Tas Cru - Grizzle N’ Bone
Crustee Tees Records
This is a good set. If you spend your ear-time with gritty Rock’n’roll as well as Stax and Hi artists like Syl Johnson, O.V.Wright, Sam & Dave, chances are this is down your alley. The overall effect it had on me was Delbert McClinton meets the Allman Brothers with Ry Cooder doing the mediating. But, immediately following that impression I noticed that there was a distinctly clinical texture to the recording. Was this recorded using only ProTools?. This might account for the “space without air” quality. If you’ve never owned an LP or seen twenty or more live acts, you won’t know the difference anyway.
As a vocalist, Tas Cru is a reasonably believable Soul singer. There’s a little Bob Seger, a trace of Greg Allman, but no genuine looseness like Otis Redding championed. That said, Tas is definitely a cut above 90% of the White boys in the R&B/Blues realm.
The opening track, “Gristle N’ Bone,” is the ‘food’ metaphor. It’s a rollicking shuffle that Blues lovers love to love. I like it, though it’s hardly a great composition. Thanks are due to this Canadian, he didn’t write about red beans and rice or about bar-be-que or worst, collard greens—That ain’t Canadian faire. Also, nice piano playing on this cut.
One Eyed Jack” is, I think, connected to something personal for Tas. It is, though, deployed here as a metaphor of independent strength and I think Cru needs to listen to the lyrics he wrote. If the Devil always stacks the deck yet you keep on winning, what’s the point of the song?
his next song, much related to Taj Mahal’s “She Caught the Katy,” is very revealing. “Woman Won’t You Love Me” is too careful, especially noticeable in the reined-in phrasing of the pianist. The lyrics are revealing too. “Woman won’t you love me, I know one gal who says she will.” Why, with petty blackmail like that, would a woman give it up for you? In the hands of Louis Jordan a wry song might be smithed out of the question. Here, it is kind of embarrassing.
About “Come to Testify” I’ll say it’s a daring thing, an a cappella piece. “Mercedes Benz” by Joplin and “Orange Clawhammer” by Captain Beefheart are the most often cited. Other artists have done “Linin’ Track” and there’s always the novelty of Cream’s “Mother’s Lament.” This is a sincere attempt at a tradition documented by Folkways records, whether Rich Amerson or the Creole folk retentions. Bold idea, well done.
The barely Blues-y “Let’s Just Pretend” is a fantastic addition. A true song of the heart delivered as a frank little prayer, this demonstrates musical sensibility. It’s gem as acoustic songs go. Andy M.Stewart [of the Scottish group Silly Wizard] should cover this. Steve Gillette has written similar songs that are more succinct, but this is a sweet moment on the CD.
The press material describes “Brand New Shoes” as a sequel to a song on a previous CD. It’s described as “More red-dirt roots rock.” I must take issue with that. The song is derived from the “Fever” vein, even opening with a similar bass line. The image/metaphor of ‘shoes’ does not hold throughout the lyric, therefore disappointing the interested listener. A significant error was to have the drummer use sticks instead of brushes, which would have been far more suitable for this track.
“Make My Woman Cry” reminds me of a Skip James tune. Except, like “Woman Won’t You Love Me,” it’s much too careful. The repeating riff is as staid as if it is actually a sampled loop. I don’t understand that. This reminds me of those college boys who slavishly try to be ‘authentic’ Blues guitarists while they sing like an adolescent rhesus monkey. Way too uptight, Tas.
When an artist covers a song and makes it his/her own it’s a grand moment. Think of Devo’s “Satisfaction,” Joe Cocker’s “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” B.B.King’s “Thrill Is Gone.” So when Tas says, “It’s my favorite song of all time—EVER!” Cru discloses that his fantastic choice of “Higher and Higher” is important to him. However I cannot forgive him for his butchery. I think he doesn’t know that Rita Coolidge did a ‘mellow’ interpretation in the early 70s, a decent twist on the celebratory nature of the song. But the primary musical element that lends the tune its tension is the pedal point, the unyielding bass figure that drives the progression into one’s heart, a musical affirmation of continuity. Here, that figure is unplayed. Who thought that was a good idea?
I’ll say here that the sound of the slide/lead guitar (a Stratocaster through a boutique distortion pedal?) gets really tedious. If the guitarist used some vintage beauty it was not to the listener’s benefit. It is admirable that the man who plays this instrument (presumably Taj Cru, if not then Jeremy Walz) did not simply rely on the Muddy/Nighthawk/Elmore-axis for most of his work. However, more time spent with Jeff Beck and Ry Cooder would enhance the intentions. The resonator work is good, if dispassionate.
Give bass player a raise, most of his lines are solid and reliable. Congratulate the keyboard player(s). Leave the female vocalists at home.
I recommend this disc, though with some reservations.
Reviewer John Harrelson has been playing Blues since 1965 and worked in virtually every genre of music; Folk, Country, Jazz, R&B and Rock. He holds a PhD in Historical Musicology from the Claremont Graduate University and a B.A. in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology. www.johnharrelson.com