Chuck E. Weiss
Old Souls and Wolf Tickets
Rykodisc / Slow River
Chuck E. Weiss was immortal before anyone ever heard of him, thanks to Rickie Lee Jones’ first/biggest/only hit single, “Chuck E.’s in Love,” back in 1979. Back then, he was one of Tom Waits’ best friends, a drummer from Denver who’d toured and sung with Willie Dixon back in the days but who’d settled down into soulful obscurity without ever striking it rich on his own. Sure, Chuck E. had great friends (he co-founded the Viper Room with Johnny Depp) and a funky sense of humor (his band is called the G-d Damn Liars), but until 1999’s Extremely Cool hit the streets, he was doomed to musical nowheresville.
But that album, helped as it was by Weiss’ name and legend (and Waits’ help on a couple of tracks) has thrust Chuck E. back into the limelight, and Old Souls and Wolf Tickets is his masterpiece, his magnum opus, his Take-Me-Seriously-Now album. He does everything here: dank blues (“Tony Did the Boogie-Woogie”), beatnik soul (“Blood Alley,” “Sweetie-O”), New Orleans funk (“Congo Square at Midnight,” “Dixieland Funeral”) — you name a hip genre, Chuck E.’s your man.
There are a lot of missteps on this record, so don’t go thinking it’s perfect. “No Hep Cats” is a confused piece that needed a bit more spice in its gumbo-jumbo: it’s just not true that there are “No more greasy spoons/No more cats that croon/To the solid songs going by,” so don’t blame it on there being “no hep cats anymore, that’s why.” And whoever’s idea it was to include a piece from Willie Dixon’s band with “Little Chuck E. Weiss” on vocals from 1970 was probably just getting a little too defensive about Weiss needing street cred. It doesn’t fit, and it seems desperate. And don’t get me started on “Jolie’s Nightmare (Mr. House Dick),” which goes all kinds of haywire before it even starts.
But there are plenty of great things here. I like it when he rocks out, like on the theme song “G-d Damn Liars” and the great “Two-Tone Car (An Auto-body Experience).” He’s got an old, lived-in voice and a strange little mind (how about that Jessica Tandy impression on “Piggly Wiggly,” huh?) and some fire in his belly. I suspect, though, that the next record will be the big one for Mr. Chuck E. Weiss. In the meantime, this ain’t bad.
(Consumer’s note: don’t bother trying to watch the “bonus video track” called “Cub Scout Suit.” That thing has crashed my computer something fierce.)