Ross Kleiner & the Thrill • You Don’t Move Me

rosskleinerthethrill

Ross Kleiner & The Thrill

You Don’t Move Me

2013

 

www.rosskleinerandthethrill.com

www.rosskleiner.com

 

Making new music in old styles can be a treacherous undertaking. Some understand the form but lack the proper feeling, and produce anything from a hollow echo to a grotesque approximation of the real thing. Others are hypercorrect in every aspect, but so limit their scope that their music appeals only to a fanatical corps of listeners. (Note: some of my favorite music is just like this.) It is rare to find an artist who understands and respects vintage music, and breathes new life into it, without evoking smirks and snorts, or worse, from his fellow faithful. Enter Ross Kleiner & The Thrill, a band from Minneapolis, Minnesota that approaches rock ‘n’ roll music with a fan’s heart and an expert’s ear, and gets it entirely right.

At the core of The Thrill are Cornelius Watson (guitar) and Victor Span (drums), with Elmer Johnston (bass) and Paulie Cerra (saxophone). Providing additional texture are Jon Duncan (piano and organ), Chico Chavez (bongos and guiro), John Rausch (shakers and tambourine), and Gregory Jong (acoustic guitar). (Note: In the working band’s lineup, Kleiner plays acoustic guitar; Brad Collett replaces Johnston and Robert Russel. Cerra; the additional percussion and keys are omitted.) The blues-tinged, tasteful, and imaginative playing of Watson, a stone killer guitarist from Winnipeg, heats up the proceedings without overpowering them, and Cerra’s nervous, taut riffs flesh out the songs.

Kleiner is an exciting, enthusiastic, and refreshingly unmannered singer, and a capable songwriter. The 14 originals on You Don’t Move Me point up his range. The band revs its collective engine at the starting line with “Mighty Mighty Man,” a raw rocker featuring a tremendous riff, pounding drums, and ringing guitar solos.  Reminiscent of The Blasters at their best, this track shows, more than 55 years after “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” just how a nonsense lyric can still improve a chorus. “Go Mad,” a bluesy, stop-time shuffle with stinging guitar, evokes a similar feeling–of Johnny Burnette Trio via Blasters–a few cuts later.

The stripped-down rockabilly boogie “Sleepless Nights” accents Span’s drumming, Johnston’s doghouse bass, and Cerra’s sax before Watson’s guitar shatters the proceedings with Neanderthal force. On the title track, Kleiner warns off his unwanted ex-lover while Span lays down the prototypical hambone beat most often associated with Bo Diddley; the guitar suggests Dick Dale’s Middle Eastern-tinged surf sounds. “Love Machine” recalls the brutal, Diddley-esque R&B of the early Rolling Stones.

“Goodbye Lover,” a quirky tune with an 8-bar structure, melds sunny pop with a vaguely ska-inflected rhythm, yet retains the roots rock flavor of its fellow songs and would work alongside some of Johnny Burnette’s solo sides. “Stealing Kisses,” another up-tempo ’50s-style number cut from similar cloth, rocks harder. Kleiner delivers one of his most spirited vocals on the great jump blues “Clutchin’ Pearls”; breakdowns and a hip middle eight add dynamics and excitement. “Treat Me Right” is jazzy swing in a minor key, with eloquent, whammy-shimmered guitar solos worthy of Brian Setzer.

Kleiner has a real affinity for minor numbers and unexpected notes. “Without You” combines a loping, (spaghetti) Western groove à la “Ghost Riders in the Sky” with surfy guitar and a near-yodeled vocal, to an unexpectedly ominous effect. “The Thrill” features a steamed-window vocal amid Watson’s beautifully fat chording and snaking lines. The excellent “Only Wanna Be With You” blends Latin rhythms and percussion with exotic guitar figures. “Rocksteady” struts coolly and has an almost anthemic quality, in spite of its minor key signature. “I’m Ready,” a laid-back rocker, incorporates touches of surf and rockabilly and a rather tongue-in-cheek, lounge lizard attitude. It is irresistible.

