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APO Direct-to-Disc, Sade, Johnny Cash

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The first two LPs I’m sharing with you this month are from APO’s 2009 Direct-to-Disc Sessions. They are produced by Chad Kassem OF Chesky and the recording engineer is Katsuhiko Naito. Chad has a great commitment to old times Blues and old Blues singers. Let me tell you, as I sit hear eating Jambalaya and listening to Howard Tate sing Louisiana 1927, these LPs are fun! (Jack is a gourmet chef in his own right. –Ed.) They were recorded at Chad’s Blue Haven Studios in Salina Kansas. If you’re not familiar with this facility, it’s a beautiful old church that Chad converted into Blue Haven Studio and is the home to the annual Blues Masters at the Crossroads performances.

These LPs have the kind of sound you would hope for from direct-to-disc recordings made in such a wonderful acoustic environment. Chad and the others at APO resisted making “audiophile” records; these LPs sound like live music with a cohesive soundstage, none of that overdone depth and separation of instruments. No, these two recording have a beautiful cohesiveness to them, but still a very palpable and real soundstage. They also resisted making everything overly-etched sounding. These are warm, rich recordings that still have bite to them. Well done and thanks Chad, please keep bringing us music and recordings like this.

Howard Tate Direct-to-Disc

Label: APO Records 180 gram

1. Look At Granny Run Run
2. Sweet Sixteen
3. Louisiana 1927
4. I’ll Be Home
5. Dear Lord
6. Ain’t Nobody Home

APO has now brought us several Direct-to Disc recordings, I picked two to see how I liked them. The first was one with Howard Tate singing some songs I knew I would like. He first cracked the R&B Top 20 three times in the late 1960s. Then as hardship and anonymity came upon him he was not heard of for nearly 30 years. For the last decade he has emerged again as a great singer. Elvis Costello refers to him as “the missing link between Jackie Wilson and Al Green.” He has been covered by Janet Joplin in “Get It While You Can”, Jimi Hendrix in “Stop”, Hugh Masekela in “Stop”, B.B. King (“Ain’t Nobody Home”), Ry Cooder (“Look At Granny Run Run”) and Grand Funk Railroad (“Look At Granny Run Run”).

There is great music on this LP. The first cut, “Look At Granny Run Run” is just hilarious. This funny story about Grandpa’s new medicine and new interest in Granny is told by Tate in song. It is fun and just the kind of music you could imagine being sung as a group old Blues musicians jam together.

“Louisiana 1927” has been recorded many times by many singers, but I really enjoyed the way it flowed and the phrasing of Tate on this cut. There’s not a bad or dull number on this LP. Great music, incredibly natural sound, so go out and buy it, so Chad will keep making LPs like this.

Diunna Greenleaf

Label – APO Records 180 gram

1. Crazy
2. Love Treasure
3. Double Dealing
5. The Backdoor Man (You Want To Be)

Diunna Greenleaf and her band Blue Mercy returned to Blue Heaven Studios in 2009 for the 12th annual Blues Masters at the Crossroads, and to make this D2D recording. As she always is, this is a powerful, dynamic, and soul-stirring performance. Greenleaf is from Houston, Texas and her background is both blues and gospel. She came to being a professional performer quite late, but not from a lack of talent. She sang rather informally for children’s and educational benefits. She and her band played a small show at a hospice in celebration of Houston blues legend Teddy “Cry Cry” Reynolds’ birthday. Afterwards, Reynolds told Greenleaf of how he’d known her parents, both gospel musicians, and how she was not only very talented but also had a duty to continue the family legacy of performing.
In 2005, Greenleaf and Blue Mercy finished first out of eighty-four bands in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. What’s more, Blue Mercy’s guitarist, John Richardson, earned the Albert King award for Most Promising Guitarist. From there they were on their way. This album is wonderful to listen to for both the performance and the recording. I can’t wait to hear more of these APO Direct-to-Disc productions.

Sade – Soldier of Love

Label – Epic
1. The Moon and the Sky
2. Soldier of Love
3. Morning Bird
4. Babyfather
5. Long Hard Road
6. Be That Easy
7. Bring Me Home
8. In Another Time
9. Skin
10. The Safest Place

Known for her one-of-a-kind, soulful sound and the fact that she doesn’t record that often means that all her albums are highly anticipated. Her new body of work Soldier Of Love features ten new songs, including her latest single, “Soldier Of Love.” The title cut is powerful and soulful. I can’t imagine any of Sade’s fans being disappointed. For while all the songs are new, the album is classic Sade.

The recording is exceptional, it’s warm, transparent, and very involving to listen to. If you like Sade, as I do, this album is highly recommended. If you don’t know her, this would be a good place to start.

Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave

Label – American

1. Ain’t No Grave
2. Redemption Day
3. For The Good Times
4. First Corinthians
5. Where I’m Bound
6. Satisfied Mind
7. It Don’t Hurt Anymore
8. Cool Clear Water
9. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream
10. Aloha

They say this is the last of Johnny Cash’s American Recording Sessions. I hope it’s true, because this is the best posthumous record release I have ever heard. It’s produced by Rick Rubin with associate production by John Carter Cash. It has quite a lineup of musicians whose contributions help make this album what it is. They include: Laura Cash “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Dennis Crouch, Larry Gatlin, “Uncle” Josh Graves, Mark Howard, Mike Leach, Pat McLaughlin, Larry Perkins, Mickey Raphael, Dave Rose, Randy Scruggs, Marty Stuart, Pete Wade, Mac Wiseman, Reggie Young, and of course June Carter Cash.

Even though this recording was made when Cash was weak and tired from his illness, it is still, and maybe because of it, a powerful performance. It is very emotionally involving; it can be very uplifting, and inspirational. It can also be very in-your-face with the message life is hard and doesn’t last forever; and by the time you reach the end and Cash sings “Aloha”, you may cry. It is clear from this album that his faith was strong unto the very end, and that it gave him strength to share his life with others. He manages to do this in a way I have not experienced before in the last three albums in his American Recordings series.

This recording can be brutal; the first cut is “Ain’t No Grave” and so the LP starts with the words, “There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.” Two of my favorite cuts are “Satisfied Mind,” that I remember from The Byrds’ singing, and Ed McCurdy’s “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.” Both are very moving and thought provoking. As I’ve already mentioned, the album ends surprisingly with the familiar, Hawaiian farewell song “Aloha.”

The album was released on February 26th, 2010, which would have been Johnny Cash’s 78th birthday. I can’t think of a better way to remember the “Man in Black” than to listen to this bold and powerful album.

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