Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jelly Roll Kings: Off Yonder Wall (1997)

(As published in Offbeat ... )

Jelly Roll Kings
Off Yonder Wall
(Fat Possum/Capricorn)

According to the credits, neither the Jelly Roll Kings nor Terry Jackson, the lone guest here, plays bass on this exemplary blues album. But if these ten songs turn out to be in fact bassless, so do any fears this group's core audience might have that half a rhythm section means half-assed rhythm--this album shakes what its mama gave it something mean.

Some of the credit goes to Robert Palmer, whose hands-off production preserves the airplane-hangar acoustics of whatever Oxford, Mississippi, barn this album was recorded in without muddying Sam Carr's cymbals and drums (crash! boom!), Big Jack Johnson's guitar (a hunka-hunka deep-fried funk), or Frank Frost's organ ("Baby, Please Don't Go"! "Fat Back"! "Sitting on Top of the World"!).

Or maybe the production style capable of taking the edge off these three Kings simply hasn't been invented yet. The raucous aplomb with which they tear into Johnson's awe-inspiring original, "I'm a Big Boy Now," for instance, sounds like a bootleg of John Lee Hooker live at CBGB's in 1976--a gig that never took place but should've, and one that this album now makes it possible to imagine.

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