Deal With It

4Jacks

4 Jacks

Deal With It

EllerSoul Records, 2013

http://ellersoul.com/

As an institution, the supergroup has an uneven history, particularly in terms of artistic success. When 4 Jacks formed, therefore, the band at once faced a challenge of sorts. The Washington, D.C.-based Big Joe Maher is here, singing and drumming as he does in his own band, the Dynaflows. Texan Anson Funderburgh, who led The Rockets for many years, is widely considered to be one of the most tasteful guitar stylists and tone kings working in blues. The Nashville keyboard ace Kevin McKendree, who has worked with both Maher’s Dynaflows and Funderburgh’s Rockets, is perhaps best known as a member of Delbert McClinton’s band and has also recorded and toured with Brian Setzer; among his many credits are projects with Lee Roy Parnell, Tinsley Ellis, Robert Ward, Tad Robinson, Seth Walker, and Watermelon Slim. Steve Mackey, another session veteran and McClinton band member, holds down the electric bass chair.

Obviously the 4 Jacks bring with them a history of high standards. Deal With It more than lives up to expectations. The jumping little number “Have Ourselves A Time” swings hard, with Maher smoothly delivering a good-time invitation and Funderburgh combining cunningly bent notes and clipped phrases. “She Ain’t Worth A Dime,” a rowdy shuffle very much in the style of J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama Talk To Your Daughter,” features a rippling piano solo and an enthusiastic vocal. The wry “Bobcat Woman” describes a certain type of disagreeable lover who will be familiar to any regular blues listener. Featuring McKendree on organ, this Texas shuffle will be a tonic for Rockets fans waiting for Funderburgh to uncoil his patented, stinging leads. Maher’s fast “Thunder And Lightning,” working off of the framework of “Feel So Bad,” is another showcase for Funderburgh’s staccato lines.

The stark, Latin-tinged “Love’s Like That,” a minor key piece, hinges on Mackey’s bass guitar figure and Maher’s tom-tom rolls. McKendree’s chords and single-note rolls are impeccably timed; Funderburgh squeezes out perfect notes and phrases almost stingily; and the vocal is subdued, almost downcast. It is superb. The assuredly paced slow blues “Your Turn To Cry” is arranged with both piano and organ; chord substitutions give it a more sophisticated feel than Otis Rush’s familiar version. Another slow number, “Bad News Baby,” features beautiful interplay among the band members and a sublime guitar break.

The Jacks play it superbad and funky on the Percy Mayfield composition “I Don’t Want To Be President,” with wiry guitar and a friendly, very funny vocal performance. Maher’s spoken introduction and vocal on “Ansonmypants” are as playful and spirited as The Big Bopper’s on “Chantilly Lace.” Here McKendree solos on piano and dials in a roller-rink organ sound, while Funderburgh shifts into T-Bone Walker mode. Three instrumentals round out the program. “Texas Twister” combines blues and R&B in the fashion of Freddy King’s classic instrumentals, and is every bit as catchy; your mind’s eye may well see go-go dancers. The title track has more than a hint of King in its hook, but takes on a definite Stax flavor once McKendree solos, with the drawbars set to give the organ that unmistakable, slightly hollow tone so characteristic of Booker T. At the end of the playlist, “Painkiller” evokes The Meters’ funk with clever syncopation and a “Cissy Strut”-like design. Pieces like these present a case study in how four truly hip parts can interlock seamlessly, when great individual players are also great ensemble players. More importantly, they are downright fun to listen to. 4 Jacks sound like they are having an uncommonly good time making music–their feel is always right on target. An exciting survey of blues and R&B styles, Deal With It never comes close to striking a false note. Highly recommended.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

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Tomorrow

tomorrow

Andy Poxon

Tomorrow

EllerSoul Records, 2013

andypoxon.com/

http://www.ellersoulrecords.com/

I’ll get this out of the way: Andy Poxon, at 18 years old, is a recording veteran. His first CD, Red Roots, was released three years ago. Now, I don’t rate age any more than I pay attention to looks when I listen to music. I like to consider talent on its own merits, and youth seems most often to be used as a marketing gimmick, like girls with guitars. Neither in itself is any sort of big deal, nor–like Poxon’s distinctive, blazing red Afro–has it any relevance to the music. But this Washington, D.C.-based singer-songwriter-guitarist, whose new album Tomorrow has just been released by EllerSoul Records, is unmistakably developing into an artist to watch.

