Blowing Rufus' Mind

A roundup of the latest batch of eclectica that fell through the cracks

Even older than Elton John: Pianist Brun Campbell studied with Scott Joplin in the late 1890s, later giving up the piano to become a barber, then returning to it in the '40s, when this infectious collection of ragtime solos, Joplin's Disciple (Delmark), was recorded. The Original Salty Dogs is a septet of talented geezers who've been immersed in '20s-era traditional jazz for over half a century. Their New Orleans Shuffle (Delmark) is from an era when you bounced rather than rocked, but you can understand why it got your grandma hot, if you're sick enough to want to go there. Hot House Rag (Delmark) by Terry Waldo's Gutbucket Syncopators is more of the same, this slightly rougher sextet of players holding lengthy résumés of trad jazz positions that read like the music credits in a Woody Allen movie.

From Woody Allen to Allen Woody: Gov't Mule has responded to the death of band member Woody by bringing a dozen other bassists on board for The Deep End Volume 1 (BMG), a two-disc set of their post-Allman Brothers Southern rock assisted on the bottom end by Jack Bruce, Bootsy Collins, Flea, John Entwhistle and Mike Watt, as well as guitarist John Scofield, blues man Little Milton and Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell. This spring's second volume will feature Phil Lesh, Me'shell N'degeocello and Les Claypool.

Blind Pig Records: 25th Anniversary Collection celebrates -- you guessed it, Sparky -- a quarter century of serious blues releases by Tommy Castro, James Cotton, Johnny Shines, Coco Montoya and 30 others represented on this triple-disc set. The third disc is a CD-ROM with video performances and interviews -- all for the price of a single CD, which is nearly as cheap as stealing it.

From Fat Possum, the label that proudly erased the last 50 years of blues slickness, comes R.L. Burnside's Burnside on Burnside, where the hill-country protege of Muddy Waters and Mississippi Fred McDowell plays a live set of his nasty juke joint music. The guitarist, who must gargle with barbecue sauce to howl such vivid Southern fare, spits out what the liner notes perfectly define as "the original American trance music." Other McDowell disciples -- Charlie Musselwhite, Brian Stoltz, Tab Benoit and Kenny Neal for starters -- take solo stabs at the blues man's catalogue on the stark Preachin' the Blues: The Music of Mississippi McDowell (Telarc).

Considerably less subtle stuff comes from Guitar Shorty -- whose wild guitar lines and stage antics influenced Jimi Hendrix -- on I Go Wild! (Evidence), which features the ultimate romantic pitch: "Like heavy machinery and Vicodin, we're a deadly combination, but we're made for each other, like coffee and cigarettes." (Mississippi "Weatherproof" Rufus critiques: "Is that Jimi's boy? Tell him to send me a check right now or I'll put the mojo on his wah-wah pedal and I don't mean the one under his damn foot neither.")

Sounding more country than a lot of alt-country bands, NYC's Demolition String Band slides effortlessly from Sweetheart of the Rodeo honky-tonk into a bluegrass version of Madonna's "Like a Prayer" on Pulling Up Atlantis (Okra-Tone), led by Elena Skye's bar-bred vocals. Good writers, too, her and cohort Boo Reiners, who, if that's his real name, was pretty much destined to either play country music or become a serial killer.

Country and Estrogen: O Sister! The Women's Bluegrass Collection (Rounder) introduces a dozen and a half Southern musical mamas to the bluegrass-challenged masses as well as the dolts who think it's strictly the domain of bearded guys with oversized adenoids. A great way to check out solid artists like Rhonda Vincent, Hazel Dickens and Claire Lynch if you like Alison Krauss (who's also here) and want more of her kind. Maura O'Connell's Walls & Windows (Sugar Hill) is Celtic country, the powerful warbler interpreting the songs of Eric Clapton ("I Get Lost"), Van Morrison ("Crazy Love"), Patty Griffin ("I Wonder") and others with Byrds-like 12-string guitars and uillean pipes. (Mississippi "Weatherproof" Rufus critiques: "Finally, some ladies! Southern mamas, too. I ain't been nekkid with a real woman in so long I can't remember if you goes in-and-out or over-and-under, but I remembers one of them is for square-dancing.")

Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen have previously been members of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dillards and J.D. Crowe's New South, with the folk, bluegrass and Bakersfield country stylings of 'em all evident on Running Wild (Rounder). Added to the mix are versions of "4 + 20" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Beatles' "Things We Said Today." Frustratingly short of Tony Rice's jaw-dropping guitar solos, though.

Pete Seeger, the Moses of folk music, is twice honored by the Appleseed label; the first featuring Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert and Seeger on HARP: A Time to Sing, bringing to mind his half-century old group, The Weavers, with former Weavette Gilbert still in tow and Arlo taking dad Woody Guthrie's place for a load of songs ranging from "Wimoweh" to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." If I Had a Song: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2 pays tribute to another batch of his better-known songs, sung by Jackson Brown, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and numerous familiar folkies.

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