Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings: "Collector's Edition Box Set" (2011) Review

I sort of lost track of Bill Wyman after he left the Rolling Stones in the early 1990s. (Honestly, I also lost track of the Stones after seeing a disappointing show on their Steel Wheels tour.) So this was my chance to get caught up. And holy moly, this collection really surprised me. This set has some straight rock and some bluesy rock (which you'd expect), but also some swing, some jazzy stuff, lots of old timey gems. And a lot of these are originals.

How is Bill Wyman able to write a song that seems to fit right in with classics and standards? Many of these songs have a built-in timeless quality. Listen to "Bad To Be Alone," for example; it's easy to imagine Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday or Alberta Hunter diving into it. This collection also features a nice variety of lead vocals - both male and female. Bill Wyman, Beverley Skeete, Georgie Fame, Geraint Watkins, Mike Sanchez, Paul Carrack, Geoff Grange, Adrian Byron Burns, Albert Lee, Gary Brooker, and Andy Fairweather-Low all have at least one turn at lead vocals.

This five-disc collection features the first four releases from the band (including 2001's double album Double Bill, thus five discs). There are no bonus tracks.

Struttin' Our Stuff

The band's debut album, Struttin' Our Stuff, was released in early 1998. Half of the tracks are originals, written by Bill Wyman or by Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor, and some of my favorites are among those tunes, especially "Bad To Be Alone" and "Going Crazy Overnight."

The album begins with a good cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Green River," helped a lot by female backing vocalist Beverley Skeete. This is rock and roll with a good groove. Bill Wyman sings lead, and his performance reminds me a bit of T. Rex.

"Melody" is the only Rolling Stones song in the collection, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and originally included on the band's 1976 release Black And Blue. Georgie Fame and Beverley Skeete share the vocal duties on this rendition. And that's Eric Clapton on lead guitar.

"Stuff (Can't Get Enough)" has a bit of a '70s disco thing happening, except with more serious lyrics. "Bad To Be Alone" is jazzy blues with female lead vocals by Beverley Skeet. This is a wonderful tune written by Bill Wyman.

"Jitterbug Boogie" is a strange song that mixes elements of big band with early rock and roll. The results are delicious and infectious, and again, this one's an original. Albert Lee is on lead guitar.

They end the first album with "Tobacco Road." I've always loved this song, and this is a very cool version. It has the appropriate strength and rawness in tone. And Peter Frampton is on lead guitar. Paul Carrack performs lead vocals. You'll probably remember him from such bands as Ace and Squeeze.

Anyway The Wind Blows

Anyway The Wind Blows, the band's second album, was originally released on February 23, 1999. Only approximately a third of its tracks are originals. But there are some interesting covers here. And again, there are some wonderful guest musicians on many of these tracks.

The album's title track (and first track), "Anyway The Wind Blows," is bluesy rock, with Peter Frampton on lead guitar. Georgie Fame performs lead on this one, singing, "Easy come, easy go/Anyway the wind blows."

Their version of "Spooky" (a song made popular by the Classics IV) has female lead vocals, so the line becomes "Love is kinda crazy with a spooky, spooky guy like you." This is a fairly mellow version, but I like the horn.

"Mojo Boogie" is a lot of fun. Why is it that songs about New Orleans are almost always excellent?

"Too Late" is a fun Willie Dixon tune. On the first album, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings covered Dixon's "Down In The Bottom," but this cover of "Too Late" is more effective. It really works with Geraint Watkins' piano chops.

"Every Sixty Seconds" is an original tune, written by Bill Wyman and sung by Beverley Skeete. This is one of my favorites. It has a simple groove, and features Chris Rea on slide guitar.

"Ring My Bell" is one of the best tracks, mostly because of the piano. At times it reminds me of some of Gershwin's style (like something Woody Allen could have included in Manhattan). And the horn section is great. But it's Beverley Skeete's vocal performance that really sells this song.

I've heard several versions of "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You" over the years (including ones by Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Diana Krall, and Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass, ), and this one is really good. It doesn't hurt that it features Eric Clapton on lead guitar. And yeah, to answer the song's question, I'd think anyone who bought me a fur coat for Christmas was good to me.

"When Hollywood Goes Black And Tan" is my absolute favorite from this disc. This song is a swinging fun old timey parlour-type gem, which was recorded by Cleo Brown in the thirties. Vocalist Beverley Skeete really nails it. It also features Martin Taylor on lead guitar. I could listen to this song all night, and never tire of it.

