Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

Voices Of Experience

She’s the seventies punk pioneer from the Bowery who spearheaded Comateens before becoming a studio whiz with Brian Eno, Talking Heads and Ramones. He’s the singer/songwriter who worked with Zoltan Bathory of Five Finger Death Punch. Together, they’re JANTURAN and their self-titled second album is an alternative-folk-pop-roots gem filled with unforgettable characters and finely etched stories-in-song. Ramona Jan is from upstate New York and always remembered the lurid 1920s murder from that area from the tales her family told, and has now turned it into “The Alluring Laura Darling,” a ghost story for the ages. Andre Turan considers “Die Like A Dog” their anthem. “Santa Fe” is the true story of Jan’s great-grandfather, a one-legged Italian immigrant. “Marianne” is taken from a series of love letters that Leonard Cohen wrote to his love after she died. Jan wrote “The Sky” during her severe depression last year. In their capable hands, these stories come alive. Highly recommended. 

D.C. Jazz Gal

On the cover of trombonist Shannon Gunn’s exquisite new album, Gunn’s Ablazin’ (Jazz To The Bone Records), she’s holding her instrument aloft with fire breathing out of it. This popular Washington D.C. jazzer isn’t afraid to take on a less likable D.C. denizen, the President, as her protest songs, “Babes In Cages Are Not OK” and “Orange Noise” attest. She’s so cool. She even takes the 1930 Louis Armstrong hit “Dinah” and infuses it with the dance music popular in DC known as go-go and mixes it with nineties grunge. These 12 tracks pogo between her Firebird Trio of trombone/keyboards/drums and her trombone/vibes/guitar/bass/drums quintet. Nothing is off-limits:  from a classical piece by Eric Satie written in 1888 (“Gymnopedic #1”) to a cover of “Carried Away” by singer/songwriter H.E.R. 

Nineteen-Sixties British Teen Idol

Only the Beatles, the Shadows and Cliff Richard spent more weeks in the U.K. Top 50 during the sixties than teen idol Billy Fury.  Bear Family Records has now amassed 34 Fury-ous unabashed pop and gritty rock ‘n’ roll tracks (many he wrote himself) to prove Keith Richards he was right when he said in ’71 how great he thought Fury was. Wondrous Place: The Brits Are Rocking Volume #2… Billy Fury (the first volume was Tommy Steele) is comprised of singles and deep album cuts released between ’58 and ’64 that run from rockabilly and ballads to neo-soul and teen-pop, all with good old-fashioned show-business smarts. The 36-page enclosed booklet, in true Bear Family style, is fascinating, illuminating and entertaining. Highlights include a rewrite of the 1960 Drifters hit “Save The Last Dance For Me,” a Carole King co-write from ’61 (“I’d Never Find Another You”), Chuck Berry’s 1958 “Sweet Little 16,” a 1961 Ray Charles hit (“Unchain My Heart”), and a 1950 Hank Snow country classic (“I’m Moving On”), all delivered in a neo-Elvis style that drove the little girls wild. 

40 Years In The Making…

It only took Mike Duke four decades to have his debut album released, thus its title, …Took A While (Little Village Foundation), by The Mike Duke Project. The singer/songwriter/keyboardist from Alabama resides squarely in the Southern Rock zone despite having three of his songs made into hits by Huey Lewis & The News.  Duke toiled in Wet Willie, The Outlaws, and with Delbert McClinton. For the last 20 years, he’s been satisfied with leading the house band at a Northern California bar. But he always wrote. Of the 15 never-before-released tracks, only five are new, but all are seeing the light of release for the very first time. The recordings themselves span the decades. The new “Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight” has a Louisiana vibe courtesy of The Zydeco Flames. “That’s What’s So Good About The South” was rejected by Dr. John and “Coming Around Again” was rejected by Gregg Allman. Both songs are terrific. Usually, a lifetime of compositions can be heard on an artist’s debut recording. It’s very rare that a lifetime of actual recordings can be heard on one debut album.  

Power Punk Pop

The Jellybricks are Some Kind of Lucky to be on Stevie Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool records label. He first heard this Harrisburg, PA band with the classic two-guitar/bass/drums lineup in 2012 and played them on his “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” radio show. Now he’s signed them to his label and their debut (and seventh overall) album is filled to the brim with bustling energy, youthful exuberance and wide-eyed ideas incorporating power pop, punk, alternative, indie garage rock and sixties Brit Invasion all mish-mashed into a cohesive whole with electric static and a shock-value aesthetic. Play it loud… because you know that Miami Steve has ears.  

Climate Change Refugees

It’s going to happen. It’s only a matter of time. The people who live in Kivalina, Alaska are folks who have hunted whales for sustenance for decades. Climate change has ended the hunts since the sea ice that used to be strong enough to support them has eroded to the point where this tiny village is now barely capable of being inhabitable. Thus, its people, by an estimated 2025, will become the first folks on the planet doomed to be climate change refugees.

Singer-Songwriters Jesse Terry + Alex Wong have self-released and self-produced Kivalina, a six-song EP of profound proportions. Call it folk-rock or Americana. Their voices intermingle whether singing in harmony or unison. One’s from New England, one’s from Nashville. Their songs—“Fight Or Flight,” “Landfall,” “Dangerous Times,” “Thieves,” “Ten More Years” and, especially the goosebump-inducing “Nowhere”—reek with warning. Their organic sound of two voices and two guitars are offset beautifully with bass, drums, piano, violin, and cello.

Listen to them. Listen to the scientists. Remember, every disaster movie starts with a scientist being ignored. 

Sip this Holywater to get Heavydrunk

Holywater (4142 Records) by Heavydrunk, a Nashville nonet, is wild. I mean, really wild. With vocals, drums, bass, keyboards, two guitars, two horns and two back-up singers, the 11 originals by singer-guitarist front-man Rob Robinson go from Mississippi Delta blues, R’n’B and gospel-soul to rock that rolls with daring in-your-face balls-to-the-wall arrogance. “Somebody’s Got To Take Them Panties Off” is a caveman come-on punctuated by the funk. The two covers are terrific:  Stones song “Slave” and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band’s “Midnight In Harlem.” Opener “If I Loved You Hard Enough” is flat-out nasty. “Pick You Up Along The Way” is about a pastime that seems today like a relic of the past. (It’s been decades since I last hitchhiked.) Robinson is also a restaurateur and runs a place called Puckett’s in Leiper’s Ford, Tennessee. To him, it’s all about greasy funk and slow-cooked barbecue.