Wednesday, March 4, 2009
There is water at the bottom of the ocean...
(Crossposted from Intravenus De Milo)
The liner notes read like a warning on a pack of cigarettes: “This material was recorded on analog equipment, ignoring modern noise reduction techniques. We pay our humble respects to the mighty gods of analog tape who have shown us both their destructive power and their compassionate mercy”
In the space usually dedicated to gear endorsements by the band members this caution, “Reverb and tremolo are welcome; all other effects are strictly forbidden”. This is followed by similar accolades to nebulous ‘old strings and old guitars’. The section ends with, “Norm eats Maruchan Ramen Noodles exclusively”, no doubt offering first person testament to the fact that life as a working musician is fraught with poverty, hardship, and lots of hard work. If you stop and think about it, it’s a wonder that anybody in their right mind would even consider playing music as a career at all. I have many musician friends and included in that list are a few who have passionately chosen it as their life long profession. The word ‘sacrifice’ could surely be inserted in that previous sentence without risk of hyperbole or apology.
So it was on a rainy Friday night last week that my brother Mathdude and I set out in search of a long lost friend and a little salvation in the form of one Lonesome Jim Ransone and his band The Breeze Kings. My faded memories of Jim are of a brilliant, if not painfully quiet, young guy who balanced his time back in high school between his academics, playing music, and being dragged by my brother into many ill-fated capers and misadventures. From what Jim told us, he begrudgingly attended Georgia Tech and earned an engineering degree at his father’s insistence and once he wrapped that up, he turned to his dad and said, “Okay, can I go play music now?” Of course I’m fictionalizing a bit here, but you get the gist. Amazingly, it turns out that Jim was the founder of a smoking hot band called the Urban Shakedancers whose music I was baptized in upon arrival to Atlanta in 1991 by my ragtag gang of music friends who had graciously welcomed me into their circle. My new friends had gone to high school with the other members of the Shakedancers and I’m certain that Jim and I were in the same room on a couple of occasions unbeknownst to either one of us.
Oh yeah, music, sacrifice, passion… The Breeze Kings. I’m pretty certain Jim had to seek out his ‘other’ education some place other than on the campus of the MIT of the South, but judging from the performance my brother and I witnessed, and after giving The Breeze Kings two brilliant CD’s multiple spins, it would seem that Jim has been doing post doc work on the life and times of Willie Dixon, Bobby Blue Bland, and Albert Collins. Mathdude and I were treated to three of the most scorching sets of traditional Chicago blues I’d heard since seeing Mr. Collins himself perform “Too Many Dirty Dishes” at ‘The Chance’ in Poughkeepsie NY back in the late 80’s.
The Breeze Kings have all the bases covered and it always starts with a swinging drummer especially when it comes to their style of music. And that’s what Mark Yarbrough is: One swingin’ son of bitch. Coupled with Dave Roth’s masterful bass rumbling and Bill Wyman-esk demeanor, Jim was free to channel with reckless abandon the ghosts of Chess Studios through his Gibson ES 135 and tweed covered tube amp. There are many great trad blues bands out there, but for me what makes one rise up out of the fog over another is how well the singer can keep up. Authenticity is made or broken in this key role. Carlos Capote’s melodic voice and mastery of the harmonica certainly didn’t disappoint me, Mathdude, or the other hundred or so in the room. I think the only critical comment I could make about the evening (other than the pouring rain) was that while the Fern Bank Martini Night drew an enthusiastic and generous sized crowd, there are places in Atlanta I’d rather see my friend and his band throw down at ( Blind Willie’s off the top of my head). The 60ft ceilings, marble floors, T-Rex and Aptosaurus skeleton backdrop were a little distracting. It would be even more amazing if at some point I could catch them accompanied by 'The Gimme Dolla Orchestra' who graces the band’s “You Got to Bring Some …To Get Some” album.
We’ve since heard back from Jim and you can bet I’ll be dragging my wife and friends out to see The Breeze Kings again very soon. If you like this kind of music, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of either of their records available at Amazon.com. ‘Sorry That You Put Me Down’ is worth the price alone. You will NOT be disappointed.