Apart from making a superb album–I daresay it delivers every bit of its promised Thrill–Kleiner’s success is that he absolutely conveys the essence of roots rock, without being overly beholden to any particular stylistic aspect of it. Hence You Don’t Move Me holds tremendous appeal for all lovers of rock ‘n’ roll. Casual fans of Elvis or any of Brian Setzer’s projects, scene-making devotees of The Paladins or Robert Gordon, and obsessively indefatigable rockabilly collectors will all dig Ross Kleiner and The Thrill.

TOM HYSLOP

Thanks to the artist for providing the CD for this review.

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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.)

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.

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

New single from The Paladins – UPDATED

Paladins LUX02 IMG_9462_large

The Paladins

Should Have Been Dreamin’ b/w Wicked

Lux Records 7”, 2013

http://www.luxrecordsusa.com/products/thepaladins-45-vinyl-wicked

https://www.facebook.com/thepaladinsband

Update: Wicked is now available as a digital download –

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wicked-single/id666900368?ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Nick Curran’s death was without question the worst news I received in 2012. Second on my list was the breakup, right about the time their second album was to be released, of the Stone River Boys, the country soul band fronted by Dave Gonzalez and Mike Barfield. As has been said, one door closes, another opens. Just as the Stone River Boys offered musical consolation after Chris Gaffney’s death in 2008 put a premature end to the sublime Hacienda Brothers, Gonzalez’s previous band, so have recent developments rekindled hope that the mighty Paladins will rise again. In the past few months, an official Facebook page has appeared; a few live dates have been scheduled and played; and a 45 rpm vinyl record presenting two new songs has been issued by Lux Records.

The last great Paladins lineup of Dave Gonzalez (guitars and vocals), Thomas Yearsley (bass), and Brian Fahey (drums) is reunited on this 7”. Briefly, the single is essential listening for R&B aficionados in general, and, although the band’s roots-rocking side is sublimated here in favor of the soul sounds Gonzalez developed in the Hacienda Brothers and SRB projects, for Paladins fans in particular.

“Should Have Been Dreamin’,” the record’s instrumental A side, reaches back to the mid-‘60s for a sweet soul/rock ‘n’ roll combination, with splashes of surf. Organ, guitar, and baritone guitar outline a lovely melody atop a soul-clap snare drum pattern. A leisurely paced number that builds in intensity, it reminds me in a small way of the dreamlike interpretations by Ry Cooder and Duke Levine of “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (but not Ike & Tina Turner’s stuttering original).

The hip flip side, “Wicked,” is a blues/pop/rock/soul number. There are some very cool rhythmic things going on, with the palm-muted staccato guitar figure sketching a vaguely Latin groove. Quick, stark shifts between minor key verses and romantic, major key interludes that suggest the soulful work of Thee Midnighters produce an uneasy feeling. Haunting organ, bluesy guitar, an ominous lyric, a spoken section heavy with echo, and a key signature that tests the top end of Gonzalez’s natural singing range all add to the song’s dramatic impact.

The Paladins are back. Let’s hope these two excellent songs presage a full-length album. In the meantime, this boss single is a limited edition release, so get it while you can.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this single from the Lux Records Web site.

Dale Watson – iF yoU

DALEWATSON1VINYL_lg

Dale Watson

iF yoU

vinyl single/digital download

http://www.theconnextion.com/dalewatson/dalewatson_cat.cfm?CatID=280

The great Ameripolitan singer/songwriter/guitarist Dale Watson was a superb practitioner of, and an outspoken ambassador for, real country music long before the 1995 release of his first Hightone album. In the years since, his relentless touring and recording schedule (with two full-length CDs, El Rancho Azul and Dalevis: Sun Sessions 2, already out in 2013) have won him fans the world over. In fact, “Old Fart (A Song For Blake),” Watson’s spirited rejoinder (also released this year) to the ill-informed and disrespectful comments about traditional country music and its audience made by Blake Shelton, caught the ear of at least one high-profile listener: David Letterman, who invited Watson to appear on The Late Show in June.

