Rob’s Apothecary – 9

BOWLEGS

Treatment (said to cure): Wipe the legs of child with a greasy towel every day

Today’s Music (note all reviews taken from the All Music Guide)

Love ChroniclesAl Stewart – 1969 – the second album is most renowned for the 18-minute title track, an autobiographical recount of different love affairs with guitar by Jimmy Page. That track was also quite controversial for its day in its use of the word “fucking” at one point in the lyrics, though that’s not typical of the tone of the composition. It’s actually not the best of the six songs on the record, which saw Stewart wisely discard the orchestration of his debut in favour of fairly straight-ahead folk-rock backing. “Ballad of Mary Foster” is Stewart‘s best early song, as a two-part suite neatly divided between brusque cynical commentary on a bourgeois English family and the introspective musings of the ravaged wife. That second part bears considerable similarity in melody and tempo, incidentally, to sections of the far more famous Stewart song “Roads to Moscow.” The rest of the album has additional solid vignettes in the standard gentle yet detached Stewart mold, the best of them being “Life and Life Only,” which exploits his knack for insistent, repetitive minor-keyed hooks.

Louisiana BluesRobert Pete Williams – 1967 – Great blues artists need not be virtuoso musicians of the sort proudly paraded around by genres such as jazz and classical music. When expression and emotion are the main requirements — and real expression and emotion, not just professional stage dramatics — then playing one million notes per minute or having the most perfect sound on earth becomes much less important. But this is all a way of building up to the opinion that Robert Pete Williams is indeed a virtuoso, making him one of the most exciting country blues musicians to ever record as well as one of the most musically interesting. Again, it isn’t a matter of playing a lot of notes, but how he plays them. Within a single passage he will sometimes employ three or four brilliantly subtle techniques — for example, a run played with the strings slightly muted followed by a clever punching of the rhythm with a single staccato chord. He creates passages of notes in which each one is played with a slightly different feel, an intricate and difficult accomplishment that few blues artists even think about, let alone do. He also rarely repeats himself, does fascinating things with the harmonic structure, and in each song evolves a relationship between guitar and voice that is stunning. On his “I’m Going Down Slow,” for example, his blues lines utilize syncopation and offbeat accents that are more commonly associated with the blues inventions of jazz giants such as Charlie Parker, not country blues artists who are thought of as more primitive in their concept. Is that notion ever wrong! “Ugly,” also known as “Grown So Ugly,” is one of the most powerful songs ever from the country blues tradition. It is also easily this artist’s most famous number due to a cool, but eventually inferior, cover version by Captain Beefheart, one of the few times the Captain took on something he couldn’t quite handle. The only real quibble with this set, and it is very small, is the missed opportunity for a good album cover. Someone at this label had strange notions of design when Takoma’s handful of blues releases came out. The small photo of the artist on the back cover with his scribbled signature would have been a much better choice if enlarged to fill the front cover than the awful artwork that is featured. Whatever. Put a paper bag over it, but just listen to it.

Grand Wazoo Frank Zappa – 1973 – Like its immediate predecessor, Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo was a largely instrumental jazz rock album recorded during Frank Zappa‘s convalescence from injuries sustained after being pushed off a concert stage. While Zappa contributes some guitar solos and occasional vocals, the focus is more on his skills as a composer and arranger. Most of the five selections supposedly form a musical representation of a story told in the liner notes about two warring musical factions, but the bottom line is that, overall, the compositions here are more memorably melodic and consistently engaging than Waka/Jawaka. The instrumentation is somewhat unique in the Zappa catalog as well, with the band more of a chamber jazz orchestra than a compact rock unit; over 20 musicians and vocalists contribute to the record. While Hot Rats is still the peak of Zappa‘s jazz-rock fusion efforts, The Grand Wazoo comes close, and it’s essential for anyone interested in Zappa‘s instrumental works.

