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03 FEB 12 JOHN C. BRUENING
Maybe it's the convergence of old-school urban blues and neo-surf. Or maybe it's just the unusual combination of headgear that looks like a band of Mexican wrestlers raiding a Native American reservation. Whatever the case, the unlikely pairing of guitarist Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater and surf rockers Los Straitjackets makes 2003's Rock 'n' Roll City a fun, high-energy ride.
It's guitar-driven, blues-based rock in the tradition of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino and various other seminal blues and rock and roll artists of the 1950s. Clearwater (aka Edward Harrington) came up through the ranks in that same era, and appears to be navigating the years better than many of his better-known contemporaries. His vintage sensibility is enhanced by a crew known as Los Amigos de Nashville: tenor/baritone saxophonist Dennis Taylor, keyboardist Steve Conn and banjoist/bassist/baritone guitarist George Bradfute.
The set starts on an upbeat note with the one-two punch of "You're Humbuggin' Me" and "Ding Dong Daddy," then takes a dark turn with the slow and melancholy "Lonesome Town." The weight lifts quickly with "Hillbilly Blues," wherein Clearwater's vocals bear an uncanny resemblance to Chuck Berry. Los Straitjackets' signature sound -- crafted by guitarists Eddy Angel and Danny Amis -- comes to the forefront in "Monkey Paw," a swampy instrumental track that jumps back and forth between Southwestern twang and bluesy shuffle.
Is it blues? Rock and roll? Rockabilly? Who cares? Just call it genuine music from a guy who was among the first on the scene when all of the above were surfacing in the mainstream more than a half-century ago. Rock 'n' Roll City is one town that's worth revisiting many times.
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