Thursday

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (NEW RELEASES) By Michael McDowell


THERE WON'T BE ANYMORE: The beloved and legendary keyboardsman, composer and vocalist Charlie Rich is the subject of a tribute album, Feel Like Going Home, featuring impassioned renditions of his best early material by Jim Lauderdale, Will Kimbrough, Shooter Jennings, Charlie Rich Junior and others. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).

CDs AND VINYL - NEW RELEASES
(REVIEWS ARE POSTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY ARTIST)

AWKWARD STAGE - Bill Berry
(Songwriter's Square)

Sometimes being a gifted musicologist and/or an academician can have its drawbacks.

While a bit of knowledge is invariably an asset, having a wealth of such acumen at one’s disposal can nonetheless be counterproductive in a variety of ways.

To wit, Burbank, California musicologist, composer and humorist Bill Berry has obviously spent a considerable amount of time and effort in mastering all three disciplines. Throughout his most recent Songwriter’s Square release, Awkward Stage, there are repeated acknowledgements (both expressed and inferred) of the inspiration of such gifted and cerebral musical humorists as Ray Stevens, Stan Freberg, Jack E. Leonard, Al Bowlly, Billy Murray, George Formby, Doctor Hook And The Medicine Show and Tom Lehrer.

In turn, Berry offhandedly either directly name checks or invokes through execution a healthy variety of vaunted and learned musical visionaries. They include Coleman Hawkins, Al Jolson, Ozzie Nelson, Jonathan Richman, the Rolling Stones and Arlo Guthrie.

All of which adds up to a wealth of information which would seemingly be difficult to weave into a single cohesive and accessible effort. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Berry has done here.

With its candid overview of a common cultural impasse, the title track (which opens this ten song collection of originals) does just that, with vivid imagery that is certain to resonate with many. Big Heart follows suit accordingly, with its universal theme of bravado that has been tempered with reality.

Berry’s gift for the highly articulate tale told with candor and levity and signifying much continues unabated in The Piano Tuner With The Lazy Eye. Concurrently, his appreciation for a timely observation is sublimely expressed in the variation on Tom Lehrer’s Fight Fiercely Harvard that is Love Is The New Black. He rises to the occasion even more succinctly with the Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out-inspired Three Girls In A Second Story Window before wrapping up the extraordinary proceedings with the Al Jolson-flavored rallying cry of (You Was) Nobody Then.

While the work of many a stand up humorist that has been committed to record has invariably lost some of its impact with its audience by simple virtue of the fact that the respective punch lines are already familiar upon repeated investigations, the work of many a gifted musical humorist nonetheless endures by virtue of its solidarity with the listener on a variety of levels. In that respect, Bill Berry has created an instant classic that not only stands alongside the works of those vaunted inspirations, but which also provides hope for the disenfranchised demographic which he outspokenly champions. Or in the words of two of this collection’s standout tracks, a Big Heart putting The Brick to constructive use. 




NATIVE LAND -
Gwen Hughes (Zoho) 

A strong case can be made for the notion that the last collective musical gasp of consequence availed itself in the mid-1980s and continued unabated into the early 1990s, with the rise of the so called New Traditionalist movement in country music. Therein, such veteran giants as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Bill Anderson each released career highlights that brought them renewed acclaim. In turn, their accomplishments inspired such like minded artists as Highway 101, the Desert Rose Band, Janie Fricke, Holly Dunn, Ricky Van Shelton, Clint Black, Dwight Yoakam and Restless Heart to elevate the genre to new aesthetic heights.

Arguably, one of the best releases to come from that movement was the great Carlene Carter’s late 1990 Reprise label monster classic, I Fell In Love. A relentlessly optimistic and frantically executed hybrid of the rockabilly, garage rock and purist country that long defined her, I Fell In Love ultimately became Blitz Magazine’s pick for Best Single of the Year.

