Bentley's Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley's Bandstand Columns Reviews

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021
By Bill Bentley

Brian T. Atkinson, TRUE LOVE CAST OUT ALL EVIL: The Songwriting Legacy of Roky Erickson
As a songwriter, surely Roky Erickson stands as tall as any during the past 55 years. Starting with “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” penned for his high school band The Spades when he was only 15 years old and later covered by his next group the 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson was on a road to luminosity right from note one. It remains a feat of such greatness when all the Texan’s mental challenges and legal recriminations are added in that it’s near-superhuman. This oral history of Roky Erickson’s life and musical achievements reads like a classic of wonder and survival. Dozens and dozens of Erickson’s fellow travelers are interviewed about their observances and the wisdom they experienced in the presence of the mighty one, and sometimes the only reaction can be a silent astonishment of what occurred. Author Brian T. Atkinson rose to the Herculean task of penning this collection, and
they should at least give him a permanent Lone Star award for going far beyond the call of duty to make sure future generations will be able to get a grasp of the greatness that stood among them. There is awe-inspiring achievement right next to tear-inducing sadness throughout the life of Roger Kynard Erickson, but what there absolutely is not is any instance of his giving up. Against all odds, that never happened. He performed his songs for his entire life, right up until a month before his passing in May 2019, and he did it with an aura of gargantuan goodness like the spirit he was born to possess. To
say there won’t be another is one of total understatement, because like one of Roky Erickson’s last songs written with lyricist/electric jug player Tommy Hall for the 13th Floor Elevators is titled: “Never Another.” Three-eyed men.

Hayes Carll, You Get It All. There are still a few mavericks left in the Texas music world, an it’s a good chance that Hayes Carll might be the most maverick of them all. Not to mention one of the flat-out best. There is something about Carll’s songs that feel so real it probably isn’t possible he didn’t live them. Which likely brought with it a good degree of trouble and definitely some wounded hearts. In a way, though, the price was worth the problems, because there really isn’t a better singer-songwriter left on the bluebonnet trail right now. Not only that, but it’s also an extremely good chance that none of them will record a better song this decade than Hayes Carll’s new “Help Me Remember.” Written with Josh Morningstar, this fresh classic captures feelings that are beyond the craft of expression by almost all other songsmiths, and really does live in the rarefied air of Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson’s best. Likely a portrayal of someone fast losing their memory, Carll is able to turn that fear and pain into something to be held close to the heart and pray for the best. With lyrics like “”It feels so familiar as I watch you walk in the room / at first I don’t recognize you but then I damn sure recognize that perfume / and you kneel down beside me and gently take hold of my hand / I say ‘Baby I’m scared and I’m not sure I know who I am / Can you help me remember who it is I used to be / can you tell me the story of my family my hopes and my dreams / did I try to stand for something or would I always fold / did I do things when I was young to be proud of when I was old’…” Wow. Hayes Carll grew up north of Houston, and likely knows the barrooms and honky tonks of East Texas as well as anyone alive. His songs and his soul have the feel of a person who never held back and wasn’t afraid to step across the line, and lived to return and write about it. Every one of his seven albums holds musical jewels not so common in today’s Spotified world, but each is worth searching for and living with. Now’s the time.

Kris Gruen, Welcome Farewell. It makes complete cosmic sense that Kris Gruen focused on his ancestral surroundings in Vermont’s rural backcountry to begin work on this gorgeous new album. The singer-songwriter immediarely took to the outdoors as the driving impetus in the music he was writing and recording. It was land that dates back genterations for Gruen, which is exactly why he sounds so at home with the acoustic instruments and emphasis on autographical stories of what his people have been through. His vocals alone have a stirring way of capturing all that his relatives’ life story, and the way he extends their emotional history into the future is like a magical ride into a new land. Along for that ride are different instrumentalists that stretch out Kris Gruen’s sound so it feels like there isn’t anywhere he can’t take it. With producer Charles Newman, who has worked with Magnetic Fields, The Bones of J.R. Jones, Kate Vargas and others, it’s like the pair has built a new boat to sail on. And the sea the music travels on takes in the whole variety of American composition, from folk to rock to country to the great beyond. WELCOME FAREWELL feels like a starting point in Gruen’s new odyssey, one that packs up the past and embraces the future. Which might be the reason the last song on this audacious album is Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” surely one of the theme songs of the burgeoning punk generation that has gone on to become a summation for all that happened, all that has been lost but, more importantly, all that has been found. It’s the real tale of America and its music, and to say that Kris Gruen has reached the promised land on this anthem is an understatement. What Gruen has really achieved is heaven on earth, showing how heartbreak and happiness are so very often one and the same. What a world.

