Every week, Mike Greenblatt dives deep into the goldmine, finding choice nuggets from every corner of the world!
Charlotte Greve hates genre-specific labels. The German singer-songwriter/alto saxophonist/synthesizer whiz, who’s been living and working in Brooklyn for seven years, considers her Wood River band as being “between the genres.” Yet she will be the first to admit that More Than I Can See (on Enja’s Yellowbird Records) is all a big experiment. The fact that she’s also in three other bands should have no bearing on this rather trippy excursion. Is it quirky art-pop? Is it ambient trance? Maybe it’s just subtle jazz-rock fusion. Guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, bassist Simon Jermyn and drummer Tommy Crane fulfill her visions on this follow-up to their 2015 self-titled debut. As produced by singer-songwriter Grey McMurray, the songs are like mini one-act plays. “Future Fun” has “a Rage Against The Machine moment in the middle,” says Greve. “The Procrastinator” is “pure pop for now people,” as Nick Lowe used to say. “See” has that Brazilian samba thing going on before morphing into a dance-floor machine gun. It’s all rather heady, intended for those with an ear for adventure.
For pianist/composer/arranger Giorgi Mikadze’s Georgian Microjamz debut (RareNoise Records), he’s enlisted his Berklee professor, David Fiuczynski on fretless guitar plus Panagiotis Andreou on fretless bass and Sean Wright on drums for a fusion of Georgian folk music and progressive microtonal jazz. Georgia is the country at the apex of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Microtonal music consists of those many notes found in between the 12 tones of standard Western tuning. Put them together and you’ve got Georgian Microjamz. Now add the Ensemble Basiani Choir and vocalist Nana Valishvili “Moaning” for the victims of Russia’s 2008 Georgia invasion. Maybe they wanted the wine. This is a country dating back 8,000+ years that is known as the birthplace of wine. The inherent fusion within straddles rock, Euro-folk, jazz and ambient. Three tracks are traditional folk songs of the area. On the coast of the Black Sea lies the Adjarian mountain range where album highlight “Dumba Damba” has been sung for generations. Here, the pianist imbues it with strains from African folk and American swing. There’s so much to savor here.
Boss Black Rockers
Boss Black Rockers Volume #1: She Can Rock (Koko Mojo) might be the best one yet of this label’s archeological digs, for it is here wherein The Mojo Man, as he calls himself, excavates 28 stone-cold doozies (no clinkers!) by the likes of Guitar Gable, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Dee Clark, Leon & The Hi-Tones, Long John Hunter, Little Ike, Joe Tex, Bobby Freeman, Johnny Two-Voice and Bill Doggett. There’s a great picture on the back cover of a young, well-dressed black youth slurping water from a fountain that clearly says “White Only.” The look on his face says it all. These are brazen, in-your-face tracks of fiery independence. Highlights? Little Richard was still just the lead screamer of The Upsetters when they covered Fats Domino’s “I’m In Love Again” and Hank Ballard & The Midnighters set the woods on fire with “Sugaree” (years later, Ballard would write “The Twist”). This is the first of a new 10-part series. Bring ‘em on!
Bone Bitin’ Blues
I will refrain from mentioning where Ted Horowitz got his Popa Chubby name from. Suffice it to say that the 300-pound “Beast From The East” barely survived his rough Bronx neighborhood of guns and that needle he used to stick in his arm. Music saved him. His stinging electric lead guitar, his gravel vocals, his way with words as a composer, and his energetic stage show have ingratiated him into the pantheon of current blues greats. Dude’s over 60, had to sit for his Sellersville Theatre show in Pennsylvania, but still brought forth a torrent of emotion similar in scope and context as the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. On his hot hot new self-produced, self-released It’s A Mighty Hard Road, subtitled More Than 30 Years Of Blues Rock and Soul, he wrote 13 of 15, played bass on eight tracks, played guitar throughout, sang lead and background vocals, played drums on half the album (with Steve Holley of Wings and Mott The Hoople on the other half), blew harmonica (for the first time) on a seething, so-cool cover of Prince’s “Kiss” and played keyboards on “Let Love Free The Day.” Highlights include Leon Russell’s “I’d Rather Be Blind” (not to be confused with 1968’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James) and two new instant Popa Chubby classics, “The Flavor Is In The Fat” (where he hilariously extols the virtues of not eating healthy) and “Why You Wanna Bite My Bones.”
Hillbilly Boogie and Jive
Pee Wee King & His Golden West Cowboys kick off the first volume of Hillbilly Boogie and Jive (Atomicat Records) from back when country music was country music. You won’t be able to sit down during the “Pan Handle Rag” by Leon McAuliffe & His Western Swing Band. Tennessee Ernie Ford is “Celebratin’.” Hank Penny, known as The King of Hillbilly Bebop, celebrates the 1940s deep south snake-oil remedy known as Hadacol (that was mostly alcohol) in his wild’n’wooly uproarious “Hadacillin Boogie.” Before Bill Haley & His Comets helped kick-start rock’n’roll, they were a country band who took a “Detour.” Then there’s the legendary Merle Travis with the aptly-named “Merle’s Boogie Woogie.” Jerry Irby with His Texas Ranchers have “49 Women.” Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens sounds almost rock’n’roll on the absolutely delightful “Hey Worm (You Wanna Wiggle).” There’s just so much and I’m running out of space: Patsy Cline, Tex Williams, Claude Casey and His Pine State Boys, Hank Thompson With The Brazos Valley Boys, Red Foley, Don Gibson, The Singing Ranger & His Rainbow Ranch Boys, Jack Tucker and his Oklahoma Playboys and it all ends the best one of them all, Johnny Bonds moaning about his hangover in “Sick, Sober And Sorry.”
The American Songster
Dom Flemons is a songwriter, producer, actor and historian. Known as “The American Songster,” he plays banjo, fife, guitar, harmonica, jug, percussion, quills and rhythm bones. He was a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops for eight years. He represented America at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia. His third solo album in 2014 has now been greatly expanded into Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus (Omnivore Recordings) wherein, over the course of 35 tracks on two discs, he encapsulates 100 years of culture and the lessons he learned playing with Marty Stuart and Taj Mahal. This self-produced history lesson is in three parts: the original Prospect Hill release, the 2015 What Got Over Record Store Day vinyl EP (on CD for the first time) and The Drum Major Instinct consisting of 12 unissued instrumentals that bridge the gap between folk, blues, country, jazz and even hiphop. This guy’s special. In 2018, he put out Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys on the Smithsonian Folkways label that was nominated for a Grammy. He can educate me anytime!