CD Reviews for 08/23/07 – Rhythm & Roots Festival Preview

Compact Capsules for 08/23/07
by Dan Ferguson

This week’s Compact Capsules takes a look at some recent recordings from artists who’ll be performing at the annual Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret music festival which takes place this weekend at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. Music on the main stage begins Friday evening at 5 PM and continues until 11 PM. On Saturday and Sunday, main stage music runs from noon until 11 PM each day. Leading the way on performing front is the host band for the weekend The Red Stick Ramblers, who’ll play each day. Other scheduled performers for this year’s festival include Susan Tedeschi (Saturday), Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys (Saturday/Sunday), Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (Sunday), Natalie McMaster (Friday), Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives (Sunday), Creole Cowboys (Friday/Saturday), Donna The Buffalo (Saturday), James McMurtry (Sunday), The Pime Leaf Boys (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Los Straitjackets with Big Sandy (Saturday), Ray Bonneville (Friday), The Racines (Friday), Corey “Li’l Pop” Ledet (Saturday/Sunday), Paul Cebar & The Milwaukeeans (Friday/Saturday), Creole Cowboys (Sunday), The Buddhahood (Friday), Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, Magnolia (Saturday/Sunday), & Johnny Nicholas & the Texas All-Stars (Sunday). In addition to the main stage, the festival will also feature a family stage, workshop stage, and two dance pavilions (one of which is located in the main stage area), not to mention plenty of tempting regional and ethnic cuisine. For tickets or general information, call 1-888-855-6940 or visit the festival web site at

Los Straitjackets
Rock en Espanol Vol. 1
Yep Roc YEP2135

While those masked men of instrumental surf & roll, Los Straitjackets, take top billing on the new longplayer Rock en Espanol Vol. 1, it is singer cats like Big Sandy (of Big Sandy & Fly-Rite Boys fame), Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos, who also produced the record, and East L.A. brown-eyed rock ‘n’ soul legend Little Willie G. who help take this album from a real good rock & roll record to a great one. Known mostly for his rockabilly and Western Swing-leaning work with his band The Fly-Rite Boys, Big Sandy and Los Straitjackets first joined forces early in the decade with a 7-incher of el puro rock en Espanol which paired an early Freddie Fender number from when he was known as Eddie Con Los Shades (“Que Mala”) with an equally spiced number titled “La Plaga”. What seemed like a real good match at the time has seen the two forces reunite here and there over the years. With Rock en Espanol Vol. 1, they go for the gusto in a big time way (with plenty of touring on the docket to promote the album). If you’re a sucker for American pop tunes given the Latin rock & pop treatment, Rock en Espanol Vol. 1 what with covers like “All Day and All of the Night”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, Motown nugget “Gimme Little Sign”, “Wild Thing” and “Devil Woman” is a no brainer. Simply put, this 14-song release is a certified party starter. The additions of Mr. Rosas and Little Willie G. are only icing on the cake. And maybe the best thing about this album is the “Vol 1” attached to the title. Hopefully more is on the way, and pronto. (Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515, or

Los Straitjackets with Big Sandy in tow play this summer’s Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown, RI. They appear on Saturday, September 1. Check out

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
Soul’s Chapel
Superlatone/Universal South Records B0004389-02

