Jimmy Alter & Jason Bone • The Bottom Line

Jason Bone & Jimmy Alter

The Bottom Line EP

2014

http://www.jimmyaltermusic.com

 

Jimmy Alter’s soon-to-be-released five song record follows an earlier EP, Rock With Me. The young guitarist from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and his band mate, guitarist Jason Bone, sing blues-based music with heart and skill. The pair has selected this short set wisely, for although all of the songs are covers, none is unknown (or, with one exception, even obscure), yet none has been frequently re-recorded, thereby introducing an element of surprise while maintaining some familiarity. That’s the way to do it!

The program opens with a bass line and hammering piano, both straight out of Little Richard, kicking off a raucous number that proves to be “Player,” an exciting throwback classic by Nick Curran. The band dispatches that tune in 2:20, just enough time to squeeze in a couple choruses of rock ‘n’ roll guitar inspired by Berry and Richards. Next up is the obscurity–I had to Google the lyrics to positively identify “The Bottom Line,” a noir-ish, mid-tempo song from the late harmonica man Paul de Lay. Bone really gets across the character of the narrator, a lonely outsider. A tersely phrased guitar break yields to Jim David’s subtly dazzling organ solo. Both players understand that what isn’t played is as important as what is.

Alex Lyon (bass) and David Watson (drums) cut a strong groove behind the tough take on “Funky Mama” that centers the set. Those unfamiliar with the original version would be forgiven for scanning their Jimmie Vaughan records trying to identify this instrumental shuffle. Bone holds down the rhythm, playing greasy lines through a Leslie cabinet in tribute to Big John Patton’s organ. First David solos on piano; next Alter, Bone, and Motor City Josh take turns on guitar. None really references Grant Green’s playing on Lou Donaldson’s classic version; instead we hear three snappy solos, each with a lot of personality, ranging from loopy, carnival-esque ideas through snarling, Albert Collins-inflected lines, and ending with a few unison run-throughs of the head arrangement, all in just over three minutes.

Hats off to Alter for reaching into the “5” Royales’ catalog for “Thirty Second Lover.” He hews close to the original for the guitar introduction and fills, but this version is far from a clone: the tempo seems slower and the track here has a distinctly boozy, New Orleans party feeling. Jimmy and the backing vocalists acquit themselves enthusiastically and well, and the guitar break is crisp and impressive. For the final cut, Bone turns to the great American band Los Lobos for their beautiful, haunting “The Neighborhood.” Everything comes together here, from the rhythm section through the electric piano touches and organ solo (take note of David’s crafty Tito Puente/Santana quotation) to Jason Bone’s vocal, in which he sounds amazingly like David Hidalgo, to a guitar solo that is at once flashy and deeply soulful.

A song like this has far more in common with the blues than do any 500 blues rock clichés. Bone and Jimmy Alter ought to be commended for recognizing that kinship, and for being willing to stretch the boundaries in appropriate and fresh directions, while remaining emphatically loyal to blues tradition. They deserve credit too for their nerve. It would be nigh impossible to top Lowman Pauling’s wit and soul, or Curran’s shattering energy, but on this enjoyable EP Alter and Bone hold their own, with mature singing and playing that promise a huge upside.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist provided an advance copy of the EP. This review was commissioned by the Detroit Blues Society and published in the July 2014 edition of its BluesNotes newsletter. Download a PDF at the DBS Web site, detroitbluessociety.org

 

 

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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.)

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.