Josh Alan's "Sixty, Goddammit"
So the arrival in my mailbox this week of a package with Josh's name in the return address was quite welcome. Sixty, Goddammit is his first album of "atomic acoustic blues-funk-rock" in 15 years, and it's a corker. (For my two cents, the best of its four predecessors is 1997's Blacks 'n' Jews, out of print on CD but digitally available from the usual places since 2009.) Mostly recorded at home with surprisingly pristine clarity and juiced in post-production by ace Austin engineer David Rosenblad, Sixty, Goddammit is chock full of flashy flatpicking, sardonic wiseguy vocalismo, lyrical wit, and only the finest blues and R&B root sources, run through the aforementioned Fillmore East filter. Which means that as acoustic bluesmen go, Josh Alan's a rocker. Think Steve Stills back when he was good; Josh's live-wire act has the same kind of built-in tension.
The tunes include several I've enjoyed at Josh's live performances for years -- in particular, "Down Home Girl," the slow, sultry Leiber and Stoller chestnut first waxed by Alvin "Shine" Robinson, and more famously on The Rolling Stones, Now!; and "Cat's Squirrel," which Dr. Isaiah Ross wouldn't have recognized once Eric Clapton (and Mick Abrahams!) got their hands on it, and which Josh manhandles in the same way he used to do Mr. Beck's Yardbirds-era showpiece, "Jeff's Boogie." (That is to say, with a degree of humor as well as flash.) Josh also essays an arrangement of Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" (the 'riginal of which my ex-wife probably still doesn't believe I want played at my funeral), and Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues," which shows just how closely related were bluegrass and Piedmont-style blues.
Josh's originals here -- "This Radio Don't Play Nothin' But the Blues," "I'm Blacker Than You," and "Street Fight" -- show a continuing interest in blues, race, and the seamy side of city life (which their author knows very well from the days he spent covering Times Square for Screw magazine in the years before it got Giulianified, Disneyfied, and North Dallas outdoor mall-ified). He also tackles cover material associated with Ray Charles ("What'd I Say"), Albert King and Cream ("Born Under A Bad Sign"), ZZ Top ("Tush"), and even Elvis Himself ("Mystery Train"). Next time I'm of a mind to hear white boy acoustic blues, instead of reaching for Sun Elvis or Dion on World Cafe, I might just throw Sixty, Goddammit on the box instead. So there.