Sax Relief

Gumbo rewrites the tax code with the latest batch of jazz, blues and heritage releases

3) Co-dependent bimbo tax: for any depiction of the understanding woman who waits at home while her restless spouse/boyfriend is on the road, searching to Find Hisself (combine with Existentialism tax). She is as satisfied with domestic life as Norman Rockwell, has crow's feet around her eyes from worrying about Her Man, but is attractive and with a little makeup could get another guy before dark if she wanted.

Gumbo feels it would be insensitive to reference a certain someone's past behaviors in reviewing Here and Now (IKON Records) by Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm. Let it just be said, then, that this is an ass-kicking R&B outing that will slap the listener upside the head with more Southern sweat and grit than someone, in a just world, would have found in a Mississippi jail. Let's hope that the impact of the recent nationwide drop in blues sales doesn't leave Ike feeling like the music industry is metaphorically choking him and wrestling him to the ground and stomping on his fingers or anything like that. Truly is a great album, though -- one of the best R&B albums in years, in fact -- but you'd think he might've thought better of calling one of his songs "Gave You What You Wanted."

Chicago's Young Blues Generation (Evidence) is a reissue of a hot 1982 album by Billy Branch & Lurrie Bell and the Sons of Blues, fueled by the leaders' piercing harp lines and raw guitar. Hard-core Chicago blues throughout, no cream, no sugar. Also from Chicago, playing harmonica and a less traditional approach to slide guitar, is Studebaker John and the Hawks, whose Howl With the Wolf (Evidence) is a mix of rock and blues. Much funkier is Tired of Being Alone (Evidence) by guitarist Rico McFarland, who has worked with Van Morrison, Al Green, Albert King and, most impressive, of course, the Bruce Willis Blues Band. McFarland also backs the weathered tonsils of blues mama Big Time Sarah on A Million of You (Delmark). Then you've got yer ragged blues, supplied by 81-year-old guitarist/vocalist Jesse Thomas on this reissue of a 1992 session, Blues Is a Feeling (Delmark). Maybe Chicago should share its wealth of blues musicians with nearby loser cities like Des Moines, overbite capital of the world.

4) Highway tax: for any mention of crossroads and the devil in the same sentence. Used to explain how the guy got to play so well so quickly, thereby saving all that extra film time showing him practicing.

Ludwig von Beethoven wrote gorgeous music for mandolin and piano, but with him being dead and all, picker David Grisman and keyboardist Denny Zeitlin have taken up the slack. Their New River (Acoustic Disc) is a series of loose, largely improvised duets that settle in on the tranquil side of the jazz spectrum -- no surprise, given that Zeitlin's also a psychiatrist. The Storm Still Rages (Rounder) is such hard-core, backwoods bluegrass you wouldn't be surprised to hear that mandolinist/vocalist Rhonda Vincent just crawled out of a cave, asking the studio engineer how the second World War turned out. Flawless harmonies, pickers with octopus hands, lots of killer boo-hoo ballads -- Bill Monroe would be proud.

Not only has Kelly Joe Phelps dropped the slide guitar approach he's known for, he's taken to hanging out with weirdoes -- specifically, bassist Larry Taylor (on loan from Tom Waits) and drummer Billy Conway (Morphine). The result is Sky Like a Broken Clock (Rykodisc), a collection of dark, off-kilter, rural fare that proves the city doesn't have any stranglehold on death, depression and destruction. Right up your alley if you liked Wicked Grin (Pointblank), John Hammond's recent collection of Tom Waits tunes.

5) Dental tax: for any depiction of a bluesman missing teeth, which automatically establishes him as down-home stuff, poverty-stricken and, most important, the real thing. Typically accompanied by a front porch, a rocking chair and an ugly dog.

Guitarist/vocalist Habib Koite is a pop god in West Africa, and Bonnie Raitt, oddly, has gone as far as to put him on the level of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He's not even close, but Baro (Putumayo) is attractive, acoustic-guitar-driven stuff with similarities to the easily digestible fare of the Gipsy Kings.

Confirming our reservations: Todi Neesh Zhee Singers' For All Eternity (Canyon Records) is a collection of Navajo two-step and skip dance music. Black Lodge hands over a load of contemporary powwow songs on Weasel Tail's Dream: The Tradition Continues (Canyon Records). Verdell Primeaux & Johnny Mike's Bless the People: Harmonized Peyote Songs (Canyon Records) is Native American church music just a little different from what you hear at a Billy Graham crusade.

6) White Savior tax: for the portrayal of a studious young white guy who will forsake his schooling/job to find a significant bluesman, now destitute and forgotten. The bluesman will find fortune and fame but walk away from it all and return to his Southern shack, teaching the confused white guy that crucial lesson regarding giving: Destitute black folks would rather be left alone in their poverty.

At least your ears can travel there: Two invaluable labels, Putumayo and Rough Guide, pump out loads of world music samplers full of weird and wonderful stuff you'd never hear unless you swiped grandpa's short wave radio. The former has just released Jamaica, Arabic Groove and African Odyssey. From the latter comes The Rough Guide to the Music of Jamaica and The Rough Guide to Merengue & Bachata.

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