A selection of less offensive classics

Music - June 2006


John Howell

First, I must apologize for one of my recommendations in April. I heard from several of you that the Dr. John CD I raved about ("Live by Hisself") contains lyrics that are less than "kid friendly." You’re right. I foolishly forgot about several references to life, love and human biology that may be inappropriate for the Nickelodeon set. I promise all future recommendations will be run through an extra comprehensive filter for age-appropriateness. (Frankly, it’s my editors’ fault. They should know I’m a loose cannon who should be double checked at every opportunity).

With that in mind, I note that the purpose of this column is to point out some of the great music you and your kids can enjoy together. Compelling adult music can enrich your child’s enjoyment and understanding of our unique American culture. Parental discretion is always advised.

AFTERGLOW, Dr. John, GRP Records, 1995, $13.98.

Right back into the fire with another Dr. John record. My 7-year-old, Will, has really taken to Dr. John’s style. I believe it’s valuable to introduce our kids to unique American voices, voices that can’t be churned out like Big Macs or interchangeable "American Idol" contestants. Better to invest time with genuine artists.

This is a collection of American classics. Dr. John is paying homage to one of the greatest eras in popular music, the period from the late ’40s through the mid ’50s. He covers Louis Jordan, Nat King Cole, Joe Williams and Charles Brown, among others.

Produced by his old pal, Tommy LiPuma, this CD might be one of the best representations of this material since Sinatra. Back in the fall of 1994 the producers hired the world’s greatest arrangers and the best session players in Manhattan to cobble together vintage Dr. John jazz, rhythm and blues and a couple of originals. The result is outstanding. My son loves the tunes, the all-star band and, especially, Dr. John’s gravelly voice.

The songs are far more important to American culture than anything you’ll hear on the radio. The tunes are timeless and even young ears can enjoy the stories.

The hope is that after checking out Dr. John’s versions of these songs, your child will express an interest in the originals. Explain to your kid that this music takes the talents and efforts of more than 40 individual players and engineers and can’t be produced by a computer ... thank God.

THE HIDDEN LAND, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Columbia Records, 2006, $14.98.

Bela Fleck is the world’s greatest banjo player and this is some of the most amazing playing I’ve ever heard. As a guy who’s been listening to music seriously for more than 35 years, this album scares me. It’s lyrical and disjointed, melodic and cacophonic, logical and insane.

This isn’t "Deliverance" banjo music. No. This is Johann Bach meets John Coltrane meets Chick Corea banjo music. Will is just beginning to understand the concept of improvised music, and we use this album as inspiration. I have Will practice piano or draw pictures using this as a soundtrack. We read or write using these instrumentals as the basis for what he feels from the music. A very good exercise in creativity.

As your son or daughter gets immersed in the standard music education that stresses conformity and the ensemble mentality, take some time to point out the value of playing what you feel rather than what’s on the page.

PAY THE DEVIL, Van Morrison, Lost Highway Records, 2006, $13.98.

As a guy who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show dedicated to the classics, I’m a sucker for this one. Van Morrison is one of the most subtle and unique artists I’ve ever encountered. Part of my attraction is that he never plays the game. Example: I went to see his concert at the Chicago Theater where he refused to perform "Moondance." The crowd was begging for his biggest hit. But, no thanks. He said good night.

In spite of (or because of) his ornery personality, I love him. He’s never made a secret of his love for American honky-tonk country. Here, he takes some almost forgotten Nashville tunes and slogs his way through them. Anyone else releasing this stuff would be committing career suicide. But Morrison has two things on his side: He pulls it off and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

It’s almost as if he financed this project himself out of love for the music and as a serious nose-thumbing of mainstream Nashville. From Hank Williams to Rodney Crowell, Morrison covers a lot of ground. Here’s your chance to hear them. Lord knows he’ll never perform them in concert.

John Howell is a "Morning Show" co-host on WUSN US 99.5 Radio. He also produces and hosts "The Country Gold Show" on the Westwood One Radio Network.


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