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Quickies: Ben Allison, Ronnie Earl, Nick Moss & The Fliptops, Erik Friedlander

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This go around of Quickies includes some records promoted by my illustrious Blogcritics colleagues Josh Hathaway, Mark Saleski, and Michael J. West. Since they were causing a major (well, in Saleski's case, minor) ruckus over these recent releases, I of course had to go find out what the big danged deal was about them. Much to my surprise (not really), it turned out that these guys know what the hell they're talking about. Blues fans should find something in it for them this go around, as two of these recommendations include records right down their alley.

But first, I want to wax lyrical on something I found all on my own:

Ben Allison & Man Size Safe Little Things Run The World
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Whenever I listen to a Ben Allison album I usually forget he's a bass player, because the group interplay and his compositions are the things that stand out on his records. I even sometimes think I'm listening to a Dave Douglas recording.

That's not just because Ron Horton's trumpet roughly resembles the same tonality and pitch as Douglas', but more because of how Allison crafts his compositions: with much care taken to harmonic development, incorporating as many non-jazz element as jazz elements. And with a keen ear for finding nuance in even the more popular forms of music, as evidenced by his slowly syncopated version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."

Little Things Run The World is a strong record from start to finish. It's high time Allison gets more recognition.

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters Hope Radio

This is one I saw Saleski pimping to Josh over on Josh's Confessions Of A Fanboy site. I already knew about Ronnie Earl but he's one of those guys who I should be listening to a whole lot more than I do. After all, he's a blues guitar slinger with some jazzy inclinations and is way more than merely good. The Santana-like organ-anchored grooves are good for the soul, while Earl's guitar playing a derivative of Otis Rush and Buddy Guy pleases the heart. And there's no lyrics disturbing the flow; it's 100% instrumental.

Hope Radio is a standout in Earl's discography because it's the best culled from two live performances. Even though it sags a bit in the middle, the electricity overall from the stage is undeniable and the backing band does a great job of just laying back and letting Earl rip when it's shredding time. "Blues For The West Side" in particular sizzles. But Earl won't go Satriani on anybody; that's not what the blues is about. However, if you're going to do all your talking on the guitar, you better speak fluently. Ronnie Earl still can, and remains one of the best guitar speakers in the blues world.

Nick Moss & The Fliptops Play It 'Til Tomorrow

Nick Moss' latest is the blues release Josh himself has been making such a fuss about that I had to see for myself what this fuss was all about. Well, now I know. Moss and his crew of heavy hitters are electric blues, but with it is an early electric feel, not the blues-rock favored by so many of the current crop of blues guitar players.

But Nick isn't just a damned fine guitar player, he plays a backwoods harmonica that evokes Sonny Terry every time he blows. And his relaxed voice is not too unlike that of another harp player: Charlie Musselwhite. His band stays rooted with piano provided by the aptly named Barrelhouse Chuck and Gerry Hundt providing extra support on guitar as well as mandolin. But the energy level is a match for any highly amplified band.

This is one record you buy not because you like the current state of the blues, but because of how the blues got to become so popular in the first place.

Erik Friedlander Block Ice and Propane

Mr. West made this cellist's Block Ice and Propane his #6 best jazz album for all of 2007. But Friedlander's product is probably put in the jazz bucket by default, because it doesn't neatly fit in any pail. It sounds much like folk music, sometimes more Americana, sometimes more Celtic. And on the brief "A Thousand Unpieced Suns," blissfully whack.

But as Michael aptly pointed out, Friedlander is playing mostly a plucked cello in a languorous, reflective manner, like an heavy-stringed acoustic guitar and sometimes even simulates a Japanese koto. On "Airstream Envy," he pulls out the bow and turns his instrument into a deeper sounding bluegrass fiddle.

Tom Cora used to coax the most amazing sounds out of his bowed bass with the help of technology. Friedlander doesn't need no stinkin' help.

"Quickies" are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases. Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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About Pico

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i swear, Ronnie Earl is a freaking gem. it’s a crime that he’s not a household name, even among blues fans.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Well done, Pico. Hundt is a Swiss Army Knife of blues. He plays bass, mandolin, and harp (Hundt actually plays a lot of the harp you hear on the record) and does so with stunning mastery and style. Barrelhouse Chuck and Piano Willie Oshawny are both great piano players (the latter doing the lion’s share of the work and is a regular member of the touring Flip Tops lineup) and bring that early sound you speak of. What a great record.

    What’s amazing to me about Earl is something Saleski told me when he was first introducing me to Earl’s work. Earl has such a great ear he can play in the vein of Hubert Sumlin and get the nuances right (“Wolf Dance”) and then he can turn around and get in the groove of the legendary Otis Rush (“Blues for Otis Rush”). When he’s done paying homage to the greats he can play in a style completely his own. It’s an amazing ability and I’ve got to add some more Earl to my collection.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Thanks for both the tips and comments, y’all. Now I wonder how long it will take for Mr. West to realize he was being shouted out, too ;&)