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Filled With Sound: Jimmy Cavallo, Hank Williams, Oliver Wood, Sam Barron, Jeff Tweedy and Lee Oskar

Honking sax man Jimmy Cavallo, the patron saint of Country Music Hank Williams, Wood Brother Oliver goes solo, Sam Barron spotlights the disenfranchised, Jeff Tweedy's 2001 movie soundtrack re-released, Lee Oskar will never forget.

 

Jimmy Cavallo

        Back when the sax—not the guitar—was rock’n’roll’s main instrument, honking sax man Jimmy Cavallo [1927-2019] came blistering out of Syracuse NY to lead his House Rockers quintet onstage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem (the first white band to do so) and appear in the 1956 movie Rock Rock Rock. And he didn’t stop doing so for the next 50 years. Although never enjoying a hit record, he was an indefatigable entertainer—a poor man’s Bill Haley—and on another of Bear Family’s Rocks series, he struts his considerable stuff over the course of 27 party-time tracks with highlights “Ha Ha Ha Blues,” “Rock The Joint,” “Leave Married Women Alone,” “Soda Shop Rock,” “Teenage Lover” and Cherry Pie.” Cavallo crosses that sweet-spot juncture of where swing meets early rock’n’roll.

Hank Williams

     Hank Williams, [1923-1953], The Patron Saint of Country Music, has been memorialized, canonized and covered by hundreds of artists. The Hank Williams Songbook Volume #3: Jambalaya (On The Bayou) (Atomicat Records) is a veritable treasure trove—30 tracks!—of Hank-centric folklore. Fats Domino, Conway Twitty, Johnny “Guitar” Watson with Johnny Otis, Hank Thompson, Moon Mullican, The Louisiana Rounders, Carl Perkins and Ray Price all covered Hank. Yet the highlights have to be unknowns like Eddie Marshall & The Trail Dusters, Walt Shrum & His Colorado Hillbillies, The Chrome Daddies, Huelyn Duvall with Wildfire Willie, Eddie Shuler’s All-Star Revelers and The Delta Rhythm Boys.

Oliver Wood

     The pandemic forced Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers to stay home and reflect. While turning inward, he made his solo debut, Always Smilin’ (Thirty Tigers/Honey Jar Records) after 18 years with his Brothers. The result is a magnificent opus of Americana, rock’n’roll, white-boy soul, gospel and gritty pop. His compositions, voice and guitar work are, as usual, top-notch. His collaborations with the likes of Susan Tedeschi of The Tedeschi-Trucks Band and John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood are first-rate and his cover of the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1940s song “The Battle Is Over (But The War Goes On)” is alone worth the price of admission.

Sam Barron

     Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sam Barron writes about those who society as a rule ignores. On A Prayer For a Field Mouse (Mother West Records), his nine character studies include losers, crack smokers, the homeless and his “Karaoke Queen.” His Americana approach suits his material well—finely produced by Charles Newman—with an ear towards detail and color from pedal steel and accordion.

Sam Barron courtesy Pati DeVries

Sam Barron courtesy Pati DeVries

Chelsea Walls

     In 2001, actor Ethan Hawke made his directorial debut with Chelsea Walls starring Kris Kristofferson, Uma Thurman and Vincent D’Onofrio. Its soundtrack by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy was so good, it was re-released in 2022 by Omnivore Recordings. Tweedy recruited Billy Bragg and Little Jimmy Scott [1925-2014] for the project. The haunting mysterious instrumental tracks convey a sense of ghostly confusion.

Lee Oskar

     The most gorgeous, soul-stirring and heartbreaking album of the year has to be Passages Through Music: Never Forget (Dreams We Share Productions) by Lee Oskar, the award-winning harmonica man/composer/producer who got his start in the funk band War. His mom and aunt escaped the Nazi death march out of Stuthoff extermination camp in Poland by walking across the bitterly cold terrain to land In Denmark where Oskar was born three years later in 1948.
     With a stunning amalgamation of sound from guitars (4), Flamenco guitar, mandolin, oud, bass, drums, percussion, piano, cello, viola, violin, tuba, trombone, tenor sax, alto sax, flute, trumpet and clarinet, the music takes on the mythic proportions of a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist. There’s a sadness at its core, of course, but also an uplifting quality that makes this record his crowning achievement and a must-hear 2022 statement.