Nick Curran, 2004

3347bf3fe3f84dd12194291c1cb5fe59

In response to the request for more examples of my field recordings of Nick Curran, here are some choice cuts. “All I Can Do Is Cry” comes from Tom’s Garage in Appleton, Wisconsin, March 28, 2004. “Midnight Is A Lonely Hour” and “Get Rich Quick” come from the same venue, on June 27, 2004. “It’s My Life, Baby,” “Player,” “Midnight,” and “Hustler” happened June 29, 2004, at Luther’s Blues in Madison. Enjoy and keep the faith – FOREVER NICK CURRAN!

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

 

 

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

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

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

*** If Dropbox doesn’t work well for you, I have uploaded all of the above songs via Filemail.com. They will be available for three days only at this destination: https://www.filemail.com/t/c31399b0a6094f14a3fbf19ba3ebd656 ***

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

The SniFFs – Barrio Element

Barrio Element

The SniFFs

Barrio Element

2013

http://www.reverbnation.com/thesniffs

Austin’s The SniFFs belong with those of us who enjoy nearly every sort of music, so long as it’s good. They describe their sound as “a little Dallas smut, a dash of swamp air, and a mojo hand”; a vodka martini made with whiskey in a crankcase, stirred with Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders; and, less metaphorically, as inspired by ’70s rock, avant-garde pop, and low-down blues/R&B. Pretty close to the truth on all counts, I’d say. On their nine-song début Barrio Element, a bracing and fast-paced set that will find you pressing the Repeat button, the SniFFs–Mike Parent (guitar and vocals), Rafa Ibarra II (bass), and THE Nick Curran (percussion, occasional guitar, and production), with drums on this project by Charlie Jones–divide their attention between punk-inflected rave-ups and grimy, working-class rockers, delivered with palpable energy, attitude, and melody.

“Gaston Ave. Street Habit” has a post-punk-circa-1980 edge. Denny Freeman’s electric piano adds bit of Stooges flavor to an arrangement dominated by jackhammer drumming and Parent’s slide guitar. It may be more the tonal quality of Parent’s voice than any glam or punk sound inherent in the song, but “Surveil” for some reason strikes me as Bowie-esque, or like something out of the Generation X songbook, though it’s closer to something The Clash might have written at some point later in their evolution. “Scraps Of Town” fits in this sonic grouping as well, with brutal rhythm guitar as metallic as vintage Gang of Four, and skanky, semi-funk breakdowns and a wild, extended outro guitar solo, both of which could have been inspired by either Talking Heads or Richard Hell’s Voidoids.

A few outliers spice up the playlist immeasurably. The Latin-tinged “Ray Rey” shares a groove, vaguely, with The Champs’ “Tequila,” but would be very much at home on a Cramps or Johnny Thunders album (or possibly even an old ZZ Top record: that’s some dirty lead guitar!). Parent’s vocal is outstanding. “Chainsaws ‘n’ Psycho Swamps” is a rockabilly/trash madman: “Mystery Train” crossed with “Surfin’ Bird.” The hidden track at the end of the disc is a completely reimagined “Wicked Game,” its tempo bumped up significantly, and the moody sultriness of Chris Isaak’s original version transformed into pure power pop with a punk edge, à la Buzzcocks.

Closer to the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, “82” is a perfect little mid-tempo tune from somewhere out of time, loaded with Stones-y swagger and choice lines like “there’s a poster of Sheena Easton and it looks like you/Back in ’82.” The lead guitar’s gritty fills and melodic solo demonstrate Curran’s previously unrecorded familiarity with both Keith’s Chuck Berry-isms and Ronnie’s faux pedal steel bends (“Beast Of Burden,” anyone?). “Waiting For The Law” fits into the same rootsy category, with a yearning vocal and catchy shifts in dynamics. “Phone Booth” has more country-fried guitar, overlaid on a galloping, highly melodic framework reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw’s perfect pop songs. I’m reminded, too, of Alejandro Escovedo’s work during his Rank And File period. That’s good stuff indeed. “Just gimme some fiction/I don’t wanna hear about no real life” is such a wonderful rock ‘n’ roll line, it’s a wonder no one sang it until now.

