Sublime with Rome, John Oates, Neil Young, Booker T

By , Columnist
Sublime with Rome, Yours Truly. There really isn't a rock 'n' roll rulebook, but if there were it's anybody's guess how to handle a band carrying on with a new lead singer once the original one is gone. With Journey, say, Steve Perry is nowhere around but the band found a replacement from the Phillipines on Youtube. Fair enough.
 
Sublime, one of the hellraisingest bands of the '90s, which lost leader Bradley Nowell to misadventure right when their mega album was being released, take a different road. They discovered Rome Ramirez, who has an uncanny style that proudly recalls Nowell at his best, and take off from there. They do it without looking back and with such bodacious bravura that the past becomes a remote concern at best.
 
The trio's blend of Southern Cali reggae and whiplash punk rock is alluring in all the right places, and the rhythm section of bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh has such a plentiful groove that smiles spread wherever they play. Producer Paul Leary is back from the glory days, and more power to them all. It might be harder to take if an Eskimo replaces Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones someday, but until then let the boys boogie woogie any way they want to. Rules are made to be broken, right?
 
John Oates, Mississippi Mile. One half of Hall & Oates makes a beeline to Nashville, recruits some of the most soulful musicians in Music City and hits his roots reset button with dead-on delivery. That's right: Chuck Berry, Curtis Mayfield, Elvis Presley, Percy Mayfield, and the Coasters get covered with a high sheen and low-down groove, and no matter what you may think of John Oates previous musical life, which is actually quite righteous, this feels like a true rebirth.
 
There's really no way to lose with Mike Henderson on guitar, Sam Bush on mandolin and fiddle, and Jerry Douglas on dobro and lap steel. The level of vibrations in the studio hits the high spot immediately and percolates up from there. Even when Oates' vocals get into the over-earnest zone they never max out. He can reign it back in quickly and remember songs this good don't need to be overjoyed.
 
The beauty of being super-successful is doing exactly what you want now and then. Some people might like to go to Disneyland daily; others could hope to buy the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and make every night there free. John Oates wants to go South and get his feet all muddy in the Mississippi River, and knows exactly how to do it. Thank goodness for big dreams and sweet adventure. 
 
Neil Young International Harvesters, A Treasure. Escaping the tyranny of the snare drum, Neil Young rounded up some knocked-out country players in the mid- '80s and let his rural freak flag fly all over the place. Ben Keith, Rufus Thibodeaux, and Hargus "Pig" Robbins are just a few of this jolly bunch, and it sounds like they're having the time of their life. Rock 'n' roll, for all its freedom, often ends up being quite restrictive, but country songs positively swing, letting a band flow like a river in any direction they want.
 
As part of his official Archives Performance Series, Young has an eye for the non-obvious and this album shines like a polished Peterbilt bumper. Whether it's a reprise of Buffalo Springfield's "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong" or the glorious stomp of "Are You Ready for the Country," the fun factor is full-tilt, the fellows sounding like they've just gotten a weekend pass from country lock-up. The last track, "Grey Riders," lets them flex their prodigous rock chops all the way home, and prove there are no limits when it comes to great music.

Let others make up a name for it, while Neil Young and this brigade of renegades get their groove on. Geffen Records had recently sued Young for not making records that sounded enough like himself, one of the great rock 'n' roll ironies of all time, but anyone who's followed Mr. Soul down his endless avenues knows it's all part of the plan to have no plan. Say it again.
 
Booker T. Jones, The Road from Memphis. It sometimes seems that the unstoppable strength of Booker T. Jones must someday slow down. A few years may go by in silence, but don't take that for anything other than the man catching his breath. Jones now returns with the Roots behind him, showing how his mighty Memphis sound is capable of getting down more than ever. In his hands, the Hammond organ becomes a fountain of truth far beyond just being a musical instrument, and turns the whole world into a church of the highest order.
 
There is a beautiful starkness to Booker T. Jones' music these days. While it was never overwrought, it's like he's boiled it down to the essence, finding a sense of gratitude in the silence. The MGs might not be there now, but the Roots have gone to school on that stripped-down Stax Records sound and it's running through their blood. So much of what was inspiring about '60s soul music started in the studio on McLemore Avenue, and it's thrilling to hear those lessons have not been lost to the demon of time.
 
Lou Reed helps end the album on "The Bronx," which might appear to be incongrous at first glance. But Reed's Velvet Underground used to play an instrumental titled "Booker T." all those years ago, and here he returns the favor with wonderful understatement, while Jones' organ pushes him down the mean streets he loves so much. No fireworks, no freakouts, just a man telling the truth with his friend testifying right along with him. What a world.

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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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