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Quickies: North Mississippi All-Stars, Ryan Blotnick, Tal Ross, Jovino Santos Neto

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Diversity. It's a mantra preached for our schools, our workplace and our government. Here at "Quickies," though, it's regularly put into action. That's especially true for this installment. We've got the gamut covered from progressive Northeastern American jazz to vintage Northeastern Brazilian jazz. From organic funk to Southern fried blues-rock. Yessir, it's a lineup that looks like America (and a little bit of Brazil).

Recent releases dominate as usual, but there's also a left-field choice from 1995 that deserves to be proselytized. With a lot of exciting fresh CDs out there I'd stuff twenty more records in this column if could. Alas, some of those are going to have to wait for a later episode of "Quickies" and then there's others best left to the more capable pens of others.

For now, though, let's join hands, sing "We Are The World" and partake in these deliciously varied morsels of ear food:

PhotobucketNorth Mississippi Allstars Hernando (Songs of the South)
On the same day that the Drive-By Truckers unfurled Brighter Than Creation's Dark, that other major Southern rock band of the current scene released theirs to somewhat less fanfare. Hernando marks the North Mississippi Allstars first offering in three years and the first since mentor RJ Burnside has passed away in 2005.

The NMA's station in life has been to provide a heavily amped version of Junior Kimbrough, and you have to wonder if success will cause them to stray from their straightforward but heavy-hitting mission. The name Hernando, their hometown situated about ten miles due south of Memphis, suggests that they won't. The opening "Shake" seems to confirm that they are staying on course, too.

However, things quickly get a little more varied; the following two tracks ("Keep The Devil Down" and "Soldier") employ more of an early Black Sabbath-vibe while conjuring up themes of heaven and hell. Champion Jack Dupree's "I'd Love to Be A Hippy" gets a delightful straight-blues reworking and feature a rare lead vocal by bassist Chris Chew. There's other change-ups: "Mizzup" is a lively jitterbugger while "Blow Up" is straight-up rockabilly. James Mathus lends his vocals for "Come Go With Me" before the album closes out with three tracks that return to the boys' traditional heavy blues-rock strengths.

Through it all, it still sounds like the old NMA, but it's a band stretching out but just a bit. It ain't nothing they can't handle. As a steadier effort than Drive-By Truckers latest, the highs aren't as high as Brighter but the lows aren't as low, either. Hernando is more validation that Southern Rock remains alive and well.

PhotobucketRyan Blotnick Music Needs You (Songlines)
That 24-year-old jazz guitarist from Maine named Ryan Blotnick is rapidly emerging as a force to be reckoned with. He first got mention on this space a couple of months ago as a member of a really good global party band called Akoya Afrobeat. Right about the same time that P.D.P came out, Blotnick released his own album, his first, and it's equally impressive…but for entirely different reasons.

Of Music Needs You, it's been said that it "contains not only beautiful compositions, but really some deep and honest improvising. I enjoy it very much, and recommend it highly." That's no music critic who wrote such heady praise, that was long-time jazz guitar giant John Abercrombie.

In checking this out for myself, I'd have to say that John's got a point. Blotnick's composing pen puts a welcome emphasis on complex melodic lines that reveal a deep understanding of jazz history far beyond someone that young should be able to comprehend so well. The waltzing "Winter Melt" is a sophistcated use of chromatic scales while "Thinning Air" seems to effortlessly float untethered to any time signature. "Music Needs You" states a beautiful melody that incorporates some classical influences before improvising off of it in advanced bop style. And those are just the first three songs.

Blotnick's approach to his guitar is highly mature as well. He chooses his notes carefully without sounding forced. His warm tone is in the neighborhood of Jim Hall's and Pat Metheny's. As a complement to his songwriting tendencies, Blotnick is always listening closely for the melody when he plays. His backing band of sax, piano, bass, and drums is sympathetic to the reserved, airy sound that's part of Blotnick's vision for his music.

With a start like this, I'm going to be sure to follow this guy's career. I think he's going to be a major player on the scene for decades to come.

PhotobucketTal Ross Aka Detrimental Vasoline: Giant Shirley (Coconut Grove)
It was nearly a year ago when I lamented about the fleeting guitar talent in George Clinton's early Funkadelic band who reached incredible heights as Clinton's lead axeman on funk classics like Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow and Maggot Brain. Besides Eddie Hazel, there was another important guitar player in that group who also had to leave shortly after Maggot Brain due to drug problems: Tal Ross.

Ross made his exit in 1971 and instead of attempting to get back into the game, he flat out vanished from sight from the music business until he re-emerged out of the blue in 1995 with his first and thus far only solo album Giant Shirley.

In some respects, this record sounds much as you might expect from an LSD casualty who had been out of music for nearly two-and-a-half decades; there's little recognition of any music trends that's happened since then and Ross' tortured vocals sound like Peter Green's own barely perceptible weathered acid survivor warble. Yet, it's that wispy, creepy vocal that pulls you in. His guitar work remains as nasty as ever; like a grittied-up Ernie Isley.

The music itself is a pretty big pull, too. It's funk, but in the way it was played by that original Funkadelic lineup and long since ignored. All great modern genres start with the blues and Ross seemed to remember that funk was no exception to that rule. "Green And Yellow Daughter" is a smooth grooving number that's also just weird enough to keep you from lumping this in with just any soulful rock song and "Hussien (I'm Lucky)" exemplifies that old attitude during the hippie days of there being no "white" music or "black" music, just music. Like these two, the rest of the tunes are mildly psychedelic grooves propelled by a heaping helping of percussion and old-school drumming provided by ex-Funkadelic bandmate Jerome 'Big Foot' Brailey.

While Ross hadn't made any musical statements since Big Shirley, he's still alive and kicking enough to set up his own MySpace site. You can go audition many of these tracks yourself over there.

PhotobucketJovino Santos Neto Alma do Nordeste (Adventure Music)
Brazilian-born, Seattle-based multi-instrumentalist Jovino Santos Neto is an artist I'm just getting familiar with, but his brand new CD Alma do Nordeste has sure gotten my curiosity. The title means "soul of the Northeast" in Portugese, and as I alluded to at the top, the "northeast" being referred to here is the northeast region of Brazil. Neto returned to his native country and created this collection of music that celebrates and introduces to the rest of the world the jubilant music of that area.

What you will find from listening to Alma do Nordeste is that there is a lot of accordion in this music and the percussion is often more complex than the stereotypical Brazilian music but still very danceable. Every tune has its own distinct character, which only goes to show how rich and varied the music is out of just a portion of this South American country.

Neto adds his own contemporary touches in the right places to bring the genre into the twenty-first century, and wrote all the songs with the traditions of the nordeste in mind. He brings considerable expertise to bear on this project, having worked under such names as Hermeto Pascoal, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, and Sergio Mendes. Neto supplied piano, melodica, fifes and flute to the sessions, and is joined by eleven other Brazilian musicians.

So, you see? Good Brazilian music didn't begin with Antonio Carlos Jobim. With talents like Jovino Santos Neto around, it certainly doesn't end with him, either.

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

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  • El Bicho

    Don’t know if you heard: while Luther is out playing with the Crowes, the fellas got together a new outfit called Hill Country Revue. I like ’em a lot from the couple of tunes I heard on their MySpace page. I think you might as well.

  • Josh Hathaway

    My friend 11 went to high school with Jason Isbell, formerly of DBT.

  • kate

    there’s also some great interview footage of luther dickinson (and jason isbell, separate).. at this link.