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Joe Ely, Blonde Redhead, and Johnny Winter 

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click to enlarge Joe Ely

Joe Ely

B4 84

South Central Music

File next to: The Flatlanders, Alejandro Escovedo

Joe Ely made his early name in the Flatlanders and then a series of albums that captured West Texas wildness on vinyl. But in 1983 he started recording on an Apple II personal computer and a Roland drum machine. In his garage, of course. His label insisted he bring the songs to Hollywood and record like a grown-up. But he never forgot about these 1983 sessions and has now unleashed them on his own. Back then Ely was calling the sound "digibilly," and he was only partially kidding. There are 10 rocking songs on B4 84, and whether it's a machine or a human making the noise, everything comes across with a distinctive heartbeat and a Lone Star flair. The last song, "Isabella," is a co-write with Flatlander cohorts Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and reminds listeners that great music is great music no matter how it's made. — Bill Bentley

click to enlarge Blonde Redhead

Blonde Redhead

Barragán

Kobalt

File next to: Stereolab, Slowdive, God Lives Underwater

Blonde Redhead realized in the nick of time that too much twee is an invitation to career suicide. The Japanese-Italian band that mimicked Sonic Youth released several feedback-soundscape albums from 1995 to 2007, but went astray on 2010's Penny Sparkle, which featured too many happy bubble-gum sounds. Barragán is not so much a return to form as an effort to use Kazu Makino's lead vocals in a way that combines Stereolab-style high harmonies with the type of beat favored by The Notwist. Some fans find the new music too cold and devoid of emotion. But what saves Blonde Redhead's latest incarnation are the long, throbbing songs that meld noise and quiet melody, such as "Mind to Be Had" and "Defeatist Anthem." This may not be the Blonde Redhead of the 2000s, but it is significantly more interesting than the band's last outing. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter

Step Back

Megaforce Records

File next to: Buddy Guy, Roy Buchanan, John Mayall

It's downright eerie that Johnny Winter assembled all the ingredients for a swan song, prior to his sudden death while on tour earlier this summer. His Roots album in 2011 also featured many guest stars, but was skewed more toward early rock classics. Step Back is a blues outing featuring luminaries from Eric Clapton to Dr. John. And unlike many duet albums, this one is impeccably arranged and performed. In the last decade, Winter had traded his Texas growl for a husky tenor, but his voice stayed warm and in tune. With great interpretations of classics like "Who Do You Love" and "Killing Floor," it is hard to find weak points in the album, other than the lack of a 12-minute extended guitar solo. Step Back also features some unique CD packaging and a signed guitar pick. This is perhaps the best way a musician can ever say goodbye. — Loring Wirbel

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