Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘n’ Roll

Hank Lives

In 1951, with just over a year left to live, Hank Williams hosted his own WSM 15-minute weekday radio show, many of which were from pre-recorded transcription discs on vinyl so he could stay on the road. They were aired once and forgotten. In fact, the discs were actually on route to a dumpster when they were discovered. The 144 tracks, in one fell swoop, doubled the amount of existing Hank on record. BMG has now released them all in an amazing six-CD boxed set. Pictures From Life’s Other Side:  The Man and His Music In Rare Photos and Recordings includes guest vocalists and instrumentals from his Drifting Cowboys band. Restored, remixed, remastered, Hank comes gloriously back to life, joking between numbers, introducing the songs, and even doing commercials for his sponsor, Mother’s Best Flour Company. It comes complete with a lavish 272-page hard-cover coffee-table book. Hank Williams died at 29 in the back seat of his car, being driven to a gig in Canton Ohio on new Year’s Day 1953 from a lethal combination of alcohol and painkillers.

Rockabilly Rules

There are NO clinkers on Bear Family’s That’ll Flat Git It Volume #33:  Rockabilly & Rock’n’Roll From The Vaults Of Renown & Hornet Records. These two North Carolina record labels out of Durham lived in the shadow of that state’s great Colonial Records out of Chapel Hill but they still put out a ton of great stuff.  It was a blind man named William Howard Rambeau who ironically enough had the vision and the balls to quit his piano tuning job and start Renown Records and its Hornet subsidiary. In their decade of existence, no one you ever heard of recorded for him but I’ll be damned if every single track here—35!—isn’t a cracker barrel of hiccupping hillbilly rock’n’roll and flat-out rockabilly. It’s all fit to swoon over in new remixed masters that pop with pulsating alacrity that get you to move and groove like I did with spasmodic twitches all over the house to the point where my long-suffering wife asked me if I was doing a Saint Vitus dance (which is a disorder called Sydenham’s Chorea causing the afflicted to experience rapid uncoordinated jerking movements of the hands and feet).

Ellingtonian In Scope

Like The Duke, Nick Finzer writes pieces that lets his band shine. The New Yorker’s fifth album—Cast Of Characters—has the trombonist/composer/producer/educator leading his longtime sextet (now in its ninth year) through a myriad of changes over 14 tracks of sizzling post-bop. Improving upon a trombone/sax front line that takes from the template of both JJ Johnson/Stan Getz and Curtis Fuller/Benny Golson, Finzer’s merry men—Lucas Pino, reeds; Alex Wintz, guitar; Glenn Zaleski, piano; Dave Baron, bass and Jimmy MacBride, drums—spiral upward in a dizzying display of virtuosity where all bets are off. Jazz history is shelved. A new paradigm enters the lexicon. Add it to my growing 2020 Top 10. Finzer is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Trombone at the University of North Texas. He highlighted the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He defines himself as a 21st century Jazz Musician. To that end, he owns the label and media company Outside In Music which lets musicians retain publishing rights, has online teaching platforms, blogs, and a steady stream of performance videos.

Album Of The Year?

The 11-man Black Market Brass from the great state of Minnesota has put it all together on their second album, Undying Thirst (Colemine Records). I would go nuts to see these guys live. Their take on the classic mid-‘70s West African genre of music known as Afro-Beat, popularized worldwide by the tragic and heroic Fela Kuti [1938-1997], is spot-on and when combined with their New Orleans aesthetic, produces a joyousness, a funkiness, that emanates in waves. Add electronics to this simmering stew plus blaring lead guitar and it’s the kind of album one can only stop what they’re doing, sit up straight, and literally watch the music gush out of the speakers. The Cast:  guitar (2), tenor sax, trombone, percussion (3), bari sax, bass, trumpet and keyboards. The Highlights: All eight tracks starting with “Cheat And Start A Fight” and ending with “So Who Part #2.”

From Tennessee To Mississippi To Alabama

Lisa Mills has all her musical and geographical points down pat. The Triangle, by this hot soul- and blues-belter—born and raised in Hattiesburg MS and now based in Mobile AL—is a Southern travelogue of profound proportions. Its title could be drawn on a map between Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Jackson. Producer Fred Mollin (whose credits could fill an entire encyclopedia) took Mills on a whirlwind trip through the south to record in the same studios—and with some of the same musicians—that originally brought these songs alive. Thus, “Greenwood Mississippi,” first recorded by Little Richard in 1970, is now expanded and revitalized in the same legendary Alabama studio. “Walking In The Rain” was recorded at Sun Records in Memphis where, in 1953, The Prisonaires introduced it. Mills brings to each song the dynamite essence of the blues-busting hot mama. Sounding like a cross between Etta James and Bonnie Raitt, she sings with blood, sweat and tears to create a visceral gut-punch backed by seasoned professionals. Melody Place Music has hit a home run on its inaugural release.

32 Tracks of Pure Lust

Destination Lust: The World Of Love, Sex and Violence (Bear Family Records) is subtitled Adults Only:  32 Erotic Fantasies From The Vaults. Titillation from the likes of international bombshell sex symbol actresses like Jayne Mansfield, Lizabeth Scott, Ann-Margret, Elke Sommer, April Stevens and Mamie Van Doren on one CD has to be a first. Sure, there’s obvious choices like the 1959 Lieber/Stoller song “Love Potion #9” as recorded by The Clovers and “The Stripper” instrumental that the David Rose Orchestra took straight to the top of the charts in 1962. But those two are not the highlights. So what are? “Hey Sister Lucy (What Makes Your Lips So Juicy)” by The Trenier Twins heads the list. “When Banana Skins Are Falling” by the Slim Galliard Sextet is a close second. Actor Jim Backus & Friend get “Delicious.” Rolls Royce & The Wheels go “Topless.” The Frantics get kinky with “The Whip.” As with all Bear Family compilations, the fascinating heavily-illustrated accompanying booklet is alone worth the price of admission. (The clinker level may be a bit higher than on most comps but this project is, indeed, rather unique.)