Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

All-Purpose String Wonder Woman

Growing up in Woodstock, NY, Cindy Cashdollar attracted the local denizens like Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band, Bob Dylan (she’s on his 1997 Time Out Of Mind), blues legend Paul Butterfield, folksingers Happy & Artie Traum, and bluegrass star John Herald. She played lap steel and guitar with all of ‘em and even joined western swing band Asleep At The Wheel for nine years. Yet she still collaborated with Merle, Willie, and Dolly. Since then, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Jorma Kaukonen, and Leon Redbone have come a’callin’, garnering her five Grammys and a boatload of other awards. But what has she done for us lately? May I introduce the first great Americana album of 2020: Waltz For Abilene is on her own Silver Shot Records label wherein she plies her craft like the string wizard she is with a bevy of great musicians like Albert Lee, Rory Block, Sonny Landreth, Marcia Ball, Amy Helm, John Sebastian, and Larry Campbell. Self-produced, it spans the gamut from gospel, Cajun, country, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, swing, and blues to folk and waltz, stopping for amazing reincarnations of two songs I thought I’d never like again but do now:  Hoagy Carmichael’s 1941 “Skylark,” which she first turned into pure instrumental bliss back when she was in an Austin band called The Bordertown Bootleggers, and Stephen Foster’s 1848 “Oh Susanna.”

Real Gone Jive

The 28 tracks of Hillbilly Boogie and Jive Volume #2 (Atomicat Records) features Lefty Frizzell (“You’re Humbuggin’ Me”), Sheb Wooley (“Freight Train Cinders In My Eyes”), Bill Haley & His Comets (“Sundown Boogie”), Merle Travis (“Cincinnati Lou”), Anita Carter (“I Dreamed Of A Hillbilly Heaven”), and Wanda Jackson (“You Bug Me Bad”). Those are the ones you might’ve heard of. The real gems, though, come from such long-ago and far-away acts as Shorty Cross & His Arizona Riders (“Okie Boogie”), Billy Jack Wills (the younger brother of the legendary Bob Wills) & His Western Swing Band (“Mr. Cotton Picker”), Bill Mounce and Sons Of The South (“Kickin’ It Off”) and Charlie Adams & The Lone Star Playboys (“I’m Gonna Put My Foot Down”). Most fascinating of all is to hear the infamous Spade Cooley (“Boggs Boogie”). Cooley murdered his second wife when he suspected her of having an affair with The Singing Cowboy, Roy Rogers. 

Jazzing Up Indian Classical

Here Be Dragons (ECM Records) by Oded Tzur, the Israeli tenor sax man now living and working in New York City, takes its inspiration from ancient times when the Dutch Society of Cartography commissioned Florentine artist Filippo Brunelleschi to board a pirate ship in 1439 to seek out dragons. They found no such creatures but got drunk on rum and managed to survive a monster wave or two. Tzur heard these tales as a kid and was always fascinated by them. He also listened to a lot of ragas growing up thanks to his parents. The mathematical extremes of the classical music of India has now entered his lexicon as a sincere purveyor of post-bop fusion. No, not jazz-rock fusion, but folkloric jazz-classical fusion, rooted in the mysterious ambiance of India. It comes out as a haunted soundtrack to a horror movie that doesn’t exist. He calls these tracks “miniature ragas.” Bassist Petros Klampanis, from Greece, plays in an ornate throbbing style that gives even more life to Tzur’s compositions. He’s like a heart-beat. Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits, also now living and working in New York City, is the perfect foil for these inventions. Philadelphia drummer John Blake rounds out this most unique quartet with a solid dose of swing to keep everything grounded. (Blake previously played with Ravi Coltrane.) Surprises abound. Tzur’s elegant compositions—raga-jazz?—draw the listener in to its web of intrigue. So what one cover would an Israeli-Greek-American fusion quartet perform on its debut? The album ends with Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” from the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii.

Story-Songs About Amazing Women

For her eighth album, San Francisco singer-songwriter Pi Jacobs intended to write a series of songs about everyday women thrust in abnormal situations where they accomplished extraordinary things. Some are fictional. Some are ripped from the headlines. The finished product, Two Truths And A Lie (Travianna Records) turned out to be also about herself. It is left up to the listener to discern who’s who. This Americana gem—complete with banjo, dobro, her own guitar, upright bass, keyboards and drums—has her expressive soulful voice with a hint of twang singing her own songs like “No Sin To Be Poor,” “Party Girl,” “Diana The Hunter,” and highlight “Waitress Blues.” Growing up in a Haight-Ashbury hippie commune, she struck out on her own in New York, recorded her last album, 2017’s A Little Blue, in the Appalachian Mountains, and has toured Europe extensively. The female characters she introduces are unforgettable. 

Don’t Let The Beehive Fool You

Watch out for Chicka Boom! (Outside Music) by Canadian belter Tami Neilson who moved to Auckland, New Zealand upon falling in love. Self-produced and all-original, she may look like a 1950s rockabilly leftover, but this gal swings and sways and will steal your heart with her hot-rockin’ combo of soul, alternative-country and, yeah, rockabilly. Check out the spaghetti-western style of the video on first single “Any Fool With A Heart” and you’ll instantly know that she’s got style, flair, verve, drama and the kind of in-your-face indie cred like a country version of the late Amy Winehouse.

The Real Thing

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson specialized in what they called “jump-blues.” His fiery sax solos and his wild shout-singing made him a favorite on the chitlin circuit down south. His hair was burned off with lye when he attempted to straighten it, thus his sobriquet. His “Lonesome Train” and “Jump And Grunt” are but two of many highlights on Southern Bred Texas R&B Rockers (Koko Mojo). Starting off with “Greyhound” by Amos Milburn and His Aladdin Chickenshackers, this collection rocks like there’s no tomorrow. Smokey Hogg’s “Dirty Mistreater” is nasty. Joe Tex goes “Yum Yum Yum” over food. Young John Watson sings about “Getting Drunk.” T-Bone Walker sings about his “Teenage Baby.” Earl Gilliam can’t help but still want that “Wrong Doing Woman.” Little Esther is “Hollerin’ And Screamin’.” TV Slim is “Goin’ To California (Ain’t Got But 15 Cents).” 28 tracks. No clinkers. It’s all good.