Plus, there's a guest-star list that just can't quit - from George Clinton to Snoop Dogg to Bela Fleck, and with consciousness-raisers the Rev. Al Sharpton, Cornel West and Samuel L. Jackson, too.
Bootsy sings in a dreamy Jimi Hendrix style and samples the man's remarks from a post-Woodstock news conference on "Mirrors Tell Lies." James Brown gets royal props, best on "JB Still the Man" with testimony from Sharpton. Bobby Womack takes us back to the old school with "Don't Take My Funk," while brains are blown by electrifying guitarist Buckethead on "Minds Under Construction." Aw, it's all good.
SKIP TO MY LOU: A "less is more" logic prevails as Emmylou Harris strikes a "Hard Bargain" (Nonesuch, A-). She authored much of the material herself and laid the tracks with just a couple of multi-instrumentalist sidemen - player/producer Jay Joyce and percussionist Giles Reaves. Yet the trio builds a full, warm and atmospheric sound courtin' the adult-alternative crowd. That mortal coil keeps circling around Harris' brain, though she finds reason to survive in the rocking, resilient "New Orleans," her rescue of a "Big Black Dog" and a touching country waltz for her dad, "The Ship on His Arm."
Steve Earle comes off as a veritable roots festival unto himself on the T Bone Burnett-produced "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive" (New West, B). You gets your swampadelic blues ("Meet Me in the Alleyway"), your olde English ballad ("Molly-O"), your sea shanty ("The Gulf of Mexico") and your fiddle-fired Cajun ("Little Emperor," with sawing provided by Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek fame).
GIRRRRL POWER: Taylor Momsen played an increasingly screwed-up and annoying character (Jenny Humphrey) on "Gossip Girl." And while pretty much written out of the show, Momsen is still building on that bad-girl image on her debut set fronting the Pretty Reckless, "Light Me Up" (DAS Label/Interscope, C+). Think a piercing voice and attitude in the Avril Lavigne vein, though T.M.'s band rocks harder as she shocks and awes with the too-wasted-for-words "My Medicine" and (bunch-besting) "Miss Nothing."
New Brit darlin' Eliza Caird had me at her stage name - Eliza Doolittle. And my fair lady's poppy, perky music on her self-titled debut album (Capitol, B+) is equally cute. Think KT Tunstall meets Katy Perry at Mika's house. It's teen-friendly stuff with backbone, still longing for her childhood ("Back to Front") and very much her own "Nobody." Also check out the repurposing of the Fleetwoods' "Come Softly to Me" as "Missing." Interesting.
TURN BACK THE ROCK: If The Geator's looking to liven up his oldies shows with a talent who loves the past but doesn't just dwell in it, he ought to book JD McPherson, nodding to "Signs & Signifiers" (Histyle, B). Imagine honky-tonk sax and rattling upright piano, Chuck Berry-style guitar and Little Richard-ish vocal wailing.
The headline for the "Singles Collection (1960-64)" (Legacy, A) is that Roy Orbison's original Monument hits are finally available on CD in original monaural form. But the tail wagging the pooch is the bonus DVD that finds Roy performing all these gems - Pretty Woman," "Sweet Dreams Baby," "Only the Lonely," et al - in perfecto form for a 1965 Danish TV show.
Eastern Conference Champions serve a familiar though potent version of grump-boy rock on "Speak-Ahh" (Rockhampton Records, B).
Prefer to slog in the prog? Embrace the Globes' vision of "future self" (Barsak, B), evolving nicely in the Pink Floyd/Yes continuum.
JAZZ NOTES: Veteran photographer/filmmaker Gary Keys has hung with the greats of jazz. And has two dynamite documentaries to prove it.
"Duke Ellington: Reminiscing-in-Tempo" (MVD Visual, A-) boasts a never-before-seen 1968 performance of Ellington's "Mexico Suite" captured south of the border, plus an interesting intercutting of classics as rendered both by the Ellington band and modern interpreters Bobby Short, Billy Taylor and Adam Makowicz. The latter bunch was entertaining at a posthumous Duke birthday bash hosted by his story-sharing sister, Ruth.
Count Basie sidemen gathered round at Elaine's to trace his career and tell tales out of school for Keys' film, "Count Basie: Then As Now, Count's the King" (MVD Visual, B). Some fine Basie band clips are included. And the documentary addresses his collaborations with Billy Eckstine and Joe Williams (although not Frank Sinatra) and the odd, comic miming of Basie hits by Jerry Lewis in two of his movies.
Whispy jazz thrush Gretchen Parlato charmed me to no end with "The Lost and Found" (Obliqsound, B+). The singer/songwriter is ever kind, intimate and gentle on the mind, in the June Christy-Astrud Gilberto tradition, and works well with the likes of keyboardist Taylor Eigsti.
Parlato also pops up on a track of the Becca Stevens Band's "Weightless" (Sunnyside, B+). It's an acoustic jazz/folkpop crossover thang with interesting time signatures and modern modalities, smart originals and well- turned covers - Seal's "Kiss From a Rose," Morrissey's "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out."