Dark Night Of The Soul (CD) by Jimbo Mathis

January 15, 2014


Jimbo Mathus has been producing excellent music for several decades yet has somehow not found widespread commercial success. Hopefully his stunning new album, Dark Night Of The Soul, to be released in early 2014, will rectify that situation.

Mathus began his career as a member of Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves before moving on to the Squirrel Nut Zippers. They were a band that fused jazz, blues, and swing into an energetic mix. They were a constant on the Indy circuit, 1993-2000, and have been playing off and on since 2006.

Mathus is about to release his 9th album. He spent a year haunting various studios and recorded close to 40 tracks with his backing band The Tri-State Coalition. Many of the songs were recorded virtually live with little overdubbing.

His sound as a solo artist has continued to evolve. He has settled in to what can best be described as a rock/Americana sound.

The title track sets the tone for what will follow. It starts off as a sparse track before the rock foundation joins the mix. The lyrics add a depth to the song. It all adds up to one of the better performances of the year. Add in such tunes as “White Angel,” “Rock & Roll Trash,” “Shine Like A Diamond.” and “Tire In The Canebreak” and you have a superior release.  He also avoids the trap of many musicians by producing songs that are unique in their own right.

All of Jimbo Mathus’ experience comes to fruition on Dark Night of The Soul. It is an excellent album from a musician, who has paid his dues and it takes its place as one of the better independent releases of the year.

Little Star by The Elegants

January 11, 2014


The Elegants are one of music’s ultimate one-hit wonders as “Little Star” was their only song to reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100 Chart.

They were a doo-wop group formed in Staten Island, New York during the mid-1950s. They consisted of lead singer Vic Picone, plus Arthur Venosa, Frank Tardogna, Carmen Romano, and James Moschella. Picone and Venosa adapted the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” into a rock and roll song and it was promptly released as a single. It entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 on July 28 and on August 25, it topped the chart for one week.

Their touring prevent any serious studio work. Then Picone was in an auto accident with a six month recovery and finally two members were drafted.

The Elegants have reformed a number of times down through the years and a version of the group was still on the road as of 2012 with two original members.

It may have been their only hit but”Little Star” remains one on the signature doo-wop songs of the 1950s.

Funky Christmas by Various Artists

January 8, 2014


Have yourself a funky little Christmas. Funky Christmas, originally released in 1976 on the Cotillion label, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic, has slid under the radar for decades. It now returns with remastered sound and new liner notes as a part of the Real Gone Music Christmas reissue series.

The album is comprised of two songs by six artists who had just released their debut albums for the label. It was hoped the release would give the artists some additional exposure during the Christmas season.

The five person vocal group, Luther (featuring lead vocals by a young Luther Vandross), provides the strongest two tracks. In addition both songs are original compositions. “May Christmas Bring You Happiness” has a disco feel as Vandross’ voice soars as the three female and one male member of his group provide backing. “At Christmas Time” is a ballad that has a jam style with Vandross seemingly making up the lyrics as the song progresses.

John Edwards would only spend a short time with the label as he would leave in 1977 to begin a two-decade stint with the Spinners. His contributions are the well-known Christmas classics “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Both benefit from his soul styling but are a little two short and add nothing new to these oft recorded tunes.

Marge Joseph is an underrated singer who was a staple on the R&B charts. Legendary Motown writer Lamont Dozier wrote both of her Christmas performances. “Christmas Gift” and “Feeling Like Christmas” are propelled by her energetic vocals and makes one wonder why she did not gain widespread popularity.

Lou Donaldson and Willis Jackson were both saxophonists who had a long recording history for other labels. Donaldson’s take on “Jingle Bells” is a non-funky clunker but his “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” percolates along. Willis’ “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is one of the better instrumental takes on this old chestnut but “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” finds him on cruise control.

The last two tracks are by The Impressions. This is not the group of Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, or even Leroy Hutson. The reconstituted group consists of longtime members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash plus new additions Ralph Gooden and Reggie Torian. Their two performances were not an auspicious beginning for the label as their choir backed “Silent Night” and their disco-like version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” struggle to be average.

Funky Christmas is inconsistent and has some highs and lows. Its main saving grace is it is different from most other Christmas albums out there. It is a non-traditional Christmas release that was issued by a label to promote their own artists. While self-serving over 35 years ago, it remains interesting today.

Nel Blu DiPinto Dei Blu (Volare) By Domenico Modugno

January 7, 2014

I think that Volare by Domenico Modugno is the only song originally issued in Italy to top the American Singles Charts. It sold over a million copies in Italy alone.