Guitar ManLittle Milton – 2002

Greyhound – Mike Zito – 2011 – Since hooking up with the Eclecto Groove label in 2008, roots/blues-rocking guitarist Mike Zito has been honing his craft, shifting his focus from a hotshot blues six-stringer to a literate songwriter and soulful singer who just happens to be a badass guitarist. On his third release for the imprint, he brings along the talented Anders Osborne (who appeared on his previous disc) as producer/second guitarist/backing vocalist, and together they craft a tough but introspective Southern rock set with strong roots in the swampy sounds that have clearly inspired Zito. Instead of entertaining multiple guests as on his last outing, Zito pares his band to a backing trio featuring Osborne, drummer Brady Blade, and bassist Carl Dufrene, the latter who, like Osborne, has worked with the similarly styled Tab Benoit. From the bittersweet, acoustic-based “Motel Blues” to the chunky “The Southern Side” and the Creedence-sounding title track, Zito looks inward for inspiration, which results in his best, most personal collection yet. The melody of the chorus “Run away, run away/I’m leaving today/There ain’t nothing like the sound/Of a lonely Greyhound” is instantly memorable in its hopeful desperation, a singalong moment when Zito reflects on an earlier time in his life that creates an indelible audio photograph. He shifts to Tinsley Ellis-styled riff rock for the grinding “Judgment Day” and comes up with a stinging, surging rocker whose words of “If I’m going to walk the streets of Hell/I might as well dance” turn the religious sentiments of the song upside down. That spirituality threads through the album but is never overbearing. He recounts a discussion with the man upstairs on “The Hard Way” as Osborne runs his guitar through a processing/distortion unit. It’s perfect for the pounding Zeppelin-style beat as Zito sings with a raw voice that seems as if he’s got a hellhound on his trail. The closing “Please, Please, Please” (not the James Brown tune) is an achingly slow, lost love song that’s as close to pure blues as this album gets. It allows Zito to display his darkly personal singing as well as build a tasty jazz-inflected guitar solo. The upbeat shuffle of “Until the Day I Die” is a sacred inspired love song to his wife that never gets cloying or pretentious and features searing lead guitar. Osborne‘s production is clean and stripped-down but includes subtleties, some audible only in headphones, that show attention to small details and enhance the music without distracting from it. Zito has paid his dues on the road and in the studio to reach the new high standards this album sets in his impressive catalogue. Even though he’s already a journeyman, this release shows he has a rich future as a soulful blues-rocker with something to say and the tools to say it convincingly.

Grateful Heart Blues and Ballads Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters – 1996 – Perhaps the smartest move a non-singing guitar-playing virtuoso like Ronnie Earl could make was ditching the lame singers who permeate most of his earlier efforts and go with an all-instrumental program. On this outing, Grateful Heart: Blues and Ballads, he surrounds himself with an excellent quartet of players with David “Fathead” Newman on tenor sax, Per Hanson on drums, Rod Carey on bass, and Bruce Katz on keyboards, and the results are simply sublime. Instead of a bunch of Chicago retreads, we are treated to a heady mixture of blues, jazz, soul, swing, you name it, all of it infused with taste, tone and economy. When Earl burns, the results are jaw-dropping; when he slows it down, his choice of notes is exquisite. “Welcome Home,” “Still Soul Searching,” “Drown in My Own Tears” and “Skyman (For Duane Allman)” are just a few of the highlights, but there really isn’t a wasted note on this record to be found. Anywhere.

Half Ain’t Been Told – Otis Spann – 1980 – Super tasty Spann set on Black Cat Records. The vinyl is highly recommended. The same as The Blues of Otis Spann with two additional cuts.

Back Home In New Orleans – Champion Jack Dupree – 1990 – By far the best of Dupree’s three albums for Bullseye Blues, this collection was cut during the pianist’s first trip home to the Crescent City in 36 long years. With his longtime accompanist Kenn Lending on guitar, Dupree sounds happy to be back in his old stomping grounds throughout the atmospheric set.