Since joining the band of bluegrass great Lester Flatt as a mandolin playing 15-year-old in 1973 fresh out of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart, from producing to supporting roles to his own albums, has been involved with a ton of great music. A walking encyclopedia of sorts when it comes to Southern-based music, Stuart is most associated with country and in particular the hillbilly rockin’ brand of honky tonk music that has been his chief calling card. Perhaps one of Stuart’s best albums was one on which his name can barely be found, a gospel record called A Joyful Noise from the Alabama-based duo of Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. Released in 1991 by the Country Music Foundation, Stuart co-produced the record and played mandolin and guitar. It is the liner notes, however, where he bares his soul and his love for the gospel music of the Sullivan’s and how it made him just feel good. At the time, it made me think that Stuart had a gospel record in him somewhere down the line. Now some 14 years later, along comes Soul’s Chapel from Stuart and his superb band the Superlatives. Let’s set the record straight right out of the gates that this is not a country gospel record. Instead, Stuart and his band have crafted a deeply soulful sort of album that lives on the fringes of country music, that being dips into Delta blues, rockabilly, and deep soul. The encyclopedic song knowledge of Stuart’s displays its hand on a number of the selections that find him tapping into the catalogue of the aforementioned Sullivan as well as such icons of the gospel songwriting world as Albert E. Brumley and Pops Staples. In fact, it is Staples’ “Somebody Save Me” that sets the tone for Soul’s Chapel as the opening track to the collection. A near a cappella piece save for Kenny Vaughn’s savory tremolo guitar work, it is a take-notice piece of highly spiritual quality. Brumley’s “Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time” provides the perfect segue with Stuart handling the vocals in fine fashion and the band working itself more into the mix with Vaughn once again delivering understated guitar bliss. Next up is the rousing gospel rockabilly of “Way Down”, an original song from the band, with Superlatives regular Harry Stinson handling the lead vocals in a song readymade to get the faithful a-swaying and a-hipshakin’. “Come Into the House of the Lord” is chock full of soulful waves of organ and plenty of tasty licks. Only the first four of 12 tracks, the remainders are equally as potent and down-home with “Move Along Train” featuring guest singer Mavis Staples no doubt the attention grabber. About that Sullivan release, Stuart said how their music made him feel good. Soul’s Chapel has that same way about it. It’s a record defined by superior musicianship, solid songs buoyed by tasteful arrangements, singing in the spirit of the material, and the sum total of which wears oh so well on the ears. In other words, here’s thinking one of this year’s best albums is a spiritual one. (Universal South Records, 40 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203)

Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives appear at Rhythm & Roots on Sunday, September 2.

James McMurtry
Childish Things
Compadre Records 65842

If you happened to catch the Bob Dylan film on PBS several weeks back, one of the many interviewees from the film talked about having something to say in your songs and/or music. Listen to the frivolity of the pop music that continues to dominate the commercial airwaves and it’s pretty obvious that ninety percent of the charting artists have very little to say. To find songs of substance nowadays, you need to head off the beaten track be it college, community, public, or even satellite radio. Over the course of what has been roughly a 13-year career, singer/songwriter James McMurtry has established himself as a fascinating storyteller as well as lyricist who is unafraid to speak his mind in song. Case in point being the composition “We Can’t Make It Here” from his brand new album called Childish Things. His second release for Houston-based Compadre Records, it follows 2004’s superb live retrospective recording Live in Aught-Three. An acute commentary on the bleak state of the union, McMurtry actually made “We Can’t Make It Here” available as a free, downloadable MP3 from his web site not long before the 2004 presidential election. A protest song of grand proportions on which McMurtry holds nothing back in expressing his disdain for what the current administration is doing to this country and which by the way, rocks pretty darn hard, the song was met with overwhelming response. Nearly eight minutes in length, it is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the 12-song Childish Things which is McMurtry’s first studio album of original songs in three years. When it comes to speaking his mind, the buck doesn’t stop with “We Can’t Make It Here”. The stark “Six Year Drought” strikes just as hard while “Memorial Day” is a wake-up call of sorts about how it has become yet another holiday for which the true meaning is slipping away. As heavy as those are, along comes tracks like “Pocatello” and the title track each of which are straightahead roots rockers readymade for cranking the volume. In keeping with that, as much as a McMurtry record is about the songs, it is also about the sound. A muscular three-piece combo despite the mere guitar-bass-drums composition, McMurtry’s rock-leaning roots sound is heavy on the riffs with a sturdy backbone. Handling the guitar chores himself, he continues to display an uncanny and economical knack for finding a groove in his music and working it to the max. Back to the songs, 10 of the dozen numbers making up Childish Things are new compositions while the two non-originals are covers of the traditional country standard “Ole Slew Foot” which gets a pretty rocked-out workover and features a duet with fellow Lone Star roots rocker Joe Ely and “The Old Part of Town” from the pen of Peter Case. All in all, Childish Things is yet another fine addition to the McMurtry catalogue. Recommended. (Compadre Records, The Great Jones Building, 708 Main Street, Suite 720, Houston, TX 77002, or or

James McMurtry & the Heartless Bastards appear at Rhythm & Roots on Sunday, September 2.

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)