Written by 7:15 am Audiophile Music

Three CDs from 2003

Here are three CDs from 2003 that you may have missed from Willie Nelson, Matt Flinner, and Jeff Black. They deserve a second look…




AR-nelson1.jpgWillie
Nelson –
Crazy
– The Demo Sessions



Once
upon a time Willie Nelson was just another starving songwriter trying to make
it in music city. Stories abound of songs he tried to sell for $50, and during
the early 60’s he made a number of demos for Hal Smith and Ray Price’s Pamper
Music. In 1994 a large reel labeled “Pamper Demos” was found in Sony/ATV/Tree
music vaults, and it contained many of these original demos. Fifteen of them
have been digitally restored and mastered on Crazy – The Demo Sessions. Along
with the first versions of “Crazy,” “I Gotta Get Drunk,” and “Three Days,” is
the previously unreleased song “I’m Still Here.”  Some of the tunes are
breathtaking brief; “I Just Destroyed the World” only runs 1:13.  Even the
longest, “Crazy,” has only a skeletonized arrangement and backup. These Spartan
arrangements, often merely with Willie’s voice and guitar, highlight not only
the strength of his early material, but Willie’s unique vocal phrasing and
delivery. Just like Johnny Cash’s studio recordings, much of Nelson’s young
brilliance was buried under syrupy arrangements and loopy background singers.
On Crazy – The Demo Sessions none of these stylistically dated musical
distractions obscure the timeless modernity of Nelson’s songs.

Producer
Steve Fishell and digital restorer and editor Buddy Miller should be commended
on the fine job they have done resurrecting these old tapes. Judging by the
sound, they were not recorded on exactly state of the art equipment to begin
with. Occasional pitch variations and deviations from full A-440 pitch are
obvious on certain tracks, but these small sonic warts never get in the way of
the music.

Along
with fifteen tracks of great music comes an equally worthy extra. Hank Cochran,
the great Nashville-based songwriter who helped Willie Nelson sign his first
publishing deal, provides insight into Nelson’s first years in Nashville in an
exclusive interview produced by Digital Vision Media. Both PC or MAC owners can
enjoy this quick-time multimedia presentation on their computers.

Crazy – The Demo Sessions is the sort of
album that at first might be dismissed as merely for hardcore Willie Nelson
fans. But after a single listen anyone who appreciates great American music
will be smitten. If you only want to own one Willie Nelson CD (which is akin to
eating one potato chip), this is the one to get.

  

 

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Matt Flinner Quartet – Walking on the Moon

Matt
Flinner’s
last outing consisted of an acoustic trio with David Grier on guitar
and Todd Phillips on acoustic bass. This year’s installment features Flinner
leading an electric band on his personal odyssey of how far away from bluegrass
a mandolin player can get and still be true to the essential nature of the
mandolin. Guitarist Gawain Mathews, electric bassist Sam Mathews, drummer Aaron
Mathews and special guest Colin Bricker on sampler, join Flinner as he explores
the outer limits of electric jazz.

Along
with four original songs by Flinner, three from Mathews, and one by Bevan, the
Flinner quartet works its way through Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and “Cissy
Strut,” along with Sting’s “Walking on the Moon.” My vote for the most
infectious original tune goes to “Ice Queen” which sports a convoluted
structure coupled with a euphonious melody. Sting’s “Walking On The Moon” lends
itself beautifully to the Flinner quartet’s musical explorations. Imagine Chick
Corea’s Return to Forever with less space and a more organic core.

Self-produced
by the quartet, recorded by Colin Bricker at NFA recording in Denver, Colorado,
and mastered by Dave Sinko at The Sound Emporium in Nashville, Tennessee, this
CD successfully overcomes the difficulty of putting an acoustic mandolin into a
mix surrounded by amplifiedinstruments. Flinner’s Gilchrist mandolin sounds
just as natural as it has on previous all-acoustic outings. Mathew’s electric
guitar has great bite and his wide range of tonal shadings come through with
remarkable delicacy and depth.

I’ve
previously reviewed Don Stiernberg’s Unseasonably Cool, which demonstrates just
how well a mandolin can fit into a traditional jazz combo. Matt Flinner’s
Walking on the Moon delves into the outer edge of jazz, pushing the musical
envelope. Both Stiernberg and Flinner are on the leading edge of a contemporary
mandolin renaissance. Listen to these two disks back-to-back to experience the
true flexibility and creative range of a mandolin-led jazz group.

 

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Jeff
Black – B-Sides and Confessions Vol. I

Making
a living as a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, is about as easy as being an
Iceman in Anchorage, Alaska. Only talent, perseverance, and a certain amount of
blind luck along the way make it possible for a songwriter to achieve any level
of success. Jeff Black has written a #1 single for the band Blackhawk, as well
tunes covered by Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush, and Lisa Brokop. His second solo
release, B-Sides and Confessions Vol.I, represents Black’s first release on
Dualtone Music. His first, Birmingham Road, was released on Arista Records and
featured contributions by Wilco, Iris Dement, and Geggy Tah. B-Sides and
Confessions Vol. I is a much smaller, more personal album, with stripped down
arrangements and a minimum of sidemen. The songs feel more informal, private,
and less commercial. Black’s cover of his own tune ” Same Old River,”
originally popularized by Sam Bush, retains its anthem-like qualities while
gaining an added degree of intimacy and poignancy.

Besides
writing all the lyrics and music, Jeff Black plays most of the instruments on
B-Sides and Confessions Vol. I. He handles acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica,
banjo and all vocals. On most of the songs Byron House adds bass while Craig
Wright contributes drums and percussion. On “Holy Roller” Michael Webb plays
bass, while on “To Be With You” Jody Nardone plays piano and David Jacques
plays bass. In keeping with the minimalist nature of the production, the
packaging and graphics are all in black and white and the only photograph of
Jeff Black is a moody, blurred close-up.   

Engineered
and produced by the legendary producer Billy Sherrill, who is usually
associated with larger-budget and more grandiose projects, B-Sides and
Confessions Vol. I manages to sound as fine as any of his major label efforts.
B-Sides and Confessions Vol. I shows that all it takes to make a fine album are
great songs performed in a straightforward manner by someone who believes in
them. I’m looking forward to B-Sides and Confessions Vol. II.

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