Mills' final set for MCA is a mixed bag of midtempo ditties and ballads. The singer is in fine vocal shape, but the songs often suffer from numb melodies and meandering arrangements. Dry, overly synthesized outings like "I Found a New Love" and "24-Hour Woman" are heavily produced and caustic, while "Policy of Love" and "Stone Cold Woman" are structured well, but lack any real energy. A couple of meaningful moments are found in the sanguine "Love the Hurt Away" and sullen "Heartache." And the clever backing vocal arrangements (and lush performances) of Company give life to many of the grey spots. Overall, though, Something Real is far from the glory of Mills' best material.
Earl Scruggs first stepped onto the legendary Ryman Auditorium stage in 1945 as one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. His signature three-fingered banjo style would go on to influence countless musicians in the years to come, cementing him as a legend in his own right. In 2007, at the age of 83, Scruggs took the stage again, this time with family and friends who included Rob Ickes (dobro), Randy Scruggs (guitar, vocals), John Jorgenson (mandolin, guitar, clarinet, vocals), Jon Randall (guitar vocals), Gary Scruggs (bass, vocals), Hoot Hester (fiddle, vocals), and John Gardner (drums) to record Ultimate Collection: Live at the Ryman for Rounder Records. Boasting 18 tracks that include perennial favorites like "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," "Lonesome Ruben," "Ballad of Jed Clampett," "Soldier's Joy," "In the Pines," and "Earl's Breakdown," it's not surprising that Scruggs hasn't lost a beat, as he's been tearing through most of these songs for well over 50 years. While 2005's Essential Earl Scruggs remains the best entry point into this bluegrass icon's impressive canon of songs, it would be hard not to want to delve deeper into the man's history after an evening spent with him at the Ryman.
Though J. Henry Burnett's solo recording career wouldn't begin in earnest for another eight years (under the name T-Bone Burnett), it actually had its inception in 1972 -- three years prior to joining Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Review and five years before the Alpha Band's self-titled debut -- with the release of The B-52 Band & the Fabulous Skylarks. And while the B-52 Band included two future members of the Alpha Band (bassist David Jackson and drummer Matt Betton), there's not a lot here that would put you in the mind of that band's three late-'70s records, even if songs such as "We Have All Got a Past", "Bring Me Back Again" and "Money Changer" may hint at what was to come. Throughout the various stages of his recording career, Burnett has often been one to subvert the roots of rock & roll, blues, folk and country when needed, but musically he and his cohorts play it relatively straight here. The album's blues and rock & roll seldom stray from the ordinary, while elsewhere, songs that tip their hat to Dylan or the Band, though they may show promise, don't always stay with you. There are enticing moments throughout, but as soon as it seems as if they have you, Burnett, the B-52 Band and backup singers, the Fabulous Skylarks fail to really close the deal. And while as a writer Burnett certainly knows how to craft a song, there are a number of otherwise good ideas that never quite reach fruition, seeming to hit the wall about halfway through. Fans of T-Bone Burnett's later work may find The B-52 Band & the Fabulous Skylarks of interest, but all in all this is a fairly unremarkable, albeit respectable debut from an artist who would go on to greater things on his own, with the Alpha Band, and as a Grammy winning producer. [Originally released by Uni in 1972, the 1994 CD reissue by One Way Records contains two bonus tracks, "I Don't Want to Hear You Cry No More" and "Linda Lu."]