Goodbye Summertime Blues
by Bob Pomeroy
Summer is officially over. The kids are back in school and we’re sort of done with the lemonade and lounge chairs. (I say sort of because here in Florida it will stay in the 90’s until Christmas.) But my point is, they call it the lazy days of summer for a reason. I get a lot of music that deserves attention, but I don’t always have the time or energy to do a full on review. Here are some quick takes on releases that almost got away.
John Fusco and the X-Road Riders
Do you remember the 1986 movie Crossroads? Well, John Fusco is the guy who wrote the script for the film about Ralph Macchio beating the Devil in a cutting contest. The movie is a love letter to the blues and this record shows that he’s as good playing the blues as he was writing about it. Fusco has a gravelly, gruff voice and plays a pretty mean organ. For his first record, he’s got the backing of the North Mississippi All Stars extended family who help him lay down some satisfying blues rock. The songs have a relaxed, jam session feel. I have to smile listening to “Poutine.” You don’t hear that many songs about seeking adventure up in Canada. And since Crossroads was all about the myth and legend of Robert Johnson, it makes sense that he closes out the disc with a loose, tent revival meets rap rendition of “Crossroad Blues.”
Morlix is another character who spends more time behind the mixer or on stage with others. He’s toured with Lucinda Williams and produced two of her albums. Impossible Blue is a solid blues album distinguished by creative use of sounds and production. Imagine Boz Scaggs crossed with John Lee Hooker. “I’m A Ghost” is a down-beat obituary for a failed relationship that calls to mind classic Warren Zevon.
Richard X Heyman
Here’s a guy who has been a sub-rosa superstar since the mid 1960’s. He splits time between solo projects and rejuvenated Doughboys. Pop Circles is full of delightful tunes, often invoking the pop orchestration of the Left Banke. When was the last time you heard a harpsichord on a pop song? The lead off track, “I Guess You Had To Be There,” is a reminiscence of his musical past. I can’t help but think of the nostalgia evoked by Woodstock’s 50th anniversary when Richard sings, “you had to be there.” There is a bittersweet resignation to “Everything Must Go.” Is he singing about selling off the contents of his house because of a break up, or maybe a death? I don’t know, but the song has a cool Carol Kayesque solo in the middle. The record has the added charm of Richie’s Three-Chord Garage EP where Heyman revisits five Doughboys songs.
Dave Schramm will probably always be introduced as the guy who was (and occasionally still is) the other guitarist in Yo La Tengo. Omnidirectional is album of quiet meditations, mostly about loss and regrets. It’s the subtle elements that grab me. It’s the bass clarinet on “Good Youth” and “Not Calling, the Theremin-like sounds and use of cello that make this album. And while the album keeps a pretty low profile, Schramm throws in some gritty guitar solos that remind you that Dave is a great soloist.
This Austin-based band carries on the country-punk tradition forged by bands like Jason and the Scorchers, Old 97’s and the Bottlerockets. Everything they do has a layer of country road dust on it, while Mariachi horns spice up “Fallen Again” and “Miles and Miles” brings in some bluegrass fiddle. “Sixteen Years” is a rambunctious rocker about putting in time trying to make it. “I’m gonna make it if it takes another 16 years.”
We’ll close out this selection of almost overlooked tunes with another Austin band. Atlas Maior take their name from the oldest published world atlas. It gives a hint at the far-reaching influences they play with. The lead instruments are saxophone and oud. The music is built around modal scales common in both jazz and Middle Eastern music. The opening track, “The Curse” hit me like Ornette Coleman jamming in a Turkish coffee house. Like the city they call home, Atlas Maior is weird in a good way. They’re a crossroads band on the modern caravan rout, absorbing and re-imagining the sounds they find, making something new and mesmerizing.
So there you have it. A round up of some records too cool not to talk about that almost fell by the wayside. I’m looking forward to whatever the Great Pumpkin is bringing me this fall.