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HENRY BUTLER-STEVEN BERNSTEIN & THE HOT 9, Viper’s Drag (Impulse): (4.5 stars out of 5)

This collaboration between New Orleans piano virtuoso Butler and trumpeter/arranger Bernstein is the auspicious occasion for the latest relaunch of Impulse, 1960s label home to jazz giant John Coltrane, among others. Whether zestily redoing the Fats Waller-penned title track, putting a funky twist on the Cajun chestnut “Iko Iko” (“Some Iko”) or dipping deep into French Quarter tradition for Butler’s celebratory “Dixie Walker,” Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wolverine Blues” or Count Basie’s blues lament “I Left My Baby,” Butler radiates joy while holding ivory-tripping court amidst his aptly named band.

PETER HIMMELMAN, The Boat That Carries Us (Himmasongs): (3.5 stars out of 5)

The prolific songwriter shook up his creative routine for his latest, typically fine release: writing his lyrics first, making only simple demos for his intuitive band of dream players (drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Lee Sklar, guitarist David Steele), bringing in organist Will Gramling after principal recording was done. Perhaps that accounts for the music’s lean muscularity, which serves Himmelman’s intelligent poetry well and makes these 13 songs particularly savory and accessible. Highlights: “Afraid to Lose,” “33K Feet,” “Double Time Sugar Pain.”

THE LIKES OF US, Time Traveler (self-released): (3 stars out of 5)

The LA pop duo’s commercial work shows in the pop sheen overlaying their sophomore album; that contemporary gloss often makes the mostly uptempo tracks sound like TV background music. Benj Heard and Katrina Stone keep things interesting by mixing that with ’40s-influenced harmonies and arrangements. Tracks like “Moonshine” and the piano-driven ballad “Hurricane” are strongest, thanks to their vocal chemistry, melodic simplicity and Heard’s soulful delivery. Other highlights: “Train’s Comin’,” “Northern Star.”

JOHN MELLENCAMP, Performs Trouble No More: Live at Town Hall (Ume): (4 stars out of 5)

The veteran rocker shifted gears with his 2003 album “Trouble No More,” a quickly recorded collection of vintage blues and folk tunes by the likes of Robert Johnson, Son House, Willie Dixon, Woody Guthrie and Lucinda Williams, then performed it live at New York’s Town Hall. Augmented by a few of Mellencamp’s greasily rearranged originals and a raucous slide through Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” the swamp-tinged set upheld the material’s ongoing sociopolitical relevance; 11 years later, in this crisp concert recording, it still does.


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