Singer/Songwriter/Harmonicat Kim Wilson, 66, started The Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1974. His growing body of solo work is hardly solo, relying as it does on the talents of others to fulfill his vision. On Blues and Boogie Volume #1 (Severn Records), he extracts the rarified essence of what made Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Rogers, Magic Sam and Jimmy Reed great, adds his own spin, and with the help of a cast of 13, has succeeded in making quite possibly the blues album of the year. Wilson is Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and James Cotton all rolled into one. He is that which he has been emulating almost all of his adult life as future generations will emulate him. Dude can sing. He can blow. He can write. He’s also a top-notch entertainer. I’ve spent many a night thrilling to his stage show. The blues is a feeling. If you can’t feel it, you won’t get it. It may be sacrilegious to say that his interpretations on this CD of the aforementioned legends are all better than the originals. If so, tough. I stand by that statement.
A Revved-Up Turboprop
Rev (Anzic Records), the sophomore release by Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop, is a rip-roaring slab of prog-jazz that takes from swing, bebop and fusion to create — despite being a sextet — a big-band style meandering adventure. The promise of their 2015 self-titled debut has been realized. Cervini is an amazingly talented drummer/composer/bandleader from Toronto who has been turning me on to the CDs of others for a year or so in his alter-ego as a mild-mannered publicist with a heightened sense of communicable enthusiasm. Thus, we became fast friends. Still, however awkward it must’ve been to pitch his own band after sending hours of great music by others, it is dwarfed by the fact that Rev is so damn good.
Any arrangement of Bing Crosby’s 1936 “Pennies From Heaven” that could restore my love for this long-overused chestnut has to be practically brilliant. And Cervini, indeed, made me hear the song with new ears. I dig a dude with no genre restrictions so in his hands, Blind Melon’s 1992 “No Rain” and Radiohead’s 2011 “The Daily Mail” are ecstatic in their surprise. Like other bandleader-drummers — be it Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich or Art Blakey — Cervini kicks out the jams unadorned. The difference is he’s cool enough to spread his kinetic action throughout eight tracks, instead of trying to maintain one of those elongated “bathroom break” drum solos. Great idea! His Turboprop of alto, tenor and soprano-sax, coupled with trombone amid a heady, quite sophisticated, piano/bass/drums rhythm section keeps the movement at a high level of constancy. He’s even made me want to sing “Pennies From Heaven” next time I do karaoke. Well, almost.
Blues On My Shoulders (Gandy Dancer Records) by Peter Ward has such a wealth of great talent on it that it’s a veritable super-session. Ward’s a Boston-based guitarist/singer/songwriter/bandleader who wrote 12 of 13 tracks for the 13 participating musicians. Opener, “She Took It All,” could be a sexual boast while closer, “Drummin’ Willie,” is for Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (1936-2011). In between are all sorts of delights from the Chuck Berry-styled “Which Hazel” to “Collaborate,” with vocals by Sugar Ray Norcia, in tribute to blues greats Robert Junior Lockwood (1915-2006) and Lonnie Johnson (1899-1970).
I love a cat who honors his forebears; it adds poignancy. After hearing “Southpaw,” a tribute to under-the-radar left-handed guitarist Dickie Thompson (1917-2007) from Jersey City, I went and checked him out and was amply rewarded. Peter Ward, then, is also a musicologist. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Willie and His Boys
Signing with Legacy Records has been the greatest thing for fans of Willie Nelson. There’s been 10 CDs in the last five years, each one better than the next, and the new one, Willie Nelson and the Boys: Willie’s Stash Volume #2, is yet another doozy. Having been to Farm Aid three times and having met the great man twice, I can attest to the powerful sway he holds both in his jazz guitar, vocal phrasing, jam-band stagecraft, sense of humor and folksy wisdom. He’s beyond an American treasure. At 84, he’s vital, still hungry and still high, a real hero. The boys are here — sons Lukas and Micah Nelson — on 10 Hank classics (seven by Williams and one each by Locklin, Snow and Cochran) plus Willie’s “Healing Hands Of Time” and Alyssa Miller’s “My Tears Fall.” It’s an informal affair, recorded for but left off of his 2011 Heroes CD. Legendary producer Buddy Cannon intertwined the three Nelson voices with 13 musicians and damn if these songs never sounded as good! Move it on over, Hank, Willie’s here to play!
A Classical-Jazz Fusion
With autumn as his theme, guitarist/conductor/composer/producer Scott DuBois has achieved a stunning synthesis of classical and jazz on Autumn Wind (The Act Company), a 13-track beauty with tenor sax, two clarinets, bass, drums, a string quartet (two violins/viola/cello), flute, oboe and bassoon. I love the 7:38 “Mid-November Moonlit Forest” best, but you might like the equally impressive 8:07, “Mid December Night Sky.” It all flows so organically, originally and seamlessly together for 68:48. DuBois, 39, is an endlessly inventive guitarist with a penchant for arranging delicate passages that could pass for Baroque if they weren’t so damn futuristic and cool. This is fusion of the highest order. With seven CDs in the last 13 years, looks like I’m headed down to DuBois Blvd. to catch up with this amazing mathematician of a music-maker.