Real Raw Rockabilly

One In A Million (Rhythm Bomb Records), by Twisted Rod, is a compact punk take on fifties Southern rock ‘n’ roll, wherein the primitive/primal nascent roots of rockabilly are compounded with a sneer and a hiccup. These boys are from the Czech Republic. Based in Prague, drummer Ondrej Vratny, lead singer/lead guitarist Filip Nesvadba, and stand-up acoustic bassist Speedy Novak have learned their lessons well. They rock! Non-stop! Opener “She’s A Hurricane” sets the scene for 13 short bursts of pure adrenaline until the closing and aptly-named “I’m Gone” ends it all with a flourish. Highlights include “The Place Was Jumpin’,” “Young & Wild,” and “I Wanna Bop.” Do they ever!

Beware The Red Crow

On Red Crow (Berkalin Records), Randy Lewis Brown sets his poems to an Americana sound. He sings ‘em in a world-weary voice of resignation but not despair. As he says in his affecting liner notes, “writing songs is not a choice [or] a labor-of-love [but] a sickness, a disabling addiction… ” Growing up in Shreveport and Houston, he saw things. He saw how certain people were treated. Grounded in the church, as he reached his teens, he couldn’t reconcile the disparity between what he was taught and what he saw with his own eyes. The poems started. The alienation started.

These highly unusual songs might haunt you. In “One Horse Town,” he sings of a man who has slept alone for 13 years pondering life’s inequities as he looks out of his window and watches a dead horse decay in the heat as buzzards descend. Then there’s the universal truth of the elderly couple who is “Not Ready Yet.” You think you got it tough? Listen to the hardships of the Western pioneers in “Barlow Road.” The title track contains a foreboding sense of doom as that red crow brings a harbinger of what’s just around the bend.

Totally Unique

Funded in part by a grant from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Byron Asher’s Skrontch Music (Sinking City Records) samples spoken words from legendary Crescent City musician Barney Bigard and the 1896 Supreme Court decision that upheld segregation. Asher also utilizes snippets of music well inside the public domain by Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton. The photograph gracing the cover is of the birthplace of Louis Armstrong.

The five elongated tracks encapsulate the history of jazz in Jim Crow Louisiana and posits it as the radical revolutionary act it was, weaving modern sounds from Asher’s clarinet and tenor sax with soprano and alto sax, two more clarinets, cornet, trombone, piano, tuba, upright bass, and drums to create a kaleidoscopic montage of action-packed artistry. Why Skrontch? It’s the name of a swing-era dance that Duke Ellington used to play at The Cotton Club in the nineteen-thirties in New York City. Its emphasis was always on the fourth beat of the measure to propel the dancer forward into the next measure. According to Asher’s illuminating liner notes, “… and like the dance, this music pauses in the here-and-now, looks back from where we came, and steps forward.” Brilliant! 

Electronica

Darren Barrett’s 11th album, The EVI Sessions:  Mr. Steiner (dB Studios), is a tribute of sorts to Nyle Steiner who, in the nineteen-sixties, invented the EVI (electronic valve instrument) and the EWI (electronic wind instrument), popularized by sax man Michael Brecker in the nineteen-seventies and in the soundtracks of two of 1979’s biggest films,  Apocalypse Now and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A glittering array of polyphonic capabilities are present here (both the EVI and EWI can play two or more notes at the same time) and, with the help of guest stars like Kenny Garrett (soprano sax), Noah Preminger (tenor sax), and Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Barrett—who plays trumpet, piccolo trumpet, keyboards, and EVI—has written and arranged a fastidious pastiche of synthesized squiggles, enough to satisfy fans of jam bands, the avant-garde, instrumental funk, modern jazz, and alternative/progressive rock.

Genius In Our Midst

Let’s not wait until Connecticut tenor sax man Noah Preminger is dead to call him a genius. Over the course of 14 albums, the 33-year-old has shown a propensity for moving the music forward into uncharted realms, just like the greats. In 2016, on Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground, he elevated the primitive rural blues into the stratosphere by taking material by the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mississippi John Hurt and blowing his brains out on the most amazing saxophone sounds you’re ever likely to hear. Last year, he took the Romantic Era Polish composer/pianist Frederic Chopin as his muse in The Chopin Project.

Now he has self-released and co-produced Zigsaw: Music Of Steve Lampert, a challenging hour of inspired improvisation, electronica, and slap-back grooves all crashing into one another in one long 48:49 composition. Its 12 sections are divided into four sub-sections each. The trumpet/alto/tenor/piano/clavinet/bass/drums septet allows itself to go through dizzying changes, mood alterations and the kind of arrangements that would baffle lesser players. Yet it all hangs together. Zigsaw is the kind of album that you could listen to dozens of times and still find something new to marvel over on the 36th listen.  

The Voice

There are certain country singers who, the minute I hear them, a smile blossoms in my heart. George Jones, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Randy Travis, and Waylon Jennings come immediately to mind. Now I can add Jason James. His sophomore album, the self-released Seems Like Tears Ago, is a primer on just how to truly sing real country music (not that radio crap). His is a supple instrument, elastic in its effortless slide from an earthy baritone, swooping into a high-lonesome tenor, yet able to convey worlds of meaning when low-balls it. He writes sad songs like Hank Williams but also raises the sawdust on the honkytonk floor for a two-step. He even ventures from his home state of Texas over to Louisiana for “Cry On The Bayou,” what he calls a “ZydeCajun Waltz.”  There hasn’t been a male country singer who has caught my attention like this since John Anderson in the eighties.   

—Greenblatt 

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