Review: Jack White, Nas, Los Lobos cover American standards

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Posted: Jun 08, 2017 11:50 AM
Review: Jack White, Nas, Los Lobos cover American standards

Various artists, "American Epic: The Sessions" (Columbia Records)

Jack White, Nas, Elton John, Los Lobos, Bettye LaVette and Willie Nelson are part of a stellar cast performing a wide range of blues, country and other American songs and styles using vintage gear on "American Epic: The Sessions."

The double album is part of a wider film, recording and publishing project rooted in the 1920s boom of recordings made with musicians across the country as record companies sought to expand their audiences and counter the rising popularity of radio. It was the era of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and Charley Patton, among many others.

Others on the two-disc, 32-song collections include Taj Mahal, Pokey LaFarge and Rhiannon Giddens, musicians already grounded in that pioneering era who sound right at home recording on reconstructed 1920s equipment using a single microphone and cutting straight to disc.

Most of the repertoire consists of covers of decades-old tunes, although Elton John wrote "2 Fingers of Whiskey" with Bernie Taupin and Nas, after a spot-on version of the Memphis Jug Band's "On the Road Again," makes his own "One Mic" (from his 2002 album "Stillmatic") sound almost ancient.

A five-disc, 100-song box set called "American Epic: The Collection," also excellent, has some of the sonically restored originals of songs like "The Coo Coo Bird" — covered here by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell — and "Mal Hombre," Ana Gabriel versioning the truly fascinating Lydia Mendoza.

Produced mostly by White and T Bone Burnett, the time capsule aspect of the recordings does not feel gimmicky but gives the sounds of Alabama Shakes, Ashley Monroe or The Hawaiians a veneer that resonates across the ages.