Nikki Hill with Deke Dickerson and the Bo-Keys • Soul Meets Country

2013 Deke Dickerson Nikki Hillsoulmeetscountry

Nikki Hill & Deke Dickerson

Soul Meets Country

Major Label CD/7-inch + download/download, 2013

nikkihillmusic.com

www.dekedickerson.com

www.thebokeys.com

This four track EP is slight when measured in playing time, but from the perspective of the hardcore roots music aficionado, it is a summit meeting that rivals Destroy All Monsters in earth-shaking significance. Deke Dickerson is one of the most enthusiastic and accomplished proponents of American music: as a performer, producer, promoter, fan, collector, scholar, author, and more, he does it all. Nikki Hill is, hands down, the most exciting new artist in the true rock-and-soul variety of R&B; her calling card Here’s Nikki Hill (2013) and relentless touring have devastated audiences all over the planet. And Scott Bomar’s Bo-Keys, heavy with legendary alumni of the Stax and Hi bands, are dedicated keepers of Memphis’s deep soul tradition who happen to make vital new music. Combine the three ingredients, shake, and dig the results on Soul Meets Country. First roll back the carpet, ‘cause you know it’s going to be a party.

Two Hill-Dickerson duets open the program. First is the Otis Redding-Carla Thomas chestnut “Lovey Dovey.” Dickerson obviously doesn’t sing with Redding’s intensity (who does?), but his sweet, unguarded delivery carries ample emotional force, and matches up nicely with the raw edge of Hill’s voice. Their banter has a lilting quality that works well against the push-pull of the rhythm section, which takes the song at a leisurely tempo. The feel is relaxed and greasy, due in large part to Howard Grimes’s emphasis on the backbeat versus the four-to-the-bar snare hits of the frenetic original.

Next comes “Feelin’s,” made famous by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, here given a new coat of paint. Stripped of the original’s prominent steel guitar and played a few clicks of the metronome faster, the tune is driven by a surging horn chart, syncopated interplay between Grimes’s snare and Bomar’s bass, and the tambourine of Jack Ashford–a sound familiar from countless classic Motown productions. Dickerson twangs his way through a brief, lovely guitar solo, and his relaxed vocal harmonization with Hill is perfect.

Rounding out Soul Meets Country is a pair of individual numbers. “Struttin’” percolates to life with a steady bass pulse and stop-time choruses. Hill is at her sassiest here. It’s as tough as anything ever waxed, and the sound, with Bomar’s Wurlitzer piano and some very Steve Cropper-esque guitar parts by Dickerson figuring prominently in the arrangement, is reminiscent of Wilson Pickett’s classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals recordings. Dickerson revisits his “Lady Killin’ Papa” as the country funk workout “Lady Killa.” Motown ace Dennis Coffey’s wah-wah guitar is the essential sonic ingredient here, along with Archie Turner’s organ and the killer rhythm section-horn interplay that is all over the disc.

In a rare instance of truth in labeling, Soul Meets Country offers just that: four songs, Dixie-fried to delicious perfection. Fans of the Bo-Keys, Deke Dickerson, or Nikki Hill will absolutely love this one, and anyone with even a passing interest in American roots music ought to hear it. Highest recommendation.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from http://www.dekedickerson.com/shopping/merch3.php

and it is now available from the world’s greatest retailer of our kind of music: http://www.bluebeatmusic.com/

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Texas Cannonballs

cannonballs

Texas Cannonballs

Texas Cannonballs

Rock ’n’ Roll Saves Production, 2013

texascannonballs.blogspot.com

To order CDs, contact danherbert40@me.com

Unite Hector Watt, a veteran of Austin’s Solid Senders, the band that perhaps sounded the most like the Fabulous Thunderbirds that was not the Fabulous Thunderbirds; Chris Ruest, who has been quietly building a reputation as one of the toughest blues guitar players on either side of the Atlantic; and the truly legendary Preston Hubbard, whose résumé includes Roomful of Blues, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Nick Curran’s Nite Lifes, Los Carnales, and many other projects elevated by his low frequency work; and you have the core of Texas Cannonballs. Despite possessing the makings of a top-flight blues outfit, and although they share their name with a well-known, late-period album by Freddie King, the Cannonballs’ new project is cut from a pattern of dangerous rock ‘n’ roll.