To her considerable credit, the Atlanta, Georgia-based vocalist and composer Gwen Hughes opens this remarkable collection with an ambitious (and only slightly more subdued) rendition of Carter’s signature track, complete with an undercurrent of the inspiration of Django Reinhardt. Conversely, her understated rendition of the Eagles’ Lyin' Eyes and harmony-rich, Bossa Nova-like take on Swing Out Sister’s You On My Mind ultimately serve to illustrate that fact that a key component of her musical mission statement is diversity.

But it is ultimately with original material that Hughes excels the most. To wit, the mid-tempo Fragile Faith articulates the challenges of solidarity in resolute manner, while the (slightly) tongue-in-cheek This Is A Love Song takes a Marilyn Scott-like approach to a familiar theme, bringing a renewed sense of purpose in the process.

In turn, Olive Tree draws from familiar New Testament imagery and gives a revelatory account of her first hand witness of such faith in action on a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya. She literally brings the point home with the celebratory I’ll Take Your Hand, written in tribute to her percussionist husband, Mike Hinton.

To underscore the point, Hughes gives credit to God in the sleeve notes of this project, which reflects wise stewardship of the gifts with which she has been blessed. To be certain, in Native Land, a Fragile Faith has nonetheless produced a strong witness of universal appeal.
 
EVERYBODY HAS A PURPOSE - 
Joe Kidd And Sheila Burke
(JKSB Media)

There is much to be said for the notion of a lavishly arranged and passionately executed production.

Nonetheless, upon occasion, it takes a return to the basics to command due attention. This approach has long been a key factor in the ongoing impact made by folk music. With a largely acoustic template providing the setting for rich and thought provoking lyrical imagery, folk music has flourished as a voice for a variety of concerns.

Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke were keenly aware of this attribute when they joined forces in 2013. For Kidd in particular, such a venture provided an interesting change of pace from the straight ahead rock that characterized much of his earlier work (which included a season with the much acclaimed White Lines).

Professing the inspiration of bluegrass, country and other like minded musical genres, Kidd and Burke have crafted herein a series of twelve exemplary originals that bring to light a variety of causes and concerns, from military conflict (Veterans Song) and working class struggles (Grandpa Was A Coal Miner) to internal strife (Sad Too Long) and idealism (Just Want To Be Myself).

Most importantly, Kidd and Burke weave each piece together under the common thread of faith. As believers whose gifts are often utilized in church settings, the ambitious and highly charismatic duo summarize their mission statement in part as “thanksgiving, struggle, redemption and love for all people”.

For both long term believers and/or devotees of Kidd and Burke’s individual and collective work, the words of their When The Secret Is Revealed resonate quite well in that respect. In the meantime, the quasi-prophetic Waiting For That Flower To Bloom poignantly articulates from a first person point of view the perspective of those who have not yet come full circle in that respect. 
To be certain, if redemption is a key component of the overall mission statement, then Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke have, with this release, found themselves serving as gifted messengers pointing to that greater glory via the common bond of struggle tempered with optimism borne of faith. An essential release.


ADIEU - Logan Lynn
(Logan Lynn Music)
 
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”.

So said the late and beloved New York Yankees catcher and immensely respected author and philosopher, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. Widely acknowledged as the master of malapropisms, Berra’s seeming verbal dichotomies nonetheless resonated with the faithful, who took such proclamations at more than face value and invariably discovered the inert wisdom and insight behind them.

In some respects, Berra’s maxim could be applied to two musicians whose formative years contained many parallels, yet who nonetheless took markedly divergent career paths, with outcomes that were very much on opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one hand was vocalist, composer and Lancaster, New Hampshire native, Kevin Michael “G.G.” Allin. Given the name Jesus Christ Allin at birth, Allin spent his formative years as a victim of abuse at the hands of his father, Merle Colby Allin. Following the acrimonious dissolution of their marriage, Allin’s mother, Arleta had her son’s name legally changed in 1962 to Kevin Michael, as so to distance him from that phase of his life.

Nonetheless, Allin (who retained the stage name “G.G.” to commemorate his younger brother’s mispronunciation of his birth name) opted to follow the pattern set by his father. His well documented live shows frequently espoused hatred, resentment, rage, revenge and aggression. Unwaveringly defensive of those tenets of his mission statement throughout his career, Allin ultimately succumbed to a drug overdose on 28 June 1993 in New York City at age thirty-six.