Ronnie Leatherman and Friends, Old School. While the name Ronnie Leatherman might not ring any massive bells of recognition, buried deep in the realm of psychedelic music in the mid-1960s his name is written in huge letters for those who religiously followed the paths of origination. Leatherman was the Texan who stepped into the bass player slot early on in the 13th Floor Elevators, the first part of 1966 to be exact, and replaced original bassist Bennie Thurman, who is said to have wandered off the road of LSD usage into the darker web of methedrine. Leatherman, like several of the other Elevators, was a Hill Country homeboy who fit in just right with the band, which included Stacy Sutherland, John Ike Walton, Tommy Hall and Roky Erickson. And it was Leatherman who helped record the majority of the Elevators’ debut album, and went on the E-ticket caravan out to California starting in August 1966 for several months stationed in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury as they played the Fillmore Auditorium and multiple shows at the Avalon Ballroom. Flash forward 50 year, and Ronnie Leatherman has released a warmly winning collection of songs that range from Johnny Cash, Albert King, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond covers to three originals that show his years with the 13th Floor Elevators were well spent. Leatherman’s warm voice carries the soulful embrace of Roky Erickson’s spirit, and shows a shining edge of the Central Texas sunshine. And while it doesn’t take any of the wilder lyrical excursions of the Elevators’ music, it is still indebted to the questions they pondered and hoped to answer. It’s just coming from the other side of the psychedelic equation, one where the questions have been asked without hallucinogens. And answered with love. With a crack backing band and clear-eyed production, Ronnie Leatherman answers the question of where one of the earliest Elevators is today, and he’s right here in front of listeners showing them that the circle really does remain unbroken. Old school lives.

Memphissippi Sounds, Welcome to the Land. Mississippi so often feels and sounds like its own country. It’s where so much of American music started with the dirt-rich blues of the Delta and an undying humanity of all those who toiled and traveled there. It helped give birth to a sound that still reverberates through inspiration and influence in almost everything after it, and at the same time can be forgotten and left behind in the crush of the future’s relentless advance. But there is no way that people like Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and other blues originators will ever disappear. Instead, their souls have been reborn in families like those of the Kimbroughs and the Burnsides, and so many others, to find new flames in the sounds of today. In fact, the Memphissippi Sounds are the living incarnation of what their past bloodlines gave them, and have every intention of seeing to it that history stays alive forever, no matter what the changes might be. This duo of Damion Pearson and Cameron Kimbrough is a mind-bending amalgamation of everything from Muddy Waters to Playa Fly, and everything in between, almost like an assault on the senses set in a modern world of turmoil doing its best to find new hope in transformation. What is completely clear is that this duo is not fooling around. They veer through the world of the pandemic, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter at the same time they also reside in a place where the blues of titans like Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson are not strangers. Hence their name: the depth of all the righteous revelations of the music of both Memphis and Mississippi can never be overlooked, because in so many ways it will always be the starting point for rock & roll and rhythm & blues. WELCOME TO THE LAND is just that: a primer in pure power of how music can be a changing force as well as a conduit for love. In a way, those two foundations often feel like they were born to be together, and Memphissippi Sounds will be one of the aggregations making sure it stays that way. Keep on pushing.

