This special, post-holiday edition of the monthly $25 Guide (a guide to what records I'd buy if I only had $25 a month to spend) offers a chance to mix and match albums. With noteworthy new releases slow to surface early in the year (the exception is Los Lobos' album, which is a cinch to top next month's Guide), the void lets us catch up on year-end releases that didn't fit into the tight budget restrictions, and also enables us to sample outstanding reissues.
January Purchases: The reissues.
The Neville Brothers' "Treacherous" (Rhino Records). Like Bruce Springsteen's live package, this two-record set and Big Joe Turner's album (see below) are more than simply "entertaining" retrospectives. Both tell the story of a musical love, dedication and desire that stretches--despite frequent obstacles--for more than 30 years and 50 years, respectively.
Aaron Neville's eerie, almost hypnotic vocal on "Where Is My Baby," an Allen Toussaint song that appears on Side 2 of the album, is the kind of moving tour de force upon which legends are built.
The story outlined in the 1968 ballad is not new: A guy is so in love with a woman who has left him that he seems to be merely sleepwalking through his life. Nothing--a beautiful sunrise, the promise of a raise, a shiny new car--offers relief.
Neville's soulful tenor conveys brilliantly the dazed, disheartened emotional state suggested by the song. The result is a classic, but "Where Is My Baby" was just another moment of frustration for New Orleans' Neville Brothers, whose career (both individually and collectively) has been characterized by some exquisite music, but little sustained commercial success.
This underlying struggle to achieve recognition for their endearing music--a warm, almost intoxicating mix of R&B, gospel, country, blues, doo-wop, funk and other New Orleans strains--gives the two-record set (list price: $14.98) an extra, dynamic edge.
Big Joe Turner's "Rhythm & Blues Years" (Atlantic). Turner, who was 71 when he died of a heart attack in 1985, will be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Wednesday night in New York--and you'll have to look to Atlantic's fine "Rhythm and Blues" series LPs or an upcoming "best of" album for the songs, like "Shake, Rattle & Roll," which guaranteed him a place in the Hall.
But this two-record set (bargain-priced for around $10) is a delightful look at some of the R&B records that Turner made for Atlantic in the 1950s. Despite the vitality and life in these recordings (the songs range from the ribald "TV Mama" to the anguished "Chains of Love"), they represented just a wink in a career that began in the '30s in blues clubs in Turner's native Kansas City and stretched to jazz and rock clubs around the world.
Turner's voice is so forceful that it threatens to push the needle into the red side of the meter even when he is trying to be subdued. He was too old by the time rock started to match the continued success of a Fats Domino or a Little Richard, but he was a remarkable talent.
If you are impatient for new music and feel one reissue is enough, here are some late 1986 releases that deserve attention: The Woodentops' "Giant" (Rough Trade/Columbia)--A British band with much of the cleverness and craft of the Squeeze. Or: the Golden Palominos' "Blast of Silence" (Celluloid)--The draw here is Syd Straw, whose evocative, country-tinged vocals, especially on a couple of Lowell George tunes, are enchanting.