Rant ‘N’ Roll: Transcending Blues And Tango

In 1994, guitar-slinging singer/songwriter Kelly Richey dropped her Sister’s Gotta Problem debut and followed it up in ’95 with The Blues Don’t Lie. In the 20 years since, she’s put out 13 more blues-belting barn-stormers that accentuate her husky alto voice, filled with the kind of swagger usually reserved for men (or Bonnie Raitt). In 2014, Live At The Blue Wisp was but a mere blip on the way to this: Shakedown Soul (Sweet Lucy Records), an album so convincingly original and stunningly transcendent that it takes her bread’n’butter blues to extremes.

How so, you may ask.

This ain’t your daddy’s blues album. Her experimental side—aided and abetted by producer/drummer Tobe Donahue—has resulted in something so wide-reaching, it can only be described in terms of what other artists in other genres have done with progressive producers. Think how Daniel Lanois elevated the game of Emmylou Harris on her brilliant Wrecking Ball. It wasn’t exactly country but used country as a base. Richey uses blues as her base but considering the drum loops, hip-hop scratch, horns, keyboards, strings and synthesized sequencing, all in service to her growly late-night bar-room voice, the blues comes out another animal.

Think Chrissie Hynde, Sheryl Crow, Janis (of course), Big Mama Thornton, Susan Tedeschi (before she met Derek Trucks) or even Bettye Lavette. Rock’n’roll, electronica, blues, folk and gospel all get their due. Emmlou isn’t the only country analogy here. The wildly experimental side also could be akin to the kind of career Jack White has put together or what Ryan Adams originally did in Whiskeytown. There’s no end to the possibilities here.

She’s logged over 800,000 miles to play over 3,700 shows. Her touring band is just drummer Donohue and bassist Rikk Manning, two bulls in a china shop. Their wall of sound is one thing but add the kind of studio outrageousness they prefer and you have one wild soiree of the highest order. Her last studio album, 2013’s Sweet Spirit, in no way prepares one for this onslaught.

I’m partial to the closing track. “Fading” is the only piece of acoustic loveliness on the CD, her deeply bent voice pleading and beseeching within a miasma of mysterioso and atmospheric clouds of sound.

You want nothin’ but the blues? Go somewhere else. This thing reaches.


Hashtag (Zoho Music), the seventh CD by electric bassist Fernando Huergo, is a delight for bruised ears. It’s so alive with polyrhythmic jazz and Latin, so heavily influenced by the late Jaco Pastorius [1951-1987], and so complex, one cannot take it all in upon first listen. Huergo comes from that part of Argentina halfway between tango-obsessed Buenos Aires and the rustic folkloric culture of Santiago del Estero. Huergo, a Berklee professor, has lived in Boston for many years. He’s smart, and can pop that bass like nobody’s business.

When he covers Monk’s “Evidence,” his arrangement jumps right in with no shying away from the master’s oddball twists and turns. With flute, tenor sax, piano, Fender Rhodes and drums, they also tackle Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” In fact, Weather Report hovers over this mix like a friendly ghost. (One of his originals is even called “Weather.”) Then there’s a chamber music orchestral moment called “Afternoon At The Gallery” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” (which does its damndest to veer away from Coltrane’s famous cover). The highlight, though, has to be “Astor,” another original, this time in homage to Astor Piazzolla [1921-1992], the leading proponent of tango music. It all ends with on a note (“U.M.M.G.”) by Billy Strayhorn [1915-1967].

Hey, you don’t have to be from South America to let this gorgeous swath of instrumental prowess insinuate itself deep into your soul.