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   Out my balcony overlooking JFK, the rain crosses the ridge and keeps the morning commuters on edge as Mozart wakens me to the realization that RiverFest might be a wash. I hope not, as I intend to catch Rev. Al Green, Trout Fishing in America and Little Feat among others during this weekend’s festivities. But if the weather won’t cooperate, at least I can listen to something old and something new as I prepare my calendar for upcoming shows.

thirdcupEddie Fisher – “The Third Cup”
Cadet Records
Rating: A+
Eddie Fisher – “Eddie Fisher & The Next One Hundred Years”
Rating: A

   If you didn’t find any coverage of the Jazz Hall of Fame dinner in the Demi-zette or on the tube, don’t be surprised. At a table reserved for the press, I sat alone with my favorite Jazz neophyte for 30 minutes waiting for the festivities to begin. A lady at the table behind us asked to move to our table for a better view. Considering the extensive press coverage for the night (me), I invited them to share the view.

   Following a tribute to Ninth Street by KABF station director John Cain, The Arkansas Jazz Heritage Hall of Fame Trio (Dave Rogers on drums, Joe Vick on bass, and Dale Kriner on piano) treated the crowd to songs from Duke Ellington and Count Basie with the help of John Bush on saxophone and Walter Henderson on flugelhorn (that man can blow!). Kriner stayed on stage to play Scott Joplin’s ragtime piano following a presentation by Jazz Heritage Foundation President CeCe Rich. Unfortunately, many in the audience took this opportunity to gab so much that it occasionally eclipsed Kriner’s playing. What a shame.

   Prior to introducing headliner Eddie Fisher, Jazz promoter Sal Bonner received the foundation’s Arthur L. Porter Lifetime Achievement Award. Obviously taken by surprise, Bonner seemed at a loss for words. Rather than dwell on his accomplishments (too numerous to list here), Bonner introduced this year’s living Hall of Fame artist, Eddie Fisher, noting that Fisher once made a guitar out of a tree as a youngster in Little Rock. Backed by the Hall of Fame Trio, Fisher brought the crowd to its feet with a nod to Miles Davis as well as Fisher’s own classic, “The Third Cup.” He even came back for an encore.

100   Fisher’s lovely wife, Christina, sold reprints of his classics “The Third Cup” and “Eddie Fisher & the Next One Hundred Years” during and after the performances – a major coup for jazz enthusiasts as “The Third Cup” has been out-of-print for more than 20 years. (You can actually hear the needle hitting the wax prior to the songs!) You don’t get the cover art here, but that’s no reason to refrain from purchasing. Christina says sales of the discs benefit the children’s group the couple works with in East St. Louis.

   On “The Third Cup,” you feel like you’ve stepped into a club setting with a small combo grooving to a lightening-quick guitar. While the slow, cool groove of the single “The Third Cup” has kept jazz aficionados up late searching their favorite radio stations, I also love “Scorched Earth,” aptly named as Fisher’s guitar races with the rhythm section, and “A Dude Called Zeke,” which would stand in good company with Wes Montgomery’s finest.

   Fisher’s versatility shines on “Eddie Fisher & the Next One Hundred Years.” “Jeremiah Puckett” funks out with Fisher providing a groove that jam bands today would only hope to emulate. Think he listened to Davis’ “Bitches Brew” or “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” a lot when making this album? Maybe so. Yet just when you think it’s all psychedelic funk, Fisher drops in “Beautiful Things” with strings and classical guitar. Beginning as softly as a lullaby, the groove takes many changes before returning to the strings – Nice. In retrospect, the album seems prescient as it foreshadows grooves we hear today in groups like Garage A Trois and Medeski, Martin & Wood.

   I caught Bonner and Fisher afterwards at Juanita’s to get Fisher’s autographs on the discs. Both exhibited a genuine humbleness not often found among the gifted. While lauding the Hall of Fame Trio for learning his music in a short time frame, Fisher lamented the fact that his band and other well-wishers from East St. Louis could not make the trip to Little Rock to feel the love. He promised he would not stay away from home for so long again. Bonner plans to keep Fisher to his word as he hopes to bring Fisher and his band back to Little Rock for JazzLights. Let’s hope Christina brings more reprints.

cateThe Cate Brothers – “Play by the Rules”
Louisiana Red Hot Records
Rating: B+

   When talk turns to times gone by, music often provides the riverboat to traverse the topics. Such a thing happened when I told my brother to listen to “Play By the Rules;” as soon as I said “The Cate Brothers,” David broke into a grin and related a story about vacationing in Florida prior to my entering the family as the red-headed stepchild nearly 27 years ago.

