BARTHOLOMEW'S RHYTHM AND BLUES CRUISE
The Genius of Dave Bartholomew
The Best of Smiley Lewis: I Hear You Knocking
One listen is all it takes to understand why New Orleans music dominated the R&B charts in the mid-Fifties. With its steady backbeat, wailing sax breaks and bluesy vocals, it was an irresistible, upbeat sound that made you want to drink, dance and do your baby right (or wrong). It was also one of the critical bridges between the big bands and rock n' roll. Some musicians are meant to play. Others are cut out to be songwriters. Rarest of all is the born producer. A singer, trumpet player and songwriter of some repute, Dave Bartholomew is best known as the maestro who presided over the flowering of New Orleans R&B.
The Genius of Dave Bartholomew, a double-CD reissue, collects much of what made Bartholomew king. Along with hits like Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" and Earl King's "Trick Bag," there are lots of tasty nuggets like unknown Little Sonny Jones' rockin' take of Bartholomew's "I Got Booted." This collection is also varied enough to show how Bartholomew worked. "Blue Monday," for example, will forever be associated with Fats Domino and Fats' rousing version of the song. Here, on an earlier version by Smiley Lewis, the shadings and arrangement are different. When the tune didn't hit for Smiley, Bartholomew retooled it for Fats.
The other thing this collection illustrates is how Bartholomew could make his distinctive R&B style fit nearly any performer. Like the once-legendary Muscle Shoals and Memphis "treatments," Bartholomew's method could give any artist a New Orleans sound. Even established artists like Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker came out of those sessions sounding like they'd been born to it.
Of all the performers on the Bartholomew set, none was more talented than Smiley Lewis. But when it comes to hard-luck stories, few are meaner than Smiley's. Arguably the most powerful blues shouter of them all, Lewis was renowned for his ability to sing over a full band without a microphone. He's also known for making the first (and still the best) recording of "I Hear You Knocking," a tune that has been recycled by everyone from Gail Storm to Dave Edmunds.
But while Earl King, Fats Domino and others broke nationally, Smiley could never make that final step. Unable to get a break while he was alive, Lewis and his music sank into oblivion after his death in 1966. Until now, French reissues that lacked any liner notes or session information were the only way to hear boogie-woogie pianists Tuts Washington and Huey Smith accompanying Smiley's big, booming tenor. Happily, the beautifully produced I Hear You Knocking settles Smiley's account. Filled with 24 raw n' rockin' classics like "Ain't Gonna Do It," "Down the Road" and "One Night" (a tune Elvis Presley later declawed), it provides two-dozen reasons that Lewis is one of the last of the undiscovered masters.--Robert Baird
Rocks the House
Soul music doesn't get any wilder or any funkier than this howling live set from the woman who put the low blows into the term "blues belter." Originally released in 1963 and reissued in 1987, this new CD adds three unissued tracks to what is already a treasure. Driven by a frenzied crowd, James powers her growling way through a set of classics that includes Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." If Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, then Etta James is the Wicked Witch. And after one listen to this, it's not hard to figure out which one would be more fun to spend a sweaty night in a juke joint with.--Baird Lunachicks
Binge and Purge
The Lunachicks' latest album is everything you'd expect from a bunch of New York "riot girls" reared on the Ramones. The delicately titled Binge and Purge is choked with blunt power chords and a snotty attitude reminiscent of midday traffic jams in Manhattan. At its best, the Lunachicks' sound brings to mind bands like the Dickies and the Dictators--old-timey punk acts with sound and fury and the definite hint of twinkles in both eyes.
The Lunachicks were spawned in the mid-Eighties. Singer Theo, along with guitarist Gina and bassist Squid, ran into each other as students at New York's High School for the Performing Arts, the school featured in the movie Fame. The decidedly punked-out co-eds hit it off, formed a band and went on to become a recurring nightmare on the fringes of the New York music scene.
That dream continues with Binge and Purge. The Lunachicks prove themselves capable of bludgeoning senses and sensibilities with efforts like the gender-specific "Plugg": "What a drag to be on the rag," Theo screams, with background vocals ranting, "What a drag/What a drag/What a fucking drag." Later, on the CD's title cut, Theo loudly muses on the bulimic lifestyle: "Ruptured my esophagus/But I'm still a hippopotamus," she bellows.
We're not talkin' Sylvia Plath here.
But what the Lunachicks lack in subtle word play is made up for in unabashed aggression and pure, punk bravado: The guitars crunch, the bass kicks and drummer Becky Wreck never lets up. (Ms. Wreck, by the way, was a regular on the old Howard Stern TV show. She was always showing up as a rather surly contestant on Stern's "Lesbian Love Connection" bits.)
