CD Reviews for 08/25/06 – Rhythm & Roots Fest Artists

Compact Capsules for 08/25/06
New CDs from Rhythm & Roots Festival Performers
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, Rhode Island. 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 the performing front is the host band for the weekend, the Savoy Family Cajun Band who’ll perform on Saturday and Sunday. Other scheduled performers at this year’s festival include Los Lobos (Saturday), David Bromberg & the Angel Band (Friday), Dr. John (Sunday), Marcia Ball (Saturday), James Hunter (Sunday), James Hand (Sunday), Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas (Friday/Saturday), John Jorgenson Quintet (Saturday), Tim O’Brien & Cornbread Nation (Sunday), Steve Riley & Mamou Playboys (Saturday/Sunday), Girl Howdy (Friday), Red Stick Ramblers (Friday), Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys (Sunday), Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble (Friday/Saturday), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Sunday), Jeremy Lyons & the Deltabilly Boys (Friday), and The Horseflies (Friday/Saturday). 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

James Hunter
People Gonna Talk
Rounder Records 2187

One of the most unfortunate things about the career of the late Charlie Rich is that about all most folks associate him with are his two country chart toppers, “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl In the World”. Simply stated, the Rich well was way deeper than just that. As far as white soul singers are concerned, Rich from his late 1950s start and early nuggets like “Lonely Weekends”, “Sittin’ and Thinkin'”, and “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave” through his superb final recording from 1992, Pictures and Paintings, was arguably the cream of the crop. Upon first hearing British R&B singer James Hunter and most notably the song “Riot In My Heart” found on his stateside debut called People Gonna Talk, it was Rich who immediately popped into the head. Full of swanky organ and snappy horns, it’s a slayer. Old school soul is all over People Gonna Talk which after countless spins has this writer tempted to crown the talented Hunter the second coming of Mr. Rich. But whereas Rich spiced his early records with a bit of Elvis-style, Sun era shake ‘n’ bake, Hunter fuses a number of the tracks comprising People Gonna Talk with a bit of skiffle. For those unfamiliar with the skiffle style, it was popularized in England in the 1950s by a cat named Lonnie Donegan. The quick and dirty on skiffle is it’s a simple, percussive sound not far removed from ska. It was Van Morrison who helped put Hunter on the map inviting him to tour with him back in the early 1990s after seeing him perform at a London pub. Morrison himself describes Hunter as “one of the best voices, and best kept secrets, in British R&B and Soul.” Let alone Britain, make that one of the best kept secrets in R&B and soul, period. Recorded with vintage analogue equipment which gives People Gonna Talk a distinct throwback warmth and featuring Hunter on all vocals and guitar backed by his lock-step band, the album eschews a classic mid 1950s-to-1960s soul sensibility without sounding dated in the least. Hunter wastes little time in winning ears with his soul/skiffle hybrid showing his hand on the opening track which also happens to double as the title track. From there it’s one plum after another over the course of the remaining 13 tracks. Album of the year? Let’s just say that I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t flipped over People Gonna Talk. In other words, people are talking about James Hunter. (Rounder Records, One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, or

James Hunter and his band appear at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret festival on Sunday, September 3.

Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas
Hang It High, Hang It Low
Rounder Records 2164

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly twenty years since Nathan Williams and his Zydeco Cha Chas band have been making records for the Rounder imprint. Boy time flies. During that run, Williams has fronted one of the tightest and steadiest rolling outfits on the Louisiana chank-a-chank scene. Side-stepping the flash in the pan antics, Williams brand of Zydeco has always paid respect to the traditions while at the same time finding that delicate balance with the contemporary side of the ledger. Make no mistake that when it comes to dance bands of the Zydeco variety, Nathan & the Chas Chas deliver the goods in groove-happy style. Hang It High, Hang It Low is the name of the latest release from the band, its sixth for the Rounder concern. The 14 songs mix 13 well-crafted originals with a only a single cover, a Zydeco-ized rendition of Otis Redding’s “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa”. The common thread through it all is the rhythmic undercurrent that gives Hang It High, Hang It Low a most definite pulse. While Zydeco records are no substitute for the in-the-flesh, live experience, Williams has a good one here. Playing accordion, Williams has always been one of the finest singers on the circuit and a not-too-shabby songwriter in the Zydeco scheme of things. He lives up to it in spades on Hang It High, Hang It Low.

Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas appear at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret festival on Friday and Saturday, September 1 and 2.

James Hand
The Truth Will Set You Free
Rounder Records 3241

Here’s betting that the initial reaction for many upon encountering Texas-based singer and songwriter James Hand is he is as close a disciple of the House of Hank, as in Williams, that they’ve ever encountered. (Speaking strictly from personal experience, the half dozen times I’ve seen Mr. Hand in his performing base of Austin, the Hank likeness from the voice to the duds to the body english was at times so close to the original article it was downright chilling.) Hand had a couple of albums released in the late 1990s for small Texas labels which didn’t have much of anything for national clout when it came to distribution, hence his never finding an audience much beyond Central Texas beer joints. With his debut recording called The Truth Will Set You Free for the prominent indie label Rounder Records, Hand is finally positioned to make national inroads. He backs it up with talent to spare. With a top shelf collection of Austin talents that include Redd Volkaert on guitar, Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and dobro, and Jason Roberts (Asleep at the Wheel) on the fiddle, Hand reprises half a dozen songs from those first two records to go with six new compositions. He moves comfortably in all his real deal C&W-ness between infectious honky tonkin’ hot-steppers (“Banks of the Brazos”, “Little Bitty Slip”), hard-hitting ballads (“Just An Old Man With An Old Song”) and classic country shuffles (“In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox”). In a nutshell, if you dig the hard country, The Truth Will Set You Free from Mr. Hand is a guaranteed ear pleaser. (Rounder Records, One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, or Check out James Hand’s web site at

James Hand appears at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret festival on Saturday and Sunday, September 2 and 3. Note that Saturday’s appearance is on the workshop stage only.

(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].)