The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie, Live in Paris. Boogie woogie music, based mainly on pumping pianos often played at warp speed, is a lot like blues: you either love it or you don't like it at all. Rare is the person who might say, "Yes, I feel like a small touch of boogie woogie today." Rather, the sound is held in such high esteem by fanatical devotees that a bit of mouth drool often accompanies the rabid praises thrown the music's way by its most devoted acolytes. And two of today's great players of the time-honored style are pianists Ben Waters and Axel Zwingenberger. Holding this particular aggregation together are bassist Dave Green and, of course, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. No doubt Watts brings the bright spotlight to the band, but make no mistake: the ABC&D (after the musicians' first names) of Boogie Woogie is all gassed up and ready to roar.
Both Waters and Zwingenberger hit the keyboard flying. Recorded live at a small Paris nightclub, their pianos separated by Watts and Green, it's like the pair tear off on a mission from God to put in every conceivable boogie woogie lick known to man, and do it in a way that makes the soul reel. They take the music of the '20s and '30s first played by people like Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons and put just enough modern juice to it so it doesn't come across as a museum piece. With Watts' ability to make the world swing and Green's heartbeat bass, ABC&D are a treacherous quartet indeed.
They mix originals like "Bonsoir Boogie" and "Street Market Drag" with W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and Dr. John's "Somebody Changed the Lock on My Door" in a way that displays how certain musical worlds really are timeless. The passage of the years might put a certain patina on the past, but also allows the present to be perfectly cool too. This is music that possesses those who play it, and all others are invited along for the ride—or not. Charlie Watts is clearly having the time of his life; check out his smile on the inside photo. It doesn't happen every day, so if that doesn't say it all, then somebody give this crippled crab a crutch.
Hacienda, Shakedown. Producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys moves from Dr. John's Lockdown album to Hacienda's Shakedown. Sounds like Auerbach is intent on getting down one way or another, and the very good news is he is definitely on a roll, because this San Antonio foursome is about as fired up as a band can be in this century. They take all the simple grooves of garage rock, and then put a Southwestern spin on them so they push and pull straight through to their own creation. The three Villanueva brothers, Dante, Rene and Jaime, are joined by cousin Dante Schwebel (shades of a San Antone Beach Boys family band) that lets them establish that blood brother groove from note one.
Auerbach has helped write these new songs, and it shows. There is a simple sophistication to them like all great rock and roll possesses, one that enthralls but never overwhelms. It's the secret sauce that allows everyone from Chuck Berry to Lou Reed to Paul Westerberg hit the sweet spot, and one listen to a song like "Savage" shows Hacienda has captured the moment. Three albums in, and these Texans have staked their turf.
The evolution of rock and roll bands goes in circles, never in a long linear line. When elements like loud lead guitars and overdone production threatens to take over, there's always a swing back to passionate vocals and plain old big beats. A band like Hacienda shows they have mastered all these things, and done it away from the public glare. Now that they've gotten their chance to take the national stage, the big sky's the limit. Remember the Alamo.
James Luther Dickinson, I'm Just Dead I'm Not Gone. There aren't many musicians who cast as wide a shadow as James Luther Dickinson. Around Memphis he was an instigator of countless escapades, from early days pushing aging bluesmen to the front of the line, then as keyboard player in the decidedly funky Dixie Flyers and later Mudboy & the Neutrons (!!) and producer nonpareil of everyone from Big Star, the Replacements, Texas Tornados, John Hiatt and onward. Some first found out about Dickinson from his aching piano on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," which opened a lot of doors for someone who wasn't shy about knocking them down if need be. He was Ry Cooder's co-conspirator for years, and even ended up on a Bob Dylan album a decade ago. There was nowhere this man didn't go.
In the '90s his sons Luther and Cody Dickinson kicked up their own sand after forming the North Mississippi All Stars. Needless to say, the music never stopped around the Dickinson abode, and as he once explained, he had to "raise his own band," which the father definitely did. When he died in 2009, Jim Dickinson had aptly reminded everyone beforehand, "I will not be gone as long as the music lingers." This live concert recorded at the New Daisy Theater on Memphis's famous Beale Street in 2006 captures the man and his sons in full glory, taking a blowtorch to roots music and fashioning something altogether their own. They had such an instinctual feel for these songs—music that was almost literally in their blood—that the sound feels like it comes from a down home front porch with the ions thick in the summer night and the spirit of America in the air.
The set list is one that reflects where Jim Dickinson started, with classics by Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, B.B. King and J.B. Lenoir to cover the blues foundation. Then there's songs by Mack Rice, Buffy St. Marie, Bob Frank, Jerry West and Terry Fell that veer from swampy rockers to country stompers. Everything comes out with an unstoppable beat and bad boy attitude, something the Tennessee favorite son came by naturally. With a gruff voice that commanded complete attention, it sometimes seems like Dickinson might have missed his calling as a preacher or a politician, but in a lot of ways that's what he was too. He just did it from behind a piano, and let the notes fall where they may. There is no denying we won't see his like again, but once more the Big Man was right when he predicted: he's just dead, he's not gone. Thank God.