It never pays to sleep on a Dale Watson release. The Austin, Texas-based artist will always tell you exactly what is on his mind, no matter if that is heartbreakingly personal or a sincerely flippant flip-off, and whether he is working in a carefully crafted concept album–he’s built records around, for instance, trucking songs; people and places on the road; love songs for his late fiancée; Johnny Paycheck compositions; and original spirituals, to cite a few–or dropping a quickly written and recorded single, like “Song For Blake” or “Tiger Airways And Their We Don’t Care-Ways.” The prolific Watson is back with yet another project you should hear: The brand new iF yoU, a six-song suite that, at just over 11 minutes playing time, pretty much covers both ends of the emotional spectrum, and everything in between, in prime Watson style.

Watson knows the line between love and hate, as the Persuaders sang, is thin indeed, and he wisely tempers the venom of these breakup songs with humor. The title track, iF yoU, obviously riffs on the play on words highlighted by the irregular capitalization. It’s an uptempo number, with Dale and his female counterpart Sarah Gayle Meech sparring in classic country duet style, beginning their lines with the not-so-veiled insult: “iF yoU were the last person in this world, it wouldn’t work.” Over the fade, they argue over the common complaints of close living: snoring, sharing razors and toilet seat positioning.

A pentatonic-scale guitar figure that quotes the music of old black-and-white “oriental” films opens the roots-rocking “Sayonara Sucka,” in which Watson’s Tokyo baby drops him via a letter. In just over a minute, he is able to pack the song with references to sake, kamikazes, and hara-kiri–clichéd perhaps, but right in tune with the genre (“Fujiyama Mama,” anyone?). I hear at least an oblique nod to Buck Owens’s “Made In Japan.” The next cut, “I’ll See Ya Never,” is squarely in the mode of Elvis’s early RCA sides, with a structure that owes a debt to “Heartbreak Hotel,” backing vocals à la the Jordanaires, and Floyd Cramer-esque piano. Watson’s vocal, sweet and gritty by turns, fits the sound beautifully as he delivers his farewell with finality. “I’m So Done With You,” a rollicking number done purely in the style of Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” could have come from Watson’s first Sun Sessions album. Watson’s vocal bends evoke the great singer, while the bass-string runs on his electric guitar recall Luther Perkins’s indelible parts.

An upbeat country shuffle marked by wiry blues guitar, “Adios” incorporates German, Italian, and Spanish phrases for good-bye in Watson’s hearty vocal. The mini-album closes with another fast rocker, “Don’t Let The Screen Door Hit Ya,” another excellent track that makes equal use of colloquialisms and newly-minted images (“You might smell fresh-brewed coffee/But it’s just you wakin’ up for the first time in your life”) in its kiss-off message. Strong piano and electric guitar and a memorable snare drum figure make this cook.

Good-byes have long served as subject matter central to virtually all forms of popular music, and country music is certainly no stranger to the break-up song. But that particular well is bottomless: just as lovers meet every day, so do hearts continue to be broken. When Dale Watson, one of our most observant and trenchant songwriters, turns his attention to the subject, it rewards us to listen. And, at less than $7 U.S. for the vinyl album (and under $6 for the digital version), iF yoU–a slight, yet superb, set–is a bargain.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this record from Dale Watson’s online store (link above).

