Roots of spring

Homegrown recordings from Boston and beyond
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  March 18, 2009

THIRD'S A CHARM: Local hero Eilen Jewell's Sea of Tears expounds on her Madeleine-Peyroux-in-Appalachia sound.

Boston's standing as a roots-music nexus will be confirmed this spring by a slew of new albums from artists with ties to the city. This has much to do with increasingly popular local heroes like Eilen Jewell and Lloyd Thayer (both of whom have discs coming in April) — but let's not forget that Boston was among the places where the careers of Steve Forbert, John Doe, Slaid Cleves, and Ziggy Marley (all of whom have CDs coming as well) first caught fire.

Even RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT, who was part of the '60s folk revival that began in Cambridge and Greenwich Village, returns April 7 with A Stranger Here (Anti-). (Ramblin' Jack comes to the Regattabar in Cambridge on May 7.) ALLEN TOUSSAINT, a linchpin in the musical link Boston forged with New Orleans in the '80s via locally based Rounder Records, offers The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch) on April 21. Joe Henry, whose recent productions have revitalized the music of classic artists like Solomon Burke and Bettye LaVette, produced the Elliott and the Toussaint albums. A Stranger Here explores Depression-era country blues. The Bright Mississippi, though a departure for the 70-year-old R&B songwriting giant, celebrates his beloved Crescent City by revisiting some of its earliest recorded jazz and blues standards, like "St. James Infirmary" and King Oliver's "West End Blues." The inventive cast includes guitarist Marc Ribot and former Bostonians clarinettist Don Byron and drummer Jay Bellerose.

Another R&B champion, organist BOOKER T. JONES of Booker T. and the MG's, leaves his comfort zone to join Neil Young and the Drive-By Truckers for the instrumental Potato Hole (Anti-) on April 21.

Folk-pop stalwart STEVE FORBERT's The Place and the Time (429) and rockin' blueswoman MICHELLE MALONE's Debris (Thirty Tigers) arrive on March 31. And April 7 brings the funky Brand New Blues from CYRIL NEVILLE (M.C.), the youngest of New Orleans's famed Neville Brothers.

The spring's bluegrass surprise is SARA WATKINS's homonymous solo debut, which was produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. The singer/songwriter/fiddler is joined on the April 7 release by her Nickel Creek bandmates Chris Thile and Sean Watkins (her older brother), Nashville duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, and Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench.

EILEN JEWELL's third CD, Sea of Tears (Signature Sounds), expounds on her Madeleine-Peyroux-in-Appalachia sound; it's due April 21. Boston dobro virtuoso LLOYD THAYER celebrates his beatific, self-released, all-instrumental Gratitude at Club Passim four days later.

Austin's SLAID CLEAVES drops Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (Music Road/Selecto) on April 21. That's also the date for Modbilly (Vanguard), the third set by old-school-country and British Invasion style blenders the BOXMASTERS, who are led by actor and singer/songwriter/drummer Billy Bob Thornton.

Occasional actor and X man JOHN DOE unveils Country Club (Yep Roc) on April 14. Supported by Southern retro-rockers the Sadies, he covers tunes by Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. There's also a new song written by Doe with X co-fronter Exene Cervenka.

Finally, reggae leads the season's world-music beat. ZIGGY MARLEY's Family Time (Tuff Gong) is a children's album with guests Toots Hibbert, Rita Marley, Willie Nelson, and Paul Simon; it drops May 5. And April 14 will bring Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band (Easy Star), a reggae tribute to the Beatles featuring Matisyahu, Ranking Roger, the Mighty Diamonds, Max Romeo, and more.

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