We Love 'Em Tonight (Live at Tipitina's)
The time was ripe for a Galactic live album. Their hippy-trippy-boogie fans have been dying for one for years. And, it doesn't hurt that with its label, Capricorn, going bankrupt, a live album could tide fans over until the next studio effort. And as a fan-pleaser, this album, recorded last fall in what seems like their second home, is definitely a winner. As a testament to the band's abilities, it's a bit of a mixed bag.
This is the band at its best, though. Galactic at Tipitina's is an event, not just a live show, a marathon with the only question being how many fans will see the sun. At the extended funk jam, Galactic excels. Bassist Robert Mercurio and drummer Stanton Moore provide a most comfortable pocket for everyone to work in, while guitarist Jeff Raines snakes in and out of Richard Vogel's keyboards and Ben Ellman's blaring sax workouts. Theryl de'Clouet adds his trademark soulful vocal punch, with Theresa Andersson providing crucial backup on "Villified" (from Late for the Future).
But aside from Ellman, few members seem to want to break out of their funk grooves and appreciate the improvisational possibilities. Even Ellman gets stuck in gear at times, but he keeps stretching himself with a bebop flare, particularly on "My Mind Is Hazy" and "Baker's Dozen."
A couple of nuggets add to the fun -- the Allen Toussaint-penned "Working in the Coalmine" checks their New Orleans roots, and a cover of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" closes out the disc.
And even though live albums never truly capture the magic of a band in action, the tightness of the band and Nick Sansano's crisp production work make this a must for fans. -- David Lee Simmons
Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection
It's hard to imagine the contemporary blues scene without the contributions of Bruce Iglauer's Alligator Records. Since starting out of the trunk of Iglauer's car in 1971, the label has made immeasurable contributions to the genre, including resurrecting the careers of Koko Taylor and Luther Allison, and giving veterans like Johnny Winter and Lonnie Mack a venue to get back to their roots without label interference. Along the way, Alligator's been a launching pad and proving ground for young artists, including Shemekiah Copeland and ex-New Orleanian Corey Harris. Iglauer's always supported Louisiana artists, too, from recording Professor Longhair's final album, Crawfish Fiesta, to licensing Dr. John's Gumbo for reissue in the '80s. A handful of homeboys (and girls) grace Alligator's 30th Anniversary Collection, including Marcia Ball, Henry Butler (in a duet with Corey Harris from Vu-Du Menz), Dubuisson native Lonnie Brooks and Clifton Chenier alumni Phillip Walker, and C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana band. Like previous Alligator anniversary collections, the two-CD set is priced as a single disc, but this one contains some previously unreleased live tracks -- disc two of the set is all live) -- including a CD-ROM video track of Hound Dog Taylor, Alligator's first artist, in a shredding performance from the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.
There's plenty of highlights here, especially a live tour-de-force, 10-minute-plus version of the late Albert Collins on "Dyin' Flu," and Lil' Ed Williams' frenetic slide work on "Chicken, Gravy and Biscuits." Heartfelt liner notes by John Sinclair cap off a worthy look at three decades of superb blues. -- Scott Jordan
3 Now 4
Book Of Spells
3 Now 4 embodies a delicate balance between carefree mellow and emotive angst, and this, the band's second album, offers a hearty sampling of both. With Astral Project bassist James Singleton's aggressive bass work at the helm, Tim Green's signature sax sound at the forefront, and tag-team drumming by Quintology's Mark DiFlorio and Astral Project's Johnny Vidacovich, 3 Now 4 might sound like your standard jazz trio if it weren't for Dave Easley's pedal steel guitar work. A surprising element, the pedal steel adds a set of particularly unusual sounds to a band that doesn't pay much mind to stylistic confines. Formless improvisation, deep funk, and hillbilly bluegrass all find a home in Book of Spells.
Opening with a lone, persistent sax call, the album unfolds into a weaving tone-color collage as the other players dance around the running melody freely, until they are called into unison by a commanding hard-bowed bass. Despite these moments of outré expression, Book of Spells maintains a healthy measure of accessibility. "Greasy Luck," a Singleton composition, has a straight-ahead 4/4 feel, with a continuous funky bass line to consolidate melodic meandering. "Winterize" is an Easley-penned, floating, mystery ballad with his own Jerry Garcia sound-alike vocals, filtered by spook-effects, complete with abstract lyrical metaphors. The same voice returns later, emerging from a mellow soundbed as the album closes with a liberal rendition of "Amazing Grace," of all songs. It's a musical journey that will delight those who accept its challenge and disturb those who resist it. -- Cristina Diettinger