click to enlarge Go to Nassau: May 15 & 16, 1980 - Arista and Grateful Dead
Arista and Grateful Dead
Go to Nassau: May 15 & 16, 1980

I've been riding around in my car the last few days listening to the Grateful Dead. I assure you this is not like me. It strictly has to do with Go to Nassau, a terrific concert document made up of highlights from two nights at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The two-disc set, which clocks in at 2 hours and 36 minutes, is filled with songs and focused improvisation, short on wankery. The vocals are generally in tune, and the sound is just this side of impeccable, full of detail, documenting the players' inspired interplay. Jerry Garcia was clearly on during these shows; his guitar tone is crystalline and chime-like, his lines flow beautifully.

GD archivist David Lemieux has done a wonderful job of cutting out the chaff, and of making the music appeal to more than Deadheads. The last half of Side 2 goes like this: A boogying "Alabama Getaway" is followed by a deliciously interactive "Playing in the Band." Its ethereal ending gives way to the warm guitar lick that opens "Uncle John's Band," which is played with relaxed conviction. "Drums" does not drag on too long, and the "Space" section, at 2:45, is merely a bridge into a deliberately paced "Not Fade Away." A cagey segue paves the way for the spunky "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad," followed by the breezy closer, a cover of the Rascals' "Good Lovin'."

Believe it or not, nary a note is wasted.

—Eric Snider

At Sixes and SevensJason LoewensteinDomino/Sub PopThe last three Sebadoh albums saw songwriter Jason Loewenstein's raucous, raggedly melodic contributions become a prominent foil to Lou Barlow's interior musings. On At Sixes and Sevens, he handles 14 gnarly, eclectic songs from conception through production, handling every aspect in true DIY fashion. The result is an album of idiosyncratic guitar-rock that's far above average, if a bit uneven. Surprisingly, much of the material takes on a lo-fi, "stoner rock" vibe. Dark minor keys, subdued tempos and riffs that flirt with dissonance drive tracks like "Circles," "I'm a Shit," "More Drugs" and "Mistake," while the aptly-named "Metal," "NYC" and "Funerals" provide Sixes with a crunchy, overdriven center. It's like Fu Manchu made a bare-bones record for some tiny garage label, taking chances and writing the best lyrics of their career. Elsewhere, the melodious rock 'n' roll bookends "Codes" and "Transform" are highlights, and "Crazy Santana" revisits the flirtation with trashing Latin rhythms that Loewenstein originally evinced on The Sebadoh's "Cuba." This one's not pretty, but it's pretty intriguing, and seems to get more so each time through.

—Scott HarrellModernisticJason MoranBlue NoteFor his fourth Blue Note release, Jason Moran, at 27 one of the top young pianists in jazz, unleashes a solo excursion that shows his considerable scope and inventiveness. As if to announce his eclecticism from the top, he starts with a rambunctious version of stride master James P. Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic." Moran follows with a contemplative reinterpretation of "Body and Soul," and then, bam, into a postmodern renovation of the hip-hop classic "Planet Rock" (with a minimal funk beat emanating from who-knows-where). The opening sequence concludes with Moran's tangled take on "Time Into Space Into Time," by avant-gardist Muhal Richard Abrams. Moran then ventures into original pieces, which range from the "Moran Tonk Circa 1936," a slice of stride from a parallel universe, to the sumptuously lyrical "Gentle Shifts South." Frankly, Modernistic could've used more of the latter. This is not comfort music. It can be a little chilly. While not always inviting, Moran's solo work consistently challenges.

—Eric Snider RCA Country LegendsJimmie RodgersRCAJimmie Rodgers bragged about being a "Tennessee hustler." He sang about using his "silver mounted gat" if someone gave him shit. (How's that for Dirty South?). He also offered emotive reflections on his railroads days (hence the sobriquet "Singing Brakeman"), or put voice to other struggles of the working man. He could even croon tender valentines without sounding like a sap. The gifted singer/songwriter incorporated elements of 12-bar blues, ancient folk ballads, minstrel songs, work chants and Dixieland jazz. In doing so, he became one of the biggest record sellers of his era, the father of country music and probably its most influential figure. Condition your ears to some hiss, and Rodgers' music is as rewarding today as it was for folks during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, RCA Country Legends is only a mediocre sampling. Mandatory hits like "T for Texas," "My Blue-Eyed Jane" and "Standing on the Corner" (which features a young Louis Armstrong on trumpet) are included. However, such signature songs as "Waiting on a Train" and "In the Jailhouse Now" are mysteriously missing. Rodgers' most poignant composition, "T.B. Blues" (tuberculosis took his life at 33) is absent as well. Interestingly, the 20-track Essential Jimmie Rodgers that RCA released in 1997 had just as good sound quality and is considerably more definitive.

—Wade Tatangelo