Rant ‘N’ Roll: Three Out Of Four Ain’t Bad

He’s just a skinny guy with ink and a Mississippi National Steel Guitar. Brent Johnson’s aptly-named Set The World On Fire may be his debut on Canada’s Justin Time Records, but he was born in South Texas and raised in Louisiana…and it shows.

His originals have flair—especially “Long Way Back To New Orleans” which has special guest Sonny Landreth on slide—but his covers steal the show. Besides Howlin’ Wolf’s “Meet Me In The Bottom,” Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me In The Morning” contains a duel between his searing slide and another guest: Alvin Youngblood Hart’s electricity on guitar. Albert King’s “As The Years Go Passing By” turns into over 13 minutes of epic virtuosity and soulful vocalizing. And you gotta hand it to him for cherry-picking “The Hucklebuck” off the oldies tree, a juicy morsel that saxman Paul Williams took to number one in 1949.


May Leon Redbone go ever on! Flying By (August Records) is his 15th studio album since 1975 and one of his best. He’s a historian, a musicologist, a colorful character, and a one-of-a-kind idiosyncratic original. His personality, flair, visual image and wisecracking demeanor make him the perfect entertainer to deliver these goods…and what goods they are! The music of Leon Redbone flies in the face of an age like today where chronological decades are viewed as musical genres. Backed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, a New Orleans-styled Dixieland jazz band, the gems of Flying By could just as easily be digested through a 1920s strainer. They go down easy. They feel good. Humorous, sung in a cantankerous mischievous grumble, I dare say there’s no one in the world that keeps this great tradition alive like the Bone man. I could write 12 columns on this album, one for every meticulously picked song.

Jelly Roll Morton [1890-1941] used to say he alone invented jazz. His “Mr. Jelly Lord” is a stone delight. “But Where Are You” has to be one of Irving Berlin’s least-known songs. (It’s from a 1936 Fred Astaire movie.) Even more esoteric is his reviving interest in long-forgotten singer Lee Morse of which he covers two songs. (He even recently visited the Rochester, NY unmarked grave of Morse who died in obscurity at age 57 in 1954.) Redbone’s like an archeologist, ferreting out nuggets of pure gold and making them come alive in glorious fashion. His last album, Any Time, was one of the best albums of 2001. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 13 years for his next album.


I’m still trying to fathom Miles At The Fillmore (Columbia/Legacy) by Miles Davis. This four-disc boxed set contains four shows at the Fillmore East in New York City (one of which I was at) in June of 1970. I remember being really stoned in the audience and hardly understanding what I was experiencing. Here was this great jazz legend introducing his Bitches Brew-era band to us rock ‘n’ rollers and we knew we were witnessing something historic but the music itself was so arrogant, static, crazy and different, that we didn’t know how to react. Listening to it again 44 years later, I can now understand it intellectually, but still have a hard time swallowing it whole. That’s how strange it still sounds to me. Despite Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Airto and Steve Grossman, I will never truly understand what Miles was laying down on these nights. Let others smarter than me assimilate it into their feel-good zones. I still say it’s almost unlistenable. So sue me.


The perfect time to catch up with Cleveland’s Blue Lunch is on their Special 30th Anniversary compilation where the octet not only swings like a wild bitch but gets down with some crazy jitterbuggin’ dance moves, nasty-ass blues and some righteous covers like Billy Ward’s 1951 “60 Minute Man” and Ernie K-Doe’s 1961 “Mother-In-Law,” which actually best the originals! Taken from their last six albums, it’s the perfect introduction to a band who, if you had to classify them, would be in a league with Roomful Of Blues. Oh, but they’re so much more! How many bands can effectively cover blues great Robert Lockwood, Jr.’s “Little Boy Blue” and jazz titan Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness?” Add some doo-wop harmony and some trip-hoppin’ through eras like ‘40s jump blues, ‘50s Mardi Gras styles and ‘60s Chicago blues—all done authentically—and you’ve got some melting pot of frothy bubbling stew. Get Down!