Loco For Local

Roach Thompson Blues Band
(Hot Productions)

Only four of the eleven tracks are cover versions, a decent percentage for any blues record, a double-dose delight to fans who've come to expect a bounty of interpretation from the Roach stompers' live shows. Thompson's originals glisten, even next to the likes of Magic Sam, Lowell Fulsom, Jimmy Reed. The material easily justifies the praise heaped on RTBB in the past year. So does the musicianship. So does the production quality. So why isn't this the greatest blues album ever made?

Maybe because of the inherent and unfair standard it must be measured against: RTBB's live shows. Maybe because even bad blues can be good; the nature of the genre is such that variety plays a lesser role in quality than it does in personal appeal. You like this one, I like that one, and neither can be said to be "better than the other." Then again, maybe this is the best blues album....

It's certainly worth some listening to, if for the grooves only -- they're deeper than Koko Taylor's bathtub. The instrumental "Roach's After Hours" -- all laconic drum shuffle and smokey-jazz slowgressions -- provides the perfect place to get lost in, and check Vernon "Piggy" Teague's tenor sax solo on the bright mover "Rockin' Good Way." Or just check the whole thing. Many laurels have been heaped on this good ol' band lately. Nice to see they live up to all the crowning on this album.

Riding on the Rims
(Little Silver Records)

Iko-Iko, who recently celebrated a decade as the house band at Tobacco Road, have been through more line-up changes than Steinbrenner's Yankees. Yet the Bronx's pampered purveyors of the national pastime could learn a thing or two about teamwork from the local blues blasters. Although founder/bassist/vocalist Graham Drout is the only player who has been an Iko longer than two-and-a-half years, they sound like they've been stalking the Road as a unit since the venerable saloon received Miami liquor license 001 in 1912. Their greatest accomplishment may well be that gestalt, their most defining characteristic their unselfishness.

Riding on the Rims, the band's second album, was recorded live at the Road on November 10, 1991. As it says on the liner notes, "Live recordings are mysterious things." Several of the songs here (notably the soulful cover of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery") benefit from the palpable speakeasy atmosphere; others sound unfocused. It's a lot like a night at the Road: chase it with a beer, add a select friend or two, don't look at it too critically, and you've got a party.

On the other hand, it is not the most ambitious album of 1992. Five of the twelve cuts are covers, four of the tunes ("Snowstorm in the Jungle," "Walk with the Zombie," "Black Leather Woman," and "Don't Mess with the Voodoo") appeared on the band's prior release, 1988's Snowstorm in the Jungle, and one of the cuts ("Drums") is an extended percussion riff -- a clever take on the obligatory drum-solo mentality, but filler nonetheless. That leaves "Party Car," a serviceable up-tempo swamp rocker, and "Riding on the Rims," the title tune, a delicate, eclectic collage of musical traditions as melancholy as it is bluesy. One cannot help but wish the band had included more new material, assuming they had any on par with these two cuts.

Iko-Iko can create some tasty music when they put their minds to it, but there aren't many surprises on this release. Accomplished musicians all, they are not so precocious as to make jaws drop at their sheer virtuosity. Iko fans and Road regulars, especially those in attendence on the night this album was recorded, might want a copy for the archives, but the rest of us are probably better off putting on our dancing shoes and heading over to the club on a Saturday night to hear the band live, and quaff a few cold ones in the bargain. Riding on the Rims does little to disprove the tag that, as recording artists, Iko-Iko are a great bar band.

Amanda Green
(Demo cassette)

Of all the local albums reviewed here, none features more complex and professional studio production. Every fader trick in the techno-revolution book pulled, pushed, pumped into the rotting, stinking carcass that is dance music. The Sound Machine isn't this technically proficient. Bomp-thump-clank-bump-thomp-bomp-ba-loo-bomp-bomp. Be it a ballad or a busta-mover, each track bounces and boings, clatters and honks, just as it should by intent. And twenty-year-old Amanda Green's voice is right up there with Expose, Glorita, and the rest. Somebody get this girl an oxygen tank.

David Andrews
(Demo cassette compilation)

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Todd Anthony
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