Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Robin McKelle Heart Of Memphis 2014

Those people that feel music is dead and there's no great new artists sure are a drag. The only thing new about this music is that it is new. I mean that Ms. McKelle has written a tribute to the sound of Memphis (Stax, Hi) that is both loving tribute, in the style (ala), but also wholly new and original.

And that is a pretty cool deal right there.

I stumbled upon Robin McKelle over at PledgeMusic, and was intrigued enough to just try this one out. Her backstory is a bit odd I must say. Born in upstate New York, and "discovered" in France singing interpretations of the classic jazz songbook in a big band setting (Introducing Robin McKelle 2006 and Modern Antique 2008), she followed that with Mess Around 2010, a more contemporary jazz-pop outing, if I'm reading her bio correctly. And then she wrote most of Soul Flower 2011. I have heard none of those records, so I have no idea if they rival this one, but given her singing, they can't possibly be bad.

Memphis has been rediscovered again recently, with retro-soul outings recorded on site from Boz Scaggs and Paul Rodgers and many others. What makes this release so special is that the songs are newly penned by McKelle, with help from several band members, and they totally nail the Memphis sound without being derivative. Oh, the band is spectacular. The six-piece Flytones, with drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and two horns, rock these songs to the ground every time. Robin McKelle has a perfect alto voice with a touch of rasp, and she sings with street-cred soul.

One of the two covers is a fabulous reading of Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, the Animal's chestnut. This song has been covered to death, but I've never heard a fast version nearly as good as this one. Ben Stivers organ is choice, but so is the whole arrangement. But the originals are where this baby shines, with Baby You're The Best, Down With The Ship, Good and Plenty, About To Be Your Baby, and Good Time all stars. There really isn't a weak track. The title track and Like A River emulate the Hi Records sound so well you don't even miss Al Green. Soulful and laid back, with that thing that moves your hips in a, well, Memphis, sort of way.

Give in to it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Morphine Cure For Pain 1993

Morphine managed to be largely overlooked during most of their ten years. But they are at once fascinating and a bunch of fun. With their odd-ball instrumentation of two-stringed bass, baritone sax and drums, they should never have sounded so much like a fine rock band as they most certainly did. Credit Mark Sandman's great songs and Jerome Deupree's brilliant drumming. And the best rock guitar ever played on saxophone, Dana Colley's baritone, frequently multi-tracked to fatten the already fat bari-tone.

So it's just another rock power trio, at least in some ways. But there's a bit of jazz, and strangely powerful rhythm, smart lyrics, and an expansive sound culled from the limitations they impose on themselves. These three guys did more than work well together, they were thinking and breathing as a unit.

Side one is just about perfect. The single Beuna rocks with a jazzy swing, while the mid-tempo I'm Free Now is a terrific melody. All Wrong, Candy, and A Head With Wings all have killer sax breaks and songwriting highlights either lyrical or melodic to recommend them. Sandman picks up an acoustic guitar for In Spite Of Me, a beautiful lyric ballad of loss to end the side.

The scary tale of illicit lust and the husband that just might kill you that is Thursday explodes the second side in fine style. The rest of side two branches out a bit more, and not everything pops like the first side. But Cure For Pain, and the spacey-cool Let's Take A Trip Together are solid.

It is almost the whole record, and plenty by any standard. I think I like 1995's Yes even more, but I've spent more time with that one.