Joan Armatrading -- Steppin' Out (Hip-O Select/A&M)
By the late 1970s, Joan Armatrading had gained sizable status among eclectic music lovers. However, Steppin' Out (1979) -- her highly acclaimed live offering -- was never released in North America. That's all changed now, thanks to Hip-O Select' s newly-inaugurated Performance Classic Series. Finally, after over a quarter-century of waiting -- or searching out pricey imports -- fans can finally get this spectacular live album domestically.
While the nine-song mini-concert documents Armatrading circa the release of To The Limit (1978), the sole inclusion from that collection is the funky and taught rocker "You Rope You Tie Me." The set is otherwise packed with inspired selections from her half-dozen LP catalogue. Among the standouts are the title track "Steppin' Out," and a slinky "Cool Blue Stole My Heart." Both were drawn from Back To The Night (1975) and showcase the palpable synergy between rhythm section members Bill Bodine (bass) and from Little Feat Richie Hayward (drums).
Interested parties should act with haste as this edition of Steppin' Out is limited to only 5,000 copies. Point an internet browser near you to www.hip-oselect.com for more information.
John Hiatt -- Live at the Hiatt (Hip-O Select/A&M)
It's shows like this that make it clear why Hip-O Select have dubbed their new line the 'Performance Classics Series'. Singer/songwriter John Hiatt is captured at the peak of his prowess, as he and the Guilty Dogs Band support Hiatt's concurrent effort Perfectly Good Guitar (1993). Live At The Hiatt's catchy title aside, John and company aren't really playing the banquet room of a hotel, rather they are actually at the Forum in London on October 30, 1993.
With obvious attention given to his latest endeavor, Hiatt also peppers the roughly hour-long presentation with plenty of hits and enthusiasts favourites. Juxtaposing intimacy with power -- a la early Springsteen -- Hiatt blazes out of the gate with a double-barrel shot. First with the solo acoustic opener "Through Your Hands" and then joined by the band for a raucous "Child Of The Wild Blue Yonder".
"Loving A Hurricane," "When You Hold Me Tight," a show-shopping "Something Wild" and the title song from Perfectly Good Guitar are among the best of the newer tunes. They weave amid the signatures "I Don't Even Try," "Slow Turning," "Feels Like Rain" and the laid back "Lipstick Sunset" that rounds out the proceedings.
The show was so hot that the artist's record company put it out to the press on a 'promotional-only' basis. Luckily, Hip-O Select's wise vault keeper Hipocrates decided to dust it off and make it available one last time -- for a limited edition run of 5,000 copies.
Marshall Tucker Band -- Live on Long Island 04-10-80 (Shout! Factory)
We're not exactly sure how we missed this essential release from late last summer, but better late than never. As part of their restoration of the entire Marshall Tucker Band (MTB) recorded legacy, Shout! Factory offers up Live On Long Island 4-18-80. Housed within is the final concert featuring the MTB co-founding personnel of Tommy Caldwell (bass), Toy Caldwell (lead guitar), George McCorkle (rhythm guitar), Paul Riddle (drums), Jerry Eubanks (flute) and Doug Gray (vocals). The concert came at the end of the band's tour in support of their unambiguously-monikered Tenth (1980) album -- and ironically, exactly ten days before Tommy Caldwell would die in an automobile accident.
Over the course of the two-disc set, the MTB mix newer cuts such as "It Takes Time," "Sing My Blues" and "Cattle Drive" with aggressive readings of "Can't You See," "Fire On The Mountain," "Heard It In A Love Song," "Last Of The Singing Cowboys," "Ramblin'" and an explosive "Take The Highway." The nearly 15 minute jam on "24 Hours At A Time" is a conduit for the MTB's often underappreciated skills as adept improvisers.
Without a doubt, if you like your sounds southern and your rock and roll old school, then Live On Long Island 4-18-80 is not only a fitting tribute to the late Caldwell, but an aural time capsule of vintage vibrations we're not apt to hear to the likes of again.
NRBQ -- Ludlow Garage 1970 (Sundazed)
Fans of the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet (NRBQ) have been anticipating the release of these vintage recordings for what feels like an eternity. The sonic wizards over at Sundazed -- chiefly head knob-twiddler Bob Irwin -- have done an admirable job in restoring the 36-year-old tapes.
With a self-titled debut long player under their collective belts, the combo ease into the show with a suitably freeform introduction that ultimately yields an 11+ minute cover of Sun Ra's "Rocket #9." Steve Ferguson (guitar) then jolts the band into a fierce rave-up of his own "Flat Foot Flewzy" -- one of several high octane performances found within. There are plenty of other incendiary moments, including the fun instrumental "Goofus," "as well as an overhaul of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's jazz oddity "Here Comes The Whistleman". These farther out pieces complement the equally energetic, but decidedly more standard fare, such as the Q's reworking of the '50s sock hop standard "Rip It Up," the Billy Stewart ballad "Sitting In The Park" or Hank Ballard's "Finger Poppin' Time."
Ferguson's originals, notably the rockabilly twang of "Step Aside" and the sweet, humble "Fergie's Prayer" will be manna for old time 'Q heads, if not a good way to convert even the most skeptical ears into the fold.
Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <email@example.com>.