Arthur Brown – Zim Zam Zim and Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit Of Satch.

60’s psychedelia was not all flowers and love. The strange brews cooked up by blissed out old rockers often had their musical roots reflected and distorted in a purple haze with all the trippings added. Thus Arthur Brown became an acid version of Screaming Jay Hawkins as The God of Hellfire and Mac Rebennack delved into New Orleans voodoo emerging as Dr. John The Night Tripper. Five decades later they’re still making records with Rebennack a grand old man of rootsy New Orleans music while Brown has all but disappeared from sight although he retains a rabid core following.

Zim Zam Zim is Arthur Brown’s first album in almost a decade and he’s revived his original band moniker of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown for the first time in yonks. Zim Zam Zim is posited as a concept album of sorts charting the adventures of the Zim Zam Zim character and you can read more about this on Brown’s website. Unfortunately for the uninitiated it reads as a somewhat garbled mixture of ecological Gaia pleadings with a large dash of Hawkwind like hippie sci-fi scenarios thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say that if you’re not inclined to go down this path and just want to enjoy some demented Tom Waits’ like junkyard blues with a sonorous vocal delivery then Brown delivers in spades. Youngsters might listen to this and throw up but Brown’s fans will lap it up (not the youngsters’ vomit, the music) while those of us old enough to remember Brown setting fire to his head on Top of the Pops can have a wallow in some nostalgia. There are a few hippy dippy ballads but the tribal thunderings of the title song and the sleazy beat noire of The Unknown clatter along finely while Muscle Of Love is a hypnotic tantric hymn to sex as the horn section parps over slinky rain stained fluorescent guitar lines. Junkyard Love is a rattling bones blues rap that is Waitsian in its delivery and tropical fever awaits in the C. W. Stoneking like Jungle Fever complete with animal sound effects. Overall it’s great fun to listen to as one admires the 72 year old brown for sticking to his guns.

Dr. John’s SKe-Dat-De-Dat…Sprit Of Satch, a celebration of Louis Armstrong gathers together 13 songs related to Satchmo with a host of guests including Bonnie Raitt, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Terence Blanchard and Arturo Sandoval. On paper this probably seemed a winner and there are moments when Rebennack locks into a fine Crescent City groove as on his version of Mack The Knife, unfortunately halfway through there’s a rap section which to these ears is somewhat out of place and throughout the album the need to inject a contemporary aspect jars. Mack is on fine form vocally with his immediately recognisable easy drawl as welcome as ever but ultimately his presence is lost among the guest singers, the smooth jazz lite funk arrangements and ultimately the lack of any recognition of Armstrong’s early pioneering work. A pity really.

Listen to Dr. John here

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Heritage Blues Orchestra. And Still I Rise

While the Alabama Shakes currently fly the flag for an amped up and sassy take on Southern blues and rock The Heritage Blues Orchestra show that its not only the younger generation who can shake that particular tail feather. Drawing from the same well as the Shakes as befits their maturity they have a more traditional and a statelier feel but that’s not to say that these 12 songs lack the energy and immediacy of Brittany Howard and her colleagues. Despite the grey beards and suited demeanour this album rocks in a righteous way with lashings of wicked blues guitar swamped with some awesome horn playing and a mighty percussive engine room.
The opening stomp of Clarksdale Moan thunders like Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee breaks due to the drumming of Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith while the horns add a new Orleans feel. A great opening number it sets the tone for the remainder of the album. The voices of Chaney Sims, Bill Sims Jr. and Junior Mack are all well versed in old time holler, Gospel wails and bluesy insinuation allowing the band to deliver an all too sinful sounding C-Line Woman which slinks along like a sinner in a church while Big Legged Woman forsakes the church for an earthy rumbunctiousness. The band see-saw between the secular and the sacred throughout the album with the traditional Get Right Church capturing the rapture of Gospel while a downright dirty guitar corkscrews throughout. They recall slavery spirituals and field hollers on several songs while the spirit of John Lee Hooker hovers over their cover of Eric Bibb’s Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down. The breathless sprint through In The Morning is perhaps the most condensed example of their style. Soaked in Gospel with parping horns and great church tent revivalist vocals it could possibly raise the dead. While the majority of the songs are either traditional or covers the one original Chilly Jordan, written by Junior Mack more than holds its own. A fine rippling guitar rolls along on the jauntiest song here.
A powerful album, the slightly jazzy horns, the muscular blues guitar and the spirited singing all combine to create a disc that will appeal to anyone interested in the Staple Singers, Ry Cooder, Dr. John or hopefully the Alabama Shakes.

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Clarksdale Moan