Record Store Day releases help get us through the pandemic
By Bliss Bowen 

There’s nothing quite like a pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions to get us reaching for comfort food, be it culinary or musical.

The latter includes compilations and concert albums offering the solace of the familiar, and this month’s roster of releases has been brightened by live sets from Bombino, Jimi Hendrix and The War on Drugs, among others, all feeding that need for connection through the familiar, seasoned with sounds of congregating in close quarters before a live band.

More concert releases will be available for Record Store Day Black Friday (November 27), with limited-edition choices from Blue Oyster Cult (“Live ’83,” a widely bootlegged concert at Pasadena’s long-gone Perkins Palace), pioneering jazz pianist Bill Evans (“Live at Ronnie Scott’s,” from drummer Jack DeJohnette’s personal tape stash), Alanis Morissette (“Live at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire”), Willie Nelson performing his classic “Red Headed Stranger” album (“Live at Austin City Limits 1976”), saxophonist Sonny Rollins (“Rollins in Holland: The 1967 Studio & Live Recordings”), and Hank Williams (“1952 Radio Show Auditions”). Other offerings will include Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In)” on transparent blue vinyl with black splatter.

Daptone issued “Just Dropped In,” a posthumous collection by the late, lamented soul diva and her incomparable Dap-Kings, in September. Their performances of folk, funk and R&B favorites such as Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” Bad Medicine’s “Trespasser” and the prescient title track sound positively joyful; several tracks emerged during the heat of the civil rights era and remain relevant.

Dave Alvin’s “From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings,” available digitally this summer and just officially released by Yep Roc, also offers visceral, savory pleasures via covers of blues and country heroes (Lillian Hardin Armstrong, Earl Hooker, Marty Robbins) and friends (Peter Case, the late Bill Morrissey). The recordings were made over a span of years—some for tributes, others for Alvin’s albums—and local fans who’ve followed the erstwhile Blaster’s solo career and evolving band lineups will appreciate guest appearances by the late Chris Gaffney and veteran Guilty Ones Cindy Cashdollar, Greg Leisz, Rick Shea and Wyman Reese. It’s strange not to hear more of the flinty original songs that established his “King of California” rep, but hearing him slide through blues, early jazz, folk, country and rock ‘n’ roll reminds what a vivid journey through American roots music his live shows deliver.

Alvin’s earthy baritone, which has acquired brandied warmth over time, extracts unexpected sweetness from Chris Smither’s “Link of Chain,” and injects seduction and grit into a slinky take on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” The most potent track may be “Peace,” resurrected from blues titan Willie Dixon’s 1984 album “Mighty Earthquake & Hurricane.” Originally titled “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace),” it still burns with indignation—thanks in no small part to Alvin’s smoldering fretwork—and sounds ripped from tomorrow’s headlines:

“You can make a transfusion that can save a life

Why you can change the darkness into broad daylight

You make the deaf man hear and the dumb man speak

But it don’t make sense … when you can’t make peace.”