Conversely, the remarkably gifted vocalist, instrumentalist, composer and Lubbock, Texas native Logan Dennis Lynn drew from similar experiences in his formative years. Nonetheless, Lynn (however unintentionally) heeded Berra’s maxim and took the fork in the road.

Indeed, Lynn’s circumstances were different in several significant respects from those of Allin. He drew inspiration from both the oratory acumen of his pastor father, William Dennis Lynn and the encouragement of maternal grandmother LaVanda Mae Fiedler (a keyboard instructor who once counted Johnny Cash among her students), as well as his mother, Debra Lynn, who (in tandem with his father) supported and encouraged him to persevere in the performing arts.

And while peripheral developments at that stage of life sidetracked Lynn’s aspirations to an extent, he nonetheless assessed his situation and ultimately opted to take the high road by creating extraordinarily insightful and accessible music. That music at once draws from those negative experiences and presents them in a manner that is at once both universally identifiable and encouraging to those with whom he is in solidarity in that respect.

With Adieu, his ninth full length album since his 1998 debut, This Is Folk Techno / Pull The Plug, Lynn astutely opted for sparse production, in tandem with collaborator Gino Mari. In the process, the essential elements of his material are highlighted, most notably his thoughtful and occasionally provocative lyrics. With an engaging delivery that at times evokes the geniality of early Barry Manilow or the wry and understated self-assurance of Simon Felton, Lynn draws from a wide variety of experiences to state his case.

If those experiences necessitated the occasional reference to past challenges with seeming solidarity to underscore the point, so be it. To that effect, Lynn recalls the perceived impasses which frequently manifest in the thick of battle, such as taking Jesus Christ to task with such rhetorical inquiries as, “What did He ever do for me”, as he does in Let’s Go Home. In turn, the somewhat coyly executed Lucifer states its case in the aorist tense, as if to emphasize the ongoing futility and deceptive nature of the protagonist’s argument.

The answer to the aforementioned question is of course that Jesus saved and continues to save all who call upon Him for that purpose. And while some among Lynn’s faithful (and possibly Lynn himself, to an extent) may still be coming to terms with present hope versus those past seeming impasses (“It’s a wicked life we try to leave”, he rightly concludes in Let’s Go Home), he nonetheless has taken decisive steps in the right direction. 


To be certain, Lynn has to a degree seen some light at the end of the tunnel, as such engaging fare as the Gary Glitter-like Go There When You Want To Be Loved and the mid-tempo Way Out demonstrate, albeit with slight traces of baggage lingering in the latter. And whereas the goal of reaching definitive reconciliation with the impasses that originally fueled his mission statement may for the moment remain a work in progress, with Adieu, Lynn has generated solidarity among the faithful (whose numbers are legion). In the process, he is providing an element of hope that may have otherwise eluded them. In the words of one of this collection’s standout tracks, We Will Overcome.


MADE OF BOXES -
Made Of Boxes (Made Of Boxes)


The Seattle, Washington-based quartet Made Of Boxes (David Testa, John Hage, Dave Chapaitis and Luke Brown) find their inspiration in introspective material that encourages solidarity with (if not a solution to) the challenges that confront many in their day to day journey.

Emphasizing that the sum total is greater than the individual parts, Made Of Boxes approaches their material as a team effort, with all contributing to the songwriting process. Their strategy has paid remarkable dividends with this eponymous release, as evidenced by their (however unintentional) common ground with the work of such like minded bands as the Glowfriends and the Overly Polite Tornadoes.

Made Of Boxes stands apart in that respect in that there is invariably some degree of resignation to circumstances (“I don’t see things changing, not on their own”, they lament in Raconteur). Yet there are nonetheless at least occasional moments of diversion from that perspective which offer a modicum of hope to the like minded observer (“I’ll change the world in my dreams tonight”, as noted in Butterflies).

