On his latest album, poll-favorite Bill Frisell teams up with the dream rhythm section of Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. It's a relaxed affair, made up of blues-tinged, gently swinging pieces, and on the whole it's a welcome (if slight) departure from Frisell's recent sojourns into Americana, which suffered from a case of excessive politeness. Frisell employs overdubbed acoustic and electric guitars, as well as the sporadic backwards-track and tape loop. When everything clicksas on "Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa," which amply displays the masterful interplay for which Holland and Jones are held in such high esteemthe first-time collaboration generates a real payoff. And by and large, it does, although not always; the lockstep rhythm of "Hard Times" wastes Jones' abilities. I have no doubt that Frisell was challenging himself in setting up this session, but he used to push the envelope much harder, and I can't help but imagine what fireworks could have been created between these three stalwarts if they had decided to go for broke and attempted to surprise each other. The album could best be described as pleasant; it's the sort of tasteful, intelligently crafted music that NPR would choose to use for segues between feature stories. There's no faulting the impeccable playing, which radiates a cool beauty. (As a side note, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beguiling, surreal cover artwork, courtesy of the great Jim Woodring.)
Ever heard of the Yo-Yo's? How about Shadden and the King Lears? Unless you were a rock & roll fan in Memphis in the 1960s, or you're a collector of obscure records, the answer is probably no. For every band that made it big during that era, there were countless others whose tour itinerary extended no further than the local rollerrinks and VFW halls. Success was relative; of course, most budding musicians harbored secret (or not so secret) hopes that picking up a guitar would be a ticket to stardom, but if the extent of their success meant making a good record or two, meeting girls, and being popular around town, that worked as well. As a rule, garage bands were less concerned with breaking new musical ground than with playing in the styles that made them want to form a band in the first place. The Memphis scene was strongly influenced by the soulful sounds of Stax Records; compared to other regions, there were fewer psychedelic bands and cranked up Marshall amps (as the local studio engineers didn't have much experience in recording such equipment). A History Of Garage & Frat Bands In Memphis 1960-1975 serves up fifteen bursts of youthful enthusiasm, and it's a great survey of the local talent. The Yo-Yo's "Leaning On You" is a catchy slice of blue-eyed soul; The Changin' Tymes' "Blue Music Box" sports a killer fuzzbox sound; "Uptight, Tonight," courtesy of Flash & The Casuals, is what energetic frat rock was all about; and The Castels' "Save A Chance" reminds that American singers were adopting thick, faux-Brit accents long before Joey Ramone and Bob Pollard. There's an accompanying book (sold separately) entitled Playing For A Piece Of The Door, which provides exhaustive documentation on the bands featured on the disc, as well as many, many others (making one wish that Shangri-La had been a bit more generous with the CD, which clocks in at just under 34 minutes). With a non-hierarchal eye, it gives histories of the acts who broke nationally (The Box Tops, Big Star, Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs) alongside those who released a sole 45 and dispersed when it was time to go to college. As it's a straightforward, alphabetized look at the groups, with discographies, photos, and personnel listings, it'll be of primary interest to hardcore collectors of the original records and those were present at the time, but the CD should appeal to anyone who wants to hear more of the music that the Nuggets compilations specialize in.
- James Lindbloom