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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

JULY 12, 1999: 

Bill Kirchen Raise A Ruckus, (Hightone)

Roots music is in pretty good shape these days, with newer artists putting their spin on the older sounds. But there is a certain satisfaction in hearing the old silverbacks.

Former Commander Cody guitarist Bill Kirchen, the man responsible for the high-octane boogie fretwork of that band's trademark number "Hot Rod Lincoln," shows his kick on this new release. Kirchen possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the music that was made when the boundaries between rock-and-roll, country, Western swing, bluegrass, etc. were not so clearly defined. And, fortunately, he is not one of those older artists who have let their talents wane through the years. His guitar work, featured prominently here, is a veritable primer on the styles mentioned above.

There is plenty here to keep the honky-tonkers among us happy. "Little Bitty Record" and "Flip Flop" are spirited homages to Kirchen's (and countless others') musical influences, while "My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own" and "Let The Fire Burn Out" show his flair for the painful side of classic country. "Interstate" revives that fabled musical sub-genre of the open road, the trucker song, and finds Kirchen firmly in his element.

The bad news surfaces when he strays from his tried-and-true approach. "Dreamworld" is a rather sappy love ballad that comes across as ill-conceived, while "Fly On Your Jacket" sounds like a decent R&B tune, but one that could use a more fitting vocal treatment (Delbert McClinton, perhaps?).

On the positive side, "Man In The Bottom Of The Well" is a singer/songwriter (i.e., lyrical emphasis) effort that shows promise.

Although not as strong as his 1997 release, Hot Rod Lincoln Live, Raise A Ruckus is still a worthy effort by one of the masters. -- David Kendall

Ginger Baker and the DJQ2O Coward Of The County (Atlantic)

Most music fans will recognize drummer Ginger Baker from his days with Cream, the 1960s rock supergroup that defined the power trio. Baker, along with guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce, pushed improvisational rock to new limits with extended jams on reworked blues tunes like "Spoonful," while shaping the psychedelic-era with hits like "White Room."

It's been a long road for Baker, one most recently filled with pleasant surprises for jazz fans. This onetime rock-drumming deity has been living happily in Denver for some time, managing to record several excellent jazz albums over the last couple of years (check out 1996's Falling Off The Roof, an extraordinary trio date with bassist Charlie Haden and fellow Denverite, guitarist Bill Frisell). Baker's latest disc features the DJQ2O ("Denver Jazz Quintet-to-Octet"), an amalgamation of the Mile High City's best players. To sweeten the stew, multiple-reed wizard James Carter joins in on four tunes.

Baker has wisely enlisted the services of the impressive trumpeter/composer Ron Miles, and the two share the composer's chair. The selections are varied, ranging from bop-fueled romps to gentle ballads, with a potpourri of styles and influences evident. Most prominent is Ron Miles, who tips his stylistic hat to Miles Davis in his melodic lyricism, as well as Baker's brilliant, Max Roach-influenced approach to the trap set. Pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Artie Moore, and tenor saxophonist Fred Hess round out the quintet, which, as the band's name implies, expands to an octet for several numbers.

While Miles and Baker craft rhythmically challenging and complex music, the tunes remain easily accessible. Baker's drumming bursts with a wide range of dynamics, providing an evocative percussive underpinning that flavors, but never dominates, each tune. While Baker has crafted a drummer's album, anchored by his remarkable rhythmic virtuosity, he's also wise enough to make sure that it remains very much a group effort. Add it all up, and you've got one great record from this talented Colorado ensemble. -- Gene Hyde

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