The riddle at first seems insoluble. Why would three players of such esteem turn away from the blues? To Watt, who shares guitar and vocal duties with Ruest, the answer is a simple desire to change things up a bit. “A 100 percent blues album was out of the question. It’s been done over and over, time and time before,” he told Ellie Rumbold of forfolkssake.com. And while a blues recording from these musicians could hardly have disappointed, we can be grateful for the Cannonballs’ decision to move in another direction. Their self-titled début delivers thirteen songs that emerge hard-edged from the speakers, glinting like switchblades under streetlamps.

With the exception of the two numbers by Jerry McCain–an unhinged, Cramps-worthy take on “I Want Somebody To Love” that ups the ante on the original, and a blistering “Geronimo Rock”–that set the table for the rest of the set, Ruest and Watt split the songwriting more or less equally. The album opens with Watt’s “Fly Away,” a swampy track with a loping, soulful groove, and stinging lead guitars. His “Hard Way,” an infectious, bouncing roots-rocker co-written with Lou Ann Barton, feels rowdy as a lost McCain tune and recalls the Stones at their Chuck Berry-inspired best. Along the same lines is “Me and the Devil,” a swaggering number enhanced by Temple Ray’s backing vocals. “Texas Tumbleweed” features prominent slide guitars straight out of Mick Taylor-era Stones (“All Down The Line”), and sounds like something Doug Sahm might have cooked up with one of Alejandro Escovedo’s old bands (Rank and File or True Believers, take your pick). “King of the Jungle” rides a chunky, push-pull rhythm, very vaguely reminiscent of “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” and has a great lyric; I can’t decide whether the guitars or the vocal have more snap and snarl. Also snarling is the ominous “King of the Blues,” an oily, garage blues worthy of Iggy and the Stooges. The prisoner’s lament “Dreaming” closes out the program with a quiet, acoustic arrangement that blends Stones-y country elements with notes of Johnny Thunders’s occasional ballads.

Ruest proves to be no slouch in the Stones department, with his amazing “One Slip” showing off some of the chunkiest Keith-inspired riffs on record. He also contributes “Blew My Head,” a slinky, riff-based rocker à la the T-Birds’ “Powerful Stuff,” but with a distinctly darker mood. Just as complex is “Nobody Cares About Me,” a chugging, R&B-inflected rocker, downshifts into a minor key, complete with spooky, raked chords, for the choruses. His “I Was Wrong,” another minor number, is the closest thing to a pure blues among the original compositions. Its feel shifts dramatically from stop-time verses to a shuffle feel during the choruses and the dynamic solo break. Neither of these songs would sound out of place on a record by the mighty Paladins.

I have dropped a lot of names during the course of this recap, solely in the interest of providing some kind of frame of reference–signposts marking the general territories in which Texas Cannonballs work. The Cannonballs have in fact made something quite original of familiar materials. Think of the Flamin’ Groovies jamming with Omar and the Howlers, and you might come close to the soundscape they have created. It is raw yet sleek, with an underlying sense of menace and drive rarely heard since Exile On Main Street, and unrelentingly cool.

TOM HYSLOP

The CD for this review was kindly provided by the band’s management.

(Note: Jim Starboard drummed on the CD; the band’s Facebook page indicates Hugo Devier is the regular drummer. Also, the printed CD cover lists the first four tracks incorrectly. #4 and #1 are reversed, as are #2 and #3.)

The One and Only Nick Curran • 1977-2012

It is 6 October, one year since we lost Nick Curran, unquestionably one of the greatest of all time. In his memory, I present a couple of songs I recorded when Nick was touring with his band The Nite Lifes (Preston Hubbard and Damien Llanes). Enjoy!