2009’s Red Roots, recorded with his working band (bass and drums), was sung well enough and played with some flair. But in essence it was a rather workmanlike album informed by classic rock moves, splashed with some pleasant R&B flavor and a few straight-up blues numbers, some of them quite derivative. The new album is something else entirely. Tomorrow is a quantum leap forward. In collaborating with producer Duke Robillard (who, along his band, also performs), Poxon seems invigorated.

Excellent arrangements and a seasoned supporting cast are some keys to Tomorrow’s success. One of the secret weapons in play is the Roomful of Blues horn section: Doug Woolverton (trumpet), Mark Earley (tenor and bari sax), and Rich Lataille (tenor and alto sax). Their fills are always right on, and the (uncredited) charts are memorable and infectious, bringing the tracks vividly to life. Bruce Bears makes important contributions, fleshing out the sound with washes of organ and piano that is here rollicking, there dreamy. Brad Hallen (basses) and Mark Teixeira (drums) consistently prove that they can lay down a perfect rhythm behind any style.

At the center of attention, Poxon’s singing is unmannered and effective; his guitar work is creative and assured, with a wide tonal palette; and his songs are genre-perfect exemplars of soul, blues, ballads, and rock, yet have the spark of originality. The stylistic reach is impressive. “College Boy” is pumping, roots rock in prime Chuck Berry style, with a well-constructed, raw guitar lead. “Please Come Home” hints at time spent listening to Ray Charles’s deepest R&B ballads, “All By Myself” channels Dave Bartholomew’s more raucous productions for Fats Domino, and “Without Me” sounds like it has at least a little Spanish Harlem soul in its lineage. “You Lied” is part Don Covay, part Coasters; “Too Bad,” a soul shuffle, boasts a perfect horn chart and an intentionally primitive guitar solo that does just the trick. The slow rocker “Carol Anne” finds common ground between Derek & The Dominos and the Bottle Rockets. Wistful without becoming maudlin, “Tomorrow,” with its luscious, clarion, jazz-inflected solo, makes a sublime closing time ballad. Cool vocals and a stuttering guitar break knock the swinging “Don’t Come Home” clean out of sight.

Nor is the blues side of things neglected. In “You Don’t Love Me,” a tough rumba-shuffle, Poxon displays a killer attitude torn from the pages of early-period B.B. King, with a touch of Freddy. “Fooling Around” is a bracingly uptempo 1950s-style Chicago blues that sounds like a tip of the hat to “Who’s Been Cheating Who,” a song by one of Poxon’s favorite artists, Sean Costello. Texeira and Bears, along with a wild guitar solo, star here. The album closes with a splendid jazz instrumental, “Jammin’ At Lakewest,” that has Poxon and Robillard trading choruses bursting with hip melodic and rhythmic ideas.

Andy Poxon seems to have found his own voice as part of a continuing tradition. It seems paradoxical, but Tomorrow’s shift toward more classic blues and soul forms has resulted in music of new excitement and originality.  To return to a statement I made earlier, Tomorrow is something else! Highly recommended.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

Preview: Holland K. Smith’s Cobalt

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In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Holland K. Smith issued three stone killer albums of blues and roots rock that somehow didn’t catch fire in a big way. His long-awaited new CD, tentatively titled Cobalt and due from EllerSoul Records later this year, ought to remedy that.

Listeners who are hip to Smith’s previous work will find the honest, effective vocals and distinctive, toneful guitar work they expect. What’s new is the stylistic range of the Texas artist’s vision. In addition to his trademark bluesy sounds, Smith dips into swinging organ jazz on the title track and takes a hip, off-kilter approach to Latin sounds on “Olhos Verdes.” And, for those who haven’t had the good fortune to follow him in club appearances, the playlist’s strong emphasis on the various shades of soul music will be as surprising as it is welcome. Smith has penned a solid suite of songs that includes vintage-style R&B ballads, doo wop, country soul, and creamy Memphis soul á la Hi Records. Strong arrangements featuring organ and horns really bring these cuts to life.

World, get ready: the gritty, beautiful Cobalt should put Holland K. Smith’s name on the lips of everyone who takes American music seriously.

http://www.hollandksmith.com/

http://www.ellersoulrecords.com/news.html

Digital files for review purposes were provided by the artist.