Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N Roll

Coolest Calendar Ever

The Blues Images 2020 calendar not only has original artwork from the nineteen-twenties and thirties accompanying each month’s entry, and not only has dates no other calendar has—like the 4/4/13 birth of Muddy Waters in Jugs Corner Mississippi—but comes complete with an amazing CD. This year’s model features 22 tracks from the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Bessie Smith (on the totally lascivious “Shave ‘Em Dry”), Juke Boy Bonner, Blues Boy Hill, and others. Because of newly discovered sound techniques, the recordings are unusually listenable, surface noises kept to a minimum via a new technology that wipes the mix almost clean, so when Victoria Spivey sings those “Blood Thirsty Blues” from 1926, she sounds tantalizingly close, right in the room with you. “Blood blood blood/Look at all that blood/Yes I killed my man/A lowdown good-for-nothing thug.”

Blues Images is a division of John Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. This guy excavates for gems, oftentimes hidden up away in someone’s attic. He’s found records and rare artwork in dumpsters, at garage sales and has been known to travel internationally and pay thousands of dollars for a particular piece of history. In the world of serious collectors, he’s a superstar, singlehandedly keeping pre-war blues alive. Many labels of that era simply trashed their promotional materials out of pure disrespect, never even for one minute considering it an important part of American culture. The picture that adorns this year’s cover is a rare shot of BB King when he was but a mere Memphis disc jockey in 1949. Tefteller found it at a flea market torn in half.

“Check out track #12,” advises Tefteller. “`Read Your ABCs,’ by Mississippi Sarah and Daddy Stovepipe, is a very catchy primitive uptempo 1931 bluesy Chicago gospel that should’ve been a hit but wasn’t. The record I found was the only known existing copy. I bought it from a guy in Belgium who bought it from a guy in Sweden. When I contacted the Swedish guy, he told me he bought it from a guy in Switzerland. This is how it goes sometimes. Eventually, I traced it back to a guy here in Maryland who sold it off not knowing it was the last remaining copy.” Tefteller considers his acquisition of the song a steal. He only had to pay three grand. “Worth every penny,” he says.

If one went out to buy these songs individually from collectors, one would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars—if you could find them at all—and the sound quality would range from awful to terrible. Now, here they are, all gussied up, spit-shined, polished, and sounding great.

For more information, go to www.BluesImages.com

Canada’s Global Orchestra

They’re called Kune and their self-titled debut (Universal) has this Toronto collective exhibiting music from 11 countries, one for each musician. Iran, Cuba, Ukraine, Canada, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil, Greece, Peru, Tibet, and China are represented. “Kune” means “together” in Esperanto. Over 150 applicants were auditioned, whittled down to these 11. All of them were immigrants who now call Canada home. In creating this orchestra to celebrate Canada’s cultural diversity and pluralism, a powerful message is sent. The first ships arrived on Canadian shores in 1497. The Royal Conservatory of Music started this project in 2016. “Through writing, rehearsals, cultural exploration, and touring together,” according to Executive Director Mervon Mehta, a “one world” sense of togetherness was achieved. Bob Marley once  wrote “one love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright.” This CD is the natural expansion of that exact sentiment.

Nat King Cole Was A Funky Old Soul

Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years 1936-1943 (Resonance Records) has almost 200 tracks on seven CDs (or 10 LPs) filled with material Nat King Cole recorded for a slew of labels prior to becoming a smooth vocal superstar who only occasionally played piano. It’s the first such overview of his pre-Capitol Records era—in conjunction with the Cole estate—and proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was, indeed, a monster pianist before he ever even opened his mouth. In fact, I dare to say that these tracks by The King Cole Trio showcase his unbelievable pianistics to the point where he now has to be thought of as in a league with Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. It’s rare that one boxed set can change the perception of an artist so dramatically but that’s exactly the intention and the success of Hittin’ The Ramp.

I thought I knew Nat King Cole.

Rock Ain’t Dead

Contrary to the popular baby boomer opinion that rock ‘n’ roll died somewhere in the early nineties, the various bands who make up the three-disc International Pop Overthrow Volume #22 (Omnivore Recordings) beg to differ. From power pop and bratty punk to prog, alternative, and roots-rock, these bands—who have all performed at the annual IPO fest in L.A. (now in its 18th year)—make a strong case for the continuing vitality of the genre. With entries from all over the world, these 69 slices of studio wizardry by Bird Streets, Van Duren, Peter Holsapple (!), Velvet Starlings, The Brothers Steve, Zombies Of The Stratosphere, Ex Norwegian, Emperor Penguin, The Last Hurrah, and so many others will leave your head spinning and wanting to hear more from each and every one. Bravo! Good to know rock still lives.   

The Professor

Adam Hurwitz co-produced, engineered, toured, and performed—playing keyboards and accordion, singing and composing—on the last three albums of The Band in the nineties. He was their secret weapon in the wake of Robbie Robertson’s defection. He also then worked on solo projects for Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko (who dubbed him Professor Louie). Miles Of Blues (Woodstock Records) by Professor Louie and The Crowmatix with The Woodstock Horns, is his 15th album as leader. With eight originals and two covers (Richard Manuel’s “Orange Juice Blues” and Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love”), Hurwitz again successfully resurrects that old goodtime feeling from when the beloved Levon was still alive and hosting his legendary Midnight Rambles at his home in Woodstock. May The Professor go ever on!