Jimmy Cavallo is one of the overlooked architects of rock ‘n’ roll. He was there at the very beginning, beating Bill Haley into the recording studio to record seminal sides that would form the bedrock of rock ‘n’ roll, performing at the legendary Apollo Theatre before Buddy Holly’s historic appearance (he was the first white bandleader to grace that hallowed stage), and signing with DJ Alan Freed before the latter’s ignominious downfall during the payola scandals of the ‘50’s.
But that was then and this is now, and rock ‘n’ roll is famously a young man’s game. Born in 1927, Jimmy’s no kid; one might reasonably assume contemporary efforts will be either tired and sleepy or simply embarrassing.
But such assumptions would be terribly wrong.
Backed by Ron Spencer’s crackerjack outfit (as on 2002’s “The Houserocker”), Jimmy and friends rip through a lively, live-in-the-studio set that may trade youthful exuberance for polished professionalism, but that sounds all the better for it.
Does that mean rock ‘n’ roll can grow up? Sure, when the growth means subtle touches – a piano fill here, an extra layer of complexity in the horn charts there - that add depth and dimension, rendering the simplest of musical forms a little more interesting – assuming one can sit still long enough to pay attention!
With a playlist that sticks primarily to standards – songwriters include Wynonie Harris, Paul Gayten, and Dave Bartholemew, among others – “You Better Believe It’ hearkens back to the glory days when a hot band and a driving beat were still the hottest ticket in town.
Jimmy starts things off with a defiant romp through “I Feel That Old Age Comin’ On,” rendering the title moot as he shows no signs of slowing down; from there it’s jumping and swinging all the way, with a dance-ready set sure to keep floors filled from beginning to end. He delivers both sax and vocal lines with an easy-going authority, while Mr. Spencer and Jumpstart provide superbly sympathetic support throughout.
This one’s pure pleasure and a fine reminder of how bands used to sound before the age of endless overdubs – performances here, while impeccable, lack the studio sheen that robs so much music of life. Indeed, when it comes to ‘lively,’ more than a few young bands could take a lesson from the still-very-spry Mr. Cavallo.