Gary Smulyan Smul’s Paradise
(Capri Records) From the opening number— the insistent, jumpy, lock-step strut of the Stevie Wonder hit “Sunny”—it’s clear that Gary Smulyan’s latest quartet offering is far from just another saxophone album. In fact, the baritone master (yep, that’s baritone sax in a leading role) originally set out to pay tribute to the oft-overlooked organ-heavy Don Patterson, and he lands nicely on the mark with an album more in stride with Groove Holmes or a small Jimmy Smith combo than anything overly breathy or reedy.
Full of hard-swinging, dusty grooves, Paradise is a hodgepodge of two Patterson compositions, three originals (including standout cut “Blues for D.P.”) and an unerring vibe of smoky, late-night head-nodding. Guitarist Peter Bernstein’s economical touch—ripe with gutsy, bluesy feel—shows he’s an old pro of organ combos, while Smulyan’s own breathless, tasty runs always stay just rooted enough in the get-down.
Kept chugging by Kenny Washington’s drums and old-school by the Hammond B-3 plunkings of Mike Le- Donne, the album approaches the consummate marriage of musical opposites: tightknit and laid-back. Paradise is also powerful proof, or maybe revelation, that the Soul Jazz of today can stay just as in-the-pocket as anything pored over by the Blue Note crate-diggers at your nearest record store.
Colin O’Brien After a Song
Colin O’Brien covers a lot of territory within Americana on his latest CD of mostly original songs. Tunes such as “Mountain Stage” could easily fill any sawdust-covered dance floor, while “New Territory” swings like a countryfried Hot Club number and the frisky “Hey You” could be a lost title from Gram Parsons’ catalog. A talented guitarist and banjo player, O’Brien has assembled a superb multiinstrumental string band in the form of Larry Perkins, Matt Combs and Mark Howard, with Dennis Crouch supporting the enterprise on bass. Although many of the songs have a contemporary ring, the band’s vintage instruments (some dating to the 19th century) endow the recording with an authentically woody sound.
Colin O’Brien plays 8 p.m. April 7 at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Chicken Wire Empire.
Andy’s Automatics Evergreen Motel
The latest album by Oshkosh band Andy’s Automatics revels in murder, unrepentant drunkenness, love gone irreparably south and prostitutes, strippers and exwives with filthy navels (yes, navels!). Their sound makes the connections from Gram Parsons to The Sadies with an easygoing, uneasy balance of irony and sincerity. It may occasionally make you wonder how much of it’s a joke, but equally as much it provides a perfect soundtrack for rowdy honky-tonk. No boot-scoot line dancing allowed. The joint would be too full for it, anyway—at least it ought to be.
—Jamie Lee Rake