CHICAGO ALTERNATIVE, NEW YORK FUNK, CINCINATTI ROCK, SAN FRANCISCO SLIDE, ACTION SKULLS, FUSION EXTRAORDINAIRE

Producer Steve Albini knows a little something about the studio. That’s why artists as diverse as Pixies, Neurosis, Stooges, PJ Harvey, Plant & Page, Fleshtones and Cheap Trick have enlisted his aid. Add Chicago singer/songwriter Andy Pratt to that list. His self-released Horizon Disrupted has alternative flair, Dylanesque lyrics sung with sandpapery-smooth vocals which include the spoken word (a new trend popping up in various genres these days) and even a string quartet. Highlight “Through The Rain” has a French Horn and a glockenspiel. It’s all very heady, mesmerizing and profoundly entertaining.

Bukka White, whose 1937 “Shake ‘Em On Down” set new standards for rural blues, would probably roll over in his grave if he heard the urban funk of Ikebe Shakedown, a septet who, for its third CD, is on The Way Home (Colemine Records). Home, for the last 10 years, has been Brooklyn. The sound has been polished, waxed, shaven and shorn of extraneous excess to get right down to the meat of the matter:  movement. With roots in the Ohio Players, Rufus and the Bar-Kays, Ikebe Shakedown adds spaghetti western soundtracks, George Clinton and some Sly to its amazing amalgamation of all things booty-licious. It’s a postcard from New York City in all of that town’s unending cavalcade of 24/7 action. You’ll meet “Penny The Snitch,” hear when “She’s Knocking” under the “Supermoon” with “The Ally.” It’s all great funk fun, so much so that, in its total abandon and all-out infectious enthusiasm, does a pretty damn good job in its mission to approximate in music the city that never sleeps.

ZZ Top ain’t got nothin’ on Dudley Taft in the beard department! Back from Poland where he performed to 10,000+, his fifth CD, Summer Rain (American Blues Artists Group), is a real barnburner filled with 11 originals. His songs, his rough-hewn voice, his stinging lead guitar, all recorded in his own Cincinnati studio (that he bought from Peter Frampton in 2013), shows an artist maturing into the kind of dire threat who will not back down. Dedicated to the brave men and women of the military, his songs—especially “Edge Of Insane” and “Pistols At 10 Paces”

photo credit: Robert Wilk

—reek of a do-or-die mentality impossible to ignore. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s longtime keyboardist Reese Wynans is on hand and there’s no telling which direction the music will traverse. Opener “Flying On Love,” for instance, has Taft leaning heavy on his fuzz pedal, self-producing layer upon layer of guitar atop drum loops. This sense of all-out adventurousness (and consequences be damned!) must have started in his high school band Space Antelope with Trey Anastasio of Phish. Taft’s a real character, alright. Who else would name his 2011 debut Left For Dead? And if you ever are lucky enough to catch this incendiary American live, request he do Johnny Winter’s “Leland Mississippi Blues” ‘cause he can flat-out nail it!

Speaking of bad-ass guitar stylists, meet Dennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers. They’re hanging out in Rhythmland (Root Tone Records). Johnson’s actually from San Francisco and his brand of guitar is all about the slide. To that end, he has co-produced, written and vocalized on nine originals plus one opening cover of the 1930 Son House tune “Walkin’ Blues” where he plays a 12-string dobro. Most intriguing on a blues-rock collection like this is his “Timbale,” filled to the brim with Latin rhythms galore. Johnson was mentored early on by bluesman Honeyboy Edwards [1915-2011] who prodded the young man on to record such albums as Slide Show (2010) and its 2011 Slide Avenue follow-up. Highly recommended.

That peaceful easy feeling of Southern California permeates Angels Hear, the debut by new super-group Action Skulls. Vicki Peterson of The Bangles (vocals/guitar/mandolin), her husband John Cowsill of The Cowsills and Beach Boys (vocals/drums/percussion/guitar), Bill Mumy of America (vocals/guitar/keyboards/harmonica/percussion) and bassist Ric Rosas (Neil Young/Joe Walsh/Jerry Lee Lewis/Etta James) banded together after a late-night jam around the piano in the Hollywood Hills (Rosas has since died).
Years in the making, the 11 tracks deliciously veer off-course and, in so doing, provide a litany of rock’n’roll sub-genres from balladry, folk-rock, blues-rock and ‘50s-era Bo Diddley rhythms to late ‘60s/early ‘70s country-rock, all tied together with chops to spare, seemingly effortless harmonic arrangements and the kind of compositional angst that only the lonely can truly achieve.

Mission Cimbalom (Universal Music Romania) by multi-instrumentalist Marius Preda is a beacon of light. Self-produced with Cuban trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval, it features ex-Miles Davis lead guitarist Mike Stern with three drummers and three bassists. Preda plays vibraphone, violin, accordion, piano, pan pipes and cimbalom, which is a type of hammered dulcimer indigenous to Central-Eastern Europe for the last few hundred years. Its sound is rustic, and when applied to such progressive world fusion, irresistible. The 13 tracks are eloquent examples of Preda’s fusion worldview encompassing tango, folk, waltz, jazz and world with stops along the way to interpret Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Its big close is Stern’s “198 Strings vs. Stern & Preda.”  Highly Recommended.

Paul Moran, unlike a lot of us, is Still Smokin’ (Prudential Records). In his case, though, it’s not a bad habit. It’s a swinging, funky Hammond B-3 trip by a musician Van Morrison hasn’t fired! This longtime Van man, along with guitar, bass, drums and percussion, has crafted his second volume of Smokin’ B3 and it’s a doozy. From Beatles (“Come Together”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“One Note Samba”) and Cannonball Adderley (“The Work Song”) to Fats Domino (“Blueberry Hill”), Allen Toussaint (“Working In The Coal Mine”) and Rodgers/Hart (“Where Or When”), Moran chain-smokes through originals and the aforementioned covers. It’s a blast.

The Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo are Floating In Winter on their new Basset Hound Music CD. I guarantee you’ve never heard this kind of sound before as one cat plays the guitar and the other plays the tuba—no rhythm section—on material by Jerome Kern, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chuck Mangione, Gerry Mulligan, Henry Mancini and Thelonious Monk amid some originals specially written for this odd instrumentation. And y’know what? It works. Splendidly.

 

About Mike Greenblatt

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

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