CD reviews: Glen Campbell, Andrea Balestra, Rory Block
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
See You There/Surfdog
In the country music world, it sometimes seems as though a new superstar is discovered every other day.
Once that initial spark that ignites a career burns out, though, only the best of the best go on to become legends.
Glen Campbell is one such legend. Thanks to hits such as “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Campbell’s star shines as bright as fellow legends Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
Two years ago it was announced that Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, leading the singer to embark on a farewell tour to give fans one last chance to see him perform before the condition robbed him of his memory.
Now comes “See You There,” which is likely the last album we’ll see from Campbell.
The vocals for this career-spanning album were originally recorded during the sessions for Campbell’s 2011 release “Ghost on the Canvas”; the producers of that album listened to the recordings Campbell did of some of his biggest hits and decided to release them separately.
While it is evident that time has taken its toll on Campbell’s voice, you can still hear the warmth and feeling the singer puts into each recording. The updated arrangements, all of which are much simpler than the full orchestras that backed Campbell on the original recordings, are also worth noting.
The simple acoustic guitar and fiddle on “Postcard From Paris” is gorgeous, as is the single electric guitar that accompanies Campbell on “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
While it’s tragic that we are losing Campbell slowly to an unfortunate disease, it’s great that he is able to give us one last victory lap through these recordings.
Key Tracks: “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Rhinestone Cowboy”
Painting on Silence/Spleen
When guitarist Andrea Balestra traveled to the United States from his native Sicily, Italy, he dreamed of making it as a professional musician.
After a stint at the Berklee College of Music, he relocated to Southern California, where he has since found steady work as a session guitarist.
Balestra also has had the chance to play with some of the best guitarists in the world, including Dick Dale, Melvyn “Deacon” Jones and Keb Mo’.
Now, Balestra is set to release an album of instrumental tracks, “Painting on Silence,” that showcases his jazz and blues strengths. The album features two covers and seven originals.
Balestra’s bluesy take on the Beatles’ “Come Together” features him trading guitar licks with Supertramp’s Carl Verheyen, while country guitar star Steve Trovato sits in on Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight.”
Elsewhere on the album, guests include John Pisano, Dave Hill and Scott Henderson.
Balestra’s former music professor at Berklee, Julien Kasper, even contributes to the original track “Dark White Skies.”
The music on Balestra’s new CD will appeal to both jazz and blues enthusiasts as he seems to be able to strike a balance between the two related styles that avoids alienating fans of either.
The Beatles cover is particularly good, and while Balestra takes some definite liberties with the tune, the basic structure of the song remains intact, ensuring that even hard-core fans of the Fab Five will likely get something out of a listen.
For an album that doesn’t contain a single spoken word, Balestra has definitely crafted a collection of songs that speak volumes.
Key Tracks: “Come Together,” “Dark White Skies,” “Round Midnight”
If you’re a fan of the blues, particularly the acoustic guitar style of that genre, then you’re likely familiar with Rory Block.
One of the best female acoustic blues artists out there, Block has spent the past few years paying tribute to some of her favorite fellow blues artists.
Previous releases have shone the spotlight on Robert Johnson, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the Rev. Gary Davis, and Block’s love for those artists’ music is evident.
On her latest installment, Block calls attention to the work of Mississippi John Hurt.
Hurt, who died in 1966, was known for his unique fingerpicking style and was a darling of the ’60s college and coffeehouse circuit after being rediscovered by a blues enthusiast just a few years before he passed away.
Block has studied Hurt’s sound exhaustively, and on “Avalon” she performs 10 of his compositions in a loving and respectful manner.
The album, whose title refers to the town in Mississippi where Hurt was born, starts with a Block original, “Everybody Loves John,” which demonstrates Block’s obvious affection for the deceased fellow bluesman.
Listening to Block’s fingers flying over her guitar strings on songs such as “Candy Man,” “Frankie & Albert” and “Spike Driver Blues,” it is easy to hear the joy she gets from performing the music of Hurt, who Block had a chance to meet in 1963.
Perhaps the finest example of Hurt’s music portrayed on this album comes on “Got the Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied,” a song whose title all but speaks for itself.
While only Block knows how many more of these tribute albums she’ll try to tackle, so far she’s five for five in terms of success.
Key Tracks: “Candy Man,” “Frankie & Albert,” “Got the Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied”
By Devin Grant