   They stopped at a bar and grill to eat, only to be treated by Arkansas natives’ Ernie and Earl Cate singing their Top 10 hit “Union Man.” Though I no longer find irony in meeting other Arkansan’s while traveling, talks of good times always interest me. Considering I grew up listening to my brothers’ collection of Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Judas Priest and Journey albums (among others), I enjoyed finding yet another layer in Dave’s personal onion of sounds.

   While a novice at listening to their albums, I enjoyed watching The Cate Brothers’ shows when I worked at Smitty’s in the early-to-mid 1990s. No strangers to the limelight, the enthusiasm of The Cate Brothers’ combination of roots rock, blues and soul excites crowds whether at a bar or a presidential inauguration. Additional accolades include jamming with old friend LeVon Helm in “The Band” reunion tour of the mid-1980s, as well as performances with The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Little Feat, Queen, Boz Scaggs, Dr. John, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

   On the first listen to the new album, I thought I was listening to out-takes from Robert Cray’s 1999 LP “Take Your Shoes Off,” which firmly placed that artist into the soul genre. The more I’ve listened to the album, the more I wonder if Cray borrowed from the brothers Cate. Ernie’s voice effuses soul, while Earl’s guitar screams during solos but also provides the perfect tension for Dave Renko’s saxophone. This carnival lays over solid, driving rhythms provided by brothers Ron and Mickey Eoff, on bass and drums respectively. Throw in the occasional guest appearance by producer and veteran blues rocker Jimmy Thackery, and “Play By the Rules” moves at a quick, satisfying pace.

   “She Don’t Play By the Rules” opens the album with a warning about a cold-hearted vixen who apparently runs through men like grain through a harvester. Written by Ernie and Earl along with David Egan and Buddy Flett, the song previously appeared on John Mayall’s 2001 release “Along for the Ride.” Though I’ve read that Mayall’s version features Mick Taylor’s expert lead guitar playing, I can’t imagine that it would be any hotter than this.

   The deaths of Earl’s wife, Angela, and longtime drummer and bandmate, William “Porky” Hill, led to the brothers writing the song “This Side of Heaven.” Earl’s guitar sounds Allman-esque in the tribute to lives taken too soon. Ernie’s voice perfectly catches the tension in questioning why life’s so short while acknowledging “Maker’s will be done” even if we mere mortals cannot understand it. I would put it up against Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life By the Drop” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” as tear-jerkers assured to move anyone with a heart.

   “Think” swaggers with Ernie’s piano providing the backbone and horns providing the push. Ernie’s not just a swell vocalist – his piano exhibits a feel that younger musicians would be wise to imitate. The song details the harsh realities of relationships, leaving me to wonder if the brothers penned the song as a tribute to someone interesting enough to cause a double-take, as evidenced by the lyrics:

   “I could give up my woman
You could give up your man
But it don’t make sense
To take that chance”

   Other gems include the butt-shaker, “The Shape I’m In,” and the closing track, “Yield Not to Temptation.” The latter gives Rev. Green’s best admonitions a run for their money. Catch the Cate Brothers live June 12 at Wynne’s FarmFest, June 18 at George’s in Fayetteville, June 19 at Paris’ CottonTown Festival with Thackery and Tab Benoit [for more information call (479)963-3131], and June 25 at Little Rock’s Whitewater Tavern. The brothers are also featured in the Old State House’s Send You Back to Arkansas: Our Own Sweet Sounds II exhibit. For additional information, visit their Web site at http://www.catebrothers.com.

luceroLucero – “That Much Further West”
Tiger Style Records
Rating: A

   I’m given a cut-out CD in a case cracked from left to right housing a cover depicting a black and white cut-away photo centering on a feminine neck framed by flowers and tapestries in an old-cloth style. Nearly six hours in my possession, I finally toss it into a disc player, having no idea what to expect. A pleasant surprise fills my ears.