The song proved so popular that Dean Martin, Jesse Belvin, and Nelson Riddle all issued singles but none could beat Modugno’s as it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Best Sellers In Store Chart for five weeks beginning August 18, 1958.

His other claim to fame was playing the part of Athos in the American television series The Three Musketeers. He never had another top 50 single in the United States.

The Ellington Suites by Duke Ellington

January 1, 2014


Duke Ellington, 1899-1974, was one of the masters of 20th Century American music. During his 50 year career he explored the jazz form within an orchestra and big band setting, which not only opened new vistas for the art form but made it commercially acceptable for mainstream America.

He created over 1000 compositions during his career. He would constantly rent studio time, creating many tracks that were not issued during his lifetime. So it was with the three suites that comprise this Original Jazz Classic Remasters reissue. The Queen’s Suite (1959), The Goutelas Suite (1971), and The Uwis Suite (1972) were sold to jazz impresario Norman Granz after Ellington’s death, who issued the then-unreleased suites on one album.

“The Queen’s Suite” is by far the best of the three offerings. Ellington met the Queen of England and that inspired him to write the suite of six songs. He pressed one copy and presented it to the Queen and then put the master tapes in the vault. Each of the songs has their own textures but they form a cohesive unit and flow from one to the next. The improvisational “Sunset and the Mocking Bird” and the poignant “Single Petal Of A Rose” are two of his better compositions. Taken as a whole the suite has an understated beauty.

The Goutelas Suite was recorded over a decade later. It is a more disjointed affair with the pieces being more individualistic in nature. The music was inspired by a thirteenth-century chateau. Four of the six songs, including the opening and closing “Fanfare,” are under two-minutes in length and the music never really lets the listener settle in. “Something” and “Having At It” may be a little over-bearing but they are two of his more complicated compositions. They may not be the best of Ellington but they are interesting in their structures.

The three-part “The Uwis Suite” was composed during a period when Ellington was using four letter designations when naming his new songs. The music grew out of a week-long Ellington festival held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1972 (hence the title). The band conducted clinics and gave concerts. The music is about as playful as Ellington gets. The short “Klop” (polka spelled backwards without the A so it would be four letters) and the nine-minute “Loco-Madi,” which explores Ellington’s fascination with trains” are relaxed rides through his fertile imagination.

The only bonus track is a gem. The previously unreleased “The Kiss” was recorded at the same time as “The Uwis Suite” and is classic Ellington. It is not so much his piano playing or the solos by Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves as it is the overall atmosphere and cohesiveness of the musicians as they bring Ellington’s visions to creation.

As with all the releases in this series, the sound is impeccable and the enclosed booklet informative.

The Ellington Suite may not be the place to start when exploring his legacy. The three suites are also very different and form three distinct listening experiences. Still, “The Queen’s Suite” is a required listen for any fan of Ellington and the rest of the music is at worst interesting. The reissue fills in some of the missing parts in his legacy and as such is welcome.


Sabougla Voices by Leo Welch

January 1, 2014


Not many debut albums are issued by an 81 year old but so it is with Leo Welch and his Sabougla Voices.

He was born is Sabougla, Mississippi, in 1932, smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression. During his early years he performed at parties and picnics but never garnered enough attention to receive a recording contract. He eventually retreated to the church to play his brand of gospel blues.

His recording career began when he called the Mississippi based label, Big Label Mess. The label had released albums by Junior Kembrough, Reverend John Wilkins, Water Lairs, and Bishop Manning and the Manning Family and he wondered if they would be interested in his brand of gospel and blues. It turned out to be a call worth making.

Gospel music and the blues have always been first cousins and Welch strides the line between the two styles. Songs such as “Praise His Name,” “Take Care Of Me Lord,” “His Holy Name,” and “The Lord Will Make A Way” may be right out of a southern church choir hymnal but he is at heart a blues singer and he moves them toward that format. It all adds up to an interesting hybrid that is pure American music, courtesy of the Southern Delta.

Hopefully the blues audience will find him and this album as it is a throw-back to when the blues developed. His music is the type of raw but powerful music that burst out of the south in the pre-World War II era. What makes him and his sound somewhat unique if that he traveled the church circuit and did not play in bars and juke joints.

Who knows how many other old bluesmen are waiting to be discovered in the Southern Delta but for many, time is running out. Sabougla Voices is a validation of a life lived for the blues.

Rating: ***1/2