True Love is Hard to Find – 2004-03-28, Appleton, WI: https://www.dropbox.com/s/a5343mjvov6ayn1/1-10%20True%20Love%20Is%20Hard%20To%20Find.mp3?dl=0

Midnight – 2004-06-29, Madison, WI:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/7cbvs8thxlmskda/2-05%20Midnight.mp3?dl=0

This one is from the last show I saw Nick play, this time with the all-star rock group Sorrow Jets. Here is Nick’s take on a Johnny Thunders classic (note my t-shirt in the photo below) .

Pirate Love – 2011-03-07, Green Bay, WI: https://www.dropbox.com/s/4pn0wocj7cvyjcp/10%20Pirate%20Love.mp3?dl=0

Keep Nick’s memory alive with T-shirts and patches available from Antone’s Record Shop – details here: https://rockmrtom.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/nick-curran-benefit-merchandise/

Nick Curran: Never forgotten!with nick

J.T. Lauritsen & Friends – Play by the Rules

Lauritsen

J.T. Lauritsen & Friends

Play by the Rules

Hunters Records, 2013

jtlauritsen.com

Over the course of six albums, J.T. Lauritsen has shown an unmistakable feeling for the music of the American South, with strong examples of blues, country, roots rock, and Louisiana music in varying styles to his credit. The singer and accordion, Hammond organ, and harmonica player cut his latest set in two sessions: one at home in Norway, with his working band The Buckshot Hunters; the other at Ardent Studios in Memphis, with a collection of well-known American musicians. Drummer Jon Grimbsy keeps time on every cut. The results are absolutely enjoyable: Play by the Rules is a terrific collection.

The Ardent date (12 May 2012) produced five songs. “Next Time,” a Lauritsen composition that shares a melody with Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired,” rides straight out of New Orleans on Victor Wainwright’s rolling piano and Grimsby’s second-line drums. Josh Roberts contributes a tersely phrased and effective guitar solo. The title track, a stately mid-tempo ballad, features prominent piano and accordion, with vocal harmonies by Debbie Jamison and Teresa James. Roberts’s slide guitar curlicues, delivered in a thick tone à la Ry Cooder, are the key sonic element. On the excellent instrumental “Memphis Boogie,” Lauritsen (accordion), Wainwright, and Roberts trade solos at a breakneck pace. A pair of shuffle, paced by Willie J. Campbell (Mannish Boys, Fabulous Thunderbirds, James Harman) on bass and Greg Gumpel (who plays bass on the other Ardent sides) on guitar, rounds out the Memphis sessions. Walter Horton’s “Need My Babe,” with crucial B3 from Paul Wagnberg, pits Lauritsen in a harmonica blow-off with Billy Gibson. Gumpel turns in a lovely train-wreck guitar solo on Bo Carlsson’s stomping shuffle “The Blues Got Me,” which closes the disc.

Seven songs come from a session in Oslo (6 February 2013). A solid version of the swamp pop classic “Mathilda,” originally by Cookie & The Cupcakes, with guitar by Arnfinn Tørrisen, leads into Lauritsen’s “Find My Little Girl,” which rocks along over a “Hi Heel Sneakers” groove and spotlights Anson Funderburgh’s sleek leads. Funderburgh also contributes rhythm guitar to an atmospheric reading of Gillian Welch’s “Valley of Tears,” which is both delicate and murky. Big Joe Maher’s “Ever Since The World Began” sounds particularly sweet, backed with Lauritsen’s accordion and the rollicking groove laid down by Grimsby and bassist/backing vocalist Atle Rakvåg. Rakvåg, the co-producer, submitted a pair of songs he wrote with Knut Eide: the clever “Eye Candy,” a riff-based rocker, and a truly gorgeous ballad, “I’ll Never Get Over You.” The rhythm section plays subtly under Wagnberg’s keyboards (Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3), guitars by Tørrisen and Ian Fredrick Johnnessen, and lush harmony vocals by Reba Russel and Debbie Jamison. This composition, in the Northern soul style, could as easily have come from the UK in the ‘80s as from Philadelphia in the late ‘60s, but fits perfectly in this context and is surely one of this year’s finest new songs.

