Cowbell, a retro-and-proud-of-it duo from London, has a Haunted Heart (Damaged Goods Records). Jack Sandham (vocals/guitar/keybs) and Wednesday Lyle (vocals/drums/percussion) could be England’s answer to The White Stripes but this two-sexed pair only writes songs that sound like they came from another decade. They do no covers. Their self-produced third CD has the kind of instant nuggets that Lenny Kaye would want to add to his next compilation of garage rock. They’ve added horns, autoharp and back-up vocals to the mix and it transcends the proceedings towards rockabilly, Stax soul, Mississippi blues, Doors, ‘80s synth, gospel, jazz and even a pristine moment of Laurel Canyon Joni & Graham sweetness. Wholeheartedly Recommended.

Moon Over Montgomery, the self-released, self-produced whammer-jammer by a huge contingent—35 strong!—of Michigan and California musicians is the second effort by the McKee Brothers, Denis (guitar, keyboards, bass, vocals and cowbell) and Ralph (bass, vocals, lap steel). These cats are the real deal and their crew includes pros of the highest order from the bands of Bob Seger, Tower Of Power, Joe Bonamassa, Rufus and Bruce Hornsby. The gospel title track is in tribute to the 1965 Alabama Civil Rights march. The only two covers in this Latin, jazz, blues, country, rock’n’roll and New Orleans party are from the pen of Dan Penn who wrote a ton of great stuff over the past few decades. Favorite highlights include opener “Pig Feet,” “Bayou Man” and “Flat Black & Circular” but why quibble? All 16 tracks are highlights.

The Dreams (Artistshare) of Sinne Eeg are so wondrously different, captivating and entertaining that one glides through its compact 46:59 with a new appreciation of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” (1929) and “Anything Goes” (1934) to which Eeg adds new lyrics for today’s Syrian refugees. This is no tired retread of the “Great American Songbook.” Eeg wrote six of 10. Accompanied by fellow Dane Jacob Christoffersen on piano, recorded in Brooklyn with Americans Larry Koonse on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums (and a quartet of lovely background vocalists adding breathy oohs and ahhs), the arrangements are modern, slinky if not funky, bass-centric and altogether hip. The Rodgers/Hart chestnut “Falling In Love With Love” (originally from the 1938 Broadway musical The Boys Of Syracuse) comes out new and vital. (Her template is Sheila Jordan’s 1963 version.) The title track is the highlight, what with its wordless vocals. Her “Head Over High Heels” is a waltz. Nine albums in, Eeg has made quite the auspicious stateside debut.

Twenty-year old Indiana drummer/saxophonist/composer/arranger/bandleader Chris Parker is impressive as hell on his self-released self-produced Moving Forward Now debut. The kid’s got balls to open with an organ trio version of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that jams on for over seven minutes. Then he follows up that odd opener with “Adagio Sostenuto” from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 1901 “Piano Concerto #2.” He’s got plenty of sound to jiggle around including drums (2), sax (4), piano, organ, bass (2), guitar (2), clarinet, trumpet and voice. From the avant-garde (“Beatrice” by Sam Rivers) to folk-rock (“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan), from swing (“It’s No Secret”) to standards (Yves Montand’s 1946 “Autumn Leaves”), Parker nails it all with bravery, constantly pushing the boundaries. Bravo!

Legendary saxophonist Art Pepper [1925-1982], could not record when contacted by a Japanese label in 1979 because he was already under contract to an American label. Laurie Pepper, who has done more to keep her husband’s music alive than almost any other music widow with the possible exception of Priscilla Presley, suggested that he could, indeed, record if only as a sideman. Thus was born the six albums of West Coast Sessions for it was in Hollywood where he brought in trumpeter Jack Sheldon to ostensibly lead a quintet with Pepper on sax and a solid piano/bass/drums rhythm section. They do Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” from the 1943 movie Something To Shout About and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” from the 1928 operetta The New Moon. With originals by Pepper and Sheldon and a surprise bonus track of Sheldon singing “Historia De Un Amor,” the 1956 sad song by Panamanian composer Carlos Eleta Almaran about the death of his brother’s wife. Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions: Volume #5 Jack Sheldon (Omnivore Recordings) keeps this six-chapter slice of heretofore unreleased-in-the-states albums flowing with bebop brilliance. Can’t wait for the sixth and final chapter.

Well, I didn’t have to wait long. Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions Volume #6: Shelly Manne (Omnivore Recordings) is out and finishes the flurry that started with Sonny Stitt and continued with Pete Jolly, Lee Konitz, Bill Watrous and the aforementioned Jack Sheldon. Originally released in 1981 as Hollywood Jam by Shelly Manne and His West Coast Friends for the Japanese market only, 37 years later, for the first time, stateside audiences can hear and hail this bebop masterpiece with trombonist Bill Watrous and tenor sax man Bob Cooper complementing Pepper’s alto sax to make quite the historic three-man front line atop a smoking rhythm section of drummer Manne with bassist Monty Budwig and pianist Pete Jolly on familiar fare like “Just Friends,” “These Foolish Things,” “Lover Come Back To Me,” two versions of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and two real cool blues jams. This whole series has been so fantastic, I’m hoping that hero excavator Laurie Pepper can somehow some way unearth a seventh and deciding chapter. But I won’t hold my breath.

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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