For the past 30 years, Gene Turonis has been known around Hoboken as The Singing Plumber. He’d carry around his wrench by day and, as Gene D. Plumber, his guitar at night. Bar/None Records, another Hoboken institution, has now released his long-awaited debut All The Pretty Girls. As a result, Gene, at 72, has hung up his wrench for good. He calls his 13-song set “swinging honktonk-a-billy.”
His stand-out original is the cheeky “Diamonds As Big As Potatoes.” Gene has a thing for George Jones. Long considered the finest white country-soul singer ever, Jones gets two of his songs covered and is the subject of an original closing tribute. Gene’s taste in picking what songs to cover is totally right on the money as he actually adds his eccentric sandpapery vocal persona and his semi-ragtime guitar to the good in updating some Willie Nelson and Gatemouth Brown. Plus, it helps having the sublime piano and accordion of the E Street Band’s Charlie Giordano.
When did it get so hip not to like Sting? He’s almost in Eagles territory as an act whom hipsters spurn. Not me. When he led The Police out of the punk-rock pack, he admitted later he was “playing a role.” Maybe it was when he forsook rock completely for his stand-out ‘85 jazz-pop solo debut. Probably, it was when he became a super-duper star but I gotta tell ya, his forays into Country, Broadway, Euro-Folk, Jazz and that sensitive singer-songwriter stuff were always done with class and taste. Maybe it’s his liberal activism? Or his wife?
It’s an old maxim that true artists always change. On his current project, he’s teamed up with Jamaican toaster, Shaggy, to cross-pollinate genres for maximum R&B. 44/876 (A&M/Interscope) is island all the way, reggae to the teeth, funky enough feel in your gut, and filled with A-Listers like Branford Marsalis and Robbie Shakespeare. Let the haters hate. This is great stuff.
Funk Funded By Porn
This gem of a compilation houses 22 songs with an exceedingly low number of clinkers (maybe two). Southern Groove: Hotlanta, Aware & Clintone Funk & Soul (BGP/Ace) is sub-titled “Masterful and Obscure 1970s Funk and Soul from Georgia and Alabama.” So many great bare-bones R&B songs with muscle, wit and devoid of production excess! Started by a notorious pornographer, Michael Thevis, who needed a legit business to hide behind, his label transcended its tawdry beginnings by putting out some of the best damn records of the era. When its doors were suddenly shuttered in ‘75 when Thevis was imprisoned, a mountain of unreleased tracks lay in the vaults. These are them.
“Spacewalking” by the George Clinton-inspired Maggabrain, Floyd Smith’s “The Bump,” Ripple’s “I Don’t Know What It Is But It Sure Is Funky,” “Funk Pump” by The Counts, CL Blast’s “Husband-In-Law,” “Seeds Of Life” by East L.A. Car Pool, The Ebony Godfather’s “Checkmate” and Joe Hinton’s “Shouldn’t I Be Given The Right To Be Wrong” are but the highlights of one of the year’s best compilations. Get Down!
Elvis Presley: The Searcher (The Original Soundtrack) is a three-CD box with his 18 essential studio performances as well as selected live tracks and — most fun of all — rare alternative versions originally left on the cutting room floor. It’s the soundtrack to HBO’s lump-in-the-throat two-part three-hour Elvis Presley: The Searcher tele-movie documentary with testimonials from Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Priscilla Presley who are heard but smartly not seen so talking heads don’t rule this doc. Instead, rare stills, video and kinescopes do, though, most dramatic of all is how Presley really stepped up to the plate in ‘68 for that NBC-TV special and hit a home run, looking and sounding better than he ever had, even in his glorious pioneering ‘50s.
The premise of the doc comes at its subject from a different angle. Elvis was a white Georgia shitkicker who ventured out of his comfort zone as a young teen to swallow whole what blacks were already enjoying Saturday nights in honky-tonks and Sunday mornings in church. He could feel it deep and he loved it so. And it would all come out in his own music, in idiot-savant genius interpretations of Big-Boy Crudup, Jimmy Reed, Little Junior and even bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. Like Billie Holiday who did what she did with melody without realizing it, Elvis also did what he did not being cognizant of it.
The third disc has some of the people Elvis searched for including The Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Joe Hill Louis, Howling Wolf and The Prisonaires. It also has Tom Petty doing “Wooden Heart,” The Orlons, Mike McCready and Odetta. Highlights on the other two discs include the “Love Me Tender/Witchcraft” duet with Frank Sinatra, the jittery so-bad-it’s-good “Bossa Nova Baby,” Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” (undeniably masterful), a 1:07 rehearsal of “Baby Let’s Play House” where he really lets loose, the dead-dog tearjerker “Ol’ Shep” and the kind of covers where he actually improves (without knowing it) songs by Roy Brown, Lloyd Price, The Drifters, Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulson, Three Dog Night and Mickey Newbury.
Perhaps the most surprising, affecting and poignant of all is a little jam he concocts with his buddies backstage where he plaintively and affectionately croons Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” like a little kid singing his favorite song for the sheer wonder of it all.
Sure, 1971’s At Fillmore East is widely regarded as being one of the best live rock albums of all time, right up there with The Who’s Live At Leeds. I was there the night before they recorded it and that particular Fillmore show went on and on until we walked out onto Second Avenue in a daze, befuddled by the bright morning sunshine. (It was a first date and when I drove her home, her father was waiting for me with a baseball bat. True story.) When bands today say how they’re gonna “play all night long,” you don’t really believe it, you just cheer. The Allman Brothers Band meant it.
As legendary as that original ABB was, the 2003 version of the band, on tour to support Hittin’ The Note, their first studio album in a decade, was their longest-running, most consistent, and, I dare say, the best damn version ever. Gregg was in great voice. Original drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimo worked in tandem like a big wheel rolling on a Georgia cotton field. It took two to replace Duane but Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks not only filled the bill but added another dimension of unbridled musicianship. With percussionist Marc Quinones and bassist Oteil Burbridge, plus guest saxophonist Branford Marsalis (on “Dreams” and “Whipping Post”), singer Susan Tedeschi (on Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”) and saxophonist Karl Jennson (on Sonny Boy Williamson’s 1937 “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”), the 36 tracks on the four discs of Peach Picks: Cream Of The Crop 2003 (Peach/Orchard) are a bountiful gift from the rock gods. And the sound is great. (The ABB played its last live show on October 28, 2014 at The Beacon Theater in New York City.)