Lauritsen always sings with passion and deep soulfulness, and–for Anglophones who may care–no trace of a Scandinavian accent. He removes all doubt in the opening track, a cover of William Bell’s Stax classic “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” where he shares lead vocal duties with Sven Zetterberg, unquestionably one of the greatest living singers of deep soul music. (Kerry Clarke and Larry McCray are the impressive background voices.) The fresh arrangement (sans sleigh bells) is pitch-perfect, as is the balance of instruments throughout the album. Whether recorded by The Buckshot Hunters or by a crew weighted with Blues Music Award-winning instrumentalists, every cut is guided by Lauritsen’s authentic vision of American roots music styles. I recommend Play by the Rules without reservations.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy of this CD was provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

Ron Spencer Band – Soul Reason

Soul Reason

Ron Spencer Band

Soul Reason

Real Gone, 2013

ronspencerband.com/

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ronspencerband2

 

The Central New York-based guitarist Ron Spencer has been a favorite of mine since I heard his first solo recording more than 15 years ago. While his band has undergone several changes in evolving to its current lineup (Spencer, singer Mark Gibson, bassist Jay Gould, and drummer Ross Moe), his track record of quiet excellence remains unbroken. His latest album, Soul Reason, is an outstanding set of blues and soul.

An excellent singer, Gibson has a hearty, sometimes bemused manner that conveys the low-key humor underlying much of the material. The group’s chief writer, he penned four songs: “Ain’t Got Nothin’,” a series of hard luck vignettes delivered over a rockabilly-inflected beat, with a guitar break straight out of the Carl Perkins stylebook; “Move Back To Missouri,” a rewiring of “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia” that reflects Hound Dog Taylor’s slide guitar boogie version more than the R&B takes by James Carr or Timmy Shaw, and spotlights a wonderful piano solo by guest Mark Nanni; and the beautifully sung swamp pop confection “You Ain’t Gone,” notable also for Spencer’s charmingly primitive, Guitar Slim-style lead guitar and the band’s rhythmic accents at the song’s crescendo. A Chicago shuffle with the sophistication of some of Jimmy Rogers’s ‘50s sides, “If That’s Love” features both fine piano from Nanni and Spencer’s artful guitar work, which combines the styles of Robert Lockwood and Bill Jennings.

Spencer and Gibson share credit for the bulk of the songs, including a pair of sweet soul tunes that are genre-correct but not at all derivative. “Nothin’ Like You” incorporates a stuttering rhythm, a melodic, crisply played guitar break, inspired tenor saxophone by Dan Eaton, and a superb Gibson vocal. The title track builds in intensity, adding organ to guitar over a slyly elastic rhythm before breaking out into sunny choruses.  Their straightforward blues numbers are tough to beat. A tale of a well-intentioned gin-drinking woman who seems to be fighting a losing battle, the infectious “Workin’ On Her Sins” opens the disc, swinging hard in the style of B.B. King’s Blues is King-era prime. Spencer’s lead guitar is right on target. “Puzzlement,” a hearty roadhouse blues, sounds like Jimmie Vaughan tackling Charlie Rich’s “Mohair Sam”–a hip concept, perfectly executed. “Here I Am Again” combines elements from across genres: greasy slide guitar; a lowdown groove reminiscent of Frankie Lee Sims; and traces of the Temptations’ soul classic “Shaky Ground.”

The rhythm section jumps “Lookin’ For A Woman,” a fast swing, just right. Spencer shows off a keen sense of humor, his way with a phrase, and a sophisticated harmonic approach. “Six Of One” is paced by throbbing electric bass, floor toms and maracas, and pushed by overdriven guitars. Credited to the entire band, it is an attention-getting exercise in dynamics, a moody, minor key stomp that works its way through a breakdown section and into a fast boogie. It’s great stuff, and emblematic of the Ron Spencer Band’s deep understanding of roots music. Their inspired playing and writing shows that classic forms, in the right hands, continue to hold both plenty of life and opportunities for originality. Anyone with an interest in real blues music ought deeply to enjoy Soul Reason.

TOM HYSLOP

The review copy of this CD was kindly provided by the artist.