The Amazing Rhythm Aces

The Amazing Rhythm Aces

Stacked Deck

Too Stuffed to Jump

Sony

Not many bands celebrate being Southern with more class and taste than the Aces did, and will continue to do. This is a fine start to a series of re-releases that I have craved for many years.

Several years ago, it looked like these recordings might never make it to their CD incarnation. After trying for years to unravel all the red tape that comes about through multiple sales of labels and catalogs over the years the group even re-recorded many of the favorites on a release they titled Ride Again. They also made a series of live recordings available to satisfy the pent-up demand for an Aces Fix that so many of their die-hard fans needed. While the later line-up was basically the same, and Ride Again was a good recording by most standards, it didn’t quite capture the magic of the original versions of these songs, and some of the live recordings were a little disappointing in quality.

The Aces came out of the gate fast and hard, winning critical acclaim and a loyal following from many of us who wanted more than what most of the southern bands were offering in the mid-’70s. The Aces offered us top-notch musicianship, very well-crafted and intelligent songs, and, in singer-songwriter Russell Smith, one of the most soulful and best rock and roll voices to come out of a white boy from Tennessee since Elvis first burst upon the scene. The Aces celebrated being southern, and they did it without all the Rebel flag waving and redneck posturing that became the standard of so many of the half-baked southern bands that came along in the wake of the Allman Brothers.

The Aces hit the big time with “Third Rate Romance.” This song became a jukebox standard, and has been covered many times since. Unfortunately, the success of that recording inspired their then-label to select “Amazing Grace Used to Be Her Favorite Song” as the follow-up single. “Amazing Grace” was actually one of the weaker songs on the album, and was not at all representative of what they were all about. The Aces would’ve been better defined as a sort of Memphis soul rhythm and roll band, but the decision to release that particular song as a follow-up forever defined them as a whimsical country band to many of the Great Unwashed. However, those whose record-buying habits were not influenced by the singles charts found much to love about this band, and became loyal followers.

Stacked Deck was the first album, and it probably still serves as the best introduction to the band. Besides being the album that contains their most well-know hits, it showcases the band’s command of a wide variety of styles. From the jukebox country, to the revved-up bluegrass cover of the old standard “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” to the swampy and infectious tribute to the grand old Mississippi riverboats in “Ella B,” to a very bluesy cover of “Who Will the Next Fool Be?,” Stacked Deck pulls out all the stops. It’s a very solid album that ought to be in any Americana lover’s library.

Too Stuffed to Jump is the Aces second album. It follows a similar format to the first. It offers a nod to their bluegrass influences with their own “Out in the Snow,” as well as a wide variety of other styles. Too Stuffed finds the Aces getting a little more sophisticated and stretching a bit in some ways (possibly to counter what happened to the first album?) It also resulted in a Grammy for Smith’s “The End is Not in Sight,” which is one of Russell Smith’s all-time best songs, at least in my opinion. On top of all that, it provides us with one of the late-great drummer Butch McDade’s best songs and vocal performances in “Same Ole’ Me.”

There is one sort of odd thing about this re-release thing that I must point out. Prior to receiving these two individually-packaged releases, I spotted another version in Borders that contained both of these albums in one package — at about the same price as a single release. The double CD packaged claimed to be remastered by Russell Smith. These single album releases don’t carry that claim. Whether they were or not, I don’t really know at this time. I also do not know if the double package contains all of the lyrics. The individual CDs do. These individual CDs also have different packaging and use the covers used on the original vinyl releases. I prefer the individual releases, myself, just because I find it easier to locate a track on a CD that has 10 or 12 songs rather than 22. However, for economy’s sake, you might want to choose the double package.

Valley Entertainment, 1807 2nd St, Suite 101, Santa Fe, NM 87505, http://www.theaces.com, http://www.valley-entertainment.com

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