That the band does so relatively free of any sort of aesthetic baggage in terms of inspiration might cause the purists to take umbrage. But in reality, the notion of being unencumbered as such may well serve to open the door instead for a growing and healthy wave of originality that has heretofore largely flown under the proverbial radar for many.

To be certain, Made Of Boxes might sing rather guardedly of A Fish Too Big (in which such perspective is offset decidedly by the strongest demonstration of instrumental prowess in this fourteen song collection). But when the Floodlight is at last on them, it is safe to say that they will be able to take their own cue and stand on their own terms, rather than (as they so aptly put it) handing out “paper crowns”.


FADE TO BLUE - Mike Pachelli
(Fullblast Recordings)

Technique, heart and a not so subtle penchant for humor.

Those seemingly incongruous attributes are found in abundance in Fade To Blue, the sixteenth and most recent release from the Nashville, Tennessee-based guitar virtuoso, Mike Pachelli. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pachelli has drawn from the most productive and pertinent attributes of his rich and diverse curriculum vitae (including extensive work as a session guitarist, television presenter, producer, composer, and author of guitar instruction manuals) for this ambitious, upbeat, memorable and engaging collection.

Overseen in all phases of the production process by Pachelli at his Nashville-based Fullblast Recordings Studio, Fade To Blue is a profession of solidarity with such inspirations (both overt and inadvertent) as Mose Allison, Wes Montgomery, the Fabulous Pack, Neil Merryweather and Tim Davis-era Steve Miller Band, as well as a determined effort to sustain a high level of personality and warmth in a setting that often overlooks such essential attributes.

Pachelli’s efforts in that respect are especially evident in the juxtaposition of a call to arms and showcase of technical bravado (sans the expendable byproduct of self-indulgence; which by definition is no mean feat) that is I Need My Baby By My Side, as well as the Neil Merryweather-flavored Magenta Haze. Conversely, he demonstrates a most engaging flair for the sometimes difficult to master blues/jazz hybrid in the sublime That Thing They Call The Blues and the set closing instrumental, These Arms, which owes more than mere similarity in titles to Otis Redding’s These Arms Of Mine.

To his considerable credit, Pachelli actually gains momentum throughout the proceedings via the inclusion of genially executed diversions into the world of humor. And while the latter day Swing-inspired Let’s Cut A Rug increases the solidarity factor exponentially as a result, it is the brilliant profession of candor found in the ingenious Mediocre Lovin’ which has anthemic potential.

While many in a given artist’s circle of observers and devotees continue to maintain low expectations based largely on their own limited experiences, thankfully the artists themselves (such as Pachelli) have continued to confound those expectations; most assuredly rallying the devout musicologists of all factions to their cause in the process. Whether or not a trickle down theory of sorts will apply in this case remains to be seen. But suffice to say that for the moment, Pachelli has (in the words of a classic cut from his earlier Good Burn album), taken a decisive step forward that hopefully Might Blow Your Mind.
  


LIVE AT THE KESSLER -
Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat (Underworld)

“I can’t play like B.B. King. When I try, I break a string. But there’s one thing you’ve got to understand, well I’m Doin’ The Best I Can.

It is with that self-depreciating observation that the Dallas, Texas-based vocalist, composer and guitarist Jim Suhler (who since 1999 has concurrently plied his trade as lead guitarist with George Thorogood and the Destroyers) articulates his perspective on his mission statement in his self-penned Doin’ The Best I Can, which is one of the highlights of this collection.

In some respects, such resignation to second-string status can not only discourage creativity, but it also speaks volumes for the inherent limitations of the genre at large. Blues has come under fire in some circles in recent years for the seeming propensity on the part of many of its current practitioners to default to a basic twelve-bar motif, augmented by textbook guitar fills and pedestrian lyrics that fail to build upon the overall legacy.

Indeed, would a genre in which every participant functioned at virtuoso/visionary capacity contribute to its overall betterment? Such methodology long ago proved to be an exercise in futility in the rock and roll community, in which undue expectations of operating at a five-tool player level resulted in either an unhealthy spirit of competitiveness and/or an increasing focus upon technique at the expense of passion.

