By Mike Greenblatt
All Grown Up (Hip Spanic Records) by San Francisco’s Los Mocosos is a gumbo of Latin Rock like Santana plus salsa, hip-hop, funk, ska, reggaeton and that joyous Columbian dance sound of cumbia, an all-Spanish soiree of pandemic proportions that gringos can dive right into and enjoy. It’s been 15 years since their last album. They’ve got a new singer and founding members Happy Sanchez on bass and Victor Castro on trombone have set the energy level to “earthquake.” Sax man Shorty Ramos shines throughout as does Guitar Hero Dave Shul. With a cast of 11, complete with a loaded toybox of percussion, there’s action a’plenty here.
World Music Alert! The Dance She Spoke, by Seattle’s Duende Libre, fuses West Africa with the Americas in a totally delightful, propulsive and intriguing way. It’s an absolutely delicious concoction by keyboardist Alex Chadsey. He’s got one hell of a crew with him to flesh out his ideas. Drummer Bongo Busch and bassist Farko Dosumov are the most propulsive rhythm section I’ve heard in years. Percussionist/Vocalist Frank Anderson studied his craft deep in the jungles of Guinea and Mali. Now a septet with Thione Diop on a Sengalese talking drum and Jabrille Williams on electric guitar (hear him wail on highlight “You Gotta Go”), Duende Libre needs to be heard live. One day, we may get to go see them and that day will be cause for celebration.
Creole Skies by Johnny & The Mongrels is a swamp-rock slice of bayou funk’n’roll helped along by members (or ex-members) of Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Marcia Ball, Bobby Rush, Royal Southern Brotherhood and Leftover Salmon. These 10 tracks have enough jam-band joy, earthy folkloric deep-south smarts and true rock’n’roll craziness to make even a dead man dance. Fifteen musicians in all combined to create this most-auspicious all-original debut (the only cover being Tony Joe White’s “Saturday Night In Oak Grove Louisiana”) that makes me dream of seeing them in a hot, sweaty French Quarter bar.
Bear Family Productions has done it again. The 33 tracks with very low clinker quotient on That’ll Flat…Git It! Volume #34: Rockabilly & Rock’n’Roll From The Vaults Of Blue Moon & Bella Records has no one you ever heard of but that right there is its charm. Highlights? Chuck Royal & The Sharpsters complain “My Baby’s Gone.” The Savoys with The Bella Tones are afraid of “The Mortal Monster Man.” Gradie Joe & The Western Gents just love that “Rock’n’Roll Cindy” just like Wes Griffith & The Treys love that “Rockin’ Mary.” Buddy Bennett & The Margilators plead “Baby Don’t Go” while Sonny Stafford has those “Record Hop Blues.” I think my favorite of them all has to be Shorty Joe & His Red Rock Canyon Cowboys having a “Bayou Ball.”
As part of its “Indian Bred” series of Native American rock, Way Out West: Take Me Back To My Boots And Saddles (Atomicat Records) gets down and dirty with 28 nuggets of late ‘50s/early ‘60s rarities. There’s a few famous folk like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (the title track), Ink Spots with Ella Fitzgerald (“Cow Cow Boogie”), Sheb Wooley And His Calumet Indians (“Indian Maiden”), Bill Haley and The Saddlemen featuring Billy Williamson (“Ten Gallon Stetson”) and The 5 Royales (“Mohawk Squaw”) but most are those artists from long-ago and far-away who have dissolved within the dustbin of time like Tiny Stokes & The Frontiersmen (“Blackfoot Boogie”), Little Butchie Saunders & His Buddies (“Rock’n’Roll Indian Dance”) and, my favorite, Jimmy Williams doin’ that ever-lovin’ “Yanky Danky Doodle.” Fans who dig this will also go for Atomicat’s War Chant Boogie: Feuding Fussing And Fighting, another 28 rebel rousers with Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Rose Maddox, Bill Haley & His Comets, Bo Diddley and those crazy unknowns who are always the stars of this show.
Press On (Himmasongs/Six Degrees Records) by Peter Himmelman voices the dark thoughts in the back of my brain and turns it into art. It speaks the unspeakable. It touts the terrible. And it makes me pause to accept the unacceptable. Yes, I live with death every day. Granted, it’s only a small part of my bleak outlook for these bleakest of times but it’s there, festering away at my psyche like a kidney stone waiting interminably to pass. Are we all living in the first episode of Fear The Walking Dead? Himmelman, who is on his way to Dylanhood (he’s actually already Bob’s son-in-law), has captured this dystopian zeitgeist in one song. It’s called “This Is How It Ends” and it gave me goose bumps. In this song, he perfectly encapsulates the horror I sometimes feel as we edge towards an autocratic society during a pandemic. It’s like driving straight towards a cliff with no brakes.
Since total blackness is not on my menu anytime soon, one must follow-up this apocalyptic scenario by immediately listening to his title track because, after all, it is the only option. We all must Press On. For an artist of his stature on his 15th solo album, combined with the type of band that fleshes out his poetry with taste and class, it’s something of a stark reminder. Sure, there’s 11 more songs after the pronouncement of nothingness on “This Is How It Ends” and the yearning to “Press On” despite all odds, And guess what? They’re all terrific. But I keep coming back to that thought. What if this really is the end?
Bill Kirchen helped put together the Americana forerunner band Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen. He toured the world with Nick Lowe. Now three of his albums have been put together in a two-disc package, The Proper Years (The Last Music Company) with friends like Lowe, Elvis Costello, Maria Muldaur, Paul Carrack, the late Dan Hicks and The Commander himself, George Frayne. Has any Telecaster master ever traversed the dusty back roads of Rockabilly, Country-Rock, Western Swing, Honky-Tonk, Jump Blues, Jazz, Boogie-Woogie, Outlaw Country and psychedelic folk-rock like Kirchen? He calls it all “dieselbilly” after that beloved country sub-genre—truck driver music. His songs have wit. There’s 38 of ‘em here and one’s better than the next. Put a gun to my head, though, to list the highlights and I’d have to go with “I Don’t Work That Cheap,” “Ain’t Got Time For The Blues,” “Down To Seeds And Stems,” “Womb To The Tomb” and “Truck Stop At The End Of The World.” But ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably have five different ones.