Leo Nocentelli, Another Side. By now, over 50 years since their earliest beginning, music lovers know The Meters as one of the funkiest bands who ever played the planet. And for those who have their ears particularly tuned into the groovacious sounds of New Orleans’ sonic concoctions, well, Leo Nocentelli, Art Neville, Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter’s early recordings starting in the late 1960s sealed the deal for where so much of the funk first began. “Cissy Strut” and “Hey Poky A-Way” both came from Nocentelli’s hands and heart. But what no one except a few knew is that in the early ’70s the Meters’ guitarist slid off from the group for some solo sessions in the Big Easy as an experiment in a different style of songs. It’s a brew with plenty of quiet soul, plus gorgeous guitarisms that not many ever expected glowing inside this Meter man. Unfortunately the tapes remained shelved in Allen Toussaint’s studio for over 30 years, until Hurricane Katrina in 2005 seemed to wash them away forever. Luckily, a higher power was watching over the album now known as ANOTHER SIDE, and when the tapes were found at a California swap meet in 2018 it seemed like providence had pulled out all the stops and gave Nocentelli’s early experiments a real chance at finally being heard. And guess what? It was worth the wait, because songs like “Thinking of the Day,” “Give Me Back My
Loving,” “Till I Get There” and, yes, a cover of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s iconoclastic “Your Song” have such a deep-planted soulfulness in them that it is almost beyond comprehension that they had first disappeared like they did. Luckily for all, the Light in the Attic record label has made sure this better-late-than-never wonder gets the A-plus treatment and, hopefully, the world of music lovers will now be able to hear what Leo Nocentelli pulled out of thin air way down yonder all those years ago. It’s like the higher spirits of the City that Care Forgot showed everyone they really did care after all, and now a wrong has been fixed–forever. Yeah you right.

NRBQ, Dragnet. Even though the band’s name stood for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, there was no way this New England aggregation was ever going to get pinned in. They had such a broad swath of interests and abilities that there was never a pigeonhole big enough for them to fit in. Instead, they took the entire range of American music and went to town with it, decades before the term Americana was even a sparkle in Uncle Tupelo’s bright baby eyes. The original four of NRBQ, now only home to
one–keyboardist/vocalist/eccentric Terry Adams–set out originally to be the musical pioneers they quickly became, and astounded audiences worldwide far beyond early predictions. Even better, the band’s new music lives right up there with the best of their early reputation. They play with such startling and powerful simplicity, a style that must be earned and not learned, it’s obvious they are in a party of one on the modern day music scene. DRAGNET is a study in greatness, right from the start. Dedicated to the 1950s TV police drama starring Jack Webb, it’s likely Terry Adams still has visions of the show’s production company hammer being hit at the end of each episode, and the studied cool of all the actors on the program. NRBQ even does their decidedly own version of the Dragnet theme song just to be sure the circle stays unbroken. And round and round NRBQ continue to go,
and grow, with recently new members dancing the loose-limbed boogie that Adams and crew have always possessed, no matter who was on the call sheet. The album closer, “Sunflower,” is a Terry Adams original originally recorded to eh 2018 film “Change in the Air,” and shows how the band has really been the stars of their own movie of what a modern band can be and do, and follows a script of cheerful originality and sideways logic. There is no other way for NRBQ, and listeners will always remain the lucky recipients of their upended realities. No hesitation allowed.

