Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

Hail The Cowgirls!

From Patsy Cline, Rosie & Retta, Ella Mae Morse, Rosemary Clooney, and Peggy Lee to Pearl Bailey, The Teen Queens, Kay Martin, Georgia Gibbs and The Melody Maids, the 25 female singers of Rockin’ Horse Cowgirl, the second volume of the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kittens” series from Atomicat Records, may not all be real ridin’, ropin’ cowgirls, but who cares? This compilation rocks like a rocket in your pocket and the fuse is lit. Starting off with “Fujiyama Mama” by Wanda Jackson (a fifties female-Elvis who Jack White produced in 2009) and continuing with “I Wanna Hug You Kiss You Squeeze You” by Lu Ann Simms, you’d be hard-pressed to find another compilation so satisfying. Tough to pick a highlight (and note this whole thing is devoid of clinkers), but when Cile Turner’s “Crap Shootin’ Sinner” blasts through my speakers, it makes me wanna grab a few hundred and head to the casino. 

Rare Rockabilly

Back when rock ‘n’ roll was invented, a “ducktail” was a popular men’s haircut with the hair slicked back on both sides and tapered at the neck. Bop-A-Rama: King Of The Ducktail Cats (Atomicat Records) has 30 tracks by no one you ever heard of except Buddy Holly (“I’m Gonna Love You Too”) and Bill Monroe (“Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues”). You could dig through the bargain bins until your hands fall off and you wouldn’t be able to come up with rarities like this. Starting with “Red Hot Mama” by Wayne Williams & The Sure Shots on through “Shake ‘Em Up Rock” by T. Texas Tyler, the title cut by Larry Nolen & His Bandits, “Crowded Hole” by Chuck Harrod & The Ant Eaters, “I Dreamed I Was Elvis” by Sonny Cole & The Rhythm Roamers, “Don’t Mess Up My Hair” by Mike Miller and Jack Casey with The Star Mountain Boys, “She’s A Hum Dum Dinger” by Hank Stafford, and “Go Slow Fatso” by Bobby Rutledge, these mostly rockabilly relics rock and stomp and stroll and sway like back in the day. 

Crazy Rockin’ Comp

Rock and Roll Mama (Pan-American Recordings) is straight out of the garage. The 26 tracks in just over an hour encapsulate a time in American rock history wherein The Big Bang (Elvis) had already happened and regional bands hiccupped and bopped their way through two- and three-minute statements of teenaged angst. “I’m a Madman” by Willie Ward & The Warblers is a perfect example. Loose, sloppy, and wild, its very essence is defined by what they were shooting for, not what they achieved. Smartly, every song has been remastered for this 46th installment of totally obscure rockabilly. (Many one-hit wonders and that one hit is delicious!) From “Baby Sitter Boogie” by Stan Gunn & The Country Hepcats and the title track by Roy James & The Rhythm Rockers, to “The Bug” by Jerry Dallman & The Knightcaps and “Flipsville” by Stormy Gayle, it’s the nineteen-fifties all over again, flush with the first thrill of a new music that parents, preachers, and politicians hated but the kids understood. 

It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)

It’s all about the music on Jive-A-Rama: It’s Rock and Roll (Atomicat Records). The cult of personality simply doesn’t exist here. The 30 delightfully remixed tracks in 70:31 by artists long covered in dust within the corridors of time (although Del Shannon righteously covers Dion’s “Runaround Sue”), bespeak a pre-historic essence. Whether you do the bop or the stroll, the Hully-Hully or the Popeye, the Swim or the Frug, you’ll want to brush up on those dances of the nineteen-fifties when you crank this sucker up to 11 and bother your neighbors with such sprightly fare as the opening “Do The Bop” by Arthur Lee May & The Crowns, the “Caramba” instrumental by The Champs, the title cut by Jack Winston & His Hi Jacks, The Five Jades singin’ ‘bout that “Rock ‘n’ Roll Molly,” Betty Nickell’s “Hot Dog,” Mack Vickory’s “High School Blues,” Joyce Paul’s “Goofin’ Off” and my two favorites: “Not Too Old” by Little Mo & The Dynaflows and “Chief, Turn The Hose On Me” by the Cap-Tans. 

Canadian Genius

Toronto pianist-composer James Hill may be touring internationally with BADBADNOTGOOD but his Local Talent trio with electric bassist Rich Brown and drummer Ian Wright has an incredible debut out. Higienopolis is hard to pronounce and challenging to the ear. Inspired by a trip to Sao Paulo, the seven original compositions fuse ambient with classical and Brazilian pop with nineties rock. Yet, it’s jazz. Hill switches between piano and electric keyboards. Drummer Wright is attuned to his every move, having played in bands with him for years. Bassist Brown is also in the band of Rudresh Mahanthappa, the brilliant Italian alto sax man. His pops, plucks, and bowed serenity immeasurably adds drama and poignancy to the already cinematic aesthetic. 

The Sins of The Father

Allison Moorer had to revisit some dark and painful parts of her past to write her searing, riveting, almost hard-to-read memoir, Blood. Her 10th album has this brilliant singer-songwriter with the honeyed Alabama voice finally putting into song the singular event that has marked her and haunted her every waking hour since she was 14-years-old. Blood (Autotelic/Thirty Tigers Records) is the accompanying soundtrack to her book. If her last album—2017’s Not Dark Yet, a duet project with her sister, Shelby Lynne—was gorgeous, defining state-of-the-art Americana, Blood is palpably engaging, especially when you consider the circumstances. Never has such a major artist stripped herself so bare to cut to the bone. She wrote nine of 10. Lynne wrote “I’m The One To Blame” many years ago. Its lyrics—which will give you chills—were found in an old suitcase in the trailer they used to share with their parents. Growing up dirt-poor but imbued with the kind of talent that only surfaces once in a generation or two, Moorer consistently witnessed her older sister and mother mentally and physically abused until it all ended with two shotgun blasts and both parents dead at the hand of the father.