Adam’s Mini-Reviews, Vol. 2: Futurebirds, Wanda Jackson, Marc Cohn, T-Model Ford, Jim Reeves
On Hampton’s Lullaby, the debut by Athens, Georgia-based group the Futurebirds, the band carries on a sound similar to Dead Confederate or Titus Andronicus: pure indie punk but with a strong Americana influence as well. The pedal steel playing throughout the album is absolutely phenomenal as are the occasional harmony vocals (especially on “A.P.O” which sounds as if it could be a Drive-By Truckers outtake). There are hints of the Grateful Dead and Neil Young on “Sam Jones” and “Battle of Rome” respectively and the band also delves into heavier material on the metal-influenced “Happy Animals.” All in all, this is a good album that possibly ranks as the best debut of the year. There are occasional missteps, but something tells me that we will be hearing from these guys for a while.
I got on a Wanda Jackson kick towards the end of last week and could listen to almost nothing else. If you don’t know Wanda Jackson’s music you should. She was possibly the first female rock star and was dubbed “The Queen of Rockabilly.” As rockabilly faded away, she moved to country music and while she could perfectly mimic Patsy Cline (“Right or Wrong”) or Loretta Lynn (“My Big Iron Skillet”) her sound was usually her own and I do not hesitate at all in calling her one of the best country singers of the era.
So, anyway, in the middle of this Wanda Jackson binge, I remembered reading last year that she was working on an album with Jack White so I decided to see what was up with that. I found out that a single had been released on vinyl back in January. And as excited as I was when I finally heard it, I was also disappointed in Third Man Records. You guys need to promote this, because you have a genuine hit on your hands.
The A-side is a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good”. I don’t listen to Winehouse, but I was surprised that such a great tune came from the pen of a modern pop singer. The Roger Moore reference isn’t the only thing that makes this version sound like a James Bond theme and White adds in elements that tastefully bring Jackson into the 21st century. But of course, Wanda is the real star here. She hasn’t lost any of her vocal power and indeed she sounds powerful, sensual, and ready to kick Miley’s ass.
The B-side is “Shakin’ All Over,” a cover of the mid-’60s British band Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. This one also has the retro-modern feel to it and the horns really add something special to this hard rocking version. If the rest of the album is as good as this single, I can’t wait.
The concept behind Listening Booth: 1970 is great: Marc Cohn covers tunes originally released in what he considers to be a musical turning point for himself. The result is pleasant enough, although I would much rather hear some original material. But there isn’t a bad song here (even Bread’s “Make it With You”) and all are covered competently in a gentle pop style. Sometimes that style detracts from the material such as on the Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” at other times it gives the tunes a refreshing spin such as John Lennon’s “Look at Me” or Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy in New York”. Aimee Mann, Jim Lauderdale, and India.Arie all turn in guest appearances here and add significantly to their respective tracks. Over time, this will probably end up only being a minor entry in Cohn’s catalog, but it does make for an enjoyable listen.
As much as I love electric blues, blues-rock, and even Chris Thomas King’s mixture of blues with hip-hop, there is something special about hearing the blues performed with an acoustic guitar. On The Ladies Man, 88-year-old T-Model Ford, possibly the best “juke joint” bluesman still around, offers his first acoustic disc. From the opening stomp of “Chicken Head Man” to the final notes of the 10-minute-plus jam “Hip Shaking Woman” this is the real deal. Any musician would love to be able to play and sing this well when they are Ford’s age but what really shines through is the personality. You can hear it in the songs themselves, such as his cover of Little Walter’s “My Babe” or in the between-song banter where he declares that he’s still “a lady’s man” and tells modern blues artists that “I’m comin’ to kick your asses.” The blues doesn’t get any better than this (at least in this day and age) and all of the technical training in the world can’t turn you into a great bluesman. Ford is one of the last of a dying breed.
A few months back I told you about the discovery I made of boxes and boxes of vinyl albums. I’m still going through them and that post will still get a follow-up eventually, but right now I’ll tell you about an album I found in the boxes that has been on my turntable a lot lately. Jim Reeves’ A Touch of Velvet from 1962 is a masterpiece of vocal pop with a country influence. Reeves began his career as a traditional country singer but went on to become one of the most popular artists to use the “Nashville sound,” a production style created by Chet Atkins with emphasis on strings, horns, and a pop arrangement. Reeves’ smooth baritone was a perfect fit for crooning over such backings as is seen on this album. He performs pop standards by Irving Berlin, as well as modern country tunes such as his now-classic “Welcome to My World.” There are no real surprises here (including the fact that his version of “I Fall to Pieces” isn’t a patch on Patsy Cline’s), but it is a great collection of songs by a wonderful vocalist. If the sound happens to be reminiscent of Dean Martin (or Willie Nelson’s Stardust) than Ernest Tubb, so be it.