Major League Baseball has long understood such a working relationship. Hence the necessity of a Chico Fernandez, Mudcat Grant and Todd Hollandsworth to augment the seemingly Herculean efforts of a Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Mike Piazza. Country music in its most fertile period also understood the merits of such a partnership, with such reliable and capable day to day players as Warner Mack, Jack Greene and Charley Pride carrying the torch most capably while such visionaries as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and George Jones continued to break new ground.

In Jim Suhler’s case, such fears are seemingly unfounded, anyway. Live At The Kessler more than adequately showcases not only his competence as a guitarist (with heart rightly taking precedence over his nonetheless demonstrable skills as a technician), but his flair for a well crafted lyric; a much needed attribute in an atmosphere where variations on a familiar theme are often the default approach.

To an extent, encouraging extraneous factors seem to contribute to a degree to Suhler’s approach. To wit, his matter of fact introduction to the aptly titled My Morning Prayer with, “Since I don’t know how many of y’all will be makin’ it to church tomorrow, we’ll do it here” infers a gifting from a Higher Power that simply is not reproducible via normal human devices.

This theory is borne out in his attention-getting testimony of repentance, Sunday Drunk (“Payment due on judgment day”, Suhler sings, with no small degree of authority) and the largely instrumental Reverie (which interestingly enough draws some of its inspiration from the Monkees’ Peter Tork-penned Can You Dig It), and to a lesser extent in the encouragingly traditional Texassippi, which in part serves as a reminder of the inspirational qualities of the blues in its most basic and purest form.

Indeed, if divine inspiration is fueling Suhler’s mission statement to an extent, he in turn proves herein to be a good steward of that which has been entrusted to him. As this collection’s closing number suggests, he is in the process providing both hope and inspiration for the Restless Soul, musically and otherwise.



FEEL LIKE GOING HOME:
THE SONGS OF CHARLIE RICH -
Various Artists (Memphis International)
 
 During the mid-twentieth century, there were a number of noteworthy artists who rose to prominence while establishing lengthy and impacting track records that exhibited consistently high levels of genius.

Among them were the late country music giant Hank Williams, as well as Beach Boys co-founder/bassist Brian Wilson, and Monkees lead guitarist Michael Nesmith. Each was extraordinarily gifted as a composer (with Wilson and Nesmith remaining at the peak of their creative powers to the present day), and consistently strove to raise the bar significantly with each successive release.

Also supremely blessed in that respect were instrumental virtuosos Wayne Raney and David “Stringbean” Akeman, as well as pioneering rockabilly giant Charlie Feathers. Each likewise challenged themselves to greater heights throughout their prolific careers. But where Raney, Akeman and Feathers differed from the others is that, while Williams, Wilson and Nesmith consistently strove to elevate the musical consciousness of their respective audiences through increasingly challenging and thought provoking material, each nonetheless ultimately produced results that made their work (and subsequently themselves as artists) more readily accessible, largely through their incorporation of universally acclaimed themes in their work.

Conversely, Raney, Akeman and Feathers (however unintentionally) distanced themselves from peers and admirers alike; not necessarily intentionally or with malice aforethought. But their work consistently carried with it an atmosphere of otherworldliness, which seemed to place each on a pedestal that suggested that they were consistently at least one step ahead of both admirers and aspirants.

Treading the fine line between these two factions was the vocalist, composer, keyboardsman and Colt, Arkansas native, Charles Allen “Charlie” Rich. While Rich’s supremely crafted original material rarely shied away from familiar themes, he nonetheless almost invariably presented them in a manner that suggested a level of experience, insight and understanding that was almost always a step above conventional wisdom. That he could do so with an invariably engaging perspective in a variety of musical settings practically made him a genre unto himself.

His son, Charlie Rich Junior agreed, as did the relatives of his original producer, Sam Phillips at the Memphis-based Sun label. The resultant Feel Like Going Home: The Songs Of Charlie Rich collection underscores the point decisively, bringing together as it does thirteen world class talents who made Rich’s unique approach to creating masterpieces a key component of their own respective mission statements.

