Sometimes image overtakes content and that seems to be the case with “Boomerang” (Jazzhaus/Allegro) by Eric Sardinas and Big Motor. It probably has something to do with the vocals being mixed up way too loud because Sardinas is certainly a whale of a guitarist who can write solid blues-rock bar-room get-down anthems, yet when he opens his mouth, it’s like he’s yelling at you. Plus, if you’re going to tackle Elvis, you better damn well have the balls and the history to make the song–in this case “Trouble” from the movie “King Creole”–valid in the ears of the listener. Here, it comes off as a karaoke version. I could sing it just as well. He does better on Howling Wolf’s “How Many More Years” but still, it pales in comparison to the original so why bother unless you’re going to add your own spin to it which he decidedly does not. Tinsley Ellis, on the other hand, has no image whatsoever other than some old dude yet his “Tough Love” (HeartFixer) is superior because his vocals–not to mention his guitar, harmonica and Wurlitzer piano–mesh seamlessly with the organ, piano, Mellotron and tympani of MVP Kevin McKendree who has also been spicing up the music of Delbert McClinton and Mike Henderson for years (besides owning his own studio and fronting his own band. Ellis is one soulful cat. It’s all about the music and here, on 10 originals, the 58 year old totally shines. This one’s a keeper.
Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King have no such problems with style over substance or the reverse. These dudes got it goin’ on bigtime both image-wise and chops. Look at how cool they be! And they back that up on their “Fat Man’s Shine Parlor” (Blind Pig). This is Texas Blues at its finest. It’s been years since Kubek, 59, would have to search late night haunts in dangerous Dallas neighborhoods, a white kid just lookin’ for some fried chicken in a crime-infested ghetto. Amidst the tattoo parlors, topless bars, bail bondsmen, check cashing places, pool halls, pawnshops, gun shops and locksmiths, there was a shoeshine joint that he named this album for.
While he’s fond of his distinctive uppercut-to-the-chin approach (you had to know how to fight in the ‘hood back then), the chemistry between he and Bnois King has resulted in blues superiority. King, 72, can sing like nobody’s business. Being from Louisiana where music is in the air, the food, the water and the mud, He plays a more mellifluous jazzy kind of guitar. Bingo. Instant rapport. Eight albums and 26 year later, they have honed their attack into a fine blend of life-affirming joyousness. The blues can make you feel good if you’re down. That was its original intent. But if you’re already feeling good, the blues can make you feel high, like a pain pill when you got no pain. Whether it’s good “Cornbread,” the dangerous “Crash and Burn” or “River Of Whiskey,” the honest “Don’t Want To Be Alone,” the crazy Cajun “Brown Bomba Mojo” or the feel-good “Lone Star Lap Dance,” these two and their hot-as-hell band raise the roof every time.
And finally, you don’t get more legendary than my man Jorma Kaukonen. This hippie hero set the world on fire on the 1960s with Jefferson Airplane. It’s to his credit that he jumped off the roller coaster in just enough time not to have anything ever to do with the truly awful Jefferson Starship. Instead, his work with Hot Tuna is a forerunner for today’s entire jamband scene and his nimble fingerpicking has equaled and, I dare say, improved upon the template laid down by Rev. Gary Davis [1896-1972]. He has a warm expressive voice, like an old friend returning. And the best thing about him is he “Ain’t In No Hurry” (Red House). He likes to take his time. The men don’t know but the little girls understand. Actually, in this case, everybody understands.
These 11 songs run the gamut from the Depression Era “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” and an unfinished Woody Guthrie lyric (“Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me”) that he and Larry Campbell put to music to The Carter Family’s “Sweet Fern” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” from 1923. Along the way there’s new Jorma originals and a sterling rendition of the gospel standard “The Terrible Operation.”
That’s the other thing about Jorma. He just gets better with age. At 74, he’s still every inch the rock star. With his gold tooth winking at you when he smiles (just like Lightnin’ Hopkins), he’s an American Treasure, singing and playing still at the very top of his game.