Rant’n’Roll: Swiss Dixieland, Folk Drama, Bonzo Squad, Blues Strike, Hong Kong Pop, Alligator Kings, Chicago Jam & Euro Prog-Rock

Rant’n’Roll: Swiss Dixieland, Folk Drama, Bonzo Squad, Blues Strike, Hong Kong Pop, Alligator Kings, Chicago Jam & Euro Prog-Rock

—by , July 26, 2017

Cash Box Kings courtesy Alligator Records

I’m so down with Henry (Hofa Records) by Nicole Johanntgen that I’ve been totally bothering my poor music teacher wife by blasting it night and day. Nicole plays one hot sax and, combined with trombone, tuba and drums, has put out the most rollicking, rampaging New Orleans-styled Henry to ever come out of Zurich, Switzerland. She wrote it, produced it, solos madly and plays off that big bad tuba to the point of excessive partying. Can one have too much fun? Or be too good-looking? Or be too happy? I think not. This is such joyous music that I might not listen to anything else ever. Well, then again…

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Eight years on, singer/songwriter Leslie Mendelson has finally followed up her impressive Swan Feathers debut with Love and Murder, a collection of 10 slices-of-life that veer dark due to the loss of her record contract, manager and producer. Putting her grief into the kind of visceral fare that punches your gut with reality (as produced by Dylan producer Mark Howard), the seven folk originals (most strikingly “Murder Me” and “Coney Island”) are like ornate short stories sung simply with breathy urgency. Her three covers—Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” (a duet with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir), Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” (on ukulele) and, most emphatically, Bill Monroe’s “Cry Cry Darlin’”—are perfectly picked. Recommended with reservation.

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Corbin Andrick’s Bonzo Squad plays at The Angry Frog in Chicago a lot. Their self-titled self-released instrumental debut is a real hoot featuring Andrick’s tenor and alto saxophones plus flute backed up by Andrew Lawrence’s Fender Rhodes, organ, piano and Moog synthesizer. Add bass, guitar and drums and you’ve got an 11-track doozy, only one of which, “Bottom’s Up,” features vocals. It’s a funky good bar-room blast of a fun time and, as such, comes wholeheartedly recommended.

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Double Strike (American Showplace Music) by Nashville’s Andy T Band—featuring incoming singer Alabama Mike and outgoing singer Nick Nixon plus twin lead guitarists (T + Anson Funderburgh), keyboards, harmonica, a driving rhythm section and the Texas horns—is one smokin’ session. From gospel-soul to roadhouse blues ‘n’ boogie, the Hammond B3 spills all over the mix and the overall sound is sterling. This ain’t nothin’ but a house party.

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Singer/songwriter Jennifer Saran doesn’t rap, she sings in a most delectable way, always in service to the song. The title track of her self-released Wake Up features Ladysmith Black Mambazo and some guitarist named Santana as produced by Narada Michael Walden. It’s a clarion call for the enlightened. Saran is based in Hong Kong and has the kind of eclectic musical worldview to the point where she takes George Michael’s “Jesus To A Child”—with Walden on drums—and wraps it in the gauzy haze of four violins, two violas, cello and flute with her voice emanating out from within the middle. Similarly, when she tackles the Billy Paul hit “Me And Mrs. Jones,” changing the gender and leaking body fluids all over the mix, one can feel the danger of falling in love with someone when you’re already married to someone else. Most impressive, though, is her complete overhaul of the 1957 Patti Page hit “Old Cape Cod” and the 1952 Doris Day hit “My Love And Devotion” which sent me scurrying to YouTube to hear the originals. Her “Lean On Me” does Bill Withers proud and her originals beg to be interpreted in other genres. Welcome to the big stage, Jennifer Saran! You deserve it.

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Royal Mint (Alligator Records) by Cash Box Kings is right up there with the best of 2017 blues (it’s been a stunning year for good blues). It’s their ninth and possibly their best as they meld Chicago, Memphis and Mississippi strains into a cohesive partying whole with great vocals and razor-sharp chops. The crux of the mix is Joe Nosek and Oscar Wilson, two singer/songwriters who complement each other and drive each other to heights of blues glory what with their jumping renditions of Amos Milburn’s 1947 “House Party” and Jimmy Reed’s 1958 “I’m Gonna Get My Baby.” They do Muddy Waters (“Flood”) and their topical originals rock: “If You Got A Jealous Woman (Facebook Ain’t Your Friend),” “Build That Wall” and, best of all, “Blues For Chi-Raq” which parallels gang violence in Chicago with sectarian violence in Iraq (“Blues For Chi-Raq”).

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Corbin Andrick is back playing sax and flute on fellow Chicagoan Andrew Vogt’s scintillating self-release, The AV Club. Vogt is quite the electric bass-poppin’ composer (think Stanley Clarke crossed with Larry Graham) and his Club consists of fellow funksters like guitarist Anders Nordstrom, tenor saxophonist Sam Hudgens, keyboardist Andrew Lawrence, drummer Zack Marks and their secret weapon: Ryan Roberts on percussion, spoons and washboard. (No vocals!) From Crescent City joyousness (“Fat Tuesday”) to the hip-hop beats of “Shack Dog” and electronica fusion (“Yam of Lotus”), these guys snap, crackle and pop. Heartily recommended.

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Finally, here’s a prog-rock jazz band that really mystifies, rattles the brain and unbalances the inner ear. Mumpbeak rocks! Its follow-up to the 2013 self-titled debut, Tooth (RareNoise Records), is a stoner’s delight, the most confounding yet enticing piece of dark musical noir since the days of King Crimson, Zappa, ELP and Bitches Brew-era Miles. Blame it all on Roy Powell. This Oslo, Norway-based scientist of sound goes a little batty on his guitar-like Hohner Clavinet, so much so, what with its distortion, wah-wah pedal and feedback (not to mention his Tubular Bells, Hammond B-3 and synth) that when paired with Norwegian drummer Torstein Lofthus and longtime bassist Lorenzo Fellciati, “Boot,” “Brick,” “Saw,” “Slip,” “Cot,” “Caboose” and “Stone” lull you into a false sense of security before pummeling you into submission. I lie on my couch in a daze after it’s all over thinking, “What the hell was that?” Then I play it again. And again. Wow.


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