Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Last Hombres - Odd Fellows Rest - Levon Helm Sure Had Good Taste

The Last Hombres were the only band Levon Helm ever joined as a member after the end of The Band, and that speaks volumes. The band also worked with Rick Danko, but the fact that they were revered by key members of maybe the best roots music ensemble ever is just my way of drawing you in - what's germane is the band's excellent new record, Odd Fellows Rest, which you will thank me for pointing out later.

Produced by Yohei Goto, who has recorded the likes of Suzanne Vega, Garland Jeffreys, Norah Jones, and The Golden Palominos, this record sounds like a million bucks - it's classic New York engineering, crisp clean, and focused on what's being played. Think Steely Dan - there's no room for sloppiness, and there's more tastiness to be found here than you'll find in one of Emiril Lagasse's joints on a Friday night. The New Orleans angle comes from the soulfulness on the menu - The Last Hombres seem to have digested an amazing amount of music over the decades, and they deal it out with grace and style.

If you're a fan of Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Alejandro Escovedo, or the like, you'll love the sound of Odd Fellows Rest. The band has three strong writers, and while that makes for a great deal of variation, they've also been working together long enough to make it remarkably cohesive. They also deal in wit, wisdom, and the ability to tell a tale - Off With The Doll's Head, Mary? With it's wicked single string guitar intro, and its bedrock foundation of Hammond organ and a solid backbeat, this song will stick with you for some time. Classic damned Americana!

Mournful horns from The Hot 8 Brass Band kick the album off, and they draw you in nicely when a jangled guitar leads us into the verses of The Wreckage - Chris Jones' organ is irresistible, the dual lead vocal and some nice violin work from Russ Seeger, and you're hooked. It's easy to see why Helm must have loved this bunch as a live band. Great stuff.

This album never goes too fast, but it maintains a slow simmer that has completely sucked me into its grasp. The Whisper is filled with a beautiful Memphis soul stew, and Russ Seeger's vocal is molasses thick and assured. The guitars toss off cool fills like it's nothing, and the organ ands horns again provide stellar support.

Dreams has a type of great detective novel/Tom Waits vibe that I always adore. I'm reminded of the great Graham Parker, who never went in this direction enough, but when he did it never left my brain. Those horns are perfect, and the whole package again just works.Tom Ryan is a great drummer, and he's always musical - he's not just banging out the beat, he's pushing, pulling, and prodding the band, and that's the job.

Paul Schmitz writes a great tale entitled Unforgiven Man, and it's yet another damned well written tune. This bunch is like a walking encyclopedia of 'right moves.' Every bar band in every town from here to Tokyo ought to give this a listen, and take notes.

If you only buy one roots rock record this year, you'd be well served by making it this one. It will creep up on you, and next thing you'll know, you'll be trying to figure out how to get to wherever in the hell this band is playing next. I always wanted Dylan to hire a band like this - oh yeah, he did once, didn't he?

Chris James organ work is never out of range for long, and his wizardry is well noted, and appreciated. This often puts me in mind of early Mott The Hoople, before they went glam and sent Verden Allen off shaking his head. His approach and tones couch the guitars, drums, and vocals so well that it's impossible to imagine this record without him. No fancy solos, but every note counts and his sounds are sublime.

Desiree is filled with double stop guitar goodness, and more, more, more of the same. This one nods its head to Nashville, and I don't mean the sullied city that has been left ravaged by failed corporate rockers gone sappy, but the town in which R.S. Field was one of the best producers I ever laid ears upon (check out his amazing catalogue of records with Webb Wilder).

I could go on, and on and detail out every song on the record, but there's no real need - if I haven't drawn you in yet, I've failed in my mission, and you're going to miss out on a great record. There's loads to love on this album, and you'll thank me later, like I said.

I haven't talked a lot about the guitar playing across the whole of this album, but it is exemplary, like a lexicon of great licks, chords, and phrases. You could learn a lot here - every time I put this record on, I want to play along.

The Last Hombres are one bad-assed band, filled with great players, great writing, and a vast understanding of how to do things right. I look at this and it reads like a PR piece, but I'm not a critic here, I'm a musician and a fan. I get it - you should, too.