It is so cool to find an album that was cut by professional musicians that sound like they are having a blast and doing what they were born to do, and a perfect example of this is Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King’s Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, a killer disc from their recent return to the venerable Blind Pig Records label!
If the 10 years these Texas guitarists have spent as a team exploring the world bar by bar has been "research," what they've learned is how to please a crowd. The formula's simple: no-frills songs about women and working for a livin', set to meat-and-potatoes arrangements that leave plenty of room for their guitars to roam. Kubek's six-string snarls the loudest, hitting Albert Collins-style sustains and grinding out beefy chords. King skirts around the fringes with his sweet-toned, jazz-informed fills or works at groove-level, anchoring things with his basic, chopping, R&B-style chording. King's vocals are really his trump card. They're smooth and slinky when he's romancing in "Make It Right" or gravelly as Kubek's fluid guitar when he's a driven man in numbers like "Runnin' Blind." The album ends with the kind of guitar grand finale that sets a crowd on fire just after last call. The tune, "Standing in My Door," lets both six-stringers sting.
Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King's albums are dependable affairs that stick close to good old barroom Texas blues. The lyrics won't win any Pulitzer Prizes, and while Kubek is an amazing guitar player with a huge tone, he isn't exactly reinventing the instrument, and likewise King, although he is a distinctive and pleasant vocalist, isn't going to be mistaken for Marvin Gaye anytime soon. Not much has changed on their second release on the Blind Pig label, and Show Me the Money delivers another dose of straight-ahead roadhouse blues. If there are any concessions here, it is that all the songs pull in at a radio-friendly length, and at least one, the infectious "My Heart's in Texas," would fit effortlessly on "new country" play lists. The first two tracks, "I Saw It Coming" and "Burnin' to the Ground," pretty much lead the charge here, and King's easy, subtle singing pairs nicely with Kubek's gutbucket guitar tone, but there are no real surprises waiting in the grass, and certainly nothing that will shake the roots of the music industry – just solid blues-rock. Somebody's gotta do it, and Kubek and King do it so well.
Viva Caruso is easily one of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano's most ambitious and enjoyable recordings. Much like Terence Blanchard's Jazz in Film or Uri Caine's Urlicht/Primal Light, Viva Caruso finds the reedman adapting orchestral melodies and harmonies to a jazz format. Inspired after reading a biography about Italian tenor and opera legend Enrico Caruso, Lovano spent most of 2000 through 2001 researching Caruso's music and developing this project. There is a progressive, third stream appeal to Viva Caruso, with the various instruments laying down intricate counter-melodies and liquid, pulsating rhythms. For example, "Vesto La Giubba" from Pagliacci is slowed down here into a kind of folk-jazz meditation, not unlike something Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio might do. Likewise, "Campane a Sera" features a pretty flute introduction to a very mid-'50s, Stan Kenton-style arrangement, and Gerald Wilson could very easily have scored "Soltano a Te" with its characteristically West Coast, neo-phonic horn sounds.