Although I was familiar with some of the stranger recordings of country music hall-of-famer Porter Wagoner - the eerily reverbed Rubber Room and the low-down stuff from Confessions Of A Broken Man, with its classic cover shot of our man slouching, lost and dishevelled, on some steps - it was Nick Lowe who pointed out that Wagoner was at his offbeat best when given the green light to record his own compositions. Lowe was right. You can hear many of them on the excellent 29-track Rubber Room (Omni) disc of Wagoner's most desperate and demented country thrillers, including his own Lonelyville, Bones, Nothing Between, Life Rides The Train and the awesome title track. It's the perfect set-up for the new Wagonmaster album, Porter's Marty Stuart-produced Anti- debut, which boasts Johnny Cash's spin on Rubber Room, Committed To Parkview.
While we're on the subject of the Man in Black, Sony BMG's Legacy division has just come up with Ultimate Gospel, a solid 24-song collection of Johnny Cash's finest spiritual recordings that, like Porter Wagoner's twisted numbers, rarely appear on conventional chart-oriented compilations, and the original albums almost never get reissued. That's an unfortunate oversight, since Cash's commanding voice is well suited to hymn singing; he actually had his heart set on recording spirituals - not country or rock 'n' roll - when he first appeared at Sun Records looking for a deal. Along with classics like his early composition Belshazzar and powerful readings of Peace In The Valley, Were You There? and The Great Speckle Bird, there are also three great previously unreleased tracks rescued from the vaults, which warrants an amen.
Because the repertoire selection of French cover band Nouvelle Vague focuses on the most familiar new wave numbers of the past done up bossa-lite, you'd expect their mix disc for Azuli's LateNightTales series would be more of the same 80s faves from the UK charts. Nope. Instead, group conceptualists Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux use the opportunity to prove that they've heard some other types of moody music by throwing in Charlie Rich's San Francisco Is A Lonely Town, Gavin Bryars's The Vespertine Park, Peggy Lee's You're My Thrill and the Art Bears' Civilization. The biggest surprise is Julie London's Lonely Girl, the spare guitar/vocal arrangement of which was the starting point for Nouvelle Vague, according to Collin. Who knew? www.latenighttales.co.uk.
Ever wonder what Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left might've sounded like if he'd written and recorded his songs in sunny California instead of dreary old England? Well, that makes two of us, but Gary Marks answered the question no one bothered to ask with the Gathering album back in 1973. Now, 34 years later, Amsterdam's Kindred Spirits wants to make more people aware of its magnificently arranged and tastefully played orch-folk splendour. Jazz fans may be intrigued by the early appearances of John Scofield, Michael Cochrane and David Samuels, but the uplifting beauty of Gathering reaches far beyond genre bounds. Lovely stuff. www.kindred-spirits.nl.