Forget that bloated Las Vegas lounge singer who died on the toilet. That wasn’t Elvis. All his Elvis-ness had drained out of him by then. Still, we should not forget how incendiary, revolutionary, pioneering, and sexual that first burst was. It was The Big Bang. Just ask Bruce. Or John Lennon (if you could). The various artists on The Elvis Presley Connection Volume #1: 33 Roots and Covers (Bear Family Records) are all over the map. Literally.
And you’ve never heard most of them.
The uniqueness of this compilation lies in the fact that this material was all recorded by Elvis between 1954 and 1958. His fellow Sun Records artists chip in. British rockers chip in. The televised Carl Perkins performance of his own composition, “Blue Suede Shoes,” comes from The Perry Como Show in 1956. This is its album debut. Before Mickey Most was the producer of The Animals, he was a pop singer (“Paralyzed”). Bet you weren’t watching or weren’t even born yet when Dorothy Collins sang “Too Much” live on TV’s Your Hit Parade. And wait until you hear Hank Smith & The Nashville Playboys do “Heartbreak Hotel” as pure country (hint: it’s actually George Jones). The rarities here fly fast and furious. Guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black (the original Hillbilly Cats who backed up a teenaged Elvis) back up Vince Everett on a wildly hiccupping rockabilly version of “Baby Let’s Play House,” the lascivious Arthur Gunter song from ’55 that Elvis improved upon and popularized in ’56. (Everett is the kid from Georgia who had Elvis down pat. It is said that he made the kind of records in the nineteen-sixties that Elvis should have—but didn’t.) My mouth is already watering for Volume #2.
Horn Rock & Funky Guitar Grooves 1968-1974 (Ace Records) compiles 17 big brassy in-your-face singles from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Al Kooper, Delaney & Bonnie, Blood Sweat & Tears, Tower Of Power, and The Electric Flag (the good), with the lesser lights of various one-hit wonders (the bad), and some truly awful pot-holes on this road of crass commercialism (the ugly). Still, taken as a whole, it’s a rock ‘em, sock ‘em robot of an album. Lighthouse, for instance, was a Canadian BS&T who tried their hardest (you can tell). Chase, vain-gloriously started by Bill Chase, a trumpeter with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band, is his effort to cash in on the burgeoning 1970 rock scene. Then there’s Crystal Mansion, a New Jersey cover band, who shot for the stars with “Somebody Aughta Turn Your Head Around.” As bad as the song may be, there’s no denying the pulsing power of those HORNS. The accompanying booklet is fascinating.
In the five years since Gracie Curran’s Proof Of Love debut, she lost it all, lost herself, almost lost hope, then learned to be whole again and get it all back…. and all while on the road. Her salvation, ultimately, was the blues, the hard-rockin’, soulful horn-laden, double-keyboards, Memphis kind of blues which she uses as a palette for her stories of redemption on her second album. There’s eight such tales here, they ain’t pretty—they’re gritty. She’s totally Come Undone (VizzTone Label Group) and good thing she’s got an American treasure co-producing and wailing out on electric lead guitar in the person of Damon Fowler, a real blues-rock original whose own work should be immediately checked out. He’s sandpapered Curran’s rough edges into the kind of focused statement that’s honest, funky, wild, and free. Songs like “Sweet Sativa” (about the pleasures of a particular strain of marijuana) and the totally over-the-top joyous excess of highlight “If Mama Ain’t Happy” make Come Undone one of the best damn bar-band blues-busters of the year!
In film noir, the good guy ain’t always good. Seedy run-down neighborhoods house petty criminals and cynical, down-on-their-luck, alcoholic cops whose work sucks the soul right out of them. In 1990, fascinated with all things noir, guitarist-arranger-producer Mark Doyle recorded Guitar Noir with the theme songs for Perry Mason, and other lawyer/cop/private dick shows. After a follow-up, welcome to Watching The Detectives: Guitar Noir III (Free Will Records) where he now includes secret agents and stretches his all-instrumental boundaries with Frank Zappa’s “America Drinks And Goes Home.” It’s a subdued affair, filled with wah-wah, minor-keys, and a few more surprises. Yeah, he does the Elvis Costello title tune, but he puts it in a medley with the theme songs to two TV shows (Get Smart and The Untouchables). Other TV themes include Kojak and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Most enticing of all is Dave Grusin’s theme to the forgotten It Takes A Thief show, broadcast for three seasons (1968-1970), and Leonard Bernstein’s theme for another show lost to the dustbin of time, Johnny Staccato, which ran for two seasons (1959-1960). This music will put you in the right frame-of-mind to solve a murder.
There’s a lot to love on the Morning Sun debut of California’s newest husband ‘n’ wife team, The HawtThorns (40 Below Records). Johnny plays electric guitar and lap steel. His wife KP plays acoustic guitar. Their voices slither up, over, around, and through each other’s on 11 easy-flowing originals with the highlights being “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore” and the closing gem, “Lucky Charm.” If Fleetwood Mac went to Bakersfield to study up on Buck Owens, this is what they might sound like. With hints of pastoral Laurel Canyon Joni Mitchell-isms, and a dollop of the Judds and Dixie Chicks, The HawtThorns nestle comfortably in that space of Lilith Fair seriousness and organic Appalachian back-porch mountain folk.