Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen

Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen

Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen

Basin Street

I have been having a hell of a time drawing a bead on this record. Capsule description: white British singer/keyboardist fronts an otherwise all-black three-piece New Orleans funk-soul band. I know, I know: sounds like the very quintessence of bogusness. I had the same reaction before I heard the record.

But it’s really not too bad, if you understand a couple of things. First off, when it comes to music in NO, more perhaps than any other city in the U.S., race has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Secondly, Cleary has one of those smooth-rough blue-eyed voices (Paul Young, for those of you who remember the 1980s) that goes down better than a po-boy and a beer on a hot August day. And, third, there is a place in the world for workmanlike bar-band funk music, and it’s on your CD player.

I like this record a lot. It’s never going to knock your socks off — that’s not what they’re trying to do. But all you need to hear is the introduction to “More Hipper,” with Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander’s second-line drum shuffle and Cornell C. Williams’ deeply-felt bass lines, to love this piece. Their formula is: simple songs played simply, with love and that Delta feel, and a slavish devotion to pleasing the ear.

Sure, this means they’re never going to win critical plaudits; Derwin “Big D” Perkins’ styled-out guitar licks are not exactly the stuff that Jimi Hendrix did, and Cleary’s voice and lyrics are a bit too-too at times, especially on the crowd-pleasing “A Little Satisfaction” and the slow burning blues “Fanning The Flames.” Never met a NO band yet that really worried about pushing any envelopes — they do what they want, which is to make people happy, dammit. And what’s wrong with that?

Instead of worrying about all that, listen to their eight-minute version of The Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby” (with an unrecognizable Bonnie Raitt on backup vocals and slide guitar) is something to behold, and the fusion instrumental closer “Too Damn Hot” lives, incredibly, up to its title, with some of that Neville Brothers flavor on an early ’70s Ohio Players/Stevie Wonder trip. Don’t hate the Absolute Monster Gentlemen — submit to them.

Basin Street Records: http://www.basinstreetrecords.com • Jon Cleary: http://www.joncleary.com

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