Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘n’ Roll

The Legend

When Ray Charles inducted Nat King Cole into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, he admitted to copying Cole’s cool vocal style prior to developing his own. Starting out as a jazz pianist with a 1945 debut, Cole ultimately recorded 700 songs for Capitol Records, 150 of which hit the charts. Nothing was beyond him, not movies, radio, television, or civil rights activism. To celebrate the centennial of his birth, Capitol/UMe has released the 21-track Ultimate album, opening with “Route 66” (which the Stones covered mightily in 1965, the year Cole died at age 45 from lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking) and closing with “The Girl From Ipanema” (a “new” duet with Gregory Porter). A companion volume, International, contains 14 tracks as recorded by Cole in French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian (including four versions of “L-O-V-E,” each in a different language).

The Boston Bruiser

Dennis Brennan & The White Owls are Live at Electric Andyland (VizzTone) with 12 tracks of bruising rock ‘n’ roll with a solid blues base. A longtime favorite in Boston, singer-songwriter Brennan has skated between roots rock and Americana for years, but gets down here with the blues first and foremost, ending it all with an earnest cover of the Stones’ 1968 “No Expectations.” Before that, though, it’s Lead Belly’s 1942 “I’m On My Last Go Round,” Willie Dixon’s 1958 “I Live the Life I Love,” Jimmy Reed’s 1962 “Good Lover,” Mose Allison’s 1964 “Fool Killer,” Cool Papa Sadler’s 1974 “Three Kinds Of Blues,” plus his rockin’ originals. Brennan sings and plays harmonica, and fronts this raucous, but tight, sextet complete with lap steel, guitar, upright bass, drums, and organ. Highly recommended. 


Ear Fruit

Rise Up (Arbor Lane Music) by Washington D.C. tenor sax man and vocalist Scott Ramminger is wholly satisfying for a number of reasons. At only 32:41, its eight originals are perfect for this day and age of short attention spans. “I wrote these songs and I want people to listen to them so I figure maybe the answer is to put out smaller records. It’s kind of an experiment.” His previous albums are all longer and more complex. Here, you’ll find tasty little chunks of funk, shuffle, and swing in a post-bop (and post-pop) blender, all buoyed by his expressive tenor tone, with its swoops and glides.

Neville Brothers/Hall & Oates guitarist Shane Theriot throws a New Orleans curveball into the mix, but seasoned with Philly soul. Bassist Paul Langosch anchors it all with the kind of professional aplomb one can only glean from playing with Tony Bennett for years. Keyboardist and Berklee graduate Wes Lanich is a rock guy, so his fills are like icing on a particularly delicious cake. But it’s Ramminger’s show. He wrote it all, produced it all, and his honks are like an old-time version of Clarence Clemons, as if the late big man was from an earlier generation. It all adds up to a sparkling listen, and repeated listens bear more fruit for the ear.

Koko Mojo Has Done It Again

Consider me a Koko Mojo junkie. “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man No More” by Smokey Smothers is but one of 28 cool tracks from long ago and far away, on the label’s latest platter of “Earthquakes From The Git-Box” entitled Do You Mean It. (It’s the Ike Turner title track.) Little Victor, also known as DJ Mojo Man, has put together another rare fifties and sixties assemblage, with nuggets of pure guitar gold like “Strange Things Happening Everyday” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Rough Dried Woman” by Big Mac, “Shake Your Moneymaker” by Elmore James, “You Gotta Dance” by Pearl Bailey, “Dimples” by The Del-Rays, and “Irma Lee” by Guitar Shorty. Plus, legends like Memphis Slim, Howlin’ Wolf, Earl King, Little Milton, and T-Bone Walker pop up amidst the one-hit wonders, like grass between the cracks of cement sidewalks.

The Voice

It’s in his voice. Sometimes, when you hear a great singer, it stays with you long after the music stops. Brian Drux is such a singer. Like first hearing Steve Marriott in Humble Pie, Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group, or Ian Hunter in Mott The Hoople, the vocals on Long Road by The Brian Drux Project ring out with expressive clarity, soul, smarts, and that all-important intangible: phlegm. It’s a scratchy sort of voice of experience that comes from deep within. Dude used to rock out in the seventies and eighties in a series of rock ‘n’ roll bands when Drux couldn’t ignore reality and dutifully followed the call of raising a family. Now the kids are grown, and daddy can rock anew. In spades. Influenced as much by Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy as he is by Philly Soul, Drux combines it all: writing every song, stinging his lead guitar like a king bee, while big-time producers Ron Saint Germain and Metal Mike Goldberg twist and turn the studio knobs for maximum effect. Longtime Hall & Oates drummer Brian Dunne shares the seat with David Anthony, while Greg Hollister’s bass and Benny Harrison’s piano, Hammond B-3 organ, Mellotron, and synths spice up the sound. Welcome back, Drux.

Chat Noir

This stunning synthesis of electronica, ambient, prog-rock, and jazz manifests itself into Chat Noir’s seventh and most listenable project yet, Hyperuranion (Rare Noise Records) The title comes from the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato). The ethereal other-worldly trumpet of Norwegian Nils Petter Molvaer floats over the mix on four of nine tracks. Daniel Calvi’s shimmering guitar and celestial synthesizers are all over “Blisters,” as he shouts it out up top like Ringo did on The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” But instead of the controlled cacophony of that song (that Lennon hated), an insistent synth groove permeates the proceedings with European elan and grace, almost like a soundtrack snippet from a mid-seventies Dario Argento film. “Overcome” is flat-out synth-pop, giving that much-maligned sub-genre significance. The intro to “Ten Elephants” might make you feel like you’re floating in space before the electronic/acoustic frisson bedazzles the senses. Wow.