Friday, August 05, 2016

Josh Alan's "Sixty, Goddammit"

I feel like Josh Alan Friedman is my slightly older, way cooler brother from another mother. Both Lawn Guyland expats living in Tejas (he from more cosmopolitan Nassau County, me from bumfuck backwater Suffolk County), both got our rockaroll baptisms in Noo Yawk (he at the Fillmore East, me via radio and rekkids), both muso-scribes (it's always humbling to encounter folks who do what you do better than you do). His "autobiographical novel" Black Cracker captures very well the time and place we grew up in, when he was the only white kid in Long Island's last segregated school, and I remember an Italo-American kid, when we were on the verge of getting bused out of the neighborhood, telling me that "The niggizz is gonna stab you through the seats on the bus." His Tell the Truth Until They Bleed contains some of the very best music writing of which I am personally aware, including an epic interview with Tin Pan Alley songwriting genius Jerry Leiber and profiles of Tommy Shannon and the late Keith Ferguson that'll make you weep, if you've any heart at all.

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.


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