Rant ‘N’ Roll: Chops, Chops And More Chops

Tweed Funk has been bringin’ it ‘round the globe since 2010. The horns pump it up to create the kind of sweat-filled funked-up blues ‘n’ soul that tickles your innards. First Name Lucky (Tweed Tone Records) is a dandy approximation of their balls-to-the-wall live show.

I’m bettin’ on these bad-ass boys to throw a yo. Oftentimes, when I’m at the dice table, I like to scrutinize my fellow players. Dice is communal. I used to be a solitary soul sittin’ playin’ blackjack and wonderin’ what all the commotion was about surrounding the always energetic dice spots. I’d smoke my cigarette, sip my Jack, eye the busty beauties lounging around so enticingly accessible, and slowly lose my money before shuffling upstairs alone to my room with visions of what might have been.

Then my cousin Cary introduced me to craps. I’ve hardly played blackjack since.

Point is, if I saw the members of this Milwaukee hit squad on the opposite end of the dice table, I’d go across every time. Then I’d be bumpin’ it up and parlaying those hard-ways. They do look the part. Vocalist Smokey Holman, I dare say, sings that Stax classic “Knock On Wood” better than its originator Eddie Floyd (and almost as good as Otis Redding…but not quite). He may not be able to touch Ray Charles when he sings “Let The Good Times Roll” but on track after track, he lets loose with a phlegm-ball of action-packed histrionics like hitting your point after making a dozen numbers


On his fifth album Guitar Angels (Catfood), James Armstrong, 56, the Los Angeles guitar-slinging sweet-singing bluesman, continues the direction of his 2011 Blues At The Border. He’s fearless. He’s funny (Check “Grandma’s Got A New Friend”). And he knows no boundaries. His cover of The Eagles (“Take It To The Limit”) brings out the soul in the song. Producer Michael Ross chose a wide palette in which to showcase Armstrong’s talents, utilizing a stirring sax/trumpet/trombone horn section plus strings, back-up singers and solid rock electric guitar solos. But it never gets gaudy. “Healing Time” is a profound lament over the death of the producer’s brother.

Armstrong is lucky to be alive. In 1996, he was almost knifed to death in a home invasion. The resulting injury left him with permanent nerve damage. “I’m still unable to bend the third finger on my left hand,” he says, “or use my little finger, but I attribute some of the reason I’m actually able to play the guitar again to my guitar angels: my father, James Armstrong, Sr., my best friend and producer Mike Ross and artists like Coco Montoya and Joe Louis Walker.”


You have to throw out the concept of genres completely when it comes to the self-titled album of Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet (Adventure Music America). Marshall plays mandolin and mandocello. TIQ is the San Francisco string quartet whose A Love Supreme: The Legacy Of John Coltrane in 2007 and Have You Ever Been: The Music Of Jimi Hendrix And David Balakrishnan in 2010 brought swirling new meanings and levels of appreciation to Jimi and John (two of my favorite dead guys). Balakrishnan is the founding member and has an ear for Brazilian samba, Indian ragas, European classical, and American jazz, sprinkled liberally with the avant-garde. Another great all-time dead guy, bluesman Robert Johnson, gets his “Crossroads” interpreted like no other version you’ve ever heard.

The existential opus that starts this mysterioso gumbo might put you off at first but hang tough. Jam bands are babies in cribs compared to these guys. With a range of expression that traverses peaceful valleys, freeform improvisation, complex charts and exotic flourishes that touch upon Celtic, country, Latin, Appalachian folk and Kentucky bluegrass—or in this case jamgrass or jazzgrass—there’s no shortage of incredible chops.