Rant’n’Roll: Piano Dead, Americana, Hindu Fusion, Jersey Gospel

Rant’n’Roll: Piano Dead, Americana, Hindu Fusion, Jersey Gospel

—by , January 4, 2017

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Holly Bowling has totally revamped the music of the Grateful Dead on her epic two-CD solo piano work Better Left Unsung (Royal Potato Family). She did the same thing on her ambitious Distillation Of A Dream: The Music Of Phish Reimagined For Solo Piano. On both projects, she’s painstakingly transcribed the music of these bands and improvises classical motifs atop their melodies. You haven’t heard “Terrapin Station” until Bowling bowls you over with her fleet-fingered pianistics. I never even thought there’d be worlds of harmonic underpinnings in such beloved fare as “Wharf Rat” and “Dark Star.”

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Steve Earle is one of my remaining American heroes who still walks this earth. I’ve said it in print before but the man is truly my Woody Guthrie. His last five albums have all been masterpieces and I do believe he’s got another one up his sleeve that he’s been working on for later in 2017. His short story collection and his novel both blew me away. As an actor, he was the heart and soul of my favorite all-time cable show, Treme. That said, his new album with Shawn Colvin, Colvin & Earle (Fantasy/Concord), is but a quick time-out from his usual profundities. Still, even with a couple of bar-band throwaways like “Tobacco Road” and “Ruby Tuesday,” it’s a fun record. Sure, repeated listening might bear fruit but for now, I feel he’s sublimated his genius.

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Guitarist Eraldo Bernocchi used to crank it up to 11 when playing punk-rock in his native Italy. Hindustani lap steel guitarist Prakash Sontakke plays the kind of slide that melts into your brain. Invisible Strings (RareNoise Records) is a musical meeting of the minds wherein east meets west. Bernocchi outgrew his punk beginnings long ago. In fact, he started Rarenoise Records in London with Giacomo Bruzzo eight years ago. Sontakke is fond of imbuing his sound with classical music from India. Bernocchi’s life changed when he heard Brian Eno’s 1983 Apollo. Taking Eno’s cue, Invisible Strings took 18 months to complete. Suffice it to say, it is unlike anything you’re likely to hear any time soon. While one plays the kind of lap steel that used to give country music a bad name, the other fiddles with electronics, electric guitars and one mighty custom-made aluminum baritone guitar with, as Bernocchi says, “such a sustain that sometimes you think there’s compression applied but it’s just the aluminum neck dialoguing with the wood body.” You want to impress your friends? Crank up “The Last Emperor Walked Alone,” “Sublime Skies,” “Purple Yellow” or “Walking Backwards Again” at your next party and see how fast somebody says, “what the hell is that?” Then hush ‘em all up and let ‘em grooooooove.

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Andy Bernstein, for the past 30 years, has been rocking around his New Brunswick hometown about as long as his neighbor Pat Dinizio of The Smithereens. As front man and chief songwriter for The VooDUDES, he also performs with the Long Gone Daddies and has been on a number of projects in the past few years including the Juke Joint Jonny Trio, the Zyde Blues Revue, Scarlett, Slaves of New Brunswick and Glen Burtnick’s “British Invasion 2.” It’s time to go solo. My Roots Are Showing by Andy B.AND is a roots-reverent gospel retro-soul Americana folk project where his lowball swoon of a voice carries the proceedings atop a fine mix of instruments including accordion, keyboards, guitars, bass, dobro, drums, fiddles, mandolin, pedal steel, percussion, saxophones and background vocals. Self-released, self-written and sung with authority, it’s a lowdown trip like listening to Hot Tuna before they went electric, but fronted by Dr. John the Jersey-centric “Incandescent Lightbulb Blues” was even recently used at the unveiling of the Thomas Edison Museum historical mural.

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Thank goodness for William Bell! Just when you’d think there aren’t any good old soul men out there anymore like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Soloman Burke, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave, Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye, along comes an album that puts everything right again. This Is Where I Live (Stax/Concord) by the masterful William Bell, whose every breath oozes with ecstasy, is one for the ages. You don’t make this kind of record by yourself. Bell is lucky to have had a genius like John Leventhal at the helm. Leventhal recently helped his wife, Rosanne Cash, make her masterpiece (The Rhythm & The Thread). He’s done similarly wondrous work with Marc Cohn, Shawn Colvin, Rodney Crowell and Joan Osborne. Here, he produces, arranges, writes, mixes, plays guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and likely cleaned up the studio when they were done. The result is a 2016 soul classic with truths, wisdom and a great cover of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign.” Plus, it sounds so good, with its funky slide-pump horns, and all its little extras, that you’ll just want to play it again. And again. Give this guy a Grammy!

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Jazz-Rock Fusion has been a much-maligned hipster subgenre since its ‘70s heyday. Forget all that because the Sizzle of Jeff Richman on Nefer Records is some state-of-the-art fusion that satisfies the soul and keeps the ear engaged for all 10 tracks. Classmates at the Berklee College of Music with such influences as Al Di Meola and Mike Stern, he studied under Pat Metheny and even incorporates the sizzle of Latin star Ray Barretto, his old boss. Sizzle has plenty of guests augmenting his regular quartet: Tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer positively wails on “Sweet” and “Hit Parade.” Bassist Will “Fab Faux” Lee plucks it funky on “Oracle” and “Just 4 U,” thus his 17th album flies by excitingly. Highly recommended.


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