‘Keeping It Honest’ Spans a Range of New Releases

by Robert Kinsler

A number of celebrated, groundbreaking artists are captured at the height of their powers via a slew of outstanding springtime releases.

Eric ClaptonArtist: Eric Clapton
Title: I Still Do (Bushbranch / Surfdog)
You might like if you enjoy: Eric Clapton, JJ Cale

Tell me more: While British blues guitar masters such as Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page built their reputations on speedy guitar work, Eric Clapton always used velocity in the service of groundbreaking grooves and a deft touch (think “Cocaine,” “Let It Rain” and “I Shot the Sheriff”) that allowed him to be flashy even during more laid back material (including ballads, as evidenced by “Wonderful Tonight”).

On his 23rd solo album “I Still Do,” Clapton offers up a sterling collection of original gems and lovingly-rendered covers that prove Clapton remains an artist of unique and special significance. On “Spiral,” Clapton and his supporting players rise and fall like the sea, his beautiful lead guitar lines swirling amidst the nuanced performance around him.

Clapton digs deep into old-time blues via a take on Skip James’ “Cypress Grove” and Robert Johnson’s timeless “Stones In My Passway,”and masterfully turns Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” into a poignant gospel blues hymn. Information: EricClapton.com.

SantanaArtist: Santana
Title: Santana IV (Santana IV Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Early Santana, War

Tell me more: For the first time since the early 1970s, the original members of Santana reformed to record, the results showcased on the new studio album “Santana IV.” The natural follow-up to 1971’s successful “Santana III,” the reunion project teams guitar great Carlos Santana with the majority of his Woodstock-era line-up including Gregg Rolie (keyboards, lead vocals), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums).

There is a passion, inventiveness and cohesive spirit across the disc, with the rhythmic powerhouse “Shake It” (featuring a terrific blend of percussion and lead guitar fireworks), signature Santana-styled “Anywhere You Want to Go,” expansive psychedelic-blues instrumental “Fillmore East” and funk rock-styled “Freedom In Your Mind” (the latter featuring guest vocalist Ronald Isley) all pushing the classic rock ensemble forward. Information: santana.com.

SturgillSimpsonArtist: Sturgill Simpson
Title: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (Atlantic Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Ray Charles, Van Morrison

Tell me more: An amazing follow-up effort to his 2014 sophomore album “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” Sturgill Simpson’s third LP “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” confirms the Kentucky native’s greatness. On the album’s first track, “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” Simpson somehow blends authentic country music, orchestral textures and soul into a single five-minute arc.

A few songs into “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” it’s obvious that the Kentucky native has somehow blended far-flung genres into a single sound built around an eight-track song cycle written following the birth of his first child in the summer of 2014. The thematic collection also includes a musical intermission where he delivers a magical and completely reworked cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Information: sturgillsimpson.com.

Linda-RonstadtArtist: Linda Ronstadt
Title: Silk Purse (Varèse Sarabande Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris

Tell me more: Since her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2014, there has been a long-overdue examination of singer Linda Ronstadt’s long career. Although she retired in 2011 (and was sadly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in December 2012), a newly-issued reissue of her second solo album “Silk Purse” showcases Ronstadt’s amazing soprano and emotional connection with a song.

The 1970 album features Ronstadt exploring folk rock, alt-country and related styles. Chief among the joys here are the duet “Louise (with Gary White), the country ballad “He Darked the Sun” and her first hit “Long, Long Time” (the latter which earned the Arizona native her first Grammy Award nomination in 1971). Information: VareseSarabande.com.

AlanJacksonArtist: Alan Jackson
DVD Title: Keepin’ It Country – Live at Red Rocks (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: Alan Jackson, Hank Williams Jr., George Strait

Tell me more: The emergence of country music traditionalists including Chris Stapleton, Mo Pitney and Sturgill Simpson over the past few years is likely a reaffirmation of the path forged by artists long interested in preserving country music’s rich roots. On his latest release, available on DVD and digital, Alan Jackson makes a pretty compelling case for keeping the music real in an age where many country music artists have drifted into the world of pop.

“Keep’ It Country – Live at Red Rocks” finds the Georgia son performing a rousing 26-song set of his beloved songbook, including “Good Time,” “Gone Country,” “Small Town Southern Man,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” and “Where I Come From.” Not one to ever live simply in the past, Jackson’s live performance staged before a capacity crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado also featured new songs from his 2015 album “Angels and Alcohol.” Information: alanjackson.com.

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