By Mike Greenblatt
You’ve heard of Americana (the only good country music being made these days). May I introduce you to Native Americana. “Cradle To The Grave” is the fourth CD by Cary Morin, a proud member of Crow Nation, the Native American tribe who historically inhabited the Yellowstone River Valley until forced onto a Billings Montana reservation. Singer/Songwriter Morin grew up just off the Missouri River before he moved to Colorado as an adult. His fingerpicking provides a delightful acoustic program with vestiges of blues, bluegrass, jazz, jam and reggae. He wrote eight of 11, the most profound of which is his Dylanesque protest “Dawn’s Early Light,” in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Dakotas and their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. His covers are way cool: “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Prince, “Back On The Train” by Phish and “Mississippi Blues” by Willie Brown [1900-1952].
Peter Karp is a star. The outrageously talented singer-songwriter-guitarist-pianist-producer is on his eighth album and if “Alabama Town” (Rose Cottage Records) doesn’t put him over the top, nothing will. He let loose his sexy partner Sue Foley after two great albums and tours. Now he’s front’n’center and what a crew he has behind him! These 13 originals rock with a lusty down-home feel propelled by his stinging slide guitar and rough-hewn vocals. Plus, Karp writes like the late Guy Clark with an aptitude for detail and that’s a pretty supreme compliment. Mick Taylor (Stones), Garth Hudson (The Band), Paul Carbonara (Blondie), Todd Wolfe (Sheryl Crow), James Otis Karp (his son) and blues-harp man Dennis Gruenling are only six of 21 musicians who add their talents. Highlights include “Kiss The Bride” and “Beautiful Girl” but there’s not a clinker in the batch.
All hail John Latini when he says “The Blues Just Makes Me Feel Good” (Smokin’ Sleddog Records). An early entry for blues debut of the year, this firebrand guitarist refuses to commit to the usually simplistic blues format, preferring weird changes and even weirder chords. As a singer, he puts across his message with grit and soul, his many years of experience etched into his phrasing like lines on an old man’s forehead. He growls. He moans. He’s a passionate purveyor of communicable emotion who will get under your skin. His lyrics are literature. When he performs his songs like “Lord Made Me A Weak Man,” “Rutabaga Cheesecake” or the closing “I will Be Haunting You,” you believe him. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
“Diggin’ Up My Roots” on Flip Records by The Greg Hatza ORGANization has the longtime Baltimore blues man pounding his keyboards and singing up a storm. Dude plays piano, organ, tabla, sitar and even an erhu (two-stringed Chinese fiddle). With a Masters in music theory and the kind of international savvy that’s taken him to India and Russia, his “…Roots” include the music he grew listening to in Pennsylvania like Percy Mayfield’s 1950 “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” Jimmy Forrest’s 1951 “Night Train,” Ray Charles’ 1954 “I Got A Woman,” Lloyd Price’s 1959 #1 hit “Stagger Lee,” Chris Kenner’s 1961 “Something You Got” and Tommy Tucker’s 1963 “Hi Heel Sneakers,” amidst his own “Baltimore Strut” and others. It’s a freewheeling affair, filled with gutsy vocals and rockin’ arrangements from this ORGANization of drums/guitar/sax banging out backup to his terrific electronic keyboards. It’s a keeper.
The Queen Of Detroit Blues, Thornetta Davis, is an “Honest Woman” on her new self-released ball-buster of an album where she really gets down and dirty to spit out some sisterhood anthems, sweet soul, funky blues and even some country-tinged Americana. Between the rampaging horns and the guitar-driven rock’n’roll, this gal’s a one-woman party of epic proportions. Fab T-Bird Kim Wilson shines right along with her on her own “I Gotta Sing The Blues.” This uppity wild woman does not do covers. She wrote 12 of 13 with her sister writing the backporch delta folk of “When My Sister Sings The Blues.” The Larry McCray Band is on hand for the gospel-touched “Set Me Free.” And if you’re man enough to handle a woman of such voracious appetites, you might really understand her highlight here: “I Need A Whole Lotta Lovin’ To Satisfy Me.” Then there’s the swingin’ jump-blues of “Get Up And Dance Away Your Blues” and the vintage R’n’B of the title tune. I can’t seem to get this thing out of my CD player. Think Etta James crossed with Big Mama Thornton. Oh Yeah!
Soul Scratch is “Pushing Fire” on its sophomore Colemine Records release. Picture a hot-rockin’ propulsive guitar/bass/drums band with a front man like a male version of Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard. Then add a kickin’ trumpet/sax tandem. They’ve been plying their trade in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, making their crowds absolutely dance-dizzy. That feel translates well to this project of old-school funk and soul shouts. And it’s all produced as if they were James Brown’s back-up band or Booker T & The MGs. Highlight? How about all 10 tracks!
Finally, Mads Tolling & The Mads Men are “Playing The ‘60s” in looking back at the era of the popular cable show Mad Men and what was on television, in the movies and on the radio back in the day. These TV theme songs go down light and smooth from violinist Tolling and his Men on keyboards, bass and drums. It’s jazz, for sure, but even jazz haters should be able to get behind “Meet The Flintstones,” “The Pink Panther,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Good The Bad & The Ugly,” “Peter Gunn,” “Hawaii 5-0” and the very recognizable melodies of “A Taste of Honey,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “My Girl,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “The Look Of Love” and “What A Wonderful World.”