Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues
Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues

Big band is back and it's cool!

Ex-Stray Cats guitarist Brian Setzer helped bring big band and swing back into the pop music mind of a modern audience a couple years ago, and now one-time Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland revs it up with piano, strings and assorted horns to jump, jive and wail. Actually, the piano ace has been exploring rockabilly, jazz and boogie-woogie blues for a couple of decades now, but Holland kicks it up several visibility notches on Big Band Rhythm & Blues, bringing in guest vocalists for every one of the disc's 22 tracks. The result is a rich, varied exploration of both new and old R&B, with the help of stellar vocalists like Sting, George Harrison, Sam Brown, Mark Knopfler, Van Morrison, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton and another fellow Squeeze alumnus, Paul Carrack.

Sting turns up at the mike for the opener, a rousing cover of Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son" and George Harrison's last recorded performance appears here the former Beatle sings his own "Horse to the Water."

For my money, the highest moment of the disc comes in Jam vocalist Paul Weller's hand-clappin', tent revival reading of Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher's "Will It Go Round in Circles," a perfect vehicle for the energy of both Weller and the Big Band.

Sam Brown offers a quieter band number in her country-waltz "Valentine Moon," while Stereophonics pump some energy into a cover of the Beatles' "Revolution." Mica Paris pairs up with David Gilmour to turn out a lazy lounge rendition of Screaming Jay Hawkins' famous "I Put a Spell on You."

Holland teamed up with Madness vocalist Suggs to write and record the speedy ska celebration of "Oranges and Lemons Again," and another former '80s New Wave singer, Marc Almond (of Soft Cell), contributes the contemplative "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye." Former Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler offers an original rockabilly number in "Mademoiselle Will Decide," which reads like a more drawling, Memphis-born sister to Dire Straits' "Twisting By the Pool."

Steve Winwood leads the band through a strutting, rollicking cover of Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready," and Eric Clapton closes it all down with an authentic "closing time" croon on Ray Charles' "What Would I Do Without You."

From the oversaturated piano boogie stomp of "The Return of the Blues Cowboy" (sung by Clash-man Joe Strummer) to the "Batman"-theme urgency of "Town and Country Rhythm and Blues" co-written and sung by (yet another) Squeeze stalwart, Chris Difford, Big Band Rhythm & Blues is a treasure trove of great music, great grooves and great artists. If you've got any soul at all, you won't be able to resist the lure of this one.


Shelby Lynne - Love Shelby Shelby Lynne
Love, Shelby

I first heard Shelby Lynne back in 1993 promoting a country swing sound on her excellent fourth album, Temptation. The swing thing wasn't really back in vogue yet though, so Shelby returned as a bona fide "modern" country singer a couple years later, and then won a Grammy as best "new" artist in 2000 for her sixth album, the more pop-oriented I Am Shelby Lynne (which still makes me scratch my head how can you be a new artist if you've been releasing albums for a decade?)

The singer's seventh disc continues to build on that pop-country merger, pairing Lynne with Alanis Morissette producer Glenn Ballard for writing and producing its 10 tracks. The result is a pleasant affair, if not one that yields much true musical adventure. Ballard doesn't exactly turn Lynne into an "angry young woman," a la Morissette.

The first track, "Trust Me," works in the realm of Paula Cole and includes some quirky, edgy synthesizer loops and a powerful, belting chorus. And with "Ain't it the Truth," she lets the strutting bass free and brings in a horn section to back up a belting R&B groove.

But it's in "Killin' Kind" the team really hit their stride. The simple country pop beat and full layered chorus that smacks of k.d. lang has been all over pop radio for the past couple months, and with good reason. It's warm, catchy and smooth.

The rest of the disc doesn't offer too many other instant radio gems, with the exception of the lilting string and piano- based "Wall in Your Heart" where she croons "there's a wall in your heart that no one can get through/but this wall it will fall/if it's the last thing I do/I'll get through, this wall in your heart."

Lynne creates an R&B/country/pop sound, a la Bonnie Raitt, on "All of a Sudden You Disappeared" and her country roots come out in "Jesus on a Greyhound." She shows her love of The Beatles in the somber "I Can't Wait" and ends the disc with a cover of John Lennon's "Mother."

Love, Shelby is a disc of solid middle-of-the road pop with a country flair. Recommended for background listening.