The sounds of Philly - and beyond

Posted: July 22, 2008

We're feeling the love for Philly guys with new albums out today, as well for seasoned pros Buddy Guy, Willie Nile, Nils Lofgren and more.

FOLK 'N SOUL MUSIC: His name means "happy" in Turkish, and that's how Mutlu will make you feel listening to his debut disc, "Livin' It" (Manhattan, A-). The work of this vital singer and polished songwriter has an earnest, uplifting, sweet-soul feel that occasionally dabbles in Marvin Gaye slo-funk territory (check out "Livin' It") or raggedy reggae (dig "Shaky Ground," featuring Philly's acoustic rapper G.Love).

But most often the show evokes the early stylings of fellow Philadelphians Daryl Hall & John Oates. Like them, Mutlu's a blue-eyed soulster with folk roots. And having H&O's ace guitar man T-Bone Wolk on board as producer, and Hall singing on the gently revolutionary "See What It Brings," underscores the associations.

Ditto the close harmonizing that Mr. Mutlu (Onaral) does with Amos Lee on the "Sara Smile" sound-alike "Make It There" and with Rahsaan DeVaughan on the romantic, cool-grooving "In Your Heart." But the one I really can't get out of my head is the super-catchy "Upside," a co-write with yet another homie, Scott Sax.

WELCOME TO THE DOG POUND: Philadelphia's strongest gift to retro/alternative art rock continues to impress. I'm talking 'bout Dr. Dog and "Fate" (Park The Van Records, B+). The care and feeding that's gone into this production is obvious.

Start with the thematically linked material, suggesting a world order that seems out of our control but can be altered, if we put our minds to it. Dr. Dog is equally fastidious in vocal harmonies (think Brian Wilson's work with the Beach Boys) and in the strings- and horn-flecked tunes, which change up and segue in curious, seamless fashion.

The road map for this kind of handicraft is latter-day Beatles and the solo projects of John Lennon. A perfect case in point is the medley of the music-hall-flavored "Hang On" and the anti-nostalgia, let your house fall down "The Old Days," which somehow evolves into a country hoedown before it's through. Gents, you're doing us proud.


ANCESTORS: In his youth, raspy-voiced rock surrealist Willie Nile was one of several guys hit with the "Next Dylan" tag. (He came right after Loudon Wainwright IV, but before Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.)

Nile hasn't become as big a deal as some of those others, but he's stayed honest, tough and true to his code. Proof positive: the bristling CD and DVD versions of his concert recording "Live From the Streets of New York" (Megaforce, A).

The set spins largely off Nile's 2006 "Streets of New York" studio album yet gets pumped up here with a killer band (Jimmy Vivino and Andy York share guitar duties, 'fer instance) that make every song a tour-de-force.

Speaking of Springsteen, he's finally broken down and put out a digital-download-only music release. It's a 4-tune concert collection called "Magic Tour Highlights" (Columbia, B+). Spotlights include guest appearances by Alejandro Escovedo on "Always a Friend," Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine and the Nightwatchman) on the righteously indignant "The Ghost of Tom Joad," and Roger McGuinn with the E-Streeters cranking "Turn! Turn! Turn!" in classic Byrds fashion.

But what really sparked this last-minute release was the recent death of E-Street Band keyboardist Danny Federici, heard here pumping out accordion atmosphere galore on his last-ever performance of, sigh, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." All performance royalties and label profits from this project are going to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund.

Another member of the E-Street Band, Nils Lofgren, is more happily represented with "The Loner - Nils Sings Neil" (www.nils, B), his solo (voice, guitars, piano) reads of favorite Neil Young songs co-produced by Young associate David Briggs. Pleasant, though hardly essential.

For those who believe Bob Dylan invented the wheel, the DVD documentary "Down the Tracks - The Music That Influenced Bob Dylan" (Eagle Media, B-) should set you straight. Featured are insights from a bunch of Dylanologists and the music of guys who showed Mr. Zimmerman the way, from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Hank Williams to Leadbelly and Mississippi John Hurt. Too bad there's not a note of Dylan music and just the barest glimpses of him in this two-hour production. That often happens with these unauthorized biographies.

GUY FOR ALL SEASONS: If you relish electric blues heavy on the jolt, race out to buy the new Buddy Guy set "Skin Deep" (Silvertone, A). It's a blast of entertaining tunes, expressive vocals and blistering guitar, first note to last.

Friends like Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Eric Clapton and Robert Randolph help out but largely eat Buddy's dust. When the man sings "Who's Gonna Fill Those Shoes," a tribute to fallen blues greats, you'll also be thinking, "Who's gonna fill yours, dude?" *

comments powered by Disqus