While Rich’s vast repertoire was well represented through various stints with Sun, Groove, Smash, Hi, RCA Victor, Epic, United Artists and Elektra, it is his earliest work that is primarily featured in this collection. That means that such career defining moments as his 1965 Mohair Sam single for Smash are not represented. Neither is his larger than life 1964 original, Rosanna for Groove, which first generation garage rock greats the Capreez turned into a classic of the genre in mid-1966. Nor is his irresistible 1977 On My Knees duet with Janie Fricke for Epic, as well as his larger than life 1972 I Take It On Home solo single for Epic. Rather, the bulk of the selections here stem from his association with Sun and its affiliate Phillips International label.

Even so, such key Sun/Phillips International tracks as Just A Little Bit Sweet (which Rick Nelson covered superbly on his The Very Thought Of You album for Decca in 1964) also did not make the cut for whatever reason. Nonetheless, the healthy diversity and masterful compositional skills that defined his overall repertoire are evidenced in abundance in each selection here.

To that effect, veteran bluegrass great (and long time collaborator with the late Ralph Stanley) Jim Lauderdale opens this collection with a faithful rendition of one of the more familiar tracks from that phase of Rich’s career, Lonely Weekends, which the Remains covered on their 1966 debut album for Epic. The Malpass Brothers follow suit with an impassioned reading of Caught In The Middle (the original flip side of 1961’s Who Will The Next Fool Be, which Holli Mosley addresses in this tribute package), followed in rapid succession by first rare renditions of Whirlwind (by Juliet Simmons Dinallo), Sittin’ And Thinkin’ (from Will Kimbrough) and Time And Again (courtesy of Susan Marshall). In turn, the Bluefish's Johnny Hoy also offers a unique take on Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave, which Rich’s fellow Sun label mate, Jerry Lee Lewis once covered during his tenure with Mercury Records.

Second generation veterans also weigh in most impressively here, with Shooter Jennings taking on Rich’s 1959 Rebound single for Phillips International most convincingly. Charlie Rich Junior even contributes to the proceedings, turning in what is arguably this collection’s finest moment, with his faithful and hard rocking take on Break Up.

While the elder Rich (who passed away in Hammond, Louisiana from a blood clot on 25 July 1995 at age 62) may have transcended categorization throughout his thirty-seven years in the spotlight, he nonetheless continues to immeasurably impact a wide variety of musicians, musicologists and admirers. And while one classic Rich track, Everything I Do Is Wrong (covered here most movingly by Keith Sykes and Grace Askew) may reflect the attribute of self-depreciation that dogged Rich throughout this crucial phase of his career, ultimately it is more than obvious that what remains is an astounding and challenging body of work that continues to (in the words of one of his landmark tracks for RCA Victor) most assuredly substantiate The Big Build Up. 



H--- ON WHEELS -
The Jay Willie Blues Band (Zoho)

Some Sing, Some Dance.

So sang vocalist, composer and Montreal, Quebec native Michel Armand Guy Pagliaro in his 1972 single of the same name. And in at least two noteworthy earlier cases, Pagliaro’s observation was personified by others beyond initial expectations.

By mid-1967, producer, arranger, composer and vocalist Albert Prentis “Al Kent” Hamilton had established a fairly impressive track record, primarily through his work with Ed Wingate’s Golden World and Ric-Tic family of labels. At that point, Kent decided to take the inevitable leap and make his own mark as a vocalist, which he had attempted previously for the Groove label via a quartet of singles with the Nitecaps in 1956.

The resultant Where Do I Go From Here? for Ric-Tic was a highly promising effort, proving that Kent himself could excel at the high drama approach that he had helped to develop in others. With triumphs by such greats as Edwin Starr, the San Remo Golden Strings, J.J. Barnes, the Fantastic Four and Andre Williams to their credit by that time, Ric-Tic released Where Do I Go From Here? with high expectations.

