Sunday, October 04, 2009


* Introducing Wiley & The Checkmates I sought this one out after recently being turned on to Wiley's latest album, We Call it Soul, which I reviewed in my Tuneup column a few weeks ago. (This album also is available on eMusic.)

The band is fronted by Herbert Wiley is a veteran journeyman soul singer whose career goes back to the 1960s — although he also had a day job for a few decades, operating a cobbler shop in Oxford, Miss. (My favorite biographical tidbit was Wiley says that, as a child, he used to work on William Faulkner's shoes.)

While I prefer We Call It Soul, (9 times out of 10, I'm going to prefer any album that includes a cover of "Ode to Billy Joe"), Introducing is a fine effort full of good funky Southern soul that recalls the good old Stax/Volt era without sounding precious or retro. I love the horn duel in "Dog Tired" and the Blaxploitation strings, congas and screaming guitar in "Messed Up World." And when Wiley sings that he's in "deep shit" in the song of that title (over a bass-heavy musical backdrop that might remind you of psychedelic-era Temptations), he sounds like he knows what he's talking about.

In addition to this album, I also downloaded a Wiley & The Checkmates single, "Milk Chicken". It's good, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed to find out it's an instrumental and not a continuation of Wiley's chicken phobia he sang about on "I Don't Want No Funky Chicken" on We Call It Soul.

* Dracula Boots by Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Now here's a musician with a pedigree. Brian Tristan, better known as Kid Congo Powers has been a member of The Cramps as well as Nick Cave's Bad Seeds and The Gun Club.

This record, however doesn't sound much like any of those. It's pretty darn impressive though. There's lots of instrumentals with Kid Congo laying down cool basic psychedelic guitar riffs as the bass rumbles, the drums send coded messages from the jungle and electronic effects sizzle in the background. Sometimes there's New Wavey keyboards adding some science-fiction zing to the mix.

Where there are vocals, they are mostly spoken by Powers. He can sound sinister in songs like "La Llorona" (yes, that's my favorite tune here) or goofy, like "Found a Peanut," a cover of a Thee Midnighters tune.

* Raw, Raw Rough by Barrence Whitfield. Barrence still is a savage!

Released earlier this year, Raw is his first solo album in years. But he's still got that early rock 'n' roll/crazed R&B spirit that was so refreshing when he burst out of Boston with his band The Savages in the mid-80s.

Here he plays with a basic stripped down band -- guitar, bass, drums a sax. I'm not sure who the group is, but they stomp and wail. And Barrence shouts with such abandon he makes Screamin' Jay Hawkins look downright shy.

There's lots of original -- or at least obscure enough to be original -- tunes here including shouters like "Early Times," "Kissing Tree" and the opener "Geronimo." Also, Whitfield pays tribute to not one but two classic Pacific Northwest garage bands, covering "Strychnine" by The Sonics and a near-forgotten classic by The Kingsmen, "Long Green." (This also was a minor hit for New Mexico's Fireballs back in the '60s.)

Though the shouters are his main strength, Whitfield also shows he can handle some "slow dances." "I Wouldn't Want to Be in Your Shoes" and "One More Time" are nice and purdy in an Otis Redding kind of way.

* Talkin' Trash by The Marathons and Friends. They call it trash, but I treasure this stuff. This is a collection of 26 R&B obscurities from the '50s by seven vocal groups.

The Marathons, The Olympics, The Danliers , The Lions, The Lexingtons, The Boulevards and The Robins.

I have to confess, the latter group is the only one of these with which I was even halfway familiar. They're best known for Leiber & Stoller tunes "Riot in Cell Block #9" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe." (neither of which are here) and for spawning The Coasters, which became known as the funniest R&B group in the '50s.

But even though they weren't nearly as well known, The Marathons, who have 11 songs on this collection, could give The Coasters a run for their money. They did novelty tunes like "Peanut Butter" and "Tight Sweater" (written by Sonny Bono!), and funny story tunes like "Chicken Spaceman" (did this insoire the Don Knotts movie The Reluctant Astronaut?) and "C. Mercy Percy of Scotland Yard."

But the craziest -- and most addictive -- song on this album is the title song by The Marathons. It features a girl who responds to the singer's advances with the craziest laugh ever recorded.


* 11 Tracks from Live at the Double Door 1/16/2004 by Robbie Fulks. I downloaded most of this album years ago when I first joined eMusic. At the time I just downloaded songs that I didn't have on other Fulks album. (A lot of those would later appear on Fulks' album Georgia Hard.) Thanks to eMusic's new policy of offering complete albums for the cost of 12 tracks, I was able to pick these up for just a couple of track credits. And I'm glad I did. Among the ones I just downloaded are fine versions of Fulks standbys "Dirty Mouth Flo," "I Push Right Over" (though I still prefer Rosie Flores' cover), "She Took a Lot of Pills (And Died)," "Parallel Bars" (with the under-rated Donna Fulks singing Kelly Willis' part) and "Knot Hole."

Taking advantage of the eMusic album-price policy, I also picked up six tracks I skipped from another live album I downloaded years ago, The Handsome Family Live at Schuba's, a December 2000 show. True, all these tracks were between-song patter and most were only a few seconds long. But what the heck, they were free.

* 8 tracks from A Country Legacy 1930-1939: CD B by Cliff Carlisle. Cliff was born in Kentucky in 1904. My grandfather's name was "Clift" and he was born in Kentucky in 1903.


Carlisle, who began recording in the '30s, might be described as Jimmie Rodgers with a dirty mind. Lots of his songs. He had the Singing Brakeman's yodel, but he had Blowfly in his soul. His tunes were full of hell-raising, barnyard humor and sex. I believe he was the only white guy included on the Dirty Blues Licks compilation, which I downloaded last month. (He also did some occasional powerful religious material, perhaps to atone for his rough and raunchy ways.)

My favorites from this batch I downloaded include "That Nasty Swing" -- yes, it's about what you think -- which 60-some years later was covered by Blue Mountain, as well as "Shanghai Rooster Yodel," a precursor to Howlin' Wolf's "Little Red Rooster."

I downloaded the first disc from this collection years ago. I can't wait to download the rest of Disc B when my account refreshes this week.

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