Binge and Purge may not be one of the best albums ever to slop its way into CD bins. And the Lunachicks are still trailing more convincing distaff groups like L7 and the inscrutable Shonen Knife. But for a good, swift kick where it counts, you could do a lot worse than the Lunachicks.--Ted Simons
Sometimes the best way to get a handle on a new band is to poll your neighbors, blindfold-test-style: "Dude. Is that the new Helmet?" [Nope.] "Pavement? Sounds too metal for Pavement. . . .
"It's not Fugazi, but it could be Fugazi Jr. "Rollins Band meets Porno for Pyros? Dig the vocals. When's the new Monster Magnet due?"
Sense my frustration? It applies to New York's Quicksand, but also to the post-Lollapalooza crowd's willingness to accept-reject emergent combos on the basis of stylistic alliances with questionable icons--and with the industry's willingness to take a young band with a crucial indie rep and bet not on an actual repertoire of tunes, but on a generalized sound-image. "What the hell," you can almost hear the PolyGram execs muttering, "let's even release a seven-incher to rope in the alternative-collector scum." Sure enough, "Dine Alone" b/w "Can Opener," two tunes from this album, came out near the tail end of 92.
Slip opens with "Fazer," which, ironically, addresses matters of conformity. Buzz phrases like "peace of mind," "routine getting old" and "keep that face" are spat out in a harsh voice by guitarist Walter Schriefels. His is an aggressive detachment, like reading psychological slogans. In turn, he and three partners play out a kind of robotic waltz, dual guitar riffs snapping at one another like a pair of downed electric lines and the rhythm section goose-stepping around the perimeter. From there it's one decaffeinated stomp after another, albeit not without technical facility and occasional inspiration. An obvious standout track is "Freezing Process"; not only does Schriefels come close to admitting, in his second-person guise, to feelings of want and need as opposed to numbness, the music itself gulps happily in an orgy of dynamic tension and cresting melody lines.
It's not enough, though. While "dynamic tension" is an obvious calling card here, the ultimate test of a good album is whether anything sticks with you after it's played. Slip sounds good, but I still come away with only vague, noncathartic impressions: declamatory lyrical breast-beating, volcanized bass thwacking, controlled arson riffing and, yes, Fugazi-Helmet.
Quicksand has a sound-image that will sell albums.
As it is, I'll wait for the new Monster Magnet.--Fred Mills
Into the Twangy-First Century
It had to happen, of course. Country music, notorious for its love of gimmickry, has heretofore presented us with the likes of Ray Stevens, who's forged a lucrative career with novelty songs like "The Streak." Then there's the goofy-fun Geezinslaw Brothers, with their current opus, "Help I'm White and I Can't Get Down."
Enter the newest nuts from Nashville's silly side: Run C&W.
Composed of the four Burns brothers--there's Crashen, Wash, Side and Rug--plus "Honorary Burns" fiddler deluxe Vassar Clements, Run C&W's inaugural MCA release, Into the Twangy-First Century, is a part tongue-in-cheek, part real-country-lovin' tribute to Motown--done to a bluegrass beat.
The album opens with "The Ballad of the Burns Brothers," featuring Rug's bassy narrative about just how these chicken-fried siblings happened to make that trip from Harlan Country, Kentucky, to "the Motor City," where they got Cadillacs "to make that sweet soul music."
These rapabilly boys then commence to turn out a good n' grassy rendition of "Walkin' the Dog." No fooling. Filled with Crashen's banjo riffs and Clements' high-flyin' fiddle, it's a fine take on the Rufus Thomas classic.
"Unchained Medley" provides snippets of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," plus world-class Motown writers Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Stop in the Name of Love." Filled with mountain-flavored falsettos, banjos, dobros, fiddles and mandolins, y'all will be most pleasantly surprised by how doggone good this is--especially the speedy, harmony-filled, straight-country take on the old Supremes hit.
Likewise, the banjo-driven live version of "Hold On I'm Comin'" (the band's first video, too) is flat-out, Motown-meets-Bill Monroe marvelous. The most fun, however, is to be found on the band's Music City makeover of Sam Cooke's "Sweet Soul Music." Fueled by a rich mixture of bluegrass strings and a wicked washboard, Run C&W's "spotlight" is on Roy Acuff, Lee Greenwood (You'd better button up yer shirt, Lee . . ."), Tammy Wynette and [aging Nashville Now host] Ralph Emery (Old Ralph has lost his memory . . . maybe too much Goody's Powders . . . oh, yeah--oooh, yeah").
Yes, these guys are irreverent. They're as brassy as they are grassy, a pickin' and pluckin' passel of good ol' boys on wacky tobacky. And they are out-friggin'-standing.
We want mo'.
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