The walls of The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank will shake and sweat when Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes welcome in 2019 for what has become a New Year’s Eve Jersey tradition. Singer John Lyon, 70, from Neptune, is in the conversation for best damn living American rock ’n’ roll singer. Yet tell him that to his face and he’ll argue with you.
“No no no no,” he yells as the phone connection crackles with his discomfiture.
“You discount that completely?”
“Of course I do. There’s so many great ones who have come and gone.”
“Listen to me, dude. Greatest living American rock ’n’ roll singer. You’re telling me you’re not even in the conversation?”
“No. How’s that?”
“You’re so uncomfortable with that?”
“Yes. I don’t like to think of myself in some pantheon, y’know, it’s just too intimidating. I just like to be the guy who gets up in front and tries to remember the words to each song…and tries not to fall off the stage.”
“So who is in that conversation if not you?”
“I’m not even going to try and answer that question because if I did somebody will write in and castigate me for leaving someone out. I’m just a fan of all kinds of singers. I did go and see Jason Isbell down in Nashville recently and thought he was phenomenal. He reminded me of Bruce when Bruce was just hitting his stride. But I don’t want to be in any competition.”
“When I saw you at The MusikFest Café in Bethlehem, Pa., you blew me away so fuck you. I still say you’re at least in the conversation.”
“Now you’re speaking my language. Pure Jersey.”
“I was born in Brooklyn.”
It’s been 30 Years for The Hot Club Of San Francisco so to celebrate the occasion, they’ve self-released a 13-track gem of tracks culled from their 14 albums which include Monk (“Round Midnight”), Cole Porter (“I Love Paris”), Lennon/McCartney (“Because”), George Harrison (“If I Needed Someone”) and three from their main inspiration Django Reinhardt (the legendary three-fingered Belgium-born guitarist who, with violinist Stephane Grappelli, invented Gypsy Jazz in the 1930s). Guitarist Paul Mehling and violinist Evan Price approximate and even go beyond the premise of the original Hot Club of France to include classical impressionism, tango, waltz and an Edith Piaf song wherein Mehling switches to banjo. There’s even a woodwind quartet. This is sublime jam-happy music that transcends swing completely. Wholeheartedly Recommended.
Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Kara Grainger is Living With Your Ghost on her new Station House Records CD. She plays a mean slide and sings like an angel, sweet, soulful and sexy. Her compositions, tinged with a bitter irony if not outright regret, contain the kind of pensive lyrics one can chew on long after the music stops. Is this what makes her great? Hard to tell because the music is so majestic, an amalgam of bluesy rockin’ odes to the road (“Working My Way Back Home”) and everybody’s favorite city (“You’re In New Orleans”). Her band is a crack unit of solid players like keyboardist Ivan Neville as well as The Texas Horns. Now living in Los Angeles from her native Sydney way down under, recording took place in Austin and sounds it. Fans of Bonnie Raitt will love Kara Grainger.
The Dancing Blues
Sandy Carroll is all about Blues & Angels on her fourth CD for Catfood Records. The wife of superstar producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan/Santana and about a gazillion others) has a voice for the ages and half the legendary Muscle Shoals studio band in her corner as produced by the omnipresent Gaines. Her 11 originals (no covers) run the gamut of blues-as-healing, blues-as-darkness, blues-as-humor and blues-as-get-up-and-dance-your-ass-off.
A Man Named Vasil
The Vasil Hadzimanov Band is drawing Lines In Sand for their second MoonJune Records release. This is some real state-of-the-art prog-rock. As keyboardist, composer, arranger, co-producer, the man from Serbia, over the course of the last 20 years, has elevated Balkan folk music into a world-beat gumbo of astonishing proportions, mixing ’n’ matching jazz, rock, funk, the avant-garde, psychedelia, trance and electronica into his idiosyncratic music worldview. Be it known all of the aforementioned are visited within these 12 adventurous and highly satisfying tracks as performed by his guitar/bass/percussion/drums/vocals/saxophone band. Man, you can’t even hear all that’s going on with your first, second or even third listen! The guy’s a damn genius!
Girls With Guitars
For their fourth album, sister duo Larkin Poe wanted to delve deep into the arcane American underground. The result is Venom & Faith (Tricki-Woo Records) where their Georgia roots show up on “Blue Ridge Mountains” but “Mississippi” and “California King” prove to be the highlights. Along the way, they unearth the 1931 “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” of the mysterious Skip James [1902-1969] as well as create a new anthem in their “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues.”
Rebecca and Megan Lovell are like archeologists, dusting off rare and pristine styles to suit their punk and hip-hop proclivities. “Honey Honey” is almost scary Southern Gothic. Megan plays lap steel and keyboards while Rebecca is amply endowed with the talent to play guitar, keyboards, programming, percussion, omnichord and banjo. Their harmonies slide up, over, around, underneath and through each other’s voice as only siblings can. And they know enough to get primitive like John Lee Hooker used to do when the only percussive accompaniment was the sound of his boot heel on the studio or stage floor. The 1960 Bessie Jones blues “Sometimes” never sounded better. Like Tom Waits who has used the crowing of roosters in his music, Larkin Poe uses the slamming of doors to accentuate their roots worthiness.
A Man Named Celso
The Celso Salim Band is headed back to Mama’s Hometown on the eight originals and one cover of its self-released self-produced blues-rock party. Salim came out of Brazil fully formed. Based in Southern California now, he’s one of those go-to guys for studio sessions galore. Yet it’s here, debuting his hot new quintet augmented by harmonica, Hammond B3 and background vocals, where he shines and rocks and does the best cover version of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1928 “In My Time Of Dying” since Bob Dylan (1962) and Led Zeppelin (1974). Get Down!!