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By Mike Greenblatt
From France comes the exquisite Mazel Tov Cocktail Party (Label Bleu/Table Pounding Records/L’Autre Distribution) by native New Yorker/clarinetist/composer David Krakauer as produced by South African keyboardist Kathleen Tagg with Iranian drummer Martin Shamanpoor, longtime Sonny Rollins bassist Jerome Harris, Canadian soul-singer/rapper Sarah MK and--their secret weapon--Toshi Fruchter on oud and guitar. They take old dance forms like Polka, Square-Dance and the Hora but transform them with electro beats, Middle-East hand drums and deep funk grooves to achieve a satisfying, happy, soul-enriching gumbo of long-lasting proportions.
From Ireland comes two volumes of Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club (Atomicat Records), subtitled The House Of Sin: Hip-Shakers, Popcorn, Exotica, Rhythm & Blues and Rock’n’Roll. Volume #1 (“Lover”) features Ben E. King, Wynonie Harris, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Bullmoose Jackson, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, Bobby Blue Bland, BB King, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan and 20 other lesser-known artists (the most fun are the one-hit wonders and total unknowns). Volume #3 (“Taboo”) has Roy Hamilton, The Coasters, Steve Alaimo, The Four Seasons, Howlin’ Wolf, Roy Orbison, Darlene Love and Lucky Millinder with Sister Rosetta Tharpe as well as 22 other lesser lights that get to shine brightly on songs from “Let’s Drink Some Whiskey” and “The Whipmaster” to “Slave Girl” and “Big Bad Beulah.”
From Germany comes the newest in the Bear Family Rocks series, Hank Ballard Rocks. There’s never been another like the great Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer Hank Ballard! Born in 1927 Detroit, died in 2003 Los Angeles, he was the king of the risqué double-entendre R’n’B rockers, inventing “The Twist” in the process (too bad his label put it out as a b-side in 1958 to “Teardrops On Your Letter” or it might’ve been as big a hit as Chubby Checker’s 1960 cover.) It’s amazing to hear his frighteningly vital creations like “Work With Me, Annie” and its natural follow-up “Annie Had A Baby” as well as “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” and other delectably delicious sweet treats like “Switchie Witchie Titchie,” “Finger Poppin’ Time,” “The Hoochie Coochie Coo” and “Rock Granny Roll.” His songs have stood the test of time and still sound dangerous today. Lock up your daughters when Hank comes to town!
From the swamps of the Bayou in Cajun Country comes The Louisiana Record (Gulf Coast Records) by saxophonist/vocalist Jimmy Carpenter. Guitar Hero Mike Zito’s label never puts out a bad or even simply-good record. Zito’s THE MAN and everything with his name on it is great. Period. Carpenter lived in The Crescent City from 2004 to 2016. (He’s in Vegas now.) “There is no doubt,” he says, “that my time in New Orleans redefined me as a musician, and changed me forever on so many levels.” Zito demanded authenticity so Carpenter was flown to Dockside Studios on the Vermillion River just south of Lafayette with famed engineer David Farrell. Procuring a cast of catfish-eating professionals (including Zito on guitar), they banged out hotshot versions of Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Fats Domino and covers of classics like “Barefootin’,” “I Got Loaded,” “Cry To Me” and more.
Why should Americana be thought of as just a cure-all for bad country music? Sure, it’s an umbrella genre incorporating rock, blues, country and folk…but The Hooten Hallers, those Missouri punks who refuse to yield to expectations, are here to smash and burn preconceptions. Fifteen years on, they’re Back In Business Again on their self-released spit in the eye of convention. Props to Detroit guest bassist-producer Dom Davis who adds some kick-out-the-jams brutality. “Van Killer” was prompted by that awful experience in Montana when their van rolled over during a blizzard. “Cat Scrap” sounds like its title. Kellie Everett gives this band its signature sound, what with her constant deluge of sax and clarinet. But it’s the vocals of John Randall that cuts through the smog of bull-crap. In an age of pre-existing parameters, there’s no cure for a band like The Hooten Hallers. You either love ‘em or leave the room.