Sound advice 

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Elton John and Leon Russell

The Union


Buy if you like: Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon

Elton John put together the sessions that became The Union to pay tribute to his hero and greatest influence, Leon Russell. In teaming up with Russell, he did more than that. The new album revitalizes both Russell, who hasn't been heard from for a while, and John, who returns to the rough-hewn sounds of Tumbleweed Connection for the first time in decades. Most of the songs were written by John and his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, and a number of them evoke the sounds of classic mid-tempo '70s rock. Yet it's Russell's handful of tunes and his weary take on love that really connect. Both John and Russell are in good voice, the production is superb, and the pianos, not surprisingly, dominate. The Union is just that, an inspired union of two artists — and it really works. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Hill Country Revue

Zebra Ranch

Razor & Tie

Buy if you like: North Mississippi Allstars, Junior Kimbrough

With the North Mississippi Allstars on hold while frontman/guitarist Luther Dickinson tours with the Black Crowes, his brother and Allstars bandmate, Cody Dickinson, is taking full advantage of the downtime. Anchoring his own band, Hill Country Revue, he's stepping out from his brother's shadow, and Zebra Ranch (the group's second CD) makes an impressive statement. Like the Allstars, this band is rooted in the raw blues of the Mississippi Hill Country, but brings more of a rock element to its sound. On Zebra Ranch, the group thunders out of the gate with three powerhouse tracks — "Raise Your Right Hand," "Chalk It Up" and a very solid cover of Don Nix's "Going Down." That's not the only sounds it knows, though — the band shakes it up with "Where You Belong," stellar ith a jazzy touch, and the soulful "I Don't Know About You." — Alan Sculley

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Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964


Buy if you like: Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs

In 1962, Bob Dylan began recording his songs for music publisher M. Witmark & Sons so they could be shopped to other artists. For two years, he cut demos that are basically him and a guitar and harmonica doing laid-back, straightforward versions of songs that are now classics. This two-disc, 47-song set includes the initial appearances of "Blowin' in the Wind," "Masters of War," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," and a stiff piano version of "Mr. Tambourine Man." There are some obscurities, but nothing all that illuminating. Dylan was no older than 24 on any of these recordings, and intentionally bland presentations of the material leave room for interpretation by others. But the songs are there, and so is the approach that changed the pop music world. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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