By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


September 26, 2006

Autumn is here, which means the annual landslide of CD releases pegged to holiday sales is just a few falling leaves away.

But before our attention is diverted by the big names and big labels, here's a look back at a half-dozen rootsy records that didn't get their due during the first nine months of 2006.

Sammy Hagar | "Livin' It Up" | Grade: B
Hey, what can you say, it's a Sammy CD. If you're a fan -- and in St. Louis it's a pretty big club -- you'll love the Red Rocker's latest, which mixes equal parts classic rock, bombastic country, blues and Jimmy Buffett escapism (the key word, of course).

Sammy and the Wabos (drummer David Lauser, guitarist Vic Johnson and bassist Mona) burst from the gate with the acoustic-slide rocker "Sam I Am" ("I'm a straight shot shooter and a bad motor scooter") and never look back. The agenda includes parties and women and a search for the perfect beach -- maybe it's in "Mexico"? -- and it's all in joyously performed fun.

And because everybody's getting stoned, there's a boozy cover of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." Love that Sammy.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils | "Rhythm and Joy: The 1980 Reunion Concert" | Grade: B-
Missouri music fans also will enjoy this artifact from the OMD vaults, discovered and produced by Paul Peterson, the band's original manager. Recorded at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on New Year's Eve 1980, it marked the first time in five years that Randle Chowning and Buddy Brayfield had played with fellow co-founders Steve Cash, John Dillon, Larry Lee and Mike "Supe" Granda.

Boasting multiple multi-instrumentalists and singers, the band, which had its roots as a songwriters' collective in 1971, burns through 17 pop and country-rock tunes, flavored as always by Cash's distinctive harmonica. Tunes include "Standing on the Rock," "Black Sky," "Country Girl," "Tuff Luck" and, of course, megahits "Jackie Blue" and "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," which was featured in the season opener of "My Name is Earl" last week.

Billy Burnette | "Memphis in Manhattan" | Grade: B+
He's played with Fleetwood Mac and Bekka (daughter of Bonnie) Bramlett, and he's tried his hand at country. But Burnette, the son of Dorsey Burnette ("It's Late" written for Ricky Nelson) and nephew of Johnny Burnette ("You're Sixteen"), is a rockabilly cat on the genetic level.

As the CD title suggests, this is a collection of rockabilly with a harder rock edge. Exhibit A is a fabulous version of Peter Green's early Fleetwood Mac rave "Oh Well," which weaves finger pickin' and slap-bass with blues-rock chording. Several original tunes mix nicely with other covers including Bob Dylan's "Everything is Broken," Dorsey's "It's Late" and the well-named "Tear It Up" by the Rock 'n' Roll Trio: Dorsey and Johnny Burnette and Paul Burlison.

Easily Burnette's best effort since his hot, eponymous debut in 1972.

James Hunter | "People Gonna Talk" | Grade: B+
Blue-eyed-soul singer Hunter is no kid, but "People Gonna Talk" is his first U.S. album, and for fans of horn sections and styles ranging from silky Sam Cooke to funky Memphis and Muscle Shoals, the wait's been worth it.

A player in Van Morrison's band in the '90s, Hunter wrote all 14 cuts on this CD and recorded it using warm, analog equipment back in his native U.K. Standout tracks include the title cut, "You Can't Win" and "Talking 'Bout My Love." Very cool CD.

Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch & Fats Kaplin | "Lost John Dean" | Grade: A
Here are three guys who survived the pre-Garth New Traditionalist movement in Nashville in the late '80s. Singer-songwriters Welch and Kane (the O'Kanes) and multi-instrumentalist Kaplin (the Tom Russell Band) brew a haunting, itchy stew of mountain music and literate lyrics on their first studio CD.

All acoustic and recorded live in studio, "Lost John Dean" boasts the traditional outlaw story-song of the title track and the quirky catalog of "Monkey Jump" dedicated to novelist Nelson Algren. Willie Dixon's "Mellow Down Easy" caps the CD off on a bluesy note.

Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint | "The River in Reverse" | Grade: A-
Here's a concept: a protest album you can dance to. Legendary New Orleans writer and pianist Toussaint and eclectic rocker Costello got together last fall to help raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Those gigs grew into this CD, recorded in just two weeks late last year and featuring seven songs from Toussaint's stunning catalogue, five collaborations with Costello plus Costello's title song.

The songs are by turn bluesy, funky and swampy and, remarkably, the new songs fit well with Toussaint's classics, notwithstanding Costello's occasional dissonance. More remarkably, the older songs work within the album's theme of empathy for the people of New Orleans and anger at those responsible for the devastation.