The only song from this disc that I don't care much for is "Struttin' Our Stuff." It's one of those our-band-is-fucking-great type songs that I can do without in general. (Oddly, there is another song about the Rhythm Kings on the third disc, titled "Rhythm King.")

This disc ends with a J. Geils Band cover (yes, really): "Gonna Find Me A New Love" which was originally from The Morning After. I've always really dug Peter Wolf's vocals, and though Geoff Grange does a good job with it (even imitating some of Peter's intonations), I keep hearing the original in my head. But this is a fun rock song, something J. Geils was fantastically adept at.


Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings' third release was Groovin' (2000). This one has more slower tunes than the earlier two albums.

It begins with "Tell You A Secret," a rockin' blues tune sung with a perfect gruff coarseness by Adrian Byron Burns. There is a great call and response between Burns and the female backing vocalists. It was written by Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor.

The title track, "Groovin'," is a cover of The Young Rascals song. This one isn't that effective. I sort of like the original, but this version seems like easy listening. There's nothing to sink your teeth into, and it doesn't have the honest immediacy of the original. It just feels like a bit of fluffy nostalgia. Though I do like Martin Taylor's short guitar solo.

"Mood Swing" has a definite New Orleans flavor to this swinging tune. It features Gerry Hogan on pedal steel and Chris Hall on accordion, and some wonderful work by Dave Hartley on piano.

"Can't Get My Rest At Night" has a slower groove. Former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor plays slide guitar on this track. (Mick Taylor was with the Stones from 1969 to 1974, playing on some of their absolute best records.) I love the backing vocals, this time provided by Melanie Redmond, Keeley Coburn, Susie Webb and Zoe Nicholas - they repeat, "That's all right." Indeed. This song was written by J. David Ray. Oddly, Bill Wyman is not on this track.

"I Put A Spell On You" is one of the best Halloween-related songs ever. This rendition has female lead vocals, done by Beverley Skeete. It has more of an easy groove than the song usually does. It's a slow version with a horn section, giving it a late-night city vibe. But it lacks the wildness, the power, and the raw edge of many other versions.

"Tomorrow Night" is another slow, late-night jazzy number.

"I Want To Be Evil" is a seriously fun tune written by Lester Judson and Raymond Taylor. It features delicious and sweet female vocals on lines like, "I want to be nasty/I want to be cruel." It also has a cool bass line, and a change in pace toward the end as if going for a big show-tune finish. "I Want To Be Evil" was the opening track on Eartha Kitt's 1954 album, That Bad Eartha.

The band does a good cover of the Lovin' Spoonful song, "Daydream." Gary Brooker does a really good job on lead vocals (Gary Brooker is probably best known as the vocalist for Procal Harum). And Dave Hartley's work on piano at the beginning immediately differentiates this version from the original, playing what would be the chorus. The backing vocalists get a turn singing the chorus at the end.

Groovin' ends with "Yesterdays," a quiet late-night vocal piece written in 1933 by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. Beverley Skeete does a wonderful job on this song that has also been covered by such folks as Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Marianne Faithfull. This rendition features some nice work on piano by Dave Hartley.

Double Bill

The final two discs of this box set compose the 2001 double album, Double Bill.

Double Bill begins with "Long Walk To DC," a gospel-flavored rock tune with female vocals and backing vocalists acting as a choir. There's joy in this one. Written by Homer Banks and Marvell Thomas, this song was recorded by the Staple Singers.

"Hit That Jive Jack" has a great jazzy groove and smooth vocals by Georgia Fame, as well as by backing vocalists Beverley Skeete and Janice Hoyte. This track also features good work by Bill Wyman on bass, and nice stuff on lead guitar by Martin Taylor. Written by John Alston and Campbell Tolbert, "Hit That Jive Jack" is a song that will put a smile on your face.

"Love Letters" is a gorgeous mellow tune, written by Edward Heyman and Victor Young. I am really impressed by Beverley Skeete's vocals; she is someone I need to look into further. This song is also notable for it features George Harrison on slide guitar (one of his last recordings).

"Get In The Kitchen" is a fun tune, the tone set by Dave Hartley's light and playful touch on piano. He's basically dancing across the keys.

The first of these two discs ends with a jumping, cooking rendition of "Turn On Your Lovelight." Gary Brooker has lead vocal duties on this one. Beverley Skeete and Janice Hoyte do the backing vocals. Georgie Fame is wonderful on organ, and a great groove is provided by Graham Broad on drums. Ooo-wee, the energy is palpable. I love this tune, and this is an excellent version.