The AE reference makes a lot of sense, given the breadth of his musical interests, many of which are shared by The SniFFs: pure rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock, roots rock, and solid pop songwriting. If you dig any or all of those styles, or if you trust that anything Nick Curran took part in is worth hearing, you ought to be checking out Barrio Element.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from Antone’s Record Shop, online:

http://antonesrecordshop.com/content/search.php?name=snIFFs

The Chris Ruest Band – Live at Shakespeare’s

flyerShakespeare

Chris Ruest Band

Live at The Shakespeare Pub • Houston, Texas

2013

http://www.chrisruest.com/

If you haven’t been paying attention to his career, this is the short version of what you need to know: Chris Ruest is the real thing. The New Englander has been a resident of Texas for well over a decade. Already a serious student and lover of traditional blues and blues-oriented jazz artists, the singer-guitarist came up through Brian “Hash Brown” Calway’s band (justly regarded as the finishing school of choice for aspiring Dallas blues musicians), and has worked with many of the Lone Star State’s most important talents, including the great Ray Sharpe (“Linda Lu”). Ruest cut his third CD, Live at Shakespeare’s, in March of this year, with JD Ditullio on drums, and the great Ronnie James (Nightcats, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmie Vaughan, Nick Moss) on bass.

This brand new album revisits only a few selections from Ruest’s previous releases, 2005’s Too Many Problems and 2011’s No 2nd Chances (both excellent sets, recorded with all-star bands and loaded with well-written original tunes), but those provide an overview of his stylistic range. “Poor Lil’ Greta,” Chris’s apologetic ode to a deceased pet, spotlights slide guitar and a deep blues groove, both unmistakably cut from Muddy Waters’s slow blues template. “My Baby Loves Me,” with its swaggering shuffle and slashing slide guitar figure, is firmly in the tradition of Elmore James. And “You Suck” lulls us into thinking it is a garden-variety you’re-mistreating-me song, until Ruest sings the laugh-out-loud funny chorus. James and Ditullio lay down a quirky, throwback R&B groove a mile wide, reminiscent of “I’m Shakin’.”

The balance of the playlist expands on these elements with intelligently selected covers that give insight into, and pay tribute to, some of Ruest’s favorite artists. He dials up the reverb for a harrowing take on Magic Sam’s fabulous (and rarely covered) “Out of Bad Luck,” replete with a blistering guitar break, and ratchets up the rumba feel behind an update of Arthur Crudup’s “Mean Ole Frisco,” filtered through B.B. King’s version, with lead guitar that nails King’s ’50s style. There’s a strong take on Muddy’s “Champagne and Reefer,” a hard-shuffling adaptation of Lonesome Sundown’s swamp classic “Don’t Say A Word,” and two of Elmore’s greatest songs: a bristling romp through “Cry For Me” and a greasy reading of the stop-time Latin-influenced “Can’t Stop Loving My Baby.” I know “Bark” best from the Darrell Nulisch-era Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets; the band deftly handles this loping shuffle.

What do Elmore James and The Rockets have in common? Why, Sam Myers, of course. The harmonica great was a bluesman in the truest sense of that now-debased word, and perhaps the strongest influence felt by Ruest, who acted as the legend’s right-hand-man during the last three years of Sam’s life. Ruest pays tribute to his close friend by singing Sam’s “Sad Lonesome Day,” adorning the slow blues with elegant guitar lines à la King and Funderburgh, and his vintage gem “Sleepin’ in the Ground,” which presents Ruest’s guitar playing at its meanest, dirtiest, and most low-down.

The presence of the proto-punk nugget “Strychnine” reflects the influence of another of Ruest’s closest friends. The late, great Nick Curran was a fearless free spirit who was apt to follow a T-Bone Walker chestnut with a selection from the catalog of The Stooges, or to pair a Little Richard song with an AC/DC number. Viewed in that light, the seemingly improbable inclusion of The Sonics’ wild ’60s rocker makes perfect sense. Two excellent instrumentals, one by Albert Collins (“The Freeze”), the other from Ike Turner (“Cuban Getaway”) bracket the set. Ruest politely converts a mid-show request for something by Stevie Ray Vaughan into a teaching opportunity, instead performing yet another iconic instrumental: a stinging version of Freddie King’s “Funnybone.”

Like the rest of the program, these three songs let the band work out on touchstone tunes that still sound fresh, owing to their relative scarcity in the playlists of contemporary bands, and demonstrate Ruest’s control of the essential themes of real blues guitar. His playing, sometimes deliberate, frequently savage, is always intense, carrying the threat of violence that was imminent in the approach of Curran, or Pat Hare. Paired with this outstanding rhythm section, Ruest–one of the toughest players anywhere–is on fire. Live at Shakespeare‘s is his master class in blues history, vividly performed, and should attract a great of overdue attention.

TOM HYSLOP

The artist kindly provided the CD for this review.

