It’s reggae, mon! Light a spliff and float down this sensuous genre’s lazy river to dig on what just might be the second Grammy Award in a row for Morgan Heritage. Avrakedabra follows its 2016 Strictly Roots winner with an album already nominated and so wide-reaching and filled with guests that it had to be recorded on three continents with over two dozen musicians and producers.
These are the sons of ‘80s singer Denroy Morgan. They were born in Brooklyn, raised in Massachusetts, and have Jamaica in their blood. Sibling harmony abounds. Opener “Want Some More” borrows Bruno Mars’ computerized Mr. Talkbox to tickle your backbone. Two of Bob Marley’s 11 children, Ziggy and Stephen Marley, sing on “One Family.” “Tribute To Ruggs” is for Third World’s legendary Bunny Ruggs [1948-2014]. All 15 tracks sizzle with the kind of dreamy reggae that will have fans of the genre absolutely swooning in delight.
May I introduce some Louisiana Lightning: singer/songwriter Sarayah comes out of New Orleans with a sound as if Rihanna and the ghost of Bob Marley had a child. It’s an irresistible brew concocted up by Basin Street Records who usually do nothin’ but jazz. Feel The Vibe has those delicious trebly highs and that sonic in-the-pit-of-your-stomach bass—you can thank producer T.A. Charlot for that—on eight originals and a cover of Barrington Levy’s “Be Strong.” The gal can write! She can sing up a storm. Her flow incorporates club/dance, worldbeat, rhythm’n’blues, funk, hiphop, reggae and pop all in her sexy Caribbean accent.
Casey James placed third in Season #9 of American Idol and scored a Top 15 country hit with “Crying On A Suitcase” but now he just wants to play some rock’n’rollin’ honky-tonkin’ barrelhouse boogie’n’blues like the legendary Delbert McClinton with whom he duets on “Bulletproof.” Much Better! His guitar stings. His voice has always been his ticket to ride so soulful and gutsy. He has the looks to be, well, an idol. His self-released Strip It Down, as produced and co-wrote by veteran knob-twister Tom Hambridge (he of Buddy Guy and Keb Mo fame), is a house party that just keeps rockin’ with nobody knockin'. There’s a little something for everybody here: from the road experience of “Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars” (his band once gigged for 364 days in one year). In his hands, Little Willie John’s classic 1955 “Need Your Love So Bad” is an unadulterated plea for sex. “Stupid Crazy” is a new take on old Texas Swing. He closes with CD highlight “Fight You For The Blues” leaving the kind of taste in your ear where you’ll be coming back for more.
Time for some savagery. I admit it, it's always been part of my musical soul. When I feel like breaking stuff, I put on Death Metal. Heavy Metal, in and of itself, is but an umbrella genre (like country) for a multitude of sub-genres like Power Metal, Black Metal, Hardcore, Thrash, Prog Metal and Nu-Metal. (I might've missed a few new ones since I've been away from the scene for a number of years.) Only good Death Metal, though, scratches my savage itch. California quartet Exhumed, has had 19 members in 27 years (they were out of action from 2005 to 2010. Currently, guitarist Matt Harvey bellows his lion's roar vocals over the right-on-time rhythm section of bassist Ross Sewage and drummer Michael Hamilton. Guitarist Bud Burke (their former bassist) fills in the holes admirably. The result is this year's Death Revenge (Relapse). Filled with classical introductions, and maintaining a high level of violent pounding throughout, it feels good to this old soul. Funny, I never thought of Death Metal as being a particularly nostalgic kind of music, but, then again, I'm a total weirdo.
The two-CD Wild Wild Love by Flat Duo Jets (Daniel 13) takes the mythic Chapel Hill North Carolina band’s 1990 debut and puts it with their 1984 cassette-only In Stereo EP on CD #1. Singer/Guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow Smith wanted to out-Cramp The Cramps on some wild wild shockabilly with over-the-top surf guitar and steamroller drums. No overdubs. Straight to tape. Some say they stole the show on the 1987 movie documentary Athens, GA Inside/Out. Just like Elvis got instantly famous when he did The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s, Flat Duo Jets (a trio) used an incendiary appearance on LateNight With David Letterman to cult favorite status in 1990.
CD #2 is a totally delicious grab-bag of items. Apparently, their mindset and what they love perfectly coincides with mine so imagine the delight of hearing NRBQ-like covers of The Quintette du Hot Club de France (1930s), The Andrew Sisters (1940s) Huey “Piano” Smith and Wanda Jackson (1950s) and even that great old instrumental from 1939 that Mink DeVille used to use as an intro in its 1970s shows, “Harlem Nocturne.” Love these guys!
Two professors at the University of Toronto, Dave Liebman and Mike Murley, are also soprano and tenor saxophonists extraordinaire. Liebman is well-known throughout the jazz scene for his work with Miles Davis and other legends. With over 200 albums to his credit as leader or co-leader, and an additional 500 album appearances for other artists, he's an absolute rock when it comes to sax greatness. Murley is a Canadian treasure having won numerous Juno Awards (Canada's equivalent of a Grammy). Together, they jump, jive and wail through seven originals on their self-released second CD The Liebman/Murley Quartet Featuring Jim Vivian and Terry Clarke Live At U of T. Bassist/Composer Vivian and drummer Clarke push, prod and poke the music forward while that sterling double-sax frontline blows bigtime. Liebman mixes it up with some high-flying flute as well. The two covers are pretty damn spectacular: Closer "Blackwell's Message" by Joe Lovano and Johnny Mercer's "And The Angels Sing" are both seven-minute gems. Highly Recommended.
Finally, ain’t nothin’ like a little Western Swing to settle your nerves and get you hoppin’ simultaneously. First came Spade Cooley, then Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys on up to the beloved Asleep At The Wheel. Now say howdy to the Hot Texas Swing Band who hits all the right notes in their self-released fifth CD Off The Beaten Trail.
“Cow Cow Boogie” was written by Don Raye for the Abbott & Costello movie Ride ‘Em Cowboy. It wound up being the very first #1 for Capitol Records by Ella Ray Morse in 1942. HTSB’s version kicks like an ornery mule. Their version of Arthur Hamilton’s 1953 “Cry Me A River” (although just a step down from Barbra Streisand’s penultimate 1963 version which, basically, introduced her to the world) is still certainly swoon-worthy. The Big Bopper’s “White Lightnin’” (which George Jones took to #1 in 1959) gets dusted off, shined up and presented in a sleek new version that should (but won’t) be a 2018 radio hit. Ditto for Johnny Gimble’s 1995 “Bull Whip.” Add five originals and this combo of guitar, sax, trumpet, fiddle, piano, steel, bass, drums and three singers should tickle your fancy bigtime.