Rhythm and Views
FEBRUARY 1, 1999:
LOCAL KXCI-FM DEEJAY Michael Hyatt continues his multi-volume project in railroad-related audio archaeology with the third installment in Rounder's "Classic Railroad Songs" series. Whereas his first two discs gathered country and bluegrass standards, this one examines the African American railroad-song tradition in the genres of rhythm and blues, boogie woogie, jazz, and jump. Hyatt unearths Junior Parker's original 1953 recording of "Mystery Train" (which, liner-notes author Norm Cohen reminds us, borrows heavily from songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lucille Bogan, and other artists) and a sung version, by the Delta Rhythm Boys, of what is usually an instrumental, "Take the 'A' Train." Among the other standouts is Big Joe Turner's version of "B&O Blues," Sister Rosetta Tharpe's soulful take on "Trouble in Mind," and Muddy Waters' "All Aboard," with twin choo-choo harmonicas courtesy of Little Walter and James Cotton. It all adds up to a fine soundtrack for a long journey to somewhere far away.
BIG LUCKY CARTER
LUCKY 13 IS a masterpiece--the best blues album of 1998, by far. Virtually unknown Memphis blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Big Lucky Carter has finally released his debut full-length album at the ripe old age of 78 (it's amazing the bloodhounds at Fat Possum hadn't already signed him). This is an album for hardcore blues purists only--not those who worship at the soulless heels of Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Carter's lyrics are passionate, rough and honest; his rough-n-tumble subject matter pontificates on a variety of contemporary weaknesses: old age ("Let Me Die In Love"), drug abuse ("Papa Is A Junkie"), oral sex ("Grazing In Your Pasture") and the AIDS epidemic ("AIDS is Killing Me"). Produced to pristine perfection by world-renowned Memphis blues archivist David Evans and legendary British blues historian Mike Vernon, Lucky 13 pleads for us all to pay attention to the heartbreak, misery and assorted addictions Carter has endured.
What sets this recording apart from most of the dispassionate, over-produced discs in the genre is that Evans and Vernon permitted Carter to hand-pick a veteran back-up band of like-minded crackerjack talents. There's not a robotic session musician who's all finesse and no emotion in the lot. Carter is an immensely talented urban storyteller who deserves to be heard after too many years of languishing in obscurity.
CATEGORICALLY, THE most boring, conservative figures in jazz tend to be the vocalists; most attempting to ape Ella or Mel or some other outdated swing-era legend. Only two male vocalists in the last three decades radically transcend the copycat syndrome: Johnny Hartman is one of them, and Mark Murphy is the other. Thankfully, Murphy tends to bypass the usual list of Porter/Gershwin standards in favor of more contemporary cuts, often incorporating lyrics built on melodies or solos originally played as instrumentals. Monk's "Ask Me Now," Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford," Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" and John Coltrane's "Naima" all become fodder for Murphy's bop-era hipness, his tonsils projecting the attractive, world-weary and slightly rough feel of someone who smokes too much.
The 32 Jazz label reissues material from the ultra-soulful but now defunct Muse label; and this compilation of Murphy's earlier stuff offers an alternative to all those contemporary, try-too-hard pseudo-hipsters who squawk the aural equivalent of bleached flour.
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