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

Coming Out Swingin’

Coming Out Swingin'

Candye Kane featuring Laura Chavez

Coming Out Swingin’

Vizztone, 2013

http://candyekane.com/

http://www.vizztone.com/new-music-store/

There can be no better proof of Friedrich Nietzche’s oft-quoted thesis “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” than Candye Kane. The Los Angeles native, who has been performing American music, and blues in particular, since the 1980s, hit a career high water mark with her last two releases. Written and recorded with ace guitarist Laura Chavez, Superhero and Sister Vagabond were some kind of bravura indeed, made as they were after Kane was diagnosed, in 2007, with pancreatic cancer. Those achievements, and the heavy touring schedule she maintains, comprise a remarkable display of defiance, courage, and creativity–an artistic winning streak that continues on Kane’s brand new CD, Coming Out Swingin’, a varied set of roots music.

That aptly titled cut opens the program with Fred Rautman’s thumping drums, then unfurls into a hard-swinging number. Like a jump blues band-scaled version of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, the soloists–on guitar, clarinet, piano, trumpet, and trombone–trade eights during a frenetic middle section. Assertive and assured as ever, Candye sounds a warning to stay out of her way and testifies to the strength she draws from her supporters. In “I’m The Reason Why You Drink,” a tough box shuffle with stormy accents, Kane answers (somewhat mysteriously) in the first person the question why some can’t drink like gentlemen. Take note of Billy Watson’s gritty harmonica break and Chavez’s guitar solo, in Buddy Guy’s early style. With brash tone and a wily, descending-chord approach, Chavez drives the swinging “You Ain’t All That”; her solo expertly echoes the snarl in Kane’s lyric, an unabashed putdown nearly as unrelenting as “Positively 4th Street.” The slow, minor blues “Invisible Woman” addresses the unfair challenge faced by the vast majority of women who do not meet the standard of physical perfection pushed by the media and advertisers. Kane’s all-too-accurate lyrics are matched by Chavez’s inspired guitar work, a marvelous display of dynamics and phrasing.

Swingin’ includes  a number of soul-inflected cuts. In Kane’s hands, the Elgins’ gorgeous mid-tempo R&B ballad “Darling Baby” sounds about 10 years older than its 1965 origins, due chiefly to an arrangement that leans heavily Jonny Viau’s saxophones and the romantic grind of the rhythm section (Rautman and Kennan Shaw, bass). Rick Estrin’s “What Love Can Do,” another suave, impassioned number from the same, doo-wop-inflected tradition, is handled to perfection. Moving forward stylistically, “When Tomorrow Comes” is jaunty soul in the mode of Solomon Burke’s classic Atlantic sides. The horns, by Viau, Bill Caballero, and April West, combine with Lee Dombecki’s organ to make a luscious bed. Chavez’s solo is both melodically and rhythmically hip. Finally, the rip-roaring R&B stunner “Rise Up!” nods to the dramatic buildup in the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” and features a beautiful, hushed breakdown in the middle section. The horn charts, including call-and-response during the verse and a chorus part that buoys the whole enterprise, are outstanding.

Kane and Chavez tackle other genres with equal success. “I Wanted You To Walk (Right Through That Door),” a unique minor key number, is marked by a brisk two-step beat; deep, spy-film-soundtrack tremolo on the guitar amp (and more brilliantly creative playing by Chavez); and a terse, effective harp break. The lyric extends the great tradition of clock-watching songs; I love the shiver in Candye’s voice at the 1:55 mark–eight p.m., by the song’s timeline. Kane sings the roots-rocking “Barbed Wire Mouth” with attitude to spare. Chavez singes it with breaks straight out of “The Crawl” and adds a few space guitar touches. Her introduction to “Au Revoir Y’all” has a bit of the flavor of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”’; her solo conjures images of a daredevil aerialist in free flight, over a New Orleans, second-line groove. In closing the album, the band swings Lalo Guerrero’s “Marijuana Boogie” at a smoking (ahem) pace, with fat guitar chords, cymbal hits, and Kane’s rap en Español giving way to Sue Palmer’s powerhouse, boogie-woogie piano break.

