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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

JJ Grey and MOFRO: Georgia Warhorse

Hear tell the Georgia warhorse ain't your ordinary bush cricket. According to those in the know there ain't nothing mamby-pamby about the revered, delicious, and nutritious Caelifera neither. You might not realize it just by looking but soul singer JJ Grey and the grasshopper have similar attributes. Grey, a ten-year plus veteran of the worldly music biz, has that gritty hang-tough attitude just like the storied insect. Both are legends of the south Georgia woods; they have well-developed survival qualities. Each April Jacksonville FL native Grey must mull over the books and wonder if he didn't break even for the year. But he and the warhorse keep coming at life because they don't know what else to do; you might say that Grey has looked the grasshopper eye-to-multiple-eye without a blink. Good thing for the rest of us they keep coming back. Grey's newest release Georgia Warhorse (Alligator) roils and simmers with sweet southern sweat, genuine Stax pop, and swampy blues. Undertows of indisputable soul churn about ready to envelop true music lovers in warm currents of sound. The early 70s sounding "All" is total Memphis straight from the heyday. On Warhorse songwriter Grey presents a solid case to join the selective ranks of esteemed Dixie writers such as Jerry Reed, Tony Joe White, and Otis Redding. No slouches in that bunch, no sir. The gospel sounding "Gotta Know" is one to have the wooden pews in church gently bending and creaking with the beat. "The Sweetest Thing," featuring reggae master Toots Hibbert, has one of the best breaks going just like a mid-range putt bends decidedly on the way to the cup. Yes! "Slow, Hot, and Sweaty" has you right there with sweat dripping behind your shades into your eyes while sashaying to your favorite beat. Warhorse picks up where Grey's successful predecessor Orange Blossoms left off. Georgia Warhorse was recorded in the Blossoms studio with essentially the same personnel and gear; not a bad way to go. Please don't expect an ensuing installment of Where are They Now? on VH1 for Grey. Not unless the grasshopper is ready to bug out too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bruce Katz: Live! at the Firefly

Bruce Katz and company wade deep into territory where few present-day jazz bands dare go: the blues. More precise would be to say that other jazzers don't feel like they need to go waist deep in this essential music form. For a jazz organ trio to roll out a slow blues or early boogie number would seem a no-brainer. You know, something to keep the crowd on the dance floor. Recorded at The Firefly Club in Ann Arbor Live! at the Firefly (Brown Dog Music) showcases the band at their live best with Katz at the piano and organ. When they launch into Mingus' "Better Get it In Your Soul" there can be no mistaking the sign out front that night said 'jazz band.' This might be a good time to point out the word soul; the Bruce Katz band has that in abundance. Not since Jimmy Smith has an organ-led trio ventured forth with such passion and skill. The beauty of the soulful feeling shows up clear as day on "The Blue Lamp." Superb guitarist Chris Vitarello sounds uncannily like Duane Allman on "Jump Start"; elsewhere reminiscent of Larry Carlton. Up the middle, Ralph Rosen on drums and Rod Carey on bass are about are good as a 1-2 as you can find. "Crew of Two" sounds a lot like the fine work Katz did with Ronnie Earl on The Color of Love. Speaking of the boogie number, "Norton's Boogie" is one hand-clappin' foot-shufflin' gem not to miss.

The Bruce Katz Band (MySpace) appears at the Livery in Benton Harbor on Oct 22.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tin Can Trust by Los Lobos

