For Because It Feel Good, Hogan came home where her rich vocals glow with the kind of warmth that wraps like a blanket. The familiarity of Feel Good is its greatest strength as Hogan mixes some originals with country-dominated beginning with the loyal lament of the Statler Brothers' "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You" and ends with Charlie Rich's "Stay." With a voice that evokes both Patsy Cline and Sarah Vaughan, Hogan finds her soul in most every American genre imaginable: country, jazz, blues and of course, soul, as she proves on her cover of King Floyd's "Please Don't Leave Me Lonely."
Her musical alliances with everyone from Jon Langford's Mekons/Waco Brothers/Cosmonauts excursions to Neko Case and John Wesley Harding pays off here as well. Squirrel Nut Zipper violinist Andrew Bird, of Bowl of Fire fame, lends his lilting string work to "No, Bobby Don't," which Hogan co-wrote with frequent collaborator and Cosmonaut guitarist Andy Hopkins. Bird and Hopkins provide the spare instrumentation that perfectly complements Hogan's hollowed-out vocal flourish on Randy Newman's "Living Without You," while fellow Cosmonaut Jon Rauhouse's pedal steel guitar adds the proper country twang on tunes such as "Stay."
Hogan's a frequent flyer to New Orleans, so Because It Feel Good probably serves as a nice indication of what assuredly will come -- hopefully soon. -- David Lee Simmons
Kidd Jordan & the Elektrik Band
Saxophonist Kidd Jordan remains a largely undiscovered champion of progressive music in the modern era. This six-track collection is a compilation of live performances recorded from March 1984 to January 1985, at venues including Tipitina's, the Louisiana World Exposition, and the Kitchen in New York City -- where Ornette Coleman was reportedly front and center. This remastered material captures Jordan at the height of his powers, pushing the musical envelope every which way at once.
Shunning the weighty pretense of the term "avant-garde," Jordan calls the type of music he plays these days "crazy music." For the most part, this release stays outside that realm, anyway. Those who get lost in the "weirdness" of highly progressive jazz need not fear this record. Fans of modern jazz-funk will appreciate the deep-pocket bass lines and consistent, danceable meter. Still, there are times when Jordan gets wacky at the height of an intense solo, blowing intricate, note-packed, embellishments that squeak, squeal, and explore the entire range of his instrument in a two-beat space. The effect is aurally awesome.
Standout sax work is at the forefront of the album's six tracks (all composed either by Jordan or bassist Elton Heron), but keyboardist Daryl Lavigne is the co-star. While Heron's bass work anchors the groove, Lavigne's aggressive synthesizer work turns the whole affair into an electro-psychedelic happening. The outcome sounds more like Herbie Hancock's 1980s synth-jazz than modern organic groove-jazz. Nevertheless, younger jazz fans will go nuts over these instrumental jams and vintage grooves. -- Cristina Diettinger
(Café au Lait Music)
Craftsmanship and consistency are the hallmarks of Lenny McDaniel's career. Since the release of his 1993 debut, Bad for Me, the talented New Orleans singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has released a steady stream of high-quality albums featuring his soul and blues-inflected pop, ranging from the balladry of Tired Angels to the sizzle and emotional depth of The Blues Side. McDaniel's new CD, Unconditional Love, reaffirms his intuitive gift for memorable hooks and choruses, and showcases McDaniel's underrated playing chops.
McDaniel's always been a formidable electric guitar player (he's a former L.A. session veteran), and he's now pulling out some acoustic flamenco licks, which introduce "The Woman in You" and "Learn to Believe." McDaniel's also playing more harmonica, coloring the title track and the stutter-step of "Hancock County," which sounds like a prime slice of Tony Joe White swamp-rock. McDaniel knows his way around the keyboard, too, and injects some Fess-style rhumba licks into the humorous "Can't Find One to Be my Friend," which effectively name-drops Melpomene rather than the usual local crawfish cliches.
This newest batch of songs rides an inspirational theme, with "Good Love Is Hard to Find," and "I'm Not That Strong" all offering love's solace as a healing tonic, with gospel-like backup vocals bolstering the message. Roots purists might quibble with the occasional New-Agey lyric, but Unconditional Love is ultimately another polished effort from McDaniel that's as good a place to start as any for the uninitiated, and sure to please his longtime fans. -- Scott Jordan