As was common to many of Ric-Tic’s earlier releases, the flip side of Where Do I Go From Here? was an instrumental workout by the label’s session musicians, who were often highly accomplished players that were on loan from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or Motown’s Funk Brothers. The artist credit on that flip side, You’ve Got To Pay The Price was listed as Instrumental.

Despite Kent’s undeniable acumen as a vocalist, an unprecedented development occurred that derailed his ambitions in that respect. Suburban Detroit radio giant WKNR Keener 13 and the aspiring CKLW in neighboring Windsor, Ontario took an immediate liking to the instrumental flip side, and You’ve Got To Pay The Price became an unlikely runaway hit.

All well and good, except for the fact that success with a given single almost invariably led to an invitation for a personal appearance by the legendary Robin Seymour on his Swingin’ Time television series. As such, when Kent finally guested on Seymour’s show, since he did not sing on You’ve Got To Pay The Price, all he could do was come out to center stage and dance to it.

Interestingly enough, history repeated itself in the Spring of 1968, when the Phil L.A. Soul label (which at the time was enjoying considerable success with its releases by the Fantastic Johnny C) issued an ambitious, horn-driven single by the late vocalist Clifford James “Cliff” Nobles, Love Is All Right. On the flip side of that single was the instrumental track of Love Is All Right without Nobles’ vocal, released as The Horse under the name Cliff Nobles And Company. Sure enough, radio in general was once again enamored with the instrumental flip side, and like Al Kent before him, Nobles found himself dancing on television appearances to a single on which he did not perform.

In their most recent Zoho release, H—– On Wheels, the Jay Willie Blues Band took the Cliff Nobles paradox a step further by covering not only the instrumental version of The Horse, but supplementing it with their interpretation of Nobles’ vocal version, which was subsequently released on the limited edition Soul’s Greatest Hits compilation album. Together, they are but two of thirteen tracks that showcase an engaging selection of (in band founder Jay Willie’s words), “Classic cover songs (that are) complimentary to the Jay Willie Blues Band originals”.

To add to his observation that the band’s listening audience should “never quite (know) what to expect next”, Willie has brought on board for this latest album lead vocalist Malorie Leogrande. Having also appeared on the band’s 2015 Upside Of The Ground, Leogrande is touted in this project’s sleeve notes as having a remarkable five octave vocal range. Interestingly enough, it is with that revelation that expectations are somewhat confounded.

While a five octave vocal range is indeed a formidable attribute in any genre, in the case of the material at hand (which also includes three classics by vocalist, composer, guitarist and Beaumont, Texas native Barbara Lynn Ozen, as well as the Marvelettes’ The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game, Little Sylvia’s 1954 Jubilee Records single, A Million Tears, the Johnny Otis Show’s Willie And The Hand Jive and Al Green’s Take Me To The River, along with a pair of group originals), particular attention must be paid to dynamics and volume in each instance.

As Leogrande tries her hand at such richly diverse material, it is obvious that she approaches it from a somewhat different perspective than that which was intended by its respective originators. As evidenced in the slight traces of glottal glissando (an affectation common to the early works of Britney Spears, among others) that surface in her delivery in the Little Sylvia track and the band’s interpretation of Ozen’s You Left The Water Running, she has obviously had to unlearn certain inherent traits that simply would not do this sort of material justice.

Not that dutiful imitation should be the order of the day. But neither would the bombast that characterizes such over the top familiar fare as the Emotions’ Best Of My Love or the backing vocals on Natalie Cole’s This Will Be fit such material as the Marvelettes’ cover, where subtlety speaks much louder than volume would. To her considerable credit, Leogrande was presented with an opportunity for growth, and responded accordingly.

Interestingly enough, in reaching a compromise of sorts, Leogrande is often overshadowed in the mix (as is Willie on the Johnny Otis cover). Nonetheless, the rare combination of cerebral acumen and heart evidenced throughout the proceedings wins out over any such perceived shortcomings. In the process, the Jay Willie Blues Band has added another triumph to their impressive legacy. In the words of drummer Bobby T. Torello, it is a victory that has made both material and artist come Alive Again.