The aural Xpress

Blues Came to Burgaw

George Herbert Moore

(Lost Gold Records)

George Moore worries about his soul. Playing the blues, he’ll tell you gravely, is like writing your own ticket to hell. The real place. Home to the devil.

Moore plays, he insists, because his retirement money simply doesn’t meet his needs.

And if his Robert Johnson-esque vision seems removed from time, so, too, does his music. Moore, now 69, lives in rural Burgaw, N.C. (just north of Wilmington). He grew up there, during a crossroads period in blues: when then-young titans like Muddy and the Wolf were starting to draw new players’ attentions away from regional stars. Consequently, Moore’s playing percolates up from a deep well of influences, from the homegrown Piedmont style of Blind Boy Fuller to the Chicagofied Delta din of his hero, Jimmy Reed.

What keeps Blues Came to Burgaw from collapsing into respectful schizophrenia — it packs 17 chestnuts by the likes of Waters, Fuller and Reed, and by such lesser-knowns as Buddy Moss, Tampa Red and Guitar Slim — is Moore’s singular personality. Though he’s never written a song in his life, Moore inhabits the music he covers like he owns it. His guitar playing is based on the economy of tradition; his singing rings with naked, unassuming charm.

Moore is at his best on the Lightnin’ Hopkins numbers (“My Starter Won’t Start This Mornin’,” “Shotgun Blues”) and Reed’s “Stop and Think,” falling into the songs’ rural-folk flavorings and leisurely cadences with a sweet, aged grace.

He doesn’t play like a man in fear, or even a man in need. He plays like a man in love. (Lost Gold Records/Frank Greathouse, 26 Central Blvd., Wilmington NC 28401; 910-762-1128).

’70s Party Classics/Killers

Various Artists

(Rhino)

Junior year, Belmont High. Anytown, U.S.A. Bell bottoms (I know, they’re back again), dumb hair. You’re in your room, safe from prying ears, belting it out with the radio: “If you like pina coladas, and gettin’ caught in the rain … .”

Unexpectedly, the door opens. It’s your pissant little brother. Big deal.

“If you like makin’ love at … .”

Oops: Behind him stands Bruce “Lee” Jenkins, high-school King of Cool.

And just like that, your hipness quotient crashes below zero. You can hear it as it falls — right about the time that Rupert Holmes discovers his “old lady” is just as darn naughty as he is.

Rhino Records has compiled a history of your shame. Now you can relive all the heartache of secretly adoring some of the most despised, most popular songs of the age: from Holmes’ quintessentially awful “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” to the Captain & Tennille’s unflinchingly smarmy “Muskrat Love”; Morris Albert’s accidental-camp standard “Feelings”; Clint Holmes’ brain-defying “Playground in My Mind”; the Starland Vocal Band’s spry nausea-fest, “Afternoon Delight”; and much, much … less.

Twelve flagrant assaults on all that is good and decent in music. And no such collection would be complete without a certain little bundle of Paul Anka: “(You’re) Having My Baby.” What a wonderful way of saying, well, you know … .

That it couldn’t get any worse.

Play this album often, and loud. Humiliate your kids. It’s the only way to beat the past.

Words and Music

Paul Kelly

(Vanguard)

Kelly is one of the best, an unsparing chronicler of our minor transcendence — the everyday fractures and reconciliations that are the sum total of life. His songwriting forsakes politeness for startling clarity, allowing little glimpses of the soul to shine through.

For more than a decade now, the honest, acerbic Australian has been cranking out good-to-great guitar ‘n’ roll, yet going largely unnoticed in this country. Kelly’s fourth Vanguard album finds him once again in peak form, knocking off characteristically bittersweet melodies that ignite tales of victory and defeat — often interchangeable — in a blaze of ragged tenderness.

On “How to Make Gravy,” an incarcerated man phones his brother one final time before Christmas, musing on the big holiday dinner he’s about to miss, and his annual responsibility of making the gravy. “Just add flour, salt, a little red wine …,” he advises. And that small domestic chore grows into a startling picture of regret, of everything he truly longs for — wife, kids, friends, freedom: Words and Music to live by.

Smoke Signals

Various Artists

(TVT)

“This is not a romance with the road,” singer/songwriter Dar Williams declares on the oddly appropriate “Road Buddy,” midway through this inspired soundtrack. But the music to Smoke Signals — like the Sundance-favorite film itself — is nonetheless all about The Journey. In this case, the young truth seekers just happen to be Native Americans.

Seattle composer BC Smith’s rich score seamlessly intersperses songs and “instrumentals,” the latter pitting fiery chanting, haunting wooden flute, tribal drumming and gourd-rattle rhythms against often-blistering electric guitar and the full-strings bombast of Hollywood studio productions. Such unlikely unions parallel the film’s travelogue of discovery — even as they suggest the disjointed existence common to young Native Americans.

Like TV, white radio daily reinvades the res, and several songs have a fitting, classic-FM feel belying the steely import of their lyrics. “I ain’t got nothing, heard no good news,” tremulous Native singer Jim Boyd laments at one point, atop a bed of ’70s-Southern-California-flavored acoustic rock. “I filled my pockets with those reservation blues.”

The album’s closer is a call for hope built atop a litany of Native sufferings — slaughter, slavery, deportation. The anti-Pocahontas soundtrack? Instead of some buttery-voiced pop diva belting out feel-good faux-historicism, the members of riveting female vocal trio ULALI stare down the smoky barrel of the past, hearts heavy with the present — but chins up. Way, way up.

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