Cosmic Stew

Gumbo finds some eerie connections in the latest jazz, blues and heritage releases

Folk, blues, world, etc.: Guitarist/blues singer/historian Taj Mahal harks back to the late '60s when he was a regular at Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditoriums. Three reissues from the hippie era -- Taj Mahal, The Real Thing and Natch'l Blues as well as The Best of Taj Mahal (Columbia/Legacy) -- resurface an intimate country blues style that avoids milking an I-goes-way-back-yessuh, hokum legacy. The guy just did his homework extremely well, as you'll hear.

Cosmic Connection #2: Guitarist T-Bone Walker was the perfect straddler of jazz and blues, which no doubt accounted for that goofy, spread-eagle, guitar-behind-the-neck pose he favored. The Very Best of T-Bone Walker (Rhino) makes immediately obvious how the sophisticated axman was an influence on both B.B. King and Chuck Berry. Not only was he one of the first electric guitarists, but he could pick up a nightclub table with his teeth. Really. There has to be something cosmically significant about that.

Larry Long's topical folk music hasn't a lick of the dry pedantry that makes you feel you've earned college credit for listening to the whole album. Well May the World Go (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) is the most gorgeous album of acoustic music this jaded listener has heard in a while. Even when bemoaning the lack of jobs in Texas or the presence of the Klan, Long makes you glad you live in the Big Fifty.

Gumbo set aside horrible associations with a particular high school blind date and listened to Donna the Buffalo without prejudice, finding the band's fine Positive Friction (Sugar Hill) a plugged-in/cranked-up mix of bluegrass, Irish jigs and reggae. As for getting rootsy, The Corrs are Coors Light by comparison. Keeping more traditional bluegrass tethered down are The Lonesome River Band's Talkin' to Myself (Sugar Hill) and Just Over in Heaven (Sugar Hill) by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

Bill Laswell comes across as Aleister Crowley behind a mixing board, making the idea of him delving into traditional Irish music, Emerald Heather: Shape Shifting (Shanachie), pretty damned strange. The listener may think Laswell's gone soft given those unadulterated bagpipes and tin whistles early on, but he slowly slithers his depression-heavy presence into the picture as the album continues. It's great moodiness that makes you want to thrash a troll or something. If you're less temperamental -- and God knows what killer instincts you're denying, sissy -- you may prefer the up-tempo, violin-driven Celtic Fantasy (Green Hill) by David Davidson, which offers far more rhythm and melody (via a baroque approach) than most of the romanticized, land o' potatoes musical upchuck you drop 17 bucks for down at the co-op. No bones about it, though, this is an outright guilty pleasure, about as authentically Irish as that green soap.

Cosmic Connection #3: As the lonely Gumbo sat before his blank monitor screen, admittedly thinking impure thoughts, the doorbell rang and the mailperson delivered both Deep Porn: The Compilation (HardCorps Entertainment) and The Toughest Girl Alive (Bullseye) by ex-porn diva Candye Kane. The former couples the music of Kid Rock, George Clinton, etc., with porn stars belting out heartfelt expressions you'll never find in a Hallmark card. Vocalist Kane's a bisexual bluester whose aggressive, almost big band approach (implementing guitarist Dave Alvin and pianist Marcia Ball) on cuts like "Let's Commit Adultery" may keep her from guesting on any upcoming tapings of The 700 Club.

Overlooked and underrated: Novelist Kinky Friedman fronted a rude band called the Texas Jewboys long before he bought his first ream of paper. Last year's Pearls in the Snow (Damian) is a tribute to Kinky's '70s-era singing/composing career, featuring, among others, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Delbert McClinton and Dwight Yoakam. Willie Nelson sings the jaw-dropping (in more ways than one) "Ride 'Em Jewboy," a string of double-entendres drawing reverent parallels between cowboys and concentration camps. Yeah, I know. You have to hear it to believe it.

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