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Recent Queen Kong, Sam Cooke, Allan Holdsworth and other releases sparkle beyond genre

In recent releases Queen Kong's Klezmer and Worldbeat prove irresistible; Sam Cooke mixes gospel and R'n'B;. "Atomicat Hootenanny" Gets Crazy with Rockabilly, Teen Bop and early R'n'R and was Allan Holdsworth the best prog-rock guitarist of them all?


Queen Kong

It’s now on my Bucket List to see Queen Kong live. What joyous noise! Their self-released Fray may be rooted in Klezmer music, but this sextet—who play percussion, clarinet, trumpet, electronics, trombone, vocals, tuba, guitar, cello and violin—uses all of its collective experience playing Balkan punk, hip-hop, classical, reggae, trad-jazz and Brazilian psychedelic rock’n’roll to achieve a synthesis of avant-garde, progressive-pop, frantic folk, dance and fusion. Whew! One can work up a sweat just writing about it! Influenced by John Zorn’s Masada, Hasidic New Wave and radical Jewish jazz, you can throw genre out the window here. I’ve already put it on my 2022 Top 10.

Queen Kong courtesy Ernesto Cervini

Queen Kong courtesy Ernesto Cervini

Sam Cooke

     As part of Koko Mojo’s “Spotlight Series,” Movin’ and Groovin’ with Sam Cooke keys in on tracks you don’t own, rather than an assemblage of his hits which most already have. Smart! Thus, this Spotlight, segued chronologically, starts with two fiery gospel tracks by The Soul Stirrers which feature Cooke, barely out of his teens. Once he went secular, his Keen Records career in ’58 came to an abrupt halt when he was cheated out his rightful royalties. The concept of “good trouble” was coined by the late hero congressman John Lewis and Cooke certainly was a good troublemaker. He never backed down. He signed with RCA, started writing his own songs, and became a star. Twenty of the album’s 28 tracks are from this heady period of his career. He even covers Hank Ballard (“The Twist”) and Big Joe Turner (“Shake Rattle & Roll”). In ’61, he got powerful: producing, arranging, composing and starting his own damn label. This era is represented by the reformed Soul Stirrers, Johnny Taylor and The Falcons (with a young Wilson Pickett). Highlight has to be Cooke crooning majestically on Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Little Red Rooster.” What a rare find!

Atomicat Hootenanny

     Leave it to Ireland’s Atomicat Records to come out with the craziest bopfest of early Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly and Western Swing ever! Starting with Mississippi’s Jumpin’ Gene Simmons who loves “Drinkin’ Wine” and ending with Georgia’s Square Walton who suffers from a “Bad Hangover,” these 30 tracks--on one disc in just under 80 minutes has such cool unknowns with stars like Charlie Feathers (a huge deal on Tennessee’s Sun Records back in the day) whose “Jungle Fever” rocks righteously. Ditto for Billy Lee Riley and the Spooks in an ultra-rare pre-Sun “Is That All To The Ball, Mr. Hall.” Other stars include Guitar Red and Junior Wells but it’s those crazy regional rockers like Jimmy Daley and The Ding-A-Lings and Douglas Cornell and The Hot Rods that make this party jump the highest.

Allan Holdsworth

     British Prog-Rock Fusion guitarist extraordinaire Allan Holdsworth is live with drummer Gary Husband and bassist Jimmy Haslip in South Korea at the Jarasum Jazz Festival 2014 on this, the sixth set of live recordings on Manifesto Records from the late maestro who died just months later at 70. Beautifully packaged as a 10-track CD/DVD, with personalized liner notes from the bassist, “Texas” kicks it off in grand style from Holdsworth’s brilliant 2020 The Sixteen Men of Tain studio album. It closes with “The Un-Merry-Go-Round Part #5,” a gem rarely performed. Then there’s two tracks from The New Tony Williams Lifetime, a band that never got its just rewards, featuring drummer Williams—who played with Miles Davis at 17—and Holdsworth. It was Eddie Van Halen who brought Holdsworth to the attention of Warner Brothers Records. Frank Zappa was one of his biggest fans. Now discerning ears can still thrill to one of the great guitar men of all-time.