One of the highlights of the last disc is their version of "Lonely Blue Boy." Vocalist/pianist Gary Brooker really shines on this one. I love the way he builds to the line, "Well, they say that love is the answer, but love never came my way." There is a nice touch with the addition of mandolin, played by Martin Taylor. And some good stuff by Andy Fairweather-Low on lead guitar. "Lonely Blue Boy" was written by Ben Weisman and Fred Wise.

The last disc includes a cover of Dan Hicks' "Where's The Money." They do a good job with this fun tune, getting the odd vocal line right. Though this song originally came from Dan Hicks' 1971 record, last year Dan Hicks released a weird sort of parody of this song title "Christmas Mornin'" on Crazy For Christmas. Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings included another Dan Hicks Cover, "Walking One & Only" on Anyway The Wind Blows. The section with bass and piano in that song is simply wonderful.

"Jellyroll Fool" is one of my favorites. There is a bit of a country flavor to this quirky original tune. Bill Wyman sings this one. Geoff Grange adds a lot to it on harmonica.

They do a rendition of "My Handy Man," a song that Alberta Hunter included on Downhearted Blues: Live At The Cookery, an album that was recently re-issued. The version by Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings suffers by comparison. It feels tame, not nearly as risque and deliciously dirty as the Alberta Hunter rendition. Bill Wyman does not play on this track.

They conclude the collection with "Breaking Up The House," a ridiculously fun rock and roll number written by Syd Nathan and Henry Glover. Albert Lee plays lead guitar on this one. This song also features a sax solo by Frank Mead.

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings seem like a band that would really cook on stage. And guess what - they're touring now with special guest Mary Wilson on vocals. Unfortunately, there are no U.S. dates (Bill Wyman is not into extensive touring, which is one of the reasons he left the Rolling Stones). But if you're in the UK, I'm betting it would be worth your time to check these guys out. The tour takes them through November and into early December.

CD Track List

Disc 1: Struttin' Our Stuff
  1. Green River
  2. Walking On My Own
  3. Melody
  4. Stuff (Can't Get Enough)
  5. Bad To Be Alone
  6. I'm Mad
  7. Down In The Bottom
  8. Motorvatin' Mama
  9. Jitterbug Boogie
  10. Going Crazy Overnight
  11. Hole In My Soul
  12. Tobacco Road

Disc 2: Anyway The Wind Blows
  1. Anyway The Wind Blows
  2. Spooky
  3. Walking One & Only
  4. Mojo Boogie
  5. Too Late
  6. Every Sixty Seconds
  7. Ring My Bell
  8. Days Like This
  9. He's Real Gone Guy
  10. A True Romance
  11. Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You
  12. When Hollywood Goes Black And Tan
  13. Crazy He Calls Me
  14. Struttin' Our Stuff
  15. Sugar Babe
  16. Gonna Find Me A New Love

Disc 3: Groovin'
  1. Tell You A Secret
  2. Groovin'
  3. Rough Cut Diamond
  4. Mood Swing
  5. Hole In The Wall
  6. Can't Get My Rest At Night
  7. I Put A Spell On You
  8. Tomorrow Night
  9. I Want To Be Evil
  10. Rhythm King
  11. Daydream
  12. Oh Baby
  13. Streamline Woman
  14. Yesterdays

Disc 4: Double Bill
  1. Long Walk To DC
  2. Hot Foot Blues
  3. Hit That Jive Jack
  4. Love Letters
  5. Love's Down The Drain
  6. I Can't Dance
  7. Medley: Snap Your Fingers/What A Friend We Have In Jesus
  8. Get In The Kitchen
  9. Boogie Woogie All Night Long
  10. Medley: Do You Or Don't You/I Wanna Know
  11. Trust In Me
  12. Turn On Your Lovelight

Disc 5: Double Bill
  1. The Joint Is Jumping
  2. Brownskin Girl
  3. Tired & Sleepy
  4. Lonely Blue Boy
  5. Bye Bye Blues
  6. Where's The Money
  7. Jellyroll Fool
  8. Jealous Girl
  9. My Handy Man
  10. Rollin' & Stumblin'
  11. Keep On Truckin'
  12. Breakin' Up The House

Collector's Edition Box Set is scheduled to be released on October 25, 2011. (By the way, that's the day after Bill Wyman's birthday.)

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