Will Porter, Tick Tock Tick

71gz65lFW3L._SX450_

Will Porter

Tick Tock Tick

Gramofono Sound (U.S.), dist. Kent Records (U.K.)

This superb album is too good to remain under wraps. My full-length review will appear soon in Blues Music Magazine. Here is a preview.

 

Will Porter’s singing is so natural as to make his considerable technique transparent, even invisible. Leveraging valuable contributions from Dr. John, the Womack Brothers, Bettye LaVette, and others, and making the most of producer Wardell Quezergue’s arrangements, Tick Tock Tick catches our attention with swaggering soul and jagged funk, and draws us in with thoughtful blues and lush, quietly devastating ballads. This is timeless stuff, the perfect restorative for listeners out of patience with an endless stream of showy but ultimately shallow music. Porter has made a record full of soul and heart that grown-up human beings will respond to and love.

 

 

Paul Metsa & Willie Walker • Live on Highway 55

Metsa Walker FntCover

Paul Metsa & Willie Walker

Live on Highway 55

MaximumFolk.com

http://paulandwillie.com

A well-respected singer and songwriter since the 1970s, the Minnesota-based Paul Metsa is a noted scholar, activist, promoter, statesman, and author, all in connection with his musical endeavors. Willie Walker is simply one of the best soul singers in the business, probably best known today to those outside the Twin Cities area for his recent work with the Butanes–three albums’ worth of very fine original soul and blues material by Curtis Obeda–and for the coveted handful of sides he recorded for Checker and Goldwax in the ’60s.

To my knowledge, despite Walker and Metsa’s long-term acquaintance and geographic proximity, Live on Highway 55 marks their first recording together. The duo proves to be a natural pairing, even though each artist is working a bit outside his comfort zone: Metsa stays completely off of the microphone, and plays a set that is slightly different from his usual folk and blues repertoire; and Walker, who (in spite of a few catalog items, like his vintage single of “Ticket to Ride” and a cover of The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” on his first, eponymous long-player) generally favors soul music, stretches effortlessly into material like the Louis Armstrong standard “What a Wonderful World,” “House of the Rising Sun,” and a bluesy “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” that relies less on the version by Bobby Womack than on Bessie Smith or Derek & The Dominos.

Walker’s voice has aged appealingly, developing a controlled raspiness–a frayed quality reminiscent of Eddie Hinton or Johnnie Taylor–more pronounced than it held in the “Wee” Willie Walker days, and gained in complexity and emotional resonance, while retaining all the suppleness and smooth glide of his idol Sam Cooke’s (his show-stopping interpretation of “A Change is Gonna Come” has to be heard). Metsa rises admirably to the task of evoking the well-known, sometimes quite complicated original versions of songs like “My Girl” or “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues.” Whether he is converting “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” into a minor groove à la “Help Me,” or adding a succinct blues guitar solo, sparkling with harmonics, to “Bring It On Home” (another Cooke classic), his accompaniment is adept, dynamic, and inventive. He has clearly internalized these songs to a rare degree; even without Walker’s amazing vocal, the depth of Metsa’s arrangement of “Blowin’ in the Wind” absolutely puts to shame the paint-by-numbers version released last year by an acclaimed, and usually terrific, guitarist who was a long-time member of Bob Dylan’s band.

The challenges Metsa and Walker offer each other notwithstanding, Live on Highway 55 is not as adventurous in its selection of material as, say, Bettye LaVette’s albums for the Anti- label, but it is just fine; those who swore they never again needed to hear “When a Man Loves a Woman” or “Ain’t No Sunshine” will be forced to eat their words. Nor is it perfect in every aspect–Walker sings the wrong words to Little Willie John’s “Fever” every time the chorus comes around, and I guess we’ll have to wait for a studio record to hear Metsa’s guitar sound its best (miked up, that is, instead of amplified through a pickup). But it represents far more than a souvenir for those who attended the live in-studio show in April 2013 that produced the disc. Live on Highway 55 documents a fruitful partnership and a beautiful session that rewards repeated listening.