Here’s Nikki Hill

nikki

Nikki Hill

Here’s Nikki Hill

Deep Fryed Records, 2013

www.nikkihillmusic.com

Originally from North Carolina and now calling St. Louis home, Nikki Hill is the real thing: a roots rock ‘n’ soul star with the talent of Etta James and the megawatt charisma and sheer detonating power of artists like Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras and the late, great Nick Curran. Her band features a solid rhythm section in Ed Strohsahl (bass) and Joe Meyer (drums), not to mention a well-known guitarist in her husband, Matt Hill, who won in the Best New Artist Debut category in the 2011 Blues Music Award balloting. Nikki Hill dropped a four-song calling card in the form of a self-titled EP last year. Now the singer-songwriter has folded that impressive debut into a full-length album, Here’s Nikki Hill. It is outstanding.

Four songs are drawn from the EP: the fierce, Delta-style boogie of “I’ve Got A Man,” which gives the Jelly Roll Kings a run for their money; the majestic deep soul ballad “Don’t Cry Anymore,” propelled by Matt Hill’s staccato chanks on his guitar and Steve Eisen’s one-man saxophone section, sung at a slow burn (“It’s too late, and I can’t put out the fire” indeed!); and “Strapped To The Beat,” a sassy roots rock number with a boogie-woogie guitar line out of Carl Perkins’s “Matchbox,” again featuring Eisen. The languid, sultry groover “Her Destination” interprets the “nothing can keep me from my lover” theme, even quoting “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” For Here’s Nikki Hill, the cut has been re-recorded to eliminate the saxophone that was prominent in the original version. It now boasts a tougher vocal, dirtier guitar tones, and a snarling solo, with the effect of making the overall atmosphere even nastier and more pheromone-charged.

Here’s Nikki Hill’s new material is thrilling. With its soul-clap drum hits, distinctive bent-note guitar figure, and vicious solo, the phenomenal “Ask Yourself” is reminiscent of Irma Thomas’s 1963 platter, “Hittin’ On Nothin’.” “Right On The Brink” serves dramatic, minor key soul over a churning beat, interspersed with ominous breakdowns that are the aural equivalent of the storms of which Hill sings. “Gotta Find My Baby” sways with a fevered urgency, coming from somewhere in the R&B neighborhood frequented by Don Covay, Ike & Tina Turner, and Eddie Hinton. It is irresistible, from the groove to the speedy amplifier tremolo to Hill’s guileless yet suggestive delivery. Even her “Do-do-doos” are knockouts.

Hill reaches back a few years stylistically for “I Know,” the Barbara George hit out of New Orleans that Freddie King also covered. Her splendid phrasing and some well-placed growls and squeals really bring this to life; Hill’s guitar break, sketching the melody and accentuating it with tremolo picking and pedal steel-like bends, is top notch. Hill completely reimagines the album’s other cover, shifting “Who Were You Thinking Of?” from the Tex-Mex treatment it received in the hands of Doug Sahm and Texas Tornadoes to a ska foundation–only the twanging lead guitars hint at the song’s origins. The audacious move works perfectly. The playlist eases out with a smoky gospel-inflected ballad, “Hymn for Hard Luck,” that left me marveling at the understated power created by just Nikki’s voice and Matt’s electric guitar. Here and across the board, the sound has a delicious vintage vibe, owing to the attentive ears, Grail-like gear, and matchless musical hipness found in the confines of co-producer Felix Reyes’s House of Tone, a Chicago area studio quickly becoming known as one of the world’s premier recording facilities for roots and blues music.

If she keeps making records like this, Nikki Hill cannot miss. She is already wowing audiences on the blues and R&B circuits in the US and Europe, and at the same time knocking ‘em out on the rockabilly scene. I daresay Hill also has the kind of soul and style it takes to conquer the rootsy corner of the (punk) rock universe inhabited by acts like Rev. Horton Heat, Detroit Cobras, and Social Distortion. So get hip if you ain’t, buy Here’s Nikki Hill, tell all your friends about her, and you can say you were in on this explosion at the beginning.

TOM HYSLOP

I purchased this CD from http://www.nikkihillmusic.com

Nick Curran Benefit Merchandise

nick
http://antonesrecordshop.com/content/search.php?musictype&format=T-SHIRT&name=nick+curran

You can remember the one, the only, the great NICK CURRAN with T-shirts and patches produced for a recent benefit held in Austin. The merchandise is now available from Antone’s Record Shop. All proceeds go to Nick’s mother to help defray the costs of his lengthy battle against the cancer that took him last October. Long live Nick Curran! and thanks to Rafa Ibarra for doing the right thing to help.

with nick

Yours truly with Nick, October 2010.