Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay with Black Joe Lewis & Char­lie Pick­ett

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - See You in Mi­ami

Re­cently, a mu­sic critic and Face­book friend of mine posted some­thing stupid. No, he wasn’t agree­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump that the so­lu­tion to for­est fires was bet­ter rak­ing. “Rock is dead. Who killed it?” he asked, then listed a few sus­pects, mainly bands he doesn’t care for.

My first re­ac­tion: “Oh no, not again.” The whole “rock is dead” de­bate has popped up again and again through­out the years, ever since the days when Elvis en­listed in the Army, and Buddy, Bop­per, and Ritchie fell from the sky. Then there was wimp war­rior Don McLean (whom Rolling Stone once dubbed “Nixon’s Dy­lan”) whim­per­ing about “the day the mu­sic died.” Then there was the rise of disco — then hip-hop, then boy bands, then elec­tron­ica. Then the demise of de­cent com­mer­cial ra­dio, the birth of smart­phones and stream­ing, then — who knows — some im­pend­ing Bobby Golds­boro re­vival? Rock is dead? Not on my watch. Maybe you do need a metaphor­i­cal rake to get rid of some of the rot­ting fo­liage on the prover­bial floor. But I’m firmly in the Neil Young camp here: “Hey hey. My my/Rock ’n’ roll can never die ...” But, one might ar­gue, to­day’s youth care a lot more about dumbed-down pop dreck and other non-rock sounds than ac­tual rock ’n’ roll. Can’t deny that. But I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber the words of this crusty old guy who worked in The New Mex­i­can’s back­shop years ago talk­ing about our beloved wild and prim­i­tive sounds: “This stuff is bet­ter when it’s com­ing from the un­der­ground.” And in sup­port of that con­tention, I of­fer two re­cent hard-charg­ing, rock­ing gui­tar-cen­tric al­bums with strong roots in the blues and cre­ative re­cy­cling, both of which I’ve been lov­ing a lot lately.

▼ The Dif­fer­ence Be­tween Me & You by Black Joe Lewis & The Honey­bears. Long­time fans of young Black Joe should im­me­di­ately re­al­ize that this record, re­leased in Septem­ber, is a back-to-ba­sics move for this Austin band. It’s true: The Honey­bears still have their ex­cel­lent funky horn sec­tion, and a hand­ful of songs here are closer to sweet soul bal­lads than rump-rous­ing rock. And at least one track, the tasty “Suit or Soul?,” sounds so much like some long-lost blax­ploita­tion sound­track, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if it showed up on some episode of The Deuce. But the over­all sound of Dif­fer­ence is raw and rowdy, with roots stretch­ing back to Bo Did­dley and Howlin’ Wolf.

The first song, a mid-tempo gem called “Noth­ing but a Cliché,” starts off with a gui­tar lick that evokes mem­o­ries of clas­sic Mus­cle Shoals soul. Wil­son Pick­ett should re­turn from the dead to cover this one. Then there are tunes like “She Came Onto Me,” which has men­ac­ing echoes of as­cended Fat Pos­sum masters like R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, and Ju­nior Kim­brough; “Hem­min’ & Hawin’,” which owes its lead hook to ZZ Top; and “Girls on Bikes,” which jus­ti­fies the Did­dley com­par­i­son above.

And in the cat­e­gory of strange cover songs that are bet­ter than the orig­i­nals, Lewis and band do a ver­sion of Wilco’s “Hand­shake Drugs.” Wilco’s orig­i­nal, on the al­bum A Ghost Is Born, is a lilt­ing, pleas­ant lit­tle tune built around acous­tic gui­tar and pi­ano, col­ored by psy­che­delic elec­tro-squig­gles. Black Joe’s ver­sion is a fe­ro­cious ride into para­noia and in­san­ity. Lewis, by the way, is the sec­ond African-Amer­i­can singer (that I know of) who’s cov­ered a Wilco song. A few years ago J.C. Brooks & The Up­town Sound did a rough-hewn, soul­ful ver­sion of “I Am Try­ing to Break Your Heart.” What can I say? Jeff Tweedy is a soul man.

▼ See You in Mi­ami by Char­lie Pick­ett. Char­lie Pick­ett & The Eggs was one of the coolest bands of the 1980s who I never heard un­til 20 years af­ter they’d bro­ken up. It wasn’t un­til Blood­shot Records re­leased an amaz­ing Pick­ett com­pi­la­tion called

Bar Band Amer­i­canus in 2008. That one ended up on my Top 10 list that year. But those of us who haven’t been able to catch the oc­ca­sional Pick­ett gig in Florida have never heard an­other peep out of Pick­ett — who jet­ti­soned his mu­si­cal ca­reer to be­come a lawyer all those years ago — since that great­est non-hits col­lec­tion 10 years ago. Un­til now. The good news is that See You in

Mi­ami picks right up from Pick­ett’s mu­sic when he went off to law school. He still does songs that sound like ZZ Top (them again!) try­ing to re­write The Rolling Stones’ Ex­ile on Main

Street. (Pick­ett has said in in­ter­views that his fa­vorite pe­riod in rock was the Stones’ Mick Tay­lor era.) R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who pro­duced an Eggs al­bum in the ’80s, sup­plies the lead gui­tar on sev­eral songs.

Start­ing off with “What I Like About Mi­ami,” the joy­ful ode to his adopted home­town and its beaches, nightlife, em­panadas, and Cuban girls, which could be a can­di­date for some fu­ture Mi­ami tourism com­mer­cial, the al­bum is full of south Florida ref­er­ences. But not ev­ery­thing here is pretty girls and Cuban del­i­ca­cies. “B.S. Is Goin On” [ti­tle bowd­ler­ized to shield the chil­dren] is a slow, men­ac­ing, and soul­ful protest against po­lit­i­cal skul­dug­gery, while “So Long Johnny,” writ­ten by Buck, is a lament for Johnny Sal­ton, a for­mer Eggs gui­tarist who died of liver can­cer in 2010. The “Spirit of Johnny Sal­ton” is cred­ited for “in­spi­ra­tion gui­tar” on the song.

The long­est song here, the near-seven-minute “Four Cham­bered Heart,” is for­tu­nately one of the strong­est on Mi­ami. In­spired by The Dream Syn­di­cate, a neopsychedelic 1980s band from Cal­i­for­nia, af­ter the four-minute mark it morphs into an in­stru­men­tal ver­sion of Tele­vi­sion’s “Mar­quee Moon.”

Like other Char­lie-come-lately fans, I wish I could have seen Pick­ett & The Eggs tear up the stage in some Florida dive back in the day. But is so strong it’ll make you want to see him this week­end.

The first song, a mid-tempo gem called “Noth­ing but a Cliché,” starts off with a gui­tar lick that evokes mem­o­ries of clas­sic Mus­cle Shoals soul. Wil­son Pick­ett should re­turn from the dead to cover this one.

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