Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

Pushing The Poetry Forward

For his sixth album, Cody Diekhoff, who records under the name of Chicago Farmer, dabbles in what he calls Flyover Country. Self-released, self-produced, he wrote it all too (with the exception of the 1953 Hank Williams “Rambling Man” classic). He writes of “$13 Beers” and “Dirtiest Uniforms” and sings ‘em in his uniquely warbly voice that accentuates story over form. Still, the musical bed upon which he lays is sprightly and filled with his own acoustic guitar leading The Band Of Heathens, an Austin rock ‘n’ roll band. Yet it’s fellow Chicagoan, John Prine, who is his muse and who has had a direct influence over his lyrics. “I’ll always be a folksinger,” he writes, “but you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over. I decided it’s time to throw some fuel on this fire and get it going. For me, it’s all about the poetry and playing with a band is about putting the poetry in motion a little differently.”

Hitting Every Genre

Coral Creek has self-released its third album, Free Dog, wherein the multi-genre Colorado acoustic quintet goes all out beyond anything they’ve ever attempted before. And that’s saying something as they’ve already traversed territory explored in their previous bands, Leftover Salmon and the Derek Trucks Band. This time, though, you can hear strains of bluegrass, worldbeat, Americana, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and funk. Call it Jam-Grass with African and Louisiana influences. Obvious highlight “David Livingston’s Dream” is almost psychedelic. Is there anything this band cannot play?


Back in my Metal Maniacs days, we used to describe music by saying how it tore your skin off or blasted your skull into pieces. It’s been awhile since then, but the extremes generated by the aural brutality of Truce (MoonJune Records), by Markus Reuter, gives new meaning to the cherished tradition of the power trio. Reuter is the Robert Fripp disciple who had previously rattled my central nervous system with Devin Townsend. The German provocateur is now a seasoned guitar maestro, composer, producer and instrument designer. He can also obviously pick the kind of talent that makes his own playing flourish. Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis is a MONSTER. Italian bassist Fabio Trentini—with his fretless bass and bass synth—has to be heard to be believed. He actually redefines the role of the bass.  Together, these three stretch the boundaries of the avant-garde into surrealistic proportions. Recorded in Spain last year, Truce is anything but. It is, to be perfectly succinct, an all-out assault.  

Standards Seasoned with Percolating Percussion

This is certainly one way to inject dated old chestnuts with new life. I had all but given on some of these songs but now, because of There Will Never Be Another You by the Calle Loiza Jazz Project (self-released), I can listen anew to the title track (Joan Merrill, 1942) and even the routinely awful “Someday My Prince Will Come” (from Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, 1937). Reinventing the 1963 title track to Seven Steps To Heaven by Miles Davis, plus Herbie Hancock’s 1965 “Dolphin Dance,” are the two highlights but Dave Brubeck’s 1955 “In Your Own Sweet Way” and Thelonious Monk’s 1947 “Well You Needn’t” are also well-served by the cascading mounds of guiro, drums, Brazilian percussion, congas, bongos and the kind of Puerto Rican sensibilities that this band first started using in 1990 San Juan. Bravo!     

Django Lives!

Stephane Wrembel just might be the greatest acoustic guitarist alive. The Django Experiment 5 (Water Is Life Records) came out January 23 (the 110th birthday of the legendary three-fingered Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt). Born in Paris, Wrembel graduated Berklee in Boston with high honors, and has been living in New York for the last 17 years. He started the popular Django A Gogo festival in 2004. (This year it hits The Woodlands in Maplewood May 5-8 and Town Hall in Manhattan May 9.) In 2011, his “Bistro Fada” served as the theme song to Woody Allen’s Oscar winner, Midnight In Paris. Last year, his Django L’Impressionniste spotlighted 17 little-known Django ditties from 1937 to 1950. (Django died in 1953 at the age of 43 from a brain hemorrhage.)

This fifth Experiment installment, recorded in Scranton Pennsylvania, was recorded live with no headphones and no tracking, just two guitars, bass, drums, sax, clarinet, and violin. The nine tracks breeze through four Django originals, Fats Waller (“Honeysuckle Rose” and “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You”), some Ellingtonia (“Caravan”) and more. As with all Wrembel projects, the production, the arrangements, the sophisticated soloing and the overall ambiance are all pure class. 

The Bad Wife of Grant Peeples

Singer Grant Peeples is “Crying Out” on the opening track of his tenth album, Bad Wife, in which he sings “when the lights are off, I need a man to touch.” Rather than a paean to gay rights, Peeples has taken 11 songs by women (all played by men) wherein he doesn’t change gender lyrics. It’s in honor of the centennial of the 19thAmendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. He gathered these songs over the last 12 years, songs that reached him and touched him in personal ways. He’s worked with all of the composers at one time or another and discovered each song in a live setting “where [each song] entered me, worked me over, and never left. I didn’t go looking for these songs, they found me, bludgeoned me.” The sound is roots-rock, sensitive singer/songwriter stuff, Americana and alternative folk. The highlight is “3:52 A.M.” which comes complete with an “FCC Warning.”  

Sounds Of The City

Funk Shui NYC’s name not only rhymes but this 16-man band’s Sharknato On A Plane debut (Zoho Music) captures the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. Plus, its propensity for mashing up as many genres as possible within the context of FUNK makes this an easy entry for my 2020 Top 10. It opens with the Bo Diddley beat of the title track that quickly morphs into Latin Rock like Santana on steroids. “What Barney?” is the theme song to the beloved ‘70s TV sitcom Barney Miller, complete with a quote from the 1959 Miles Davis “So What” solo. George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is played as a Mexican folkloric conjunto. “Into The Fourth Dimension” could be a soundtrack to a sci-fi movie. “Rock Bottom” starts like Edgar Winter’s 1972 “Frankenstein” but by its end, it sounds like an Afro-Cuban Allman Brothers. Cream’s “I Feel Free” is a tribute of sorts to drummer Ginger Baker and it all ends with Allen Toussaint’s 1966 New Orleans anthem “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky.” Funk Shui NYC has always been funky.