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From the Inside Out

Postcards From Seven Summer Day Trips

By Published: September 13, 2004

"Just the Way It Went" will keep bumpin' around the inside of my head the rest of the fall. It is just so : Adrome "Acidman" MacHine on drums and Levy on bass set up a taffy pull in the rhythm section (drums thump out the backbeat, then bass snaps it back), Levy's vibes coolly lead the ensemble through the melody with sophisticated funk, and the saxophone and guitar solos seem to glide above yet churn below, down in the rhythmic pocket.

The joint is composed, arranged, programmed, and produced by Ron Levy, who primarily plays keyboards (acoustic and electric piano, organ, clavinet, synthetic strings) plus bass and vibes. His tunes and arrangements maximize the contributions of guest saxophonists "Sax" Gordon Beadle and Karl Denson and the consistently dazzling guitarist Melvin Sparks, who hammers home the groove in "Just the Way It Went" till it becomes transcendent.

As a keyboardist, Levy lays down cool pastel tiles for the soloists to dance on and deep liquid blue pools for them to swim in. In the sticky thick New Orleans syncopated funk groove "Slinky" he tosses off a straight-up Les McCann piano solo - somehow gospel sanctified yet cathouse bawdy and blue, cold steady rocking.

Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers
Release the Hound

The blues is a curse and the blues is a blessing. No one person embodied that truth more than guitarist and vocalist Hound Dog Taylor. He had the rare blues gift that made feeling so bad feel so good.

Bruce Iglauer founded Alligator Records in 1971 to record Hound Dog's unique incendiary blues, forged with guitarist Brewer Phillips and drummer Levi Warren (later Ted Harvey). This collection of previously unreleased (mostly live) material includes three tracks from the Houserockers' first US tour that same year, soundboard recordings of "She's Gone," "It Hurts Me Too" and "The Dog Meets the Wolf," Taylor's tribute to another Chicago legend, Howlin' Wolf.

Taylor's tortured guitar and vocal in "It Hurts Me Too" projects such human agony it sounds like what it must feel like to have your body set on fire. It careens into a shotgun blast through "What'd I Say" that typifies why the Houserockers became known as "the Ramones of the blues": it's too loud, too fast, too unintelligible, too raw...and it's simply magnificent. In "One More Time," the next track, Taylor illuminates the path down which Chuck Berry discovered rock and roll in the blues.

Guitar with vocal blues just can't sound much more hurt and brokedown than Taylor's ten-minute confessional "Things Don't Work Out Right."

Hound Dog recorded three albums for Alligator before he died of lung cancer. "When I die," he once reflected, "they'll say, 'He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good.'" He was half right: This sounds - and feels - mighty good.

Joe Bonner
New Beginnings

Enjoyed this morning's sunrise in a most quietly beautiful place. Sunlight poured down from above, tender and strong, setting off wondrous and dark shadows. A place where you can safely hear the wordless sound of your own heart.

Every one of these five originals, plus Bonner's rendition of Thad Jones' "A Child is Born," sounds like a love song. Even if they were not composed to be heard that way, in Bonner's hands they are lovingly rendered on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, mainly in solitude. Laurie Antonioli doubles up Bonner's "Soft Breezes" melody with beautiful wordless vocals; cello dances with piano through Bonner's title track.

Bonner attacks "Soft Breezes" with a guitarist's rhythmic touch, strumming with his left hand to voice each individual notes within chords, and contrasting the melody against repeated background ripples. Like much of this beautiful music, "Primal Scream" sounds both adventurous and therapeutic. So does the penetrating and explosive "The Revolution."

He sounds profoundly influenced by McCoy Tyner long before the last song, a tribute to Tyner's most famous employer, "Ode to Trane." This sounds so forthright and tender, at least the first two verses, you really could be listening to Burt Bacharach (its rhythmic and melodic flow seem to echo "Wives and Lovers").

Bonner has recorded and performed with Roy Haynes, Freddie Hubbard, and Billy Higgins, and has served as one of Pharoah Sanders' most sympathetic pianists. New Beginnings was originally released by Theresa Records in 1988. Its beauty is something of a curse: This set is way too brief (less than forty minutes) and because what you DO hear is so beautiful, you are left wanting to hear more.

Bebel Gilberto
(Six Degrees)

What do you do after your debut ( Tanto Tempo ) is adored by critics AND sells a million worldwide copies? Make a second record that's even better.

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