it may mean nothing more than that a title didn’t spring forth
as the deadline loomed, Wussy have sent their third album
out into the world with nothing but their band name for its
title. There’s a confident directness to their moniker being
used thusly: The word is generally associated with the victims
of playground bullies and the cover depicts hands gently cradling
a pair of newly hatched chicks; Wussy are the protectors.
Their 12 new songs serve and protect an unpolluted realm of
unapologetic, heart-on-its-sleeve, rough-and tumble-rock.
The Ohio-based quartet are fronted by Lisa Walker and erstwhile
Ass Ponys man Chuck Cleaver. Their contrasting vocals share
a fearless commitment as their interlocking guitars chug along
with the insistence of a rust-belt factory’s heyday.
The lyrics are full of cliche-free rewards at every turn.
In “Gone Missing” Walker sings, “We met the other day at the
catapult/When they threw us to the dogs, you were at my throat/It’s
funny what you do to get my goat/Well honey, you’re the pain
and the antidote.” And Cleaver’s “Happiness Bleeds” finds
him singing a fresh take on existentialism: “I remember puking
down the side of a car, the cost of drinking liquor from the
mouth of a jar, leaning on the fender and declaring that we’d
name a star/Tramping through the brambles ’til our pants were
all torn, searching for a paper bag of mildewy porn, reflecting
on the neverending question—why had we been born?”
Mark Messerly continues to be the band’s secret weapon, hopping
from bass to organ to lap steel, to apparently anything he
can lay his hands on. His bass player’s sense of foundation
informs his role on other instruments as he adds textures
and filigree which make the car alluring, but never gets in
the way of its aerodynamics.
Levinson and His Swing Wing
the Codfish Ball
is a reeds-playing virtuoso whose heart is in the ’20s. And
the ’10s. And the ’30s. To put it another way, he’s a protean
jazzman who slips from decade to decade and style to style
in his dedication to what amounts to a swinging history of
saxophones and clarinet.
the Codfish Ball is his first recording to document his
affection for swing tunes in a small-group setting. It comes
on the heels of his series of CDs recreating earlier eras,
but reflects what you’ll hear him play in many of his club
dates. (Locally, you’ve seen him sitting in with Reggie’s
Red-Hot Feetwarmers on many gigs.)
Levinson’s new CD takes its title tune from a recording by
Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven, a small group drawn from Dorsey’s
big band in the 1930s. It’s a fairly silly novelty number
with a forgettable vocal refrain, but the arrangement is so
high-spirited that you can’t help but get swept along.
The CD’s tracks reach as far back as the late ’20s (“A Garden
in the Rain”) and include some 1950s numbers like “Arabian
Rhapsody” and “Promenade aux Champs-Elysées,” but the bulk
of them come from the mid ’30s, as tight, virtuosic and swinging
as the original recordings themselves. Back then you had players
like Dave Tough, Jess Stacy and Bud Freeman, still legends
among jazz cognoscenti; here, Levinson leads the way on clarinet
and soprano, tenor and C-melody saxophones, with an equally
accomplished ensemble comprising Randy Reinhart on trumpet,
trombonist Jim Fryer, pianist Mark Shane, guitarist Matt Munisteri,
bassist Mike Weatherly and Kevin Dorn on drums.
They have inculcated the vocabulary of swing to such an extent
that this goes way beyond homage or recreation and becomes
an inspiring reinterpretation of those numbers, sung, you
might say, in the original language.
And speaking of singing: vocalist Molly Ryan also has the
challenge of balancing a decades-old idiom with the very different
styles popular today, and she brings to the task as deft a
talent as everyone else on this disc, singing the title track
as well as such numbers as Ellington’s “I Didn’t Know About
You,” “Ten Cents a Dance,” the Gershwins’ not-so-familiar
“The Lorelei” and, of all things, “The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies,
O!” a la Maxine Sullivan.
Although I’m a big fan of Levinson’s earlier-era recordings,
I’m thrilled to hear him take on the ’30s, and hope for more
along these lines.
Newborn and the Magic Skulls
Newborn and the Magic Skulls
Money Mark is un doubtedly “old school,” but what precisely
that relative qualifier means in 2009 is an ambiguity that
drives the long-time Beastie Boys collaborator’s latest project.
Along with a couple younger chaps, drummer Shawn Lee and bassist
Tommy Guerrero, Mark has put together a collection of organic
instrumental breaks cut from the same cloth as the Beasties’
instrumental albums The In Sound From Way Out and The
Mix-Up. Like old school acid-jazz-influenced hip-hop of
the ’90s, each track is straight-spined and dignified, but
lacks that fedora-tipping sleekness of what would become neo-soul.
Lee’s beats are a little frayed and sneeringly simple, played
like a drummer imitating a choice drum sample. And, like a
latter-latter-day Booker T., Mark gives what could be monotonous
grooves plenty to hang your hat on. It’s minimalist funk with
minimal melody, but Mark’s lo-fi keys and fuzzy Moog never
resort to predictable blues tropes and complete the tracks
in a way that makes the idea of an MC sound superfluous. A
soul-jazz trio that writes like hip-hop producers, the Magic
Skulls are old-school twice-over, and sound a new kind of
current for that.