Punkabilly Boogie In The Shack (Rhythm Bomb Records, England), the riveting rockabilly-punk debut of The Nut Jumpers, is one wild ride. Recorded in France, self-produced, all-original, these three Europeans hiccup their way through a Memphis fish-fry of 1950s-styled teenaged be-bop-a-lula as put through a Ramones blender. The energy never flags and its 13 shots in a mere 31:02 makes their speed-zip stance all the more provocative.
Climb the Tree of Life
For singer/songwriter Patrick Coman’s startlingly good Tree Of Life — on his own For The Sake Of The Song label — he holed up in a rural Massachusetts studio that was more like a club house a la The Band’s Big Pink than a sterile recording facility. The comparison is apt as Coman has fashioned the kind of rockin’ Americana that his fellow Okies from Tulsa, JJ Cale and Leon Russell, used to spin off with seeming ease — the only cover is Russell’s “Magic Mirror”. With drummer Marco Giovino of Robert Plant’s band co-producing a riotous rhythmic thrust of three guitars, drums, baritone sax, lap steel, mandolin, tuba, trombone, stand-up bass, electric bass, three keyboards, accordion and four vocalists, it’s to his credit that the sound doesn’t simply take over. Coman’s ideas, his thoughtful lyrics, his well-worn voice with that hint of somebody you think you know but really don’t, carries this most impressive debut.
Blues Harp Festival
Nobody anybody ever heard of (except Little Walter) fills the 28 tracks of You’re Too Bad When Your Harp Is Rusty (Koko Mojo), an amazing amalgam of 1950s harmonica gems by such obscure artists as Pee Wee Hughes, Schoolboy Cleve, Willie Nix, Juke Boy Bonner, Shy Guy Douglas, Elmon Mickle, Harmonica Fats, Mule Thomas, Little Boyd & The Blues Bees, Tender Slim, Garland The Great, Big Ed (his “Biscuit Baking Mama” is the highlight) and Little Shy Guy. You can’t go wrong when the tunes are strong!
Laughing & Dancing
Koko Mojo has also released Fool Mule: The Funny Side of Rhythm and Blues, 28 side-splitting 1950s tracks that beg to answer the age-old question, can one dance and laugh at the same time? Highlights abound but when Honeyboy Bryant sings ‘bout that “Funny Looking Thing” or when Sonny Hines beseeches those around him “Has Anybody Seen My Kitty,” you’d be hard-pressed not to let out a few giggles. You might not understand Bobby Lewis’s “Mumble Blues” but it’s still funny. There’s Bob & Jerry’s “Ghost Satellite,” Mr. Rain’s “Who Dat,” Cee Pee Johansen’s “Got My Gun” (good these days for schoolteachers), Haskall Sadler’s “Bald Headed Woman” and, my highlight, “Quick Like” by Elroy Peade & Row Ribbons.
Genius Piano Daniel Meron must live on a higher plane than the rest of us. For the Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based pianist to release a CD of all solo piano covers — This Was Now (Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records) — despite having proven his compositional and band chops on one of 2016’s best indie jazz albums, Sky Begins, speaks volumes. “Improvisation is my greatest joy,” he says, and that’s exactly what he does here utilizing classical chops, post-bebop smarts and a definite swing. He’s not above deconstructing the 2000 Wheatus hit, “Teenage Dirtbag,” giving the throwaway tune the kind of gravitas it never had in the first place. From Ellingtonia (“I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”) to reggae (Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song), from standards (“Body And Soul”) to free-form spontaneous combustion/composition (“2:35 p.m.”), Meron makes his 88 keys into a full orchestra.
Inspired by Literature
Singer-songwriter-producer Jeff Baker has always been solely an interpreter. Until now. Seven years after the release of his last CD, Phrases (OA2 Records) comes his first foray into composition. “In attempting lyrics,” he says, “I always felt burdened by not being Joni Mitchell. How could I express myself without sounding trite or silly?” His answer was to take “prompts,” as he says. Thus, his “Neruda” was inspired by — and written for — Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda [1904-1973]. He does cover Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” Bonnie Raitt’s “Not ‘Cause I Wanted To” and Ryan Adams’s “Stay Alive” but it’s his literary allusions that make this thing sparkle, including “Salinger” for JD, the reclusive novelist [1919-2010], and “The People Of Paper,” named after the debut 2005 novel of Salvador Plascencia. The top-flight musical bed underneath him includes piano, bass, drums, alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, guitar and string quartet (two violins, viola, cello). His is a voice to remember.
The six CDs of Stax Singles Volume #4: Rarities & The Best Of The Rest (Craft/Concord) shows off the diversity of arguably America’s greatest soul label. Hey, if Detroit’s Motown was the Beatles, then Memphis’s Stax was the Stones, grittier, bluesier and funkier. The long-ago and far-away B-sides and one-hit wonders collected here span 1960-1975. The package’s 80-page book is a forest of meandering fascinating information.
Do like I did for maximum enjoyment: don’t look beforehand at the material. Just let the songs wash over you like how we used to sit in the background with a ham radio and ferret out weird songs to go nuts over under the moon as we smoked our joints in the backyard in the 1960s.
The Staple Singers, Booker T & The MGs, Johnny Taylor, The Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes are just some of the familiar names. Delaney & Bonnie, Billy Eckstine, Chico Hamilton, Bobby Whitlock, Billy Lee Riley, Big Star and Ardent are surprises. But it’s the unknowns who bust out with some major kicks. From country, blues and gospel to soul, funk, rock and pop, Stax, after its initial burst of success, put out all kinds of sound to perpetuate its own existence. Although not as filled with the pure dynamite of the first three volumes, even the clinkers here are fascinating.
To The Lovely Luna Raised in Chicago and now based in San Francisco, guitarist/composer/producer George Cotsirilos, 67, for his sixth CD, has upped his trio to a quartet with the addition of piano man Keith Saunders. “I wanted more harmony underlying the melody line,” he explains. The result is the absolutely gorgeous, kinetic, complex and wholly satisfying/entertaining Mostly In Blue (OA2 Records).
He can take a forgotten chestnut like the 1945 Dick Haymes hit “I Wish I Knew” and make it new. Hard to believe but they play Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Crazeology” faster than Bird’s recorded original. The other six tracks are his and what a trip! Bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto are one. They give the sound its wheels. I’m particularly down with “Ms. Luna,” maybe because a beautiful Chinese girl of that name was my first love. Highly Recommended.