Robert Plant / Alison Krauss, Raise the Roof. At the end of the musical day, it might just be true that it will always be about the voices. If time is traced back to its human origin, that was what there was. Instruments were a thing of the future, even if it was a stick beating on a tree. The voices of Robert
Plant and Alison Krauss sound like they were put together by divine attribution. The way Plant and Krauss can sing alone and then weave together certainly sounds cosmic, and with the right song they can take off for celestial destinations at will. For their second pairing, returning producer T Bone Burnett kept his smarts on from the first and let the magic remain instrumentally down to earth, with backing instruments straight out of a minimalist handbook. And the songs, a savvy mix of historic discoveries and a few in the recent range, spread from the Everly Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Merle Haggard and Dean Holloway, Bobby Moore, Bert Jansch, Olla Belle Reed, Geeshie Wylie, Anne Briggs to newer names like Randy Weeks, Brenda Burns andCalexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino. At the core of the album is an exploratory of expansive wanderings, which is what the greatest music often is, without overthought or overtness. It really is two singers letting their voices and souls take the lead in the dance of beauty, and never looking back or down. They really are two icons who
remain utterly human at heart, and fearless in their roamings to discover the sounds inside them. The way Robert Plant and Alison Krauss share their gifts with the world will always be an inspiration for all. Magic in motion.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, The Future. There is something about singer Nathaniel Rateliff that can’t quite be put into words. He often comes across as a no-holds barred booze fighter of the highest degree, and then turns around and writes such tender songs that they should be accompanied by a handy hanky whenever heard. Raised in rural Missouri before he made the uptown trek to Denver, Rateliff has seen his share of hardships, which only means that he comes by his soul-drenched voice with pure honesty. Over a handful of albums the man has proven he needn’t walk in the shadow of anyone, and when his single “S.O.B” hit the stratosphere a few years ago, it was a sign that all good people are eventually rewarded. The latest album with his muscular band the Night Sweats comes roaring back from a Rateliff solo excursion two years ago, and from song one it is obvious both captain and crew are ready to take it to the limit. Opening with what could have been a brand new Bob Dylan-sounding classic called “The Future,” it doesn’t take long for man and band to
dig down deep into their own groove and show everyone what their mamas gave them. This is a bruising sound inflected with unending sensitivity, and on songs like “Survivor,” “What If I” and “I’m on
Your Side” show, Nathaniel Rateliff really is someone who is still in the grips of a keen-eyed understanding of how and why real music will always have a home in the land of the free, and if he has anything to do with it will keep an electrifying edge at the center of that sound. There are only a handful of singers who have fashioned their own sound from America’s most soulful originators without being able to be accused of audio thievery, and Nathaniel Rateliff comes without an
expiration date because it is crystal clear that he believes in the sound he was born with. It is a joyous and jubilating journey he has found himself on, and it’s all roads ready to be explored as the music
keeps hold of him. No turning back.

Ricci / Krown, City Country City. There is a proud tradition of Hammond organ trio that has run through the jazz world for many years. Some of that may have been dictated by lack of space in urban lounges starting in the 1950s, and how you could squeeze in three musicians easier than a full quartet. No matter what the reasons, organ trios took over for their boisterous sound and sexy underpinnings. There can be no doubt they promoted alcohol sales as well, since there’s something about their style that made listeners get loaded. Organist Joe Krown has been in the middle of Southern music of various stripes for many years, whether it was in Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s band, on through to Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s outfit and beyond. When Krown threw down in a band with harmonica cat Jason Ricci the world took notice, mainly because of just how knocked-out a player and singer Ricci is. The pair clicked from note one, and by bringing drum domo Doug Belote into the mix, the results were a guaranteed groove. The results are interstellar. There is such a free-form swing to everything the trio plays that it begins to feel like a class in freedom, one where nothing is off limits as long as it gets the blood percolating and the feet finding new ways of bopping. It’s almost like all three of these monster musicians were meant to come together for this take-off to the promised land. It is preordained by the promise of an unleashed undulation at the heart of the matter, one that kicks in whether the tempo is upbeat or down low. In some ways, though, the band name should be Ricci / Krown / Belote, because without a drummer of such awesomeness as Doug Belote there is no way they could have hit the monkey nerve so quickly and with unerring accuracy. The mix of material is also an eye-opener: plenty of Ricci and Krown originals, along with burning covers of those like Los Angeles’ stellar War, Joe Sample of Houston’s Crusaders, Texas City’s Charles Brown and the world-wandering Taj Mahal. Which leads to the album ender: a gloriously greasy cover of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” that might not actually tell the audience why Billy Joe McAlister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, but will sure make the pondering of that age-old musical question a righteous ride. Like many things, sometimes it’s best to let the mystery live on and keep the questions churning. Dig and repeat.

