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Cosmic Americana redux 

Aretha Franklin, Randy Newman, Buck Owens

Here's some waxed canyon rock, past and present, to illuminate the LA sound story:

Aretha Franklin's newly reissued Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic) double-disc, co-produced by the late Arif Mardin and Jerry Wexler, includes such LA rock staples as Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With" and David Gates' "Make It With You." The significant contribution of Southern R&B and soul (especially via Gram Parsons) is usually the most overlooked aspect of the Laurel Canyon sound. Re-Re's Fillmore West remains both a landmark of her career and rock's live archives.

The laurel canyon scene was not made world famous nor a rival of past artist enclaves in Vienna, Paris and Greenwich Village solely by its jet-setting superstars. The canyon was also orbited by hip record executives and entrepreneurs, groupies, drug dealers, rebel Hollywood stars and an assortment of folk who preferred working in the background or not dropping out -- like studio brat Randy Newman, who hails from a line of Hollywood composers. Newman's work, with its hallmarks of wry cynicism and biting satire, might seem like a strange fit amongst all the hippie cowboys but it's another key part of what made the SoCal sound renowned. And Newman's got the tribute treatment on Sail Away: the Songs of Randy Newman (Sugar Hill), named after his slavery-skewering song of the same title. Sonny Landreth does a heartfelt and timely version of "Louisiana 1927." Yet Steve Earle's snarling reading of "Rednecks" and Sam Bush's plaintive "Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" will likely garner more notice. By the way, the Eagles are smacked down on Newman's "Rider in the Rain," covered herein by Reckless Kelly & Joe Ely.

Buck Owens' Bakersfield sound, as spotlighted on 21 #1 Hits The Ultimate Collection (Rhino), was another vital ingredient in the formation of so-called country-rock. Postwar Bakersfield was a hardscrabble, dusty town of oil fields and transplanted Okies who got their kicks at honky-tonks. Gram Parsons' International Submarine Band mate John Nuese introduced him to Owens and the Hag, significantly illuminating Parsons' path to twang sainthood. Standouts of Owens' storied oeuvre on The Ultimate Collection included here are "Streets of Bakersfield" (with Parsons acolyte Dwight Yoakam) and "Buckaroo."

this year's key sonic revival -- via freakfolk and assorted roots experiments -- is the late 1960s period of psych- and folk-rock (from both sides of the Pond). I See Hawks In LA, a California quintet that generally bows to Golden State greats including the Hag and Beefheart, brought its reworking of that era's cosmic cowboy genre to Charlotte not long ago. Angeleno picaresques like "Slash From Guns 'N' Roses" reveal that these Hawks take the tall in tall-tale literally. This might never play Branson, but it's decent high lonesome nonetheless.

alabama's Brightblack Morning Light run with the freakfolk elite who mostly invoke artists associated with producer Joe Boyd's Witchseason company, like the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. Yet BML is also a beneficiary of Laurel Canyon's late '60s swing towards "wooden music." Fitting for new Southerners, Brightblack Morning Light's self-titled debut (Matador) opens with spacey, Rhodes and flute-drenched funk less reminiscent of the Canyon's treetop aerie than the early '70s sonic disintegration of Bay Area transplant Sly Stone (then resident in Papa John Phillips' West Side mansion), Roy Ayers and Stax. Definitely burn "Everybody Daylight" and "Amber Canyon Magik."

Bonus track: Again: My all-time favorite band is that short-lived, late 1960s miracle the Buffalo Springfield. So imagine my sufferings that CSNY's tour is not coming to the QC (if anyone wants to send Hot'lanta tix to cheer me up, well...). Fortunately, I am somewhat assuaged by the involvement of my NYC friends in Maplewood with the new honorific CD: Five Way Street: A Tribute to the Buffalo Springfield (Not Lame). Maplewood does a fine, laid-back job with Neil Young's "I Am a Child" (believe it or not). Other highlights: Diesel Park West's "Hung Upside Down," Jeff Larson's "Questions." I reckon none of these admirers had the cojones to attempt Stephen Stills' stank bomb "Special Care" or highway star "Four Days Gone."

Ol' Skool:; New Skool:

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