Two New Reviews, Two Old

Written by on December 28, 2023

“Two New Reviews, Two Old,” by Fred Rudofsky.

Walter “Wolfman” Washington:  Feel So at Home (Tipitina’s Record Club)

When I look back on my concert-going days / nights (1500+ plus shows), Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s Capital District appearances rank among the very best I ever witnessed. Seeing him play in the 1990s and early 2000s with his talented band, The Roadmasters, at Pauly’s, The Metro, Washington Park, and Siro’s was inspiring, and fueled my interest in the funky, diverse music of New Orleans. Later, I saw him play in a totally different configuration, singing and playing guitar in the Joe Krown Trio in several gigs at the Parish Public House. He was always gracious, too, willing to talk about his remarkable career as an early sideman to Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, Johnny Adams, and Irma Thomas right through to the projects he had in the works. The man lived and breathed music, as clichéd as that may sound. His life’s work stands alongside the best of anybody who has called New Orleans home.

Feel So at Home is a deftly arranged yet bittersweet concept album, worthy of repeat listenings, released a year after Washington’s death at 79 from cancer in 2022. Eight songs detail the ebb and flow of romance, and the tasteful orchestration backing gives the album an after hours feel that puts the spotlight on Washington’s deeply soulful voice and fluid guitar fills and solos. It feels like being in the room as the tape rolls, honestly, and that’s a credit not only to Washington but producer Ben Ellman, who had worked on Washington’s superbly understated My Future Is My Past in 2018. The opening “I Feel So at Home Here” (co-written by Michelle Wiley and Ed Townsend) establishes the mood not only for Washington but the listener, an invitation to a bluesy yet resilient approach to dealing with life.  Three songs by Washington (“Without You”, “Lovely Day”, and “It’s Raining in My Life”) show his expertise at speaking from the heart, but the covers are compelling, too.

“Along about Midnight” by Guitar Slim (Washington’s legendary cousin) packs a punch by being so understated, and the lyrics hit home for anyone who has suffered devastating loss (“When my mother was living / I could face this mean old world with ease / Now she’s dead and gone / Won’t somebody help me please?”) and cannot find solace or love. Charles Brown’s 1951 slow minor-key blues classic “Black Night” oozes agitation and a recognition that maybe love’s troubles are the least of those one might face at the moment. Another Guitar Slim gem, “Sufferin’ Mind” is a heart-tugger– if you’ve felt this way, trust me, you’ve got a friend in Washington, who taps into a gospel vibe in the vocal and launches into a cathartic guitar solo midway. The closer, “I’ve Been Wrong for So Long”, featuring some tasty piano by Steve DeTroy, showcases Washington in classic form, reaching out to a lady for one more chance, stretching out the final lyric with an ache that cannot be denied.

The Third Mind : 2 (Yep Roc Records)

It goes without saying that anything Dave Alvin’s been involved with will be a must to check out, whether it’s The Blasters, The Knitters, his impeccable solo albums dating back to 1987, or his recent collaborations with Jimmie Dale Gilmore or his older brother, Phil Alvin. His second album in three years with a core of musicians billed as The Third Mind –a name taken from a Beat guide to creating through “cut-up” techniques–  is exceptional.  Indeed, the album’s six extended-length songs are kaleidoscopic projections of rhythm, tone and risk-taking, mixing the spectral folkie voice and acoustic guitar of Jesse Sykes with the electric guitar work of Alvin and David Immerlock. Holding it all together are bassist Victor Krummenbacher, keyboardist Willie Aron,  and drum virtuoso Michael Jerome. As for the songs, they are truly as eclectic as the free-form jamming, cut live– and then some edited in William S. Burroughs style– is spirited.

The Electric Flag’s “Groovin’ Is Easy” opens in a sparse arrangement, builds in volume with bluesy fills and solos by Alvin and cool wah-wahed replies by Immerlock, before returning to an eerie refrain, “It doesn’t have to be.” Gene Clark’s “Why Not Your Baby” could be the soundtrack to a ghosting incident, full of confusion, self-questioning, vain hopes of reconciliation.

The Third Mind, who had covered “East-West” on their debut, gives another Paul Butterfield epic, “In My Own Dream”, an off-kilter beat of drums and congas, with Sykes sounding like Grace Slick whispering from a circle’s tangent. The guitar banter, leads and rhythms, is jaw-dropping. A Sykes and Alvin co-write, “Tall Grass” melds bits of Fairport Convention, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, and Ennio Morricone into a riveting ballad that morphs into a rousing guitar dialogue. “Sally Go Round the Roses”, an early ’60s pop-soul nugget written by Phil Spector for The Jaynetts , gets a haunting makeover: a stuttering rhythm makes the lyrics menacing and cautionary.  Closing out with Fred Neil’s “A Little Bit of Rain” is inspired; it opens with an understated, plaintive Sykes singing over guitars that conjure a desert landscape as bleak and tremulous as the relationship depicted.

To paraphrase Eugene Ionesco, there are two sides to the truth but it’s The Third Mind that’s the best.  Best listened to at night.

Tom Waits : Mule Variations (Anti-)

I love the music of Tom Waits and all the twisted and inspired turns it has taken, but this is the one I keep going back to from 1999. Years ago, Waits called it “surrural” (surreal and rural) music and I cannot agree more. Blues, soul, gospel, field hollers and poetry all weave into one on this cycle of songs. I love the bragging rock of “Big in Japan”; deep soul of “Hold On” and “The House Where Nobody Lives”; whacked out barker rant of “Eyeball Kid”; eerie observations of  neighborly paranoia in “What’s He Building in There?”; and deep as the Mississippi mud blues of “Get Behind the Mule” featuring the incomparable Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica.

Yet it’s the piano pieces (“Picture in a Frame”, “Take It with Me”, and “Come on Up to the House”) stripped down to rudimentary elements that hit me the most. There have been many sleepless nights when I’ve played this album on repeat just to hear that gruff voice exhume and animate the humor and magic that lies buried somewhere in this weird, dark thing called life.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: BBC Sessions

Already an ardent listener of Jimi Hendrix, I got a copy of Radio One sometime during my early graduate school days in New Hampshire, not long after hearing advance tracks from it on a special radio broadcast that I’d taped. Years later, the album was expanded into Jimi Hendrix Experience: BBC Sessions

Much like those with The Beatles, the Hendrix Experience sessions for the BBC prompt a fuller appreciation of the musicians (Hendrix, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell), their personalities and influences–it’s like time-traveling and sitting in the booth during a playback.  This 2-cd collection features thrilling takes on classics and hits from the three Experience albums– “Hey Joe”, “Foxey Lady”, “Fire”, “Purple Haze”, “Spanish Castle Magic”, and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”–yet it’s the deep tracks from those albums, and the eclectic covers, and the banter and brief interviews that I still find fascinating.

Rarely played live, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”, “Little Miss Lover”, “Wait Until Tomorrow”, and “Love or Confusion” plus a wry one of a kind jingle “Radio One” give a whole new perspective on Hendrix’s gifts as a songwriter–I rank him with the best from that or any era. Hendrix covers Bob Dylan (and not the song you might  anticipate!), Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf, The Beatles, Cream, and Stevie Wonder (who plays drums on a wild instrumental jam of “I Was Made to Love Her”). The whole band is magnificent,  going to uncharted sonic territories.

Yes, Hendrix’s guitar playing astounds, but so does his singing (despite the self-deprecating take he often shared in interviews about his voice). He’s a total musician. My advice: get experienced, get the BBC Sessions.


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