Listen to this while high: Ralph Carney's Serious Jass Project's Seriously.
Behind the buzz: The
subject line of the publicist's email mentioned something about Tom Waits' saxophonist,
but the magic name of Ralph Carney
dispelled any incipient attack of the whatevs. I mean, we're not talking about just
any sideman or appendage here, but a brilliantly soulful soloist and one of the
unsung heroes of the old New Wave. Founder of the cult Akron post-punk karass
Tin Huey, this sardonic saxman also has sat in with The Black Keys, The B-52's,
Jonathan Richman, Black Francis, Medeski, Martin & Wood, and They Might Be
Giants, which bids him fair to be the Junior Walker of his generation. All that
aside, I was smitten by the fellow when seeing him perform alongside uber-crab Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu at a particularly memorable West Oakland warehouse gig earlier this year. Ralph's irrepressible humor and sidewise remarks were just the right leaven for Dave's well-traveled misanthropy; a kind of tangy coating on a sourball.
Another pipeload of Purp Dragon, carefully hoarded from last week's review
Hawns, please: Ralph's
latest collection of "honkers and screamers" from the pre-rock era kicks off with Buddy Tate's "Blue Creek Hop," an old-timey
country swing rugcutter that sounds like how they celebrated V-J Day in Tulsa.
Carney really begins to cook on Coleman Hawkins' "Meet Dr. Foo" and cook on
"Echoes of Harlem" by Duke Ellington, the spooky piano walkup (courtesy of
Michael McIntosh) of which sets up Ralph's slow-grind meander through the
melody. Sir Duke's catalog gets another workout in "Carnival in Caroline," with
the band coming on like Tommy Dorsey as played by Steely Dan and Karina
Denike's perky vocals hopping in and out of the jolly cacophony. There's a
bravura run at "Moondog Boogie" and Carney's playing on "Gypsy Without a Song"
is slow and sultry as a goodnight waltz in a juke joint's gravel parking lot.
"Linger Awhile" continues the goodnight-ladies mood, and "Pompton Turnpike" extends
it into fantasia, as the boys in the band call out the travelogue lyrics in a
cheerful communal bellow. The amiable romanticism of "I Wish I Were Twins" rings
on a pass at Rodgers and Hart's "You Took Advantage of Me," as Ralph pours out
this familiar tale of familiar moonstruck woe as an exercise in awe-shucks
amiability. The album wraps up with "Echoes of Chloe," a psychedelic bop
freakfest that fades us out as the P. Dragon fades us in.
All swingin' reet, Jackson.
Plugola: Seriously drops Sept. 27 and Ralph and
the band play the Beatbox on on Friday, September 30.