Saturday, June 3, 2017

Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration Of Sun Records (2017) CD Review

Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration Of Sun Records is a cool tribute album honoring the famous Sun Records label started by Sam Phillips. It was recorded at Sun Studio and Sam Phillips Recording Studio, and features Luther Dickinson on guitar, John Paul Keith on guitar, Cody Dickinson on drums, Amy LaVere on bass and Rick Steff on keys. Yes, those talented musicians are basically the house band for folks like Valerie June, Bobby Rush, Jimbo Mathus and Alvin Youngblood Hart, who all contribute lead vocals to tracks. The song selections are numbers that were originally recorded on the Sun label (and Phillips International) by folks like Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich and Johnny Cash (with one exception, an original song by Bobby Rush). This CD includes liner notes by Alanna Nash, as well as several photos. By the way, all proceeds from this compilation go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (if you needed another reason to pick up this CD).

This collection opens with John Paul Keith covering “Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache,” a fun rockabilly song that Warren Smith recorded back in the day. It’s been covered by Brian Setzer and Bob Dylan, among others. This version by John Paul Keith has a good, relaxed vibe, and features Jim Spate on saxophone. The sound, including the vocals, has a classic Sun feel. It’s followed by Valerie June’s take on “Sure To Fall (In Love With You),” a song written by Carl Perkins, Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and originally recorded by Carl Perkins (and also done by The Beatles). I absolutely love Valerie June’s vocals on this country tune, and it is her performance that makes this one of my personal favorites of this CD. I also really like Rick Steff’s work on keys. Jimbo Mathus and Amy LaVere provide backing vocals. Valerie June, by the way, was born in Tennessee and is based in Memphis.

Shawn Camp delivers a fun rendition of “Lonely Weekends,” which was written and originally recorded by Charlie Rich (on Phillips International). Lauren Mascitti and John Paul Keith provide backing vocals, and Jim Spate adds some nice touches on saxophone. “Well, I’m makin’ all right/From Monday morning ‘til Friday night/But oh, those lonely weekends.” That’s followed by “Ways Of A Woman In Love,” a country song written by Charlie Rich and Bill Justis and recorded by Johnny Cash, here done by Bryan Hayes. You know, when it started I thought it was describing someone suffering from depression, with lines like “You’ve cut out your dancing, you never see a show/Friends drop by to pick you up, and you hardly ever go.” It turns out the woman in question is in love, the other end of the spectrum. If only I’d been looking at the track list. This is a good rendition, with Emily Barker and Amy LaVere on backing vocals, and some more delicious work on keys.

I don’t really watch television, apart from Red Sox games (I do watch some series, but only after they’re released on DVD), so I wasn’t aware that there was a show titled Sun Records. On this disc, some of the cast of that show sing the CD’s title track, “Red Hot,” a song that now brings to mind Selma Blair dancing in John Waters’ A Dirty Shame (a movie I totally love). The version used in that film is that by Billy Lee Riley And The Little Green Men, which was released on Sun Records. It was previously recorded by Billy “The Kid” Emerson, also on Sun Records (Emerson also wrote the song). I’ve always enjoyed this song, and this rendition by the cast of Sun Records is a lot of fun, especially that work on keys. Featured cast members on this recording include Kevin Fonteyne, Drake Milligan, Christian Lees and Jonah Lees, along with Chuck Mead, the series’ music director. “Well, she walks all night, talks all day/She’s the kind of woman got to have her way.” Ah yes, this track is a perfect party song. Enjoy!

This CD then gets bluesy with Bobby Rush’s “Tough Titty,” the disc’s sole original track (though a song that Bobby has included on other releases, such as Undercover Lover and Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History Of Bobby Rush). The version on this disc is bloody great, with some wonderful stuff on harmonica and a seriously good vocal performance. Things then get swinging with Amy LaVere’s rendition of “Ten Cats Down,” which was written by Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and recorded by The Miller Sisters on Sun. Amy LaVere delivers a delightful version, featuring Will Sexton on guitar and Emily Barker on backing vocals. This is kind of a goofy tune, but I love what Amy LaVere does with it, and this track ends up being one of the highlights for me. The music gets even more lively with Jimbo Mathus covering Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential,” which Lewis wrote with Ron Hargrave for the movie of the same name. It’s hard to get that same energy that Jerry Lee Lewis seemingly has an endless supply of, but Jimbo Mathus is certainly the guy to do it, and this rendition is a lot of fun. “Okay, kiddoes, let’s boogie woogie.”

Alvin Youngblood Hart tackles Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and gives us a fantastic version. Oh yes, this is another of my favorites. I don’t think he’s hanging his head and crying at all. That “Woo-hoo” after that line sounds more like a reflection of his own attitude rather than the train whistle. This CD then concludes with a nice, long two-part version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ At Midnight,” a song he recorded on Sun, but which was later released on Chess Records. The version here, which is on two tracks (for a total of more than thirteen minutes), is by Luther Dickinson, with Lightnin’ Malcolm on guitar. I love this bluesy jam, and it is yet another of the disc’s highlights. “Whoa, I wish I had, whoa, my baby in my arms.” By the way, each of the two tracks can stand on its own, as the first one has a definite ending and doesn’t lead straight into the second.

CD Track List
  1. Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache – John Paul Keith
  2. Sure To Fall (In Love With You) – Valerie June
  3. Lonely Weekends – Shawn Camp
  4. Ways Of A Woman In Love – Bryan Hayes
  5. Red Hot – Sun Records Cast
  6. Tough Titty – Bobby Rush
  7. Ten Cats Down – Amy LaVere
  8. High School Confidential – Jimbo Mathus
  9. Folsom Prison Blues – Alvin Youngblood Hart
  10. Moanin’ At Midnight Part 1 – Luther Dickinson
  11. Moanin’ At Midnight Part 2 – Luther Dickinson 
Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration Of Sun Records is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2017 through Americana Music Society.

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