Too often a collection of songs is more important than the songs themselves. For their best batch of original tunes since 2001’s Good Morning Aztlan, Los Lobos lays this convention aside. The band stays in finest form when they keep things simple for us. All they need to do to uncork the magic is focus on uncomplicated song structures, revisit poignant themes with no-nonsense riffs, and it's all over before anyone knows what happened. Los Lobos writes songs that go beyond just sounding good, the contents of which are filled wide with relevance and imagination. Their songs tell a story of what it must be like to head off to the bank first thing with your tin can of coins and realize what you don’t have by the time you corralled a runaway quarter on the landing by the stairs. The song is deeper than just that; how cool to connect on multiple levels. Trust was pieced together from recording studios across the US; no big surprise given the band’s hectic road schedule. But instead of sounding fractured and bumpy, Tin Can sounds smooth and taut due to the strength of the writing. Their ability to tell clear concise stories lies seemingly within strands of T1 fiber optics connecting the start of history to present life. “The Lady and the Rose,” a song of faith and struggle is destined to find its way into their tradition-rich acoustic show. “On Main Street” is a groovy 70s sounding Saturday morning jaunt down to the bakery and hardware store for your wife. "Jupiter or the Moon" is like the vaunted creeper buzz. It hits you when you're least expecting. The blues have been the bed rock foundation of a 35-year career and on Trust the Lobos again find ways to bring that out: here it’s the Hammond organ work of Steve Berlin and guest Rev. Charles Williams. The cover of the Dead’s “West LA Fadeway” is heavy blues worthy of comparisons to the old-school hard hitting funk of Albert King and the modern-day guitar of Buddy Guy. Cesar Rosas is the blues linchpin and one of many links into fertile musical territory. With their broad vision grounded in the blues, Rosas and company take it from that important roots strain into many directions. Rosas, their most recognizable member, strikes again with a new cumbia (Yo Canto) and a fine addition to the “runner” portion of the live show, “Mujer Ingrata.” The beauty of all this is that “Do the Murray” could be the set-ending number for the first show on any Saturday night for countless house blues bands everywhere. How grounded and universal is that? When Los Lobos dives deep and out of sight it’s perhaps too much for us to grasp (27 Spanishes). Ordinary humans have to see things in black and white to believe just a little; they can’t just feel it like is required here. When they go a little shallower, just skimming the surface of profound, Los Lobos is still better than most any other band going. Except maybe the all-time house blues band in the sky.

Tin Can Trust is available for purchase at www.loslobos.org

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stone River Boys at The Livery (Benton Harbor) Oct 17

Look out now. Gettin’ all funky, bustin' a move in your cowboy hat and Tony Lama’s. Doesn’t sound quite right does it? But for Mike Barfield, singer with the Western-appareled Stone River Boys and formerly with the Hacienda Brothers, bringing the funk is all right and out of sight.
“I come from the funky side of things like the Stax records stuff,” said Barfield from a tour lay-over in Green Bay WI. “Even before the Hacienda Brothers I put out a record called 'Living Stereo' which was whole-hog R & B soul. Then I had my own band called Barfield which was a Cracker-like funk thing with no horns; just Hammond organ, guitar, bass and drums."
"So you see I’ve been doing this all along,” proclaims Barfield.
Barfield cites the cross-over sound of Memphis Stax soul blended with Louisiana swamp soul/blues and James Brown’s early R&B years as inspiration for what he’s doing now with SRB.
“I’m a big fan of Tony Joe White and his swamp sound. I got to open up for him once in Houston. Both Dave Gonzalez (guitarist with SRB) and I really like Jerry Reed. I consider Jerry to be funky. Not in the same way that you’d say funk since James Brown however,” said Barfield, a nationally known funky dancer himself.
“But Reed had that country swampy sound in his music," he continues. "Songs like “Amos Moses” may be a novelty song on the surface to some. But Reed's songs are really well done and well played; they’re great in their own right.”
As 2010 winds down the Stone River Boys are set to record new material and decisions remain about which way to proceed.
“We’re at the point now where we need to start working on our new record. We’re debating on what we’re going to do and where we are going to record it; we’ve been really busy on the road promoting the record we have (Love on the Dial) out now," says Barfield.
"It’s kind of a different world out there now and we're trying to figure out the best way to go about this release. The record business has changed so much in the last few years. Needless to say there are many different ways to go."
For their Oct 17 appearance at the Livery in Benton Harbor Barfield is almost sure to let loose with a version of the “The Struggle” an original from Love on the Dial.
“I was inspired by the old Marlon Brando movie The Wild Ones of all things. Though you’d never know it by listening to the lyrics," Mike said with a laugh. "
"There’s a scene where they're at this restaurant bar. This guy instead of asking the girl to dance, asks her if she wants to struggle. I always thought that was a great thing. It kind of turned into my passive political statement and dance,” Barfield said with a smile.
It’s great when you can get both ideas in at once, right? To be sure, there’s bound to be some funky struggling all up on the dance floor when the Stone River Boys hit town.

The Stone River Boys MySpace page. The band appears at the Livery in Benton Harbor on Oct 17 at 6 pm. More info at The Livery website.