Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Contemporary Roots Music: Some Favorites

Since "American Roots Music" got up and running several months ago the focus has been primarily about the history of roots music prior to 1960. So much so that some may have wondered if I ever devote any time to contemporary musicians whose styles are derivative of original roots music. In fact I do spend time trying to keep up with the explosion of popularity roots music has experienced in the last fifteen years. And from what I can see, musical groups that deal in the music we appreciate continue to proliferate: western swing groups are coming on very strong, surf groups are hot, rockabilly's "third wave" has literally exploded on an international scale, blues and R&B groups continue to flourish as do jazz ensembles. Below I will outline just a few of my favorites in the different genres, but I also applaud all the dedicated musicians who continue to keep the traditions alive and well.

Western Swing: Initially, back in the early 1970's groups like Commander Cody and Asleep at the Wheel revived the music of Bob Wills, Hank Williams and many others. Today, the success of Wayne Hancock in the genre seems to have encouraged other groups to follow suit, particularly in western Australia, where allegiance to the genre runs very strong. Perth seems to be the center of activity, check out the swing of High Rollin' Rhythm Kings, whose style nods everyone from Hank Williams to Sid King and Lew Williams. Another Perth group, The Tornado Alleycats also pay tribute to Texas music traditions of the 1940's and 50's by merging western swing and rockabilly.

Rhythm and Blues: Drawing on the powerful vocal blues of Ann Cole, Big Maybelle and Ruth Brown, Little Rachel and her R&B out of Kansas City, Missouri offer tight and high charged arrangements of R&B material. "Bull Ridin Mama" is particularly good. Also, give a listen to Johnny Carlevale's jump blues ensemble, whose interesting mix of 1940's and 50's R&B rocks.

Rockabilly: The sheer number of groups from more than 20 countries makes it difficult to choose my favorites. I do think The Mezcal Brothers from Lincoln, Nebraska have a very tight sound that stays quite true to the 1950's. Gerardo Meza is an outstanding vocalist in the rockabilly style and the guitar is right there. Also, I really enjoy a group from Ontario, The Royal Crowns , their overall sound and captivating lyrics. Miss Lauren Marie from Austin Texas nods to a variety of roots material and is a great vocalist. Love her cover of "Three Little Words." From Sonoma county in California comes 1/4 Mile Combo, a R&B -rockabilly group I would love to see live. One last favorite: Crazy Joe and his Mad River Outlaws. Just love their retro sound.

Guitar Players: Duke Levine is an extraordinary player who moves around fluently in all the roots styles, from elaborate country arrangements to jazzy shuffles. His interpretation of Caravan on myspace is unbelievable. Also check Duke out live here on one called "Mansquito." Another consummate roots guitarist anchored in R&B, shuffles and blues is Duke Robillard, check him out here. Really nice playing. In a country blues vein, the sublime, haunting guitar work of Kelly Jo Phelps is moving. Check him out live here. Also check out the incredible Gareth Pearson's melange of root based compositions, or see this young whiz from Wales perform live here. Incredible young player. From the old Country Cooking days, Russ Barenberg is still alive and doing very well.

Jazz: Two jazz guitarists I really enjoy: the eclectic style of Bob Patterson and Adam Smale from Michigan. Finally, in my opinion, the most talented jazz/country guitarist alive today: the incredible Scotty Anderson. Listen to him here.

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