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Otis Taylor

Otis Taylor's Contraband

Telarc

Buy if you like: Tony McPhee, Alvin Youngblood Hart

While purists may wish it were otherwise, the blues has loitered at the crossroads of any number of genres, from Bessie Smith's big-band jazz recordings to Muddy Waters' sparsely rustic Folk Singer, from the rock inclinations of Robert Cray to the soulful mesmerism of Junior Kimbrough. Otis Taylor's Contraband suggests the Colorado bluesman could hold his own in most, if not all, of those genres. "I Can See You're Lying" wouldn't sound out of place on an early Allman Brothers or Cream album, but then Taylor breaks out the banjo and violin for the elegiac "Yellow Car, Yellow Dog." Distinctive horn arrangements grace the tranced-out "The Devil's Gonna Lie" and African-tinged "Yell Your Name," while "Look to the Side" is delicately hypnotic and undeniably beautiful. Some 15 years into his recording career, Taylor remains one of the most interesting, least clichéd artists we've got. — Bill Forman

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Paul McCartney

Kisses on the Bottom

Hear Music

Buy if you like: George Gershwin, Irving Berlin

Even in his early days with the Beatles, Paul McCartney made no secret of the influence that pre-rock pop music had on him. Now with Kisses on the Bottom, he turns his attention to the type of songs he'd hear his father play on piano while growing up. With backing by Diana Krall's band, along with guests like Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, the arrangements combine a jazz sensibility with an obvious understanding of vintage pop. As for McCartney, he almost exclusively works the gentler upper register of his voice. While there are times when that makes his vocals sound a bit thin, the restraint fits the sweetness of familiar tunes like "The Glory of Love" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Top it off with a pair of McCartney originals, and you've got a warmly enjoyable, affectionately rendered window into McCartney's early musical loves. — Alan Sculley

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Mitch Ryder

The Promise

Michigan Broadcasting Corp.

Buy if you like: Fitz & the Tantrums, the Box Tops

For his first American release in 30 years, '60s star Mitch Ryder enlisted producer Don Was and a top-notch batch of players. Too bad he didn't enlist a lyricist. The musical version of his compelling new autobiography, Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend, suffers mightily from his attempts to achieve in song the confessions in its pages. Tracks like "Thank You Mama" and "One Hair" are filled with slinky grooves, and his powerful, gritty voice could still pull the knickers off ladies, but he sabotages them with words ranging from treacly to unintentionally comical. (Fitz & the Tantrums, who undoubtedly learned from Ryder, aren't winning audiences by singing about their aging bodies!) Danceable melodies like "Junkie Love" and "My Heart Belongs to Me," along with his cover of "What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted," rescue this from being total dreck, but he can do better. — Lynne Margolis

  • Otis Taylor, Paul McCartney, Mitch Ryder

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