Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The City Champs Set Up a Vintage Classic

If the City Champs’ new album The Set Up had been recorded in 1965, it would be hailed today as a great rediscovery. This Memphis instrumental band is absolutely period-perfect, right down to Joe Restivo’s vintage guitar tone, the subtly shifting waves of Al Gamble’s Hammond organ and George Sluppick’s funky, shuffling drums. Yet they don’t sound like imitators: they come across like any other good, imaginative, versatile southern soul organ-and-guitar combo from that era and locale. Their previous album The Safecracker was more of a collection of vintage dance grooves; this is an album of nocturnes. Considering the setup of the band (couldn’t resist the pun), much of this sounds a lot like Booker T. & the MGs. The more dramatic, cinematic tracks bring to mind Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to In the Heat of the Night.

The title track opens – it’s a theme that sets the tone for the rest of the album, perfectly evoked by the vintage typography and red-tinged chain-link fence on the cd cover. The second cut, Drippy is the most obviously Booker T-influenced cut with Restivo’s restless, staccato riffage building up to a big crescendo – and then they start over. Ricky’s Rant is arguably the best cut here, a beautifully murky, memorable theme. It’s basically a surf song gone funk, like a Booker T cover of a Lee Hazelwood song. The cinematic Crump St. begins as a slow, dusky summer soul groove lit up by Jim Spake’s tenor sax and then jumps to a jittery shuffle, Sluppick switching up the rhythm artfully. Chinatown evokes neither the film, the song by the Move or any specific Asian locale: instead, it builds suspensefully with intricate, Hendrix-ish guitar over slow burning organ.

With its playful beat and frenetic jazz-tinged guitar, Rigamarole sounds like Rock the Casbah done oldschool Memphis style. Local Jones, the next track, is a gorgeous, hypnotic, slowly swaying Stax/Volt ballad without words. They pick up the pace with Break It Up, a chase scene of sorts with a “batman” crescendo, and follow that with a cover of the Mad Men theme: with Restivo’s quietly menacing hammer-ons, it’s a portrait of a crime family, if only a white-collar one. The album winds up on a towering, anthemic, even majestic note with another original, Comanche, a Lynchian take on a Link Wray-style groove that roars with gospel intensity until a quick, unexpected fade. The City Champs spend a lot of time on the road: as with their previous album, they sound like they’d be a lot of fun live. Watch this space.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/14/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #899:

Bettye Swann – self-titled anthology

Bettye Swann is one of the great voices in soul music, blending the upbeat warmth of a mature Diana Ross with a raw, wounded undercurrent. This 2004 anthology released in the UK by EMI doesn’t have her signature song, the 1967 #1 R&B hit Make Me Yours, but it does have her best one, the understatedly wrenching My Heart Is Closed for the Season. Her first producer, Arthur Wright, who recorded her for California indie label Money Records had a terrific ear for detail: the arrangements on her early songs are among the era’s most sophisticated and startlingly beautiful, with Memphis-style horn charts and strings that punch in counterintiuitively. Several of the tracks here were originally released on her 1968 Capitol album The Soul View Now, including a sparse, tender version of Little Things Mean a Lot, and the orchestrated, gospel-tinged Don’t Touch Me. There are plenty of other gems among the 22 tracks here, including the telling Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, the ridiculously catchy No Faith No Love, an absolutely brilliant reworking of the standard Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, the gorgeously apprehensive Don’t Let It Happen to Us and the intense, crescendoing These Arms Are Mine. It fades toward the end, with a trio of ridiculously ill-advised rock covers, but the rest is some of the most fetchingly captivating music ever recorded. If you see her 1967 debut Make Me Yours on vinyl for cheap, grab it – it’s worth a fortune. There are lots of torrents for this stuff out there including this random one.

August 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jump Back Jake – Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle

Damn, this is a good album. With their first release in decades, Ardent Music, the newly reactivated Memphis label that launched Big Star has definitely got back on the good foot. On their debut cd, retro funky soul band Jump Back Jake will win fans from the camp that discovered soul music from people like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Eli “Paperboy” Reed or Robert Cray as well as anybody lucky (or old) enough to have discovered this stuff the first time around. Fans of the Bar-Kays, Howard Tate, James Brown and Isaac Hayes’  Hot Buttered Soul album are in for a treat here. These guys really know their stuff, moving effortlessly from slinky Booker T organ groove to jangly Curtis Mayfield balladry to straight-up 60s funk, with a more aggressive, early 70s style blues guitar edge. The horn arrangements are gorgeously, sparingly retro, bringing out every bit of longing or bravado in a sax or trombone line. Frontman/guitarist Jake Rabinbach (who also mystifyingly moonlights as a sideman in one of the suckiest bands on the planet, 80s top 40 imitators Francis & the Lights) plays with soul and swing, unafraid to light up a song with a big incisive crescendo but never sinking into whiteboy wankiness.

The cd’s first track works a vintage Steve Cropper style guitar vamp with a nasty blues touch, setting the tone for the rest of the cd. The single best cut on the album is the second cut, The Flood, a slow, slinky organ groove that jumps to doublespeed and then brings it down to a sweetly dark horn chart, adding voices at the end before gracefully taking it down to just the trombone. Attempts at a beautiful, jangly, midtempo Curtis Mayfield soul ballad and a late 60s Charlie Rich country shuffle are rousingly successful. The big 6/8 kiss-off ballad teleports Blonde on Blonde to 1974 with more aggressive blues guitar: “You can be queen of the ice and snow,” Rabinach snarls. With its rapidfire, aphoristic vocal line and clever lyrics, the upbeat Pay Out on the Front End beautifully mines a late 60s vein. There’s also a ballad that builds to a big gospel vamp, another one that sounds like a rewrite of She Caught the Katy and a big, rousing number wherein Rabinach mysteriously goes on and on how he wants to be like Samson, “And I would give everything to the ladies like Delilah downtown.” The album ends on a radically different note, proving the band equally adept at early 70s Badfinger-style powerpop, right down to a neat George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The only miss here is aptly titled Terrible Mistakes, proof positive – as if you really need it – that vintage soul and the Jonas Bros. don’t mix.

It seems there are two Jakes in the band, Rabinbach recently off on the road with the other band, although all indications are that this will be a brief hiatus. In the meantime, the band continues to tour as a trio. They have all sorts of goodies available including free live mp3s from a recent Minglewood Hall show. Watch for this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment