Step right up into the world of Tom Waits-a world inhabited by sideshow freaks, sailors on shore leave, hookers from Minneapolis and other denizens, dervishes and desperados of Waits' fertile imagination.
John Hammond is your tour guide, along with his crack Wicked Grin band, currently on the road in support of Hammond's new all-Waits CD. Besides supplying all but one of the songs, Waits produced Hammond's latest, Wicked Grin, which features longtime Waits bassist Larry Taylor, Waits alumnus Stephen Hodges on drums, veteran Texas Tornado Augie Meyers on organ and accordion and Frank Carillo on guitar.
The marriage of Hammond and Waits isn't entirely without precedent. Hammond played on Waits' last release, Mule Variations, and Waits contributed a song to Hammond's last effort.
Hammond masterfully pulls it off with this hand-picked group of ace musicians. In an eerie sort of way, it felt like Waits' shambling spirit was lurking about somewhere in the Cedar Cultural Center when Hammond brought his Wicked Grin band on stage. Taylor channeled the heartbeat of Waits through his slippery and in-the-groove upright bass, while Hodges kept a tight hand on the throttle. Hammond's traditionally smooth approach took on a considerable edge on some songs. He played electric most of the night, amply flanked by Carillo's subtle guitar interplay and Meyers' rich carnival-like flourishes on organ and accordion.
The set spanned much of Waits' career, from 1980's"Heartattack and Vine" through '99's "Mule Variations." There are really no "greatest hits" of Tom Waits that demanded inclusion so anything was fair game, and Hammond mixed up the song list nicely. It had all the twisted cohesion of a Waits show without the man himself.
"Clap Hands" featured a tangy blend of Hammond's harmonica and Myers' accordion, anchored by Taylor's solid bottom. Things got serious on "Gun Street Girl," and a little greasier on "'Till the Money Runs Out."
A particularly delightful surprise was the inclusion of "Fish in the Jailhouse," a rollicking Waits obscurity about fish bones and jailbreaks that's never been released on a legitimate recording. Hammond and Co. threw that down like a funky ol' filet in the deep fat fryer.
"Shore Leave," a tortured Waits look at the underside of life, was almost surreal as Hammond shifted modes once again:
"I rowed down the gutter to the blood bank
and I'd left all my papers on the Ticonderoga
and I was in bad need of a shave
and so I slopped at the corner on cold chow mien
and shot billiards with a midget
until the rain stopped…"
They nailed the burlesque-gritty "Gin Soaked Boy" to the wall and then simmered into a long and slinky groove on "Get Behind the Mule."
The band's take on "Murder in the Red Barn" was more like a slightly off-center lounge act's. "Fannin Street" is a tender new song that Waits and his wife penned for Hammond's new CD, and his pure voice found a home here. Shifting back into high gear again, they brought the hammer down on "16 Shells from a 30-06" with an uncharacteristically brutal delivery from Hammond that conjured up the forceful images of Waits' vivid storytelling:
"I plugged 16 shells from a thirty ought-six
and the Black Crow snuck through
a hole in the sky."
They got back on the low side of cool with "Low Side of the Road," and even delved into the gospel songbook with an old traditional (the only non-Waits selection), "I Know I've Been Changed." Hammond pulled two more selections from Waits' classic Raindogs album, "Big Black Mariah" and "Jockey Full of Bourbon" to round out the set and closed out the show with "Cold Water" for an encore.
Tom Waits is considered by many to be a "songwriter's songwriter." With John Hammond and his intuitive Wicked Grin band, Waits' skillfully crafted songs are in good hands.
Check out John Hammond on the internet:http://www.rosebudus.com/hammond/
Paul Geremia brings the wry humor of David Bromberg and the slide guitar finesse of Son House together over a warm-as-whiskey baritone to make for an enjoyable excursion through the blues. The Providence, RI native is no stranger to Minneapolis or the Cedar Cultural Center-his "Live from Uncle Sam's Backyard" was recorded live at the Cedar in 1991.
Opening with a number from his latest in a string of Red House Records releases, "If a Woman's Love Was Whiskey," Geremia demonstrated his adept 12-string slide work that brought to mind the stylings of both John Mooney and Leo Kottke. His voice has a pleasing creak to it that lends authenticity to his 30-some years on the road breathing new life into obscure acoustic blues.
Jazz cornetist and composer Bix Beiderbecke isn't the first one to come to mind for an acoustic blues guitarist to cover, but cover him Geremia does, along with a slug of others: Skip James, Big Bill Broonzy, Scrapper Blackwell. He's got the soothing, polished feel of our own Dave Ray, effortlessly adding a fresh phrase or turn to a rare old song.
Geremia throws a lickety-split harp into the mix now and then, like on the snappy Brombergesque original "Wonderful Affliction." And he gave a nod to preacher Son House with something (that might be) called "You Can't Scandalize My Name."
Paul Geremia is scheduled back in town April 28 for the Prairie Home Companion Show at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theatre.
Check out Paul Geremia on the internet:www.fishheads.net/geremia
This review is copyright © 2001 by Karl Bremer, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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