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Skip Heller: Liberal Dose

Rex  Butters By

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One imagines Skip Heller with an enormous rolodex of nothing but undersung organists. It seems like each new Heller release introduces a different organist from a different region, bringing new flavors and delights to the guitarist's evolving organ trio format. On Liberal Dose, Heller teams with players—Alabaman Chris Spies behind the Hammond and David White on drums—whose immersion in Gulf State/New Orleans culture gives them the kind of living jukebox range that matches his own transcendently encyclopedic musical vocabulary.

Recorded live in Huntsville, Alabama, the program brings together Heller compositions from his many previous recordings, mixed with a few relatively new ones, drawn from a head-spinning mix of influences including classical, folk, Jewish wedding music, blues, jazz and country, seamlessly reconciled within the musical democracy that is Skip Heller.

With a title echoing the Weavers, "Isn't This a Time introduces Spies' plush tone and playful fingers. White wisely keeps it light and steady, and Heller plays his bright conversational stroll. The Middle Eastern harmonic minors of "Meyedele break open for Heller's funk blues lead, which cuts through the rich cloud of organ tones. Spies pulls the stop for "Soulful, supported by Heller's curt, incisive chording. The tune ends with a note-perfect quote of Stevie Wonder's elaborate fanfare from "Sir Duke.

Swinging like a motor scooter, "Funeral March from the Mahler #5 settles down for a dark moment before Spies blows it back open. Heller plays it sweet and twisty. Named for the King of California, "Dave Alvin emphasizes Heller's clean, countrified tone in a sweet mid-tempo homage. With an unusual theme that reaches heavenward, "(The Lonesome Death of) Emily Remler provides a tough framework for improvisation that's gracefully scaled by Spies and Heller.

A beauty which originally appeared on Bear Flag, "Letter Home to My Wife, finds the guitarist digging in with a harder tone and a lot to say, after an emotional reading by Spies. Heller states "McMansion On the Hill with a slick multi-voiced lead, and Spies slips the leash to rave a bit, even quoting Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl. Naturally, "President 'Guitar' Watson ends the recording blue and burning.

Liberal Dose is the first release on Heller's Skyeways label, whose distribution scheme mirrors that of the ancient Folkways indie label, with the graphics also mimicking the older imprint. Like Folkways, Heller's art springs from an inclusive approach to people, as well as music.


Track Listing: Isn

Personnel: Skip Heller: guitar; Chris Spies: organ; David White: drums.

Title: Liberal Dose | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Skyeways

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