Various Artists, Mighty Fine: An Austin City Limits Tribute to Walter Hyatt. Life has a way of turning upside down, usually when least expected, and testing the strength of those who never expected to be tested in that way. When singer-songwriter extraordinaire Walter Hyatt died in a
1996 ValueJet plane crash, it felt like the end of an era for many of Austin’s music lovers. Hyatt had been a proud member of the unbeatable trio Uncle Walt’s Band along with David Ball and Champ Hood, and then released the unforgettable debut (named after an East Austin funeral home) KING TEARS in 1990, followed by MUSIC TOWN in 1993. After Hyatt’s heartbreaking passing, different tribute shows quickly sprang up, including this Austin City Limits concert in 1997. Now, almost 25
years later, the songs have been collected for an emotional retrospective of Hyatt’s moving song catalogue, showing how much love and respect the Austin music community had always had for him. Artists like Willis Alan Ramsey, David Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcia Ball, David Halley, Champ Hood, Allison Moorer, Junior Brown and Lyle Lovett with Shawn Colvin each take a Walter Hyatt original (along with a few co-writers), and pour their hearts into it. To hear Ball make “Houston Town” an instant classic and Gilmore turn on the emotional high beams on “Georgia Rose” is to remember why Walter Hyatt will always be in the master class of modern songwriters. Also included on this moving collection are seven bonus songs from the original Austin City Limits broadcast, along with four previously unreleased Walter Hyatt recordings. Add on an incredibly insightful new essay by North Carolina author and musician Thomas Goldsmith and it feels like Walter Hyatt is still right here onstage, proving why he was one of the prime architects of Austin’s burgeoning music explosion that began in the 1970s. And that’s forever.

The Waller Creek Boys Featuring Janis Joplin. 1962 wasn’t exactly the middle of the countercultural earthquake that would hit America in the next few years, especially in Austin, Texas. Rock music was still pre-Beatles, and the city itself was a sleepy burg filled with straight-laced government workers and dutiful University of Texas students. But in small little apartments scattered in the middle of town, what were being called baby beatniks were twisting the top off the kind of things that would soon enough turn the country upside down. In fact, guitarist Lanny Wiggins, harmonica player Powell St. John and autoharp ace Janis Joplin were starting to raise a small storm at house parties, the Texas Student Union folk night and, most vividly, out at Kenneth Threadgill’s combo gas station, beer joint and music room. All three of the musicians threw in on singing, and almost right away Joplin got tagged as someone who just might someday rule the world. Called the Waller Creek Boys (why not?), the trio was starting to make a name for itself wherever they landed. And, of course, Joplin grabbed the spotlight. How could she not? Her voice sounded like she’d found it in a deep dark lonely room somewhere, and when she opened up and let it fly the walls could shake and time seemed like it just might come to a stop. Janis Joplin had a mountain of soul. That’s all there was to it, and she clearly wasn’t going to quit until the world knew it. Her trip to San Francisco to join Big Brother & the Holding Company was still four years away, but those nights in Austin when the Waller Creek Boys would turn on the heat and raise the roof are still being talked about by those lucky enough to have been there. And, miracle of miracles, on a few occasions another student-type would turn on their reel-to-reel tape recorder and capture for infinity what Joplin, St. John and Wiggins were capable of on old blues, country and folk classics. This is an album that must be heard to truly understand the seismic shift in America’s musical evolution that was right around the bend. Halfway through the set, for about a minute and a half, Janis Joplin sings Henry Glover’s “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears,” and suddenly the air gets supercharged with vibrating electricity and it is obvious that the young woman has planted her feet firmly in this good Earth and announced a girl child is coming who is going to change it all. Shivers and smiles are the only human response to such greatness, as Janis Joplin’s star arrives. What this album really is, of course, is an announcement for all to hear. Low-fi, sometimes scratchy or nearly drowned out by a boisterous crowd clearly in the midst of celebrating their gratefulness at being alive doesn’t matter. There won’t be another collection like it, just like there won’t be another Janis Joplin. Tomorrow had arrived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

Bentley’s Bandstand: December 2021

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