Reviews of CDs by Mark Wenner, Dwight Yoakam, Indigenous, Glenn Wilson and Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes
Now Hear This
Mark Wenner, "Runs Good; Needs Paint" (Right On Rhythm) Mark Wenner has carried the Washington blues banner to all corners of the globe for nearly 30 years as leader of The Nighthawks and as a member of innumerable side projects. "Needs Paint" is a sonically raw and earthy trip that takes a listener through the many phases of Wenner's wild ride down the road to the intersection where blues, rockabilly, rock and country music cross. Wenner leads a primo cast of players through revved-up versions of Merle Haggard's "Lonesome Fugitive" and "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor." His harp wails with characteristic fierceness on "Shade Tree Mechanic" and with melodic clarity on "I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry." We also hear Wenner paired with Bob Margolin in 1987 on a couple of Muddy Waters tunes, as well as with his favorite Midwest roots band, The Bel-Airs. Wenner's long-running group, The Nighthawks, adds a 1998 version of Willie Dixon's "I Want to Be Loved," and finally Richmond-based blues man Terry Garland joins Wenner on National Steel for a stark and graceful 1994 take on "Amazing Grace." It's unfortunate that nothing from the late-'70s 'Hawks was included. But regardless of that decision, "Needs Paint" is a fine aural snapshot of the long, worthy and probably underappreciated career of an uncompromising musical soul.
Dwight Yoakam, "dwightyoakam-acoustic.net" (Reprise) Real artists David Bowie, Neil Young, R.E.M., Bob Dylan transcend trends and public pandering. They present a distinct sound, honing a particular genre while showing off a restless creative spirit and a propensity for taking risks.
Add roots-music maven Dwight Yoakam to that elite club.
He's always delighted fans and critics with his takes on country, rockabilly and honky-tonk, mixing in healthy doses of rock, R&B and blues.
"dwightyoakamacoustic.net" adds to his luster. Ironically, the title conjures up high-tech cyber sounds. But the disc couldn't be more old-fashioned. He's set 25 of his most lauded songs to acoustic guitar just acoustic guitar. Nothing else.
Nothing else is needed. Think of it as 70-plus minutes of Yoakam on a barstool, singin' and strummin'. The cry-in-your-beer tunes are starker, while the up-tempo ones come off as spirited, country-tinged folk epics.
This project proves that Yoakam's songs stand on their own and that his voice can deliver. And the closer, an a capella version of "Guitars, Cadillacs," is a stunner. Definitely one of 2000's best.
- Eric Feber, The Virginian-Pilot
Indigenous, "Circle" (Pachyderm Records) This group of three siblings and one cousin who hail from South Dakota's Yankton Indian Reservation creates blues music that is accessible to all. Fronted by the talented singer/guitarist/songwriter Mato Nanji, Indigenous infuses rock 'n' roll into its less-than-traditional blues, making for an animated blend of old and new. While their fellow contemporary The Kenny Wayne Sheppard Band seems to have a rowdier manner of playing the blues, Indigenous is a little more laid-back, yet still has the same spirit and approachability as Sheppard's band.
These youthful yet worldly musicians have paid their dues, and now delight in showing the listener how far they've come with their soulful ballads and floor-stomping blues/rock numbers. The younger audience will especially appreciate the musical vitality and sentiment expressed in songs such as "You Left Me This Mornin'," with its catchy backing chorus, and the mournful lament of a love lost, "Stay With Me."
Indigenous plays an important part in carrying on America's musical traditions by enlightening young people on forms of music they might not otherwise listen to. With "Circle," the band presents the music it loves in a way that a new generation of music lovers can relate to while still keeping blues lovers enthralled.
Glenn Wilson, "One Man's Blues" (Sunnyside) The Jazzmaniacs' once-or-twice a month gig at Bogart's Back Room has been one of the most dependably enjoyable musical nights out for close to a decade. Their sophisticated and adventurous playing in that intimate setting is about as close as you can come to going to a New York club. Of course, even a live CD only hints at ambience the music has to stand on its own. "One Man's Blues," drawn from three nights of performances at the Back Room in early 1999, shows just how good a band the Jazzmaniacs are.
The selections make an eclectic combination: There are standards such as "Winter Wonderland" and Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year"; jazz compositions including Wayne Shorter's "Lester Left Town" and Charles Mingus' "All The Things You Could Be By Now if Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother"; and more personal choices such as bassist Jimmy Masters' lovely "More than Two
It's familiar material to the band, but each selection is approached with an exploratory spirit. Like all really good bands, the Jazzmaniacs are built around musical personality: Wilson's extroverted baritone lines balanced by co-leader Steve Kessler's angular constructions; bassist Jimmy Masters' elastic empathy with Tony Martucci's logical but surprising drumming.
Not just a souvenir of a night in the Fan, this is a good recording that rewards repeated listening.
- Peter McElhinney
Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes, "Live at the Greek" (TVT Records) - The story has circulated for ages: One night Mick Jagger hooked up with the fiery, short-lived blues outfit the Red Devils. The tapes (if they do exist) are MIA, but that match-up is the stuff of myth.
Good thing this two-CD set, documenting Zeppelin co-architect Jimmy Page and Atlanta's stomping Black Crowes over two torrid nights at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre, didn't collect dust. Otherwise, fans would miss out on the concert disc of Y2K.
Firing off licks that will wake the neighbors, Page hasn't sounded so inspired in years. But he doesn't replicate his songbook; he turns it inside out. And the Crowes, who've always seasoned their boogie with a little Zep, give the performance of their careers. Chris Robinson is all swagger and greasy harp; brother Rich matches Page run for run; drummer Steve Gorman whips up a tempest.
It's all here: "Celebration Day," "What Is and What Should Never Be," "The Lemon Song" and the disc-ending "Out on the Tiles/Whole Lotta' Love." "Shake Your Money Maker" gets the same two-fisted treatment, as does Peter Green's "Oh Well."
"Live at the Greek" does more than smoke your stereo; it reminds you why you listen to rock.
C.A. Shapiro, The Virginian-Pilot