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Music Review: Reverend Organdrum – Hi Fi Stereo

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As a pure fiend for organ trio records, even before I started delving deeply into jazz a few years ago, the sound of the Hammond organ held a certain sway over me. I am not really sure what it is that makes me swoon but I love it.

When I started collecting jazz records in the recent past I immediately started picking up whatever I could find by originators and innovators Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Larry Young, and a host of other organists who took the instrument and turned it into one of the most popular in jazz. Needless to say, my collection of these types of records has swelled beyond my original expectations and the sub-genre of jazz known as "groove jazz" is my newest musical weakness.

How fantastic it was for me when I recently discovered one of my favorite psychobilly artists Reverend Horton Heat has just put out one of these kinds of records. Maybe I should have seen it coming as all psychobilly bands are devotees of '50's rockabilly. Rockabilly is only a short space of time previous to the ascent of the popularity of groove jazz, which started itself in that decade but didn't gain its real peak of popularity until the mid-1960's up to about 1972 or so.

I am guessing Reverend Heat wore out all of his rockabilly records, decided to check out a couple of groove jazz discs at his batchelor pad and fell in love with what he heard. It's not really that farfetched, is it? I mean, it happened to me!

So, Reverend Organdrum is, in fact, a new project featuring guitar slinger and psychobilly star Reverend Horton Heat (real name: Jim Heath), possibly the most popular psychobilly artist of all time outside of genre founders The Cramps. How he has made his way musically to this new sound is quite interesting.

Heath grew up in Corpus Christi, TX, where he played in a bunch of rock and roll cover bands but his heart was with all of the classic Sun Records rockabilly releases he began collecting. Eventually, Heath moved to Dallas and invented the Reverend Horton Heat character and began playing the city's many blues clubs.

Seeking to revamp his act, Heat eventually made his sound more aggressive and began to be welcomed in the city's rock and punk clubs as well. Heat's popularity in the region led to tours all over the United States and a deal with the emerging indie label Sub Pop for the band's first two albums. The band then parlayed their newfound indie cache into a multi-record deal with a major label, Interscope Records in 1994, for which he released a handful of albums.

Reverend Horton Heat (also the name of the band Heath fronted) were quite popular during this alternative rock period of the '90's, due to their retro sound and rebellious attitude but also due to certain innovations The Reverend made such as roaring, distorted guitars. The fact the band rocked as hard as any punk band, and the band didn't look exclusively to pop culture of the past for its style, instead closely mimicked either the '50's style of dress or strraight punk attire, which is very similar in many respects also helped. As an added gimmick, the band's concerts also featured the Heath as The Reverend delivering mock sermons to incite the fans to near-frenzy until they would burst into another song.

By 1999, however, Heat was a victim of several label mergers and lost his record deal. Since then all Reverend Horton Heat albums have been released on various indie labels, of which Yep Roc has released several since 2003.

Though Heat's live show was always loud and rowdy, it wasn't until Heat's later albums, especially a release on the defunct Artemis label in 2002 that rocked harder than anything previously released from Heat, that his records captured the essence of his performances.

Surprisingly, this album may signal the dawn of a much more mellow Horton heat, one who is shedding his hard rocking persona to settle in a jazz groove. While I love his older stuff, I am loving this record just as much if not more than his other work.

Though the organ sound on this record is a very cool new wrinkle in Heat's musical palette, don't let me mislead you into thinking Heat hasn't brought his considerable guitar skills to the table. Though playing a much more controlled, subtle style, Heat's guitar prowess is on full display here and, make no mistake, this is his show no matter how much great Hammond B-3 sounds are featured on this disc.

Originally jamming with Hammond organ man Tim Alexander and drummer Todd Soesbe obstensibly because he wanted to improve his guitar playing, this project seems to have eclipsed his original hopes as Heat's stretching into new musical directions has led to quite a fantastic disc. Ranging from movie themes like "A Shot in the Dark," "Hang 'Em High," and the "James Bond Theme" to classic blues workouts like "Night Train," and "I Got a Woman" to jazz standards such as Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues," Roland Kirk's "Black and Crazy Blues", to '60's soul chestnuts "Groovin'," and "Time Is Tight" this album is one great surprise after another.

While raw power was the best thing about Heat's earlier discs, this CD is all about the interplay between Heath and Alexander, which is quite fantastic and hearkens back to the work of jazz guitarist Grant Green when he played with organist Big John Patton.

Those who love groove jazz from the '60's or are just fans of the Hammond B-3 organ sound will love this album as the sound is very true to the classic Blue Note organ trio records. In fact, if you close your eyes and just listen intently to the music, you will think you have just gotten back from buying a record by one of the great jazz trios of the '60's. While Heat's psychobilly work has always been great I hope Heat continues in this direction for awhile as I'd love to hear some more great stuff from this trio.

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