Kevin Bryan’s record reviews

Tony Joe White, “Swamp Fox­The Definitive Collection 1968­1973” (Union Square Music)­ Louisiana born Tony Joe White was one of America’s finest purveyors of top notch roots music long before this all embracing term became fashionable, and his distinctive songwriting skills supplied a rich vein of material for the likes of Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield and silky voiced soulman Brook Benton, whose classic version of White’s smouldering “Rainy Night In Georgia” soared into the higher reaches of the U.S. singles charts in 1970. This splendid 2CD set chronicles the cream of Tony Joe’s own vinyl output from those far off days, including gruffly memorable gems such as “Polk Salad Annie, “ “Backwoods Preacher Man” and the autobiographical “Saturday Night In Oak Grove, Louisiana.”

James Taylor, “Beyond This World” (Concord / Decca)­ Mellow and mature singer­songwriter fare is the order of the day as James Taylor unveils his first studio album of new songs since 2002’s “October Road.” Many of James’ contemporaries have fallen by the wayside over the years but he still seems able to conjure softly beguiling melodies out of the ether just as easily as he did when he became one of the leading lights of the genre almost half a century ago. Sting and classical cellist Yo­Yo Ma both lend a hand to the proceedings but Taylor is very much the star of the show as he serves up fine ditties such as “Stretch of the Highway,” “Snowtime” and “Today Today Today” for your listening pleasure.

“Road Trip ­ A New Journey” (Union Square Music)­ This wildly eclectic 3 CD anthology from Union Square offers the usual blend of the musically sublime and the eminently disposable as it draws on contributions from rock, pop and soul luminaries such as Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, The Beach Boys and The Allman Brothers to name but a few. The contents are certainly nothing if not varied, with Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” sitting snugly alongside the late James Brown’s vibrant “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and the infectious jug band pop of Mungo Jerry’s 1970 hit, “In The Summertime.”

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Phantasm, “William Lawes : The Royal Consort” (Linn CKD 470)­ Linn Records’ technically brilliant recordings occupy a fairly exalted position amongst classical music enthusiasts, and this fine Scottish label’s latest 2 SACD set explores the unique creative ouput of English Renaissance composer William Lawes. “The Royal Consort” brings together a collection of what were at the time highly innovative and unconventional dance tunes performed on such arcane instruments as the viol and theorbo, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

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