Laura Chavez commands every bag she plays in, and her red Stratocaster sounds oh, so good. Anything I say about her tone, touch, taste, and style would fall short: She is a key player, and a star. And Candye Kane’s richly textured voice is better than ever. Her confidence, emotion, and intelligence are always unquestioned, and her technique, with effects like swoops, squeals, and glides; vibrato; dynamic volume and intensity; and perfect phrasing, cuts across the range of styles on Swingin’.  Together, they are at the top of their game, and Coming Out Swingin’ is a splendid album. Long may Candye Kane continue to carry her message of hope, and to make music as irresistible as this.

TOM HYSLOP

CD for review was provided by Vizztone Records.

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.

Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues

HBSB

Don Leady

Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues

http://donleady.com/

www.thetailgators.com/

Don Leady, a founding member of Austin, Texas’s Leroi Brothers, may be best known for his next gig, as front man for the roots-rocking trio The Tail Gators. The original Tail Gators–Leady, Gary “Mud Cat” Smith (drums), and the legendary Keith Ferguson (electric bass)–served up an incredible, one-of-a-kind mish-mash of blues, surf, Cajun, country, Tex-Mex, soul, and rockabilly (among other flavors), and were the band to beat for low-down Americana. It’s been more than a decade and a half since the Tail Gators waxed their seventh and last long-player, It’s A Hog Groove, in 1996, so what a delight it was to discover Don Leady’s new Facebook page and to learn that he has just issued a solo CD to satisfy our cravings for dirty guitar instrumentals.

At just under half an hour’s running time, the appropriately-titled Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues is short but ever so sweet. Backed alternately by Art Kidd and Nico on drums, and playing all the guitar and bass parts himself, Leady picks up where he left off with the Tail Gators, laying down a dozen cuts of prime–and primal–roots music.  An instrumental trio more than suffices; Leady, a modern-day Don Rich, never even breaks out his fiddle, instead choosing to draw on a dizzying palette of picking and stylistic approaches on his guitar, and to employ a range of across-the-board great tones.

There’s nothing here not to like. The set opens with the charging “Bull Doggin’ Boogie.” Also on the country side of things are “Ice Cream Star,” a fast instrumental of Albert Lee-like precision with a basic boogie section in the middle to cool things down a bit, and the hammer-and-pull-a-thon “Hillbilly Blues,” in which Leady dials in a tone of steel guitar-like clarity. “Thunder And Lightning,” which closes the album, comes out of the same acrobatic bag.

The mid-tempo “Texas Dance Hall Blues” splits the difference between country and blues with panache, and delivers a few off-the-wall surprises worthy of the old Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant sides. If you yearn for pure blues, check out Leady’s cover of the Lightnin’ Hopkins chestnut “Lightnin’s Boogie”; his swinging “Fat Wolf Blues,” with its “Dust My Broom” quotation, tricky syncopations, and high-wire soloing; and the wonderfully wobbly “Slo Bo,” which plays expertly with some of Bo Diddley’s patented Latin-influenced rhythms (but not his famed hambone beat) and tricky chordal lead work.

Leady has a knack for creating moods that are almost tangible. The swamp pop confection “Louisiana Feeling” is achingly, last-dance sweet. Check out Leady’s (reverb) tanked-up frolic, “Echo Surf Boogie,” with its nods to both the California-bred surf styles and to the UK guitar hero Hank Marvin, or his tom tom-driven tribute to the garage rockin’ master, Link Wray, in “Crazy Link.” The Western epic “Ride Of The Ruthless,” originally recorded for the Big Guitars From Texas compilation back in the day, is practically cinematic in its drama and immediacy.

Talk of the Big Guitars series brings to mind a fitting description for Leady’s music: Trash, Twang, and Thunder. If you were a Tail Gators fan back in the day, I suspect you stopped reading some time ago, for at least long enough to track down and order a copy of Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues. If you are new to the guitar stylings of Don Leady, I can make only this recommendation: Get it if you ain’t got it! It is pure dynamite.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy was purchased from http://www.cdbaby.com/