Dirty Songs From the 1930s, Feminist Jazz, Rockin’ Blues and an Album-of-the-Year Candidate

Bear Family Productions has done it again: the German company with the amazing compilations has outdid itself with She’s Selling What She Used To Give Away: 28 Risque Hillbilly Songs from the ‘30s. Complete with fantastic 50-page booklet of lyrics, history and photos, the songs tumble on not only hilariously but with real back-porch Appalachian charm. The sound has been considerably cleaned up: the fiddles fly, the banjos pluck, the mandolins sooth, the vocals get high and lonesome, but those lyrics! I wish I could reprint the 46-second Gene Autry shocker “Bye Bye Boyfriend.” Who knew? Ditto for Jimmie Davis, who, before he became Governor of Louisiana singing gospel songs and co-writing “You Are My Sunshine,” wasn’t above recording the four dirty little ditties herein, including “She’s A Hum Dum Dinger From Dingersville.” It all starts with those outrageous Bang Boys (“When Lulu’s Gone”) but really hits its stride with “Everybody’s Trucking” (guess what they rhyme that with?) by The Modern Mountaineers, “Let Me Play With It” by Hartman’s Heart Breakers, “She Wouldn’t Be Still” by The Pine Mountain Boys, “Somebody’s Been Using That Thing” by Milton Brown and His Brownies and, my favorite, “It Won’t Hurt No More” by Buster Carter and Preston Young.

Continuing the 2018 cultural and political tsunami of femcentric politics and culture, saxophonist/bass clarinetist Roxy Coss has written 10 tracks for her fourth CD—The Future Is Female (PosiTone)—with titles like “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” “She Needed A Hero, So That’s What She Became,” “Females Are Strong As Hell,” “Mr. President,” “#Metoo” and “Nasty Women Grab Back.” Aided and abetted by male subordinates on guitar, piano, bass and drums, this post-bop lioness positively roars. A Seattle educator/activist/bandleader, based in New York City for the last decade, she certainly deserves to be included in any list of today’s hot young up’n’coming saxophonists.

Michika Fukumori’s Piano Images (Summit Records) has the New Yorker playing some of the most beautiful solo piano of the year on her third CD after her 2004 Infinite Thoughts and 2016 Quality Time. She wrote eight of 13 and her fingers glide over the 88 keys like a fluttering butterfly, simmering in spots long enough to get hot but always moving, searching, sensitively swinging with inventive subtlety. The blues creep in but not a lot. She’s rhythmic and sly, teasing with a light touch before surprising with some staccato drama. She infuses her four-track “The Seasons” suite with lush romanticism for her Iga hometown in Japan where she lived until she was 18. “My Muse” is for her producer/mentor, pianist Steve Kuhn, who provides another two hands on his four-fisted “Oceans In The Sky.” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Luiza” samba will tug at the heart-strings as will “Where Or When,” the 1937 Richard Rodgers show tune. Even Cole Porter’s 1944 “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” gets rescued from the dustbin of time. Piano Images is make-out music of the highest order, setting the scene for any successful seduction. Gentlemen, take note!

The fourth CD of blues-busting Florida singer/songwriter/guitarist/bassist/producer JP Soars, 49, is a stone winner. He’s got a whole gang of like-minded perps with him filling these 15 tracks with over-the-top funky bromides for what ails you. A veteran of metal bands, influenced by jazz bands, Soars soars with fury be it on electric, slide, acoustic, two-string cigar-box or even viola Portuguese folk guitar. He can sing up a storm on his originals which span the gamut of emotion from pissed-off (“Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me”) and restive (“Southbound I-95”) to philosophical (“The Grass Ain’t Always Greener”) and humorous (“Dog Catcher”). He positively NAILS Albert King’s “When You Walk Out That Door” as well as Muddy Waters’ “Deep Down In Florida.” With a floating cast of 17 (most notably harmonicat Lee Oskar and ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted), these tracks are filled to the brim with action aplenty. Go for it.

World-Jazz at its finest comes in the form of Dongfeng Liu’s amazing China Caribe (Zoho), perhaps the greatest melding of cultures and genres since Dizzy Gillespie fused bebop with salsa in the 1940s. There was a time in the 1800s when Chinese immigrants stormed the shores of Cuba to make up the largest Asian community in the Western Hemisphere. Welcome, then, to the exotic, surprising, enticing and totally gorgeous terrain of China Caribe.
Dongfeng Liu—pianist, composer, arranger, educator—has taken rhythms from the Caribbean, American jazz and Far East folk songs, as played by his alternately frenetic/tranquil piano backed by electric bass and acoustic bass, percolating percussion, drums, horsehead fiddle and the kind of Mongolian throat singing wherein two simultaneous notes can be sung, boiled it all in a big pot, to serve it up spicy hot. It is unique, celebratory, orgasmically wild and, in the case of such instruments as the pipa (an ancient lute) and the ruan (a four-stringed Chinese ax) like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Time signatures change rapidly (oftentimes two or three such changes within the same track). The world-class musicians have to contend with dizzying interlocking and uneven rhythmic thrusts. Take “Arcadia,” for instance. It’s classic fusion, heavy on the synthesizer, mysterious, otherworldly, achieving a zen perspective that will have you searching for your own mantra. Then there’s “Coltrane’s Tune,” a tribute which somehow some way incorporates John Coltrane’s “Countdown” with Miles Davis’ “Tune Up.” “Fisherman’s Song At Dusk” is eerily Chinese, its haunting melody played on an erhu (another traditional Asian bowed string ax). It all ends with “Moophy,” the highlight. Liu abandons piano on this one in favor of something called a Moog Sub Phatty. Its complex 7/4 time morphs into 5/4 when you’re not looking.
As eloquently stated in the illuminating liner notes, there are 56 different ethnic groups in China, all with their own language variations and cultures. In assimilating the Far East and the Caribbean, Liu has made an album for everyone. It’s certainly a 2018 Top 10 contender.

When Kat Riggins wails “Kitty Don’t Scratch” on her sultry soulful In The Boys Club (Bluzpik) or gets down with some old-school blues like “Cheat Or Lose,” it’s only foreplay for when she busts balls on “Fistful O’ Water” and “Johnnie Walker.” She wrote and arranged (with her tight, kickin’ band) all 12 and sings ‘em like there’s no tomorrow. You want action? She’s certainly the real deal and has taken a giant leap forward since her Blues Revival album. I have got to see this woman on a stage! Hot hot hot!

About Mike Greenblatt

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

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