Bentley's Bandstand: Larkin Grimm, Heritage Blues Orchestra, Memphis Boys

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Larkin Grimm

Larkin Grimm, Soul Retrieval. This is where the pudding gets thick. How could it not with a singer-songwriter named Larkin Grimm? There is an intensity of spirit in her music that will not stop, no matter what, and it's a sure bet she will follow listeners around the world to make sure they hear her. Grimm's fourth album has a deep backstory to it, one that involves Moroccan hamams in Belgium and flies from there into the purple skies. Best of all, let her tell this tale of discovery.

"I got stranded in New York City when my Honda Civic broke down carrying five artists, two dogs, and several hundred pounds of sculpture for a gallery in Brooklyn. I had always hated New York, but it is the greatest place to be without a car, so I gave my broken car to a Haitian immigrant and I moved in with a queer genius hoarder and his three cats in Spanish Harlem. I sat down in a movie theater next to my hero, Lou Reed. I got married to a fire-breathing, sword brandishing street performer. I commited myself to the world by giving birth to a beautiful son, and I finally recorded my new album, Soul Retrieval, with the help of a man named Tony Visconti, who had previously helped David Bowie and Mark Bolan realize their musical visions. Here it is."

You can't make things like that up, but even better, listening to Larkin Grimm sing songs like "Paradise and So Many Colors," "Without a Body or a Numb and Useless Mind," and "I'm Not Real," it's apparent she has a way of collecting falling elements and emotions from the cosmos and shape them all into music that speaks to inifinity. By collecting those things in life that resist being captured the woman has found her own soul. On this album, she lends a hand and leads the way in helping other find theirs. A treasure waiting to ve discovered.

Heritage Blues Orchestra. On the poster insert to this swinging band's debut album, here's who they list as influences: Son House, New Orleans, Blues, Debussy, Africa, Field Hollers, Duke Ellington, Mississippi Delta, Spirituals, Nina Simone, Kansas City, Work Songs, Count Basie, Hill Country, Jazz, Ravel, Highway 61, and Gospel. Not a bad beginning, and believe it or not it's possible to hear all those low-down and high-flying styles in what this fine and funky aggregation do.

The band's core of Bill Sims Jr., Chaney Sims, and Junior Mack start out at ground level with Son House's "Clarksdale Moan," dipping down to Mississippi in honor of all that began there. Things stay in the dirt for awhile before veering into the spiritual with "Get Right Church" and "Don't Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down." A full-tilt horn section adds to the expansive joy, and everyone positively struts their stuff on "In the Morning" and others.

Heritage Blues Orchestra takes their name seriously, covering the waterfront that makes up the blues and showing how all the different tributaries eventually flow together into a mighty and unstoppable river. Junior Mack and both Sims sing with total feeling, and venture into whatever territories call them. That's what this music has always been: something that opens up for everyone and offers all the hope in the world. Playwright August Wilson once wrote, "This be an empty world without the blues," which feels truer ever day.

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Various Artists, Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios. In the wide-open musical days of the 1960s, small and somewhat isolated clusters of studio musicians changed the country. Whether it was in Memphis or Muscle Shoals, what these players did was record artists that broke down the color lines which separated America and helped their audience realize the races weren't that different after all. Joe Tex and Dusty Springfield and Otis Redding and B.J. Thomas shared the airwaves and for a few brief years it looked like a serious coming together was just around the corner. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, though, all bets were off and far too many of the walls were quickly rebuilt.

At Memphis' American Studios one of the era's great musical experiments got underway in the mid-'60s, and turned out a bounty of wonders that is still mind-blowing, both for its creativity as well as commercial success. These women and men made hits, and lead by producer Chips Moman defied logic and just how wide they were able to cast their net. From Sandy Posey's "Born a Woman" to James Carr's "You've Got My Mind Messed Up," the musicians on those session dates remained a small and sturdy bunch, able to rise to any occasion and supply the magic every time. Even when they had to venture out of American into other studios like Royal and Stax, they took their mojo with them and brought it home.

The two dozen songs on Memphis Boys should be required listening everywhere, taught in schools to show what really happened in American history. Consider the same crowd was responsible for the Gentrys' teen dream "Keep on Dancing" as well as the fully-grown "The Power of a Woman" by Spencer Wiggins. There's no way not to marvel at the inspiration and diversity of two such divergent singles, and know this kind music doesn't happen by accident. It's called greatness, and a compilation like this burns with it from start to end. Nothing lasts forever but by the time Elvis Presley's "I'm Movin' On" finishes things off here, you sure wish it could.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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