They sound like Nirvana. They sound like Hsker D. They sound like Meat Puppets. Somehow, this is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it can be downright tedious.
-- Greg Baker
s Luther Allison
Soul Fixin' Man
Like many African-American musicians, bluesman Luther Allison found a more hospitable audience for his searing guitar and soul-scorching vocals in Europe. Now, after doing the Dale Turner-expatriate-in-Paris-thang for a decade, Allison returns to the States to record his first U.S. album in as many years. It was more than worth the wait.
Allison couldn't miss: The new tracks were laid down in Memphis at soul central, Ardent Studios, with Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love (the Memphis Horns) providing the brass backbone and producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins) twiddling the knobs. And although Luther does indeed blow his Stax on such riff-rich tunes as "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is," and "She Was Born That Way" A requisite big-horn charts, backup chicks, funky bass A the lowdown dirty blues of "Bad Love" and the Guitar Slim heartbreaker "Things I Used to Do" betray him as the badass blues maniac he is. Distilled to its essence, the latter song features just Allison and the keyboardist, with a hint of bass coming in somewhere around the second verse. That's right, no guitar, on this, one of the most guitar-intensive blues ever penned. And it works, thanks to Allison's powerful vocal chops.
The title track grooves and shuffles like goodtimes Chicago blues, as the singer tells of forsaking roadlife for homelife, even if it means buffing loafers for a living: "I'll be singin' the blues as I shine your shoes/I'm a soul fixin' man." Not a likely future for this axman as he's rediscovered by a new generation of American blues fans.
-- Bob Weinberg
Equal parts Chet Baker, Frankie Avalon, and your wiseguy cousin Sal who sings at all the family functions, guitarist-crooner John Pizzarelli has crafted a hip, swinging set of songs that careens from jazzy Fifties-style pop to sentimental ballads to pure corn. At first listen, it may be the corn that leaves the most lasting impression, but give it another try and you may find yourself smiling, snapping your fingers even, at what seems like the coolest wedding band you've ever heard.
If the Pizzarelli name sounds familiar, you may have heard of John's pop, Bucky, one of the finest jazz guitarists around, who also adds rich shadings and fills here. Young John chose most of the songs on New Standards for their obscurity -- with the exception of a riotously cornball rendition of the Rosemary Cloony staple "Come On-A My House" -- hence the title. Not all the tunes included are worthy of the standard designation, but some, like the snappy scat "Fools Fall in Love" or the lush and romantic "Beautiful Moons Ago" and "Beautiful Maria of My Soul" (borrowed from the Mambo Kings soundtrack) deserve to enter the well-thumbed standard book. Overall, a fun and nostalgic trip -- from the black-and-white snaps by photographer Bill Claxton, which grace the disc package, to the unabashedly sentimental crooning -- that'll take you back to some veterans hall in South Philly or Queens.
-- Bob Weinberg
Once Upon a Drunk
The words "ugly" and "beautiful" are not necessarily antonyms. Once Upon a Drunk proves that.
About that derivative thing: Yeah, Cell 63 sounds a lot like the Replacements. Rob Coe sings like Joe Strummer doing Paul Westerberg. But the Mats are history. Cell 63 is here. Now. This CD bursts with the same chaotic noise and reckless abandon of the band's first, but with with more attention to melodies, hooks, and (God forbid!) musicianship.
-- Todd Anthony
Keshavan Maslak (Kenny Millions)
Loved By Millions
Kenny is a punk.
An absurdist, a Dadaist, a Beatnik, sure. But most of all a punk. "The CD is broken! The CD is broken!" he wailed during a recent on-air interview with WLRN's Ed Bell before squonching some horrific sounds from his tenor sax. But when Ed cued up a couple of real cuts from Millions's latest release (recorded back in 1980), wasn't nothing broken but my expectations of hearing anything even remotely as provocative in the safe Nineties jazz world fortunately for Millions, Leo Records founder Leo Feigin is also a punk. "Leo's not happy if the album sells more than 1000 copies," Millions told me at his Hollywood club, Sushi Blues Cafe. Right. Apparently there must be something wrong with an album that'd appeal to that many. (Then you get the joke of the title, beyond the obvious pun.)
Millions is joined on his eight original compositions by veteran avant-garde drummer Sunny Murray (Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor) and bassman John Lindberg, laying down dark, propulsive, anxious rhythms.
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Although not as relaxed and whimsical as his later work (such as 1993's improvised duets with Paul Bley, Not to Be a Star and Romance in the Big City), the album still maintains Millions's gift for spontaneity and allowing the song to go where it will, particularly on the wandering and unsettling title track: edgy flute intro, languorous sax bridge (although bowed bass and rim-clacking stickwork maintain the tension), then dissolution into chaos. Compare Romance's title track as first played here or the manic Eastern European breakdown "Dida" later featured on a concert recording from Russia; living in New York at the time Loved by Millions was cut, Millions's playing seems more tense and claustrophobic, not as spacious or playful as his sax voice would become after he moved to South Florida (something in the water, we imagine). And even though that voice can be somewhat schizophrenic A lovely and passionate, then discordant and mocking A it's ultimately the voice of a creative soul. And that creative soul is having a helluva good time.
Tracks such as "Compulsive Lust," "Lovely Friends," "Bukowski in Love" (a very beat, late Fifties-inspired piece; we sense the old barfly would've approved), and "When You Look at Me, I Want to Vomit" are alternately beautiful, biting, challenging, sensual. Not for the caffeinated or overly sensitive.
Unself-conscious artistry, reflex creativity, and most of all, art that doesn't take itself too seriously. Kenny is a punk.
-- Bob Weinberg