Are You Lonesome Tonite? (5/10/2002)
Various Artists, Good Rockin' Tonight (London/Sire 2001) - Good Rockin' Tonight is subtitled "The Legacy of Sun Records," and it ably salutes Sam Phillips and his fabled record label. With 16 tracks from an able-bodied rockabilly crew, Good Rockin' Tonight will get your toes tapping.
Sun Studios was founded when Memphis disc jockey Sam Phillips bought a radiator shop at 706 Union Avenue in 1949. After converting it to a recording studio, he launched Sun Records, a hugely influential label that started such acts as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Sam Perkins.
The album was produced by Ahmet Ertegen (of Atlantic Records), who has enough pull to assemble the musicians of his choice.
The album starts with a likeable version of "That's All Right" by Paul McCartney, then shifts into some heavier fare, with Chrissie Hynde handling "Mystery Train" (one of the standout tracks), Bryan Ferry stepping up for "Don't Be Cruel," and Bob Dylan giving a lighthearted read to "Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache."
Other notables include Sheryl Crow ("Who Will the Next Fool Be?"), Chris Isaak ("It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You"), and Elton John ("Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On"). Be sure to stick around for the album's last track, a winning version of "You Win Again" by the big-voiced Mandy Barnett.
Pay tribute to the roots of rock with Good Rockin' Tonight.
Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise, New Ground (Vanguard 2002) - Singer Robert Bradley has a voice that defies easy description. Call it "bar blues." Now age 51, Bradley is back with a new band on his fourth album, New Ground.
Every reviewer notes that Bradley was born blind, in a family of 14 children in Alabama. During his teens, the family moved to Detroit for a year, then on to Los Angeles. Thus, Bradley has absorbed a wide variety of influences, from Motown to Delta blues to The Doors (The Braille Institute took Bradley to a live Doors performance in Los Angeles).
The revamped Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise came together in 2001, and includes Bradley on vocals and original drummer Jeff Fowlkes, as well as new members Matt Ruffino on guitar, Tom Wilber on bass, and Randy Sly on keyboards.
Bradley works out of the busker mode, with a driving band, influenced by rock and techno sounds. New Ground has strong, soulful influences, such as "See Her," which has crossover appeal. Also listen for "Ride My Wave," a strong track with more pop influences.
Comments Bradley, "After I'm dead and gone Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise will go on. That's why it's Blackwater Surprise because you never know what's gonna happen. It's truly a Blackwater Surprise and it's gonna keep flowing. It's true. It's music."
After five decades, Bradley's nobody's dummy. He knows now to make the kind of music that is true for him. Adult crossover fans will enjoy New Ground.
Sing Along With Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc 2001) - The madcap musicians with the Mexican wrestling masks are back. For their fifth album, these four impeccable musicians (two from Nashville and two from Los Angeles) have taken a new path - they invited a handful of friends to get behind the microphone and add vocals. The result is a tasty set.
Los Straitjackets are Danny Amis on guitar, Eddie Angel on guitar, Pete Curry on bass, and Jimmy Lester on drums and percussion. From their first stage performance, the foursome have donned colorful Mexican wrestling masks. Some people think it's a sublime joke; I remain unamused.
Comments Eddie Angel, "Because we wear the masks, people think we're a gimmick. But below the surface there's good music. We sneak it in like a Trojan horse."
Yet Eddie Angel acknowledges that the masks can be a burden. When asked how he's treated in Nashville, he answers, "Nashville doesn't treat anybody that good, man. Ordinarily, I would say fine because we have good shows there. But, I'm just pissed off because the last time we were there, the press just ignored us. I couldn't believe it. That was a month or so ago. We have a brand new CD out. We have people from Nashville on it and the f---ing press wouldn't touch us. It boggles my mind."
Still, the music continues to be impeccable. The album jumpstarts with Raul Malo covering "Black Is Black," and continues through Mark Lindsay (from Paul Revere) on "Treat Her Right," Allison Moorer and Lonesome Bob on "I Ain't the One," and big-voiced Big Sandy handling a Spanish lyric version of "Mother-in-Law."
For my taste, the most sublime track is Leigh Nash (from Sixpence None the Richer) handling the string-drenched "The End of The World." Explains guitarist Danny Amis, "We have a lot of good friends who can sing."
Bass player Pete Curry is a new addition, replacing Scott Esbeck, who departed in 1998. Curry has the kind of guitar collection that's the envy of even the Fender factory, who borrowed his guitars for specs when they were getting ready to reissue the Jaguar and the Jazz Master.
Considering their long surf instrumental tradition, the album appropriately concludes with The Trashman appearing on "A Huevo."
The outfits are outrageous, but the music is deadly serious. There's a winner on Sing Along With Los Straitjackets.
- Randy Krbechek © 2002
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