I've been listening to Patty Larkin for 30 years and change and for nearly that long to Barrence Whitfield. In person first - Stone Church, Middle East - and later on CD. I don't think I've ever heard Susan Tedeschi in person, which baffles me, but I've loved her voice since I heard her cover of "Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)" years ago. They're all pretty amazing singers, they all have Mass. connections and/or addresses, and they all have fine new albums.
Let's start up-tempo. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages' Dig Thy Savage Soul came out a few weeks ago and has been in heavy rotation here ever since. They were a big band around here in the 1980s - and more popular in Europe, I think - but split up circa 1990. Lately, North Shore resident Whitfield has been working in a Beverly Salem record store and playing occasional solo gigs, as well as turning up to take lead vocals on the encores whenever his friends in Los Lobos come to town. Now he's back together with original Savages guitarist and songwriter Peter Greenberg on a screamer of an album. Greenberg was in the Lyres and brings their gonzo garage-rock style here, redolent of both classic '60s Nuggets and punk, with the occasional taste of 50s greaser traditionalism a la Eddie Cochran. Riffs! Lyrics! Hammering beats! Barrence! Standouts here are the full-tilt "Hangman's Token" and the bring-the-hammer-down-at-a-measured-pace "I'm Sad About It." There's also a song about "Oscar Levant." Seriously. The puzzler is "Daddy's Gone To Bed," which is just like all the others except they must have cut it on a day when Barrence had ripped up his voice, because he sounds exactly like present-day Bob Dylan. You know, gargling broken glass. WTF.
I'm still digesting Made Up Mind by the Tedschi Trucks Band, which is led by Tedeshi (a member of the supermarket family) and her husband, the brilliant slide guitarist and sometime Allman Brother Derek Trucks. Their partnership seems genuine and a joy to watch, and dang if the world doesn't need a new Delaney & Bonnie, right? Tedeschi's voice splits the difference between Bonnie Raitt and Bonnie Bramlett, but it has an instant emotional transparency, so that she could sing the phone book and fill it with exquisite emotion, like Raitt or Chrissie Hynde. She makes you feel. There's a lot of good stuff here, from the Raitt-esque romp of the title track to expansive "Do I Look Worried" and "It's So Heavy," all of which offer Trucks a chance to shine. But the killers here come among the last few songs. "Sweet and Low" finds Tedeschi slaying us with her betrayed-woman's lament as Trucks emotes through his guitar. Great pauses. And the one that tells you they're here to stay is the closer, "Calling Out To You," with just Trucks on an acoustic steel guitar and Tedeschi doing what she does best at the mic. Devastating.
Last but not least is Wellfleet resident Larkin, whose Still Green comes out in a couple of weeks, reflecting some difficult times in her life, including the loss of both her parents and her sister's stroke. This is a little more subdued album for Larkin, who can be an exuberant guitar slinger when she's in the mood. But as usual there's fine songwriting and intimate, complexly emotional singing here, notably on "Best of Intentions," with its meditative piano and guitar strum, and the full-hearted melody of "Nothing Else Really Matters." What I liked best is the highly modern, buzzing sound of the spooky "Down Through the Wood," with its brush snare and snapped-off guitar figures, and the up-tempo "Mando Dream." They have little enigmatic fills and loops and layers that move them into Aimee Mann or late-Suzanne Vega turf. I talked to Larkin a few weeks ago for an upcoming story (both of us remembering a wild houseparty gig she played in NH back in 19coughcough), and you'll see that in print before the album hits the streets in a couple of weeks.