"I've Been Meaning to Write," Ronny Elliott (Blue Heart)
Ronny Elliott has never quite gotten the attention he deserves. He's a fine songwriter with vocal style that sounds like he should specialize in truck-driving songs.
Elliott doesn't generally write about trucks, but he is a fine storyteller — especially when the stories are about busted love affairs.
Elliott's new album, "I've Been Meaning to Write," is one of his best.
Sometimes Elliott sounds like he's wrestling with the syllables before actually releasing them as words. When he sings a tribute to a woman who "... read Dr. Seuss to me, till she got used to me" he's charming you not only with the words but his almost uncomfortable delivery.
On "A Doctor and a Lawyer" Elliott tells a too common tale:
"She took the same vows as I did, I guess she forgot 'em/She sticks to nothin' , nothin' sticks to her/sleepin' her way to the bottom ..."
But it's not all about bad love affairs. On "Handsome Harry the Hipster" Elliott tells the true tragic story of Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, a terrific boogie-woogie pianist and jazz vocalist whose 1944 song "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?" helped destroy his career.
Perhaps Elliott feels kinship with a talented guy who never got the break he should've.
Here's hoping Elliott gets the ears who deserve to hear his music.
"Soul Classics," Maceo Parker (Razor & Tie); "Raise Up," Larry Graham and Graham Central Station (Razor & Tie)
When you look at the house of funk, Maceo Parker and Larry Graham are a couple of the guys who laid the foundation stones.
Saxophone great Parker was one of James Brown's not-so-secret weapons during the Godfather of Soul's golden era and, later, was a core member of Parliament-Funkadelic before forming his own group.
This live recording is from a terrific 2011 show at the Leverkusener Jazz Festival in Germany and features Parker, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Cora Coleman-Dunham backed by a 15-piece orchestra. Parker and the band power through a set of familiar soul and blues classics. There's nothing groundbreaking, but it's pure fun and a real pleasure.
Larry Graham's slap and pop style of bass guitar playing has been imitated ever since Graham was part of Sly and the Family Stone in the 1960s and early '70s. Along with Jaco Pastorious, Graham pretty much reinvented the instrument. Graham formed his own group, Graham Central Station, in the early 1990s.
"Raise Up" is Graham's first album in 14 years and there are some sweet moments, including the track "Shoulda Coulda Woulda," featuring Prince on guitar, drums, keyboards and back-up vocals (one of three tracks Prince guests on) and a cool cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," which revives that funky old-fashioned wah-wah pedal.
You keep waiting for Graham to wow you with the fire he had in the 1970s with songs like "Hair," but "Raise Up" is just a little too comfortable.
Still, it's sweet to hear the old master still popping those strings and crooning some soul.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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