   Lucero’s third full-length record, “That Much Further West,” is billed as a cross between The Pogues, the Replacements, Jawbreaker, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, the Band, Neil Young and Wilco. You may know them from the 7” record produced by Landmark Records that covered Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle” in a southern-rock style. This Crazy Girl (in the sincerest way) tells me she thinks the vocals sound like The Eels.

   “They’re real soothing, but kinda rough. It kicks ass,” Crazy Girl says. “It’s not like boring, because it’s soothing to you … some roots for your ass … You feel like you’re in a different time … It’s older music.”

   How can I top that? I can’t, but I can commend the band for providing lyrics in the disc. Little Rock native Ben Nichols wrote all the songs, the vast majority of which concern broken relationships, but that doesn’t hurt the album. Songs in this vein include “That Much Further West,” “Sad and Lonely,” “The Only One” and “When You Decided to Leave.” I tend to favor “Joining the Army,” a song detailing enlistment in memory of a late grandfather, and “Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good,” relating the inevitable problems on the road when entering some honky-tonks.

   You can find out more at their Web site, http://www.luceromusic.com/. I highly recommend catching them at Vino’s on June 19.

lowdownJohnnie & The Lowdowns
Digitone Records
Rating: B

   I would be remiss not to mention my half-brother’s band’s new LP, the self-titled Johnnie & the Lowdowns. Out of Richmond, Va., the band features John Morgan on guitar and vocals, Buddy Hensley on harmonica, brotherman Chris Andrews on guitar, Thom Walker on acoustic and electric bass, and Mike Fitzgerald on drums.

   I had the pleasure of jamming with them earlier this year at Scottsdale’s Dew Drop Inn. A thunderstorm swiped the town’s electricity, but we pulled out an acoustic set that kept people in their chairs and out of the weather. When the hat was passed, people gladly threw in enough cash to get us back to Richmond. The guys enjoy the Dew Drop Inn so much that they held one of their release parties there.

   The album features original blues compositions and a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call.” In my opinion, it would be unfair to classify their music as “Chicago” or “Jump” blues, as they’re equally proficient in most if not all of the sub-categories of the genre. They have one of the tightest rhythm sections that I’ve heard, and Buddy wails on harp.

   A tribute to cold feet in bed, “Sleeping Socks” is my niece’s favorite song, but I prefer “Big Leg Woman,” a tribute to the body type that four of the five band members prefer. You can buy the album or find out more at http://www.johnnieandthelowdowns.com.

More “Red Hot” Sounds

   Looking for something different for your disc player? Louisiana Red Hot Records emphasizes regional sounds including rock, jazz, funk, blues and zydeco on its Web site, http://www.louisianaredhot.com. Two of its more interesting offers include releases by The Forever Fabulous Chickenhawks and the newest compilation of New Orleans music, “Funk: The Language of New Orleans Vol. 8.”

chickenhawk   “Deep in the Heart,” the newest release from The Forever Fabulous Chickenhawks Showband & All-Star Revue starring Big Luther Kent, documents a 2003 performance for a Virgin Records executive’s 50th birthday at Austin’s venerable Antone’s club. The band rolls through favorites including “Teeny Weeny Bit” and “Let the Good Times Roll,” as well as the original “99 Women.” The Forever Fabulous Chickenhawks hearken back to the days of the classic revue bands of the 1950s and 1960s, providing a wall of sound for listeners to immerse themselves. Besides, these guys have a sense of humor; their liner notes include demographic data for the band such as the cumulative number of Current, Ex and Future Ex-Wives (92) and the combined credit limits of band members’ Visa and Master Cards ($1.75), while also extolling their prowess as evidenced by their total number of Grammy awards (10) and the total gold and platinum records received by band members (92). Rating: B

funk   “Funk: The Language of New Orleans Vol. 8” meets the expectations of a good compilation. As with any genre, there might be some arguments about what meets the definition of funk, but overall this album blows it out. Particularly appealing are John Lisi & Delta Funk’s “Groove Thang,” Cyril Neville & the Uptown All-Stars’ “Big Chief” and New Orleans Juice’s “Chicken Shack.” If you just need something to get you moving on the morning commute, this is the ticket. Rating: C (for compilation)

   Questions, comments, observations and general bitchin’s taken at sitron45@hotmail.com. L8r daze.


This article originally appeared in the June 1-31, 2004 issue of the Little Rock Free Press.

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