ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 12, 2002
By Steve Newton
My fave recorded music this year, as listed below, ranges from garage-y, instrumental prog-metal to fingerstyle acoustic-guitar wizardry, from improvisatory jam bands to North Mississippi hill-country blues. Everything involves guitars; I still haven’t come to grips with how a turntable can be anything more than a way to hear my prized vinyl copy of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors—the banned version, with the members in flames. So keep those stinkin’ DJs out of my sight.
Gov’t Mule The Deep End, Volume 2 After the heart-attack death of bassist Allen Woody in August 2000, remaining Gov’t Mule members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts knew they could never replace the tie-dyed wonder, so they invited a who’s who of the world’s top rock bassists to sit in on one song apiece. Last year’s The Deep End, Volume 1 was 2001’s finest blues-rock offering, and Volume 2—with contributions from Chris Squire, Les Claypool, Billy Cox, Tony Levin, Phil Lesh, Jason Newsted, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Jack Casady, and Alphonso Johnson—is right up there as well.
Steve Earle Sidetracks Earle’s recent studio album, the politically charged Jerusalem, deserves serious acclaim for the fearless “John Walker’s Blues” alone. But Sidetracks, a collection of not outtakes but, as Earle calls them, previously unreleased “stray tracks”, was a more consistently impressive release.
Joe Satriani Strange Beautiful Music As his recent Commodore Ballroom show proved, Satriani is still The Man as far as instrumental rock guitar goes. As heard on Strange Beautiful Music, his musical imagination knows no bounds, and neither do his flashy fingers.
Various Artists Big Bad Love I heard that the movie that goes along with this soundtrack isn’t too swift, which seems like a terrible shame. There’s enough raw emotion in this collection of tunes by seminal North Mississippi hill-country blues artists—as well as Tom Waits, Steve Earle, and Tom Verlaine—to power a dozen Hollywood dramas.
The Fucking Champs V Who’da thunk that I’d get turned on to this instrumental prog-metal trio by Mike Usinger, the Straight’s biggest Eminem enthusiast? Not only do these guys have one of the world’s best band names, but how do you beat song titles like “I Am the Album Cover” and “Nebula Ball Rests in a Fantasy Claw”? These guys are so good, they don’t even need a bass player.
Phil Lesh & Friends There and Back Again The former Grateful Dead bassist finds himself in the company of primo guitarists Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule) and Jimmy Herring (the H.O.R.D.E. Tour) in a celebratory and very ’70s-sounding melodic-rock album, with major contributions from former Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
Tony Furtado American Gypsy Whether breathing fresh life into traditional blues numbers like “Staggerlee” or getting seriously funky on jazz-roots originals like “The Angry Monk”, banjo and slide-guitar specialist Furtado is always a knockout.
Charlie Musselwhite One Night in America The grizzled blues veteran’s smoke-and-whiskey vocals and masterful harmonica riffs mesh well with the primo guitar stylings of Robben Ford, Marty Stuart, and the old Saturday Night Live band’s G.E. Smith. Musselwhite’s stark, soulful originals combine with stirring covers of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and the heartfelt Los Lobos rocker “One Time One Night”.
Various Artists Live From Bonnaroo If there’s one music festival I would have loved to have been at in 2002, it’s Bonnaroo, which took place in rural Tennessee over three days in June. A brilliantly recorded document of the so-called jam-band craze, the two-disc Live From Bonnaroo was dedicated to Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser, who died of cancer in August. The album is highlighted by Gov’t Mule’s stirring “Banks of the Deep End”, Ween’s kooky “Bananas & Blow”, Ben Harper’s doobie anthem “Burn One Down”, and Sacred Steel guitarist Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s uplifting “Peekaboo”, with bonus guitarwork by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars.
Adrian Legg Guitar Bones This CD—on Steve Vai’s guitarists-only Favoured Nations label—doesn’t get released until next month, but you need advance notice, because the playing by acoustic fingerstylist Legg is absolutely mind-boggling, and fun to boot.