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Hot Chicks

By David Greenberger



Though 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.

Dan Levinson and His Swing Wing

At the Codfish Ball

Levinson 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.

At 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.

—B.A. Nilsson

Lord Newborn and the Magic Skulls

Lord Newborn and the Magic Skulls

Keyboardist 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.

—Josh Potter

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