Rant’N’Roll: Lucky Losers, McKee Bros., Zach Larmer, Jay Willie, Little Mike & A Guy Named Shirantha

Rant’N’Roll: Lucky Losers, McKee Bros., Zach Larmer, Jay Willie, Little Mike & A Guy Named Shirantha

—by , October 5, 2016

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Yeah, you’ll find Lucky Losers In Any Town (Dirty Cat Records) but these particular Lucky Losers (as oxymoronic as that may sound), if you find them in your town, will most likely be playing some bar. Harmonicat/vocalist Phil Berkowitz and sexy siren Cathy Lemons go down easy on this follow-up to A Winning Hand. From R&B, electric Americana and blues (both the Texas and Chicago styles) permeate these seven originals and two covers (of Bobby Charles and Johnny Cash) to the point where you’ll want to become a lucky loser too.

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Enjoy It While You Can by the McKee Brothers straddles funk, blues, soul, rock, jazz, gospel and Latin. Their versions of Dr. John’s “Qualified” and Earl King’s “It All Went Down The Drain” add the New Orleans flavor. They surprisingly close with a sensitive reading of singer/songwriter Patty Griffin’s MLK tribute “Up To The Mountain.” The band is sterling. Bob Seger’s original piano player Bob Schultz handles most of the lead vocals. Tower Of Power’s Lee Thornburg (off the road with Joe Bonamassa) switches between trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn. Doug Webb, from Stanley Clarke’s band, plays tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones. Funky Bobby Watson, formerly of Chaka Khan and Rufus, plucks bass. The Brothers sing back-up and play guitar, keyboards and bass on all 14 tracks, four of which they wrote. The result is a high-priced jam of frenzied Americana that veers rock but stays soul. It’s a keeper.

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Inner Circle by the Zach Larmer Electric Band has the 21-year-old guitarist/composer/octet bandleader/educator from Miami continuing his Pat Metheny scales to the point of developing his own voice. The kid’s a whiz. He’s graduated from writing for The Steve Miller Band to composing the kind of fusion found here: intricate, complex, exciting, entertaining-as-all-hell and soul-satisfying. I was afraid vocals would ruin the party but Larmer’s too smart for that. Hell, he got his CD title from Kurt Vonnegut, not the reggae band of the same name. He’s amassed tenor saxophone, two trumpets, keyboards, two basses, two drummers and an Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) which synthesizes brass. It all amounts to a sterling hour of action that includes funk (“On The Deck”), Mardi Gras (“I Left It Bayou”), worldbeat (“Friedrichshain”) and a mind-blowing 13:21 closing jam on “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” the only cover within the seven sparkling gems (the shortest of which is the 7:37 tribal groove of the title track). This closer was written in 1928 as a tango aria from an operetta, The New Moon. Here, its sly, sensual, sinuous muscled arrangement will take you out in just enough time for you to want to start this sucker all over again. It’s that good.

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Man, I have been gettin’ down with Hell On Wheels (Zoho) by the Jay Willie Blues Band boasting two of Johnny Winter’s guys (drummer Bobby T. Torello and harmonicat Jason Ricci). New Englanders have been getting off on their sound for years. Starting with a scintillating cover of “Willie And The Hand Jive” by Johnny Otis, they barnstorm their way to “The Horse,” the 1968 Chris Nobles instrumental and Smokey Robinson’s 1966 “The Hunter Captured By The Game.” Man, I forgot how good this song is. I was 15 when it was all over the radio by The Marvelettes and I’m still 15 every time I hear it. They do Al Green’s “Take Me To The River” too. Still, it’s Jay Willie’s knack, not only to compose the title tune, lead this band of guitar/sax/bass/harmonica/drums, play a righteous slide and sing, but to know just what chestnuts to pick off the tree of time, dust them off, and make them relevant again to a new generation. I’m talkin’ “A Million Tears” by Little Sylvia in 1952. Malorie Leogrande sings it so sweet as a bass/voice duet. (Little Sylvia, by the way, grew up to become “The Mother Of Hip-Hop” by founding Sugar Hill Records.) There’s something for everyone within Hell On Wheels.

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Little Mike asks that musical question How Long? on his new ELROB Records release. This is an existential question if there ever was one. Ida Cox first asked it in 1925. Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell asked it in 1928. Little Mike, who blows a mean blues harp, plays a boogie-woogie piano and sings like an old-school soul man, uses the JB Lenoir 1950s version as his template but oh so many others—Pigmeat Markham, Eric Clapton, Big Joe Turner, Johnny Ray, Lonnie Donegan, Lou Rawls, Hot Tuna, Grateful Dead, Pinetop Perkins—have wondered “How Long” as well. It’s only one of 12 here with Little Mike leading his blues burners in grand style (two drummers, two guitarists, two bassists and one fine-ass Hammond B-3 spill from Mitch Margold). Horns would’ve been nice but, as is, this thing rocks. Little Mike has learned his lessons well from Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers and James Cotton, who have all taken him under their wing at one time or another. In other words, he’s the real deal.

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Finally, you want some jazz? Multi-instrumentalist Shirantha Beddage established his Identity in 2012. Now he really picks up some Momentum. This exquisite Toronto musician, originally from London, over the course of eight self-produced originals, plays baritone sax, piano, Fender Rhodes, bass clarinet, alto sax, clarinet and flute. He’s ably supported by keyboardist (David Restivo), two bassists and two drummers (one of whom is Will Kennedy of The Yellowjackets). The result is magic.


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