CD Reviews for 08/26/10 – Rhythm & Roots Fest releases

Compact Capsules
by Dan Ferguson

Recent releases from performers appearing at the 2010 Rhythm & Roots Festival happening Labor Day weekend at Ninigret Park in Charlestown are in the spotlight this week.

A decade between albums is a long time. In the case of the Texas Tornados (appearing Saturday), when such key ingredients as Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender pass away, it’s understandable. What a surprise late last year when word came the band had regrouped with remaining members Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez joined by Sahm’s son Shawn (sounding scarily like his dad) and several Tornados from daddy Doug’s original 1970s incarnation of the band. The resulting recording, Esta Bueno!, is lock-step with the Tex-Mex sound that catapulted the Texas Tornados to favorites in their ‘90s heyday. It mixes last gasp material from Fender recorded shortly before his 2006 death with newly minted originals all with that feverish border groove. No doubt Mssrs. Sahm and Fender are smiling from above.

Many folks’ first introduction to Robert Randolph was via a 1999 live collection of sacred steel recordings from small indie roots label Arhoolie Records. It wouldn’t be long before Randolph (appearing Sunday) was garnering attention in all corners for his mix of steel guitar-driven gospel jams. With brand new We Walk This Road, one can argue the Robert Randolph Family Band is at its apex. Renowned producer T Bone Burnett onboard further solidifies such a claim. The music? It soars far and wide into gospel, blues and traditional standards with Randolph propelling it all on steel.

Since setting out in a solo direction a decade ago after dissolving the punk bluegrass trio Bad Livers, Danny Barnes has been a relentless tinkerer. Banjo player by trade, restlessness is all over his post-BL releases taking his noise in plentiful directions from jazz to electronica to old timey. Pizza Box is Barnes’ latest and easily his most high profile release to date (for Dave Matthews’ ATO label), not to mention his most accessible. Banjo is at the heart of it with Barnes (appearing all weekend) working it in myriad ways from rustic to sonic forays all driving his tall tales.

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)