TOM HYSLOP

I purchased this CD from the artist.

Lorenzo Menzerschmidt

lorenzomenzerschmidt

Lorenzo Menzerschmidt

self release, 2012

www.facebook.com/lorenzomenzerschmidt

http://lorenzomenzerschmidt.weebly.com/index.html

Blues is bound enough by tradition that it’s worth celebrating new spins on the style. The trio Lorenzo Menzerschmidt, therefore, commands our attention and ear.  LM is a collaboration between veteran musicians Victor DeLorenzo, best known as drummer for Violent Femmes; the well-traveled bassist Tony Menzer, whose rèsume includes work with Clyde Stubblefield, Perry Weber & The Devilles, the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band, and the W.C. Clark Midwest Blues Review; and the singer-songwriter Lost Jim Ohlschmidt, a Twin Cities-based acoustic guitar ace who shares Wisconsin roots with his bandmates. Together, the three produce a fresh take on roots styles.

Ohlschmidt has recorded four albums of Mississippi John Hurt songs like “Payday,” where DeLorenzo’s toms and Menzer’s doghouse bass create a low-register rumble, making an uneasy backdrop in contrast with the relaxed feel of the guitar and vocal. The band revs up Sleepy John Estes’s “The Girl I Love” with a rough-and-tumble groove straight out of “Walking Blues,” topped by Ohlschmidt’s raw slide guitar, and gives Blind Blake’s classic “Police Dog Blues” a jaunty strut. A resonator guitar’s driving rhythm paces the track, and several pithy solos, including the harmonics that were so startling on Blake’s original, offer a measure of controlled chaos. None of this material is any less impressive for being pretty standard fare, at least for Ohlschmidt.

LM’s cover of Bob Dylan’s shuffle “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” is also played straightforwardly, with delicate slide guitar figures accenting the chords, and subtle brushwork and bass patterns backing it all. More adventurous is “Johnny B. Goode,” here transmuted into a minor shuffle with a descending bass line (for a reference, think of “Stray Cat Strut”)–haunting, with a hint of gypsy jazz–and given a hangdog vocal. That’s a surprising choice of arrangements for one of the most iconic American songs (and one you can bet has never been tried before), but it works. Prior to the fade, Ohlschmidt quotes both Percy Mayfield via Ray Charles (“Hit The Road, Jack”) and Tennessee Ernie Ford (“Sixteen Tons”), intensifying the sense of vertigo. It’s very cool stuff.

Songs from Ohlschmidt’s pen comprise the remainder of the program. They span a range of moods. On the lighter side, there’s the roots-rocking “Check The Gauge,” which cruises on a tank full of Menzer’s bouncing bass line. Ohlschmidt packs the rocking, country-fried “29’s A Good Road” with Wisconsin landmarks, and makes the narrator of the very funny opener, “I’m A Mess,” a hopeful, lovable loser. Both are topped off with crisp, twanging electric guitar. On the other side of the spectrum, Ohlschmidt is also a master of somber, minor key songs. “It Don’t Work That Way,” its tempo, melody, and backing vocals highly reminiscent of some lost, mid-’60s pop number, provides cutting insights into human nature. The unrelentingly downcast lyric in “Shades Of Blue” is matched by a spare, jazz-tinged arrangement that is broken, at least musically, by highly Dylanesque choruses. Finally, desperately slow pacing and a hopeless lyric (not to mention a “Funeral March” quotation) in the grim blues “Since My Baby Left This Town” suggest that the singer be put on suicide watch. Ohlschmidt is a profound poet of the pathetic.

So Lorenzo Menzerschmidt offers convincing evidence that artists can thrive in settings very different from those they are accustomed to, and produce music that both grips and entertains. By reworking familiar materials in unexpected ways, the band’s self-titled debut album proves that there is plenty of life–and originality–yet to be found in roots music.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by the artist.