my friends, is ultimate fireplace music with lots of Tex Mex on the side. There are songs that will make you dance ("San Antonio Baby") and songs that will make you think ("Living for Today"). And his rendition of "Sombras" is an instant classic.
There are not many artists who exhibit the level of diverse talent as Raul Malo; certainly very few working in modern cookie-cutter pop music. And it's a damn shame radio hasn't grown up enough to embrace music like this. No matter, that's why you're reading this (I hope). It doesn't matter if you're a saint or a sinner; go buy the CD (especially so you can get the lyrics). It goes great with tequila.