|The Huntsville Sessions, Laurence "Luckyman" Beall
Man, I've waited 10 long years for this CD and let me tell ya, it was worth it! As I've long told anyone who asked (or would listen), Laurence Beall is my favorite singer/songwriter. This latest collection cements that status even more. No mere rockabilly or honky tonk poseur, this cat is the real deal kids! So real in fact, I have to ask...do you think you can handle it? As your regular readers know, I like to introduce you to music I'm sure you'll dig but might otherwise miss as it isn't strictly rockabilly.
For those unfamiliar with Laurence Beall, allow me to give you some quick history. LB started out in the Virginia/DC scene way back in the day. He was making noise at the same time cats like Danny Gatton and Evan Johns were stomping the boards there. Like them, LB's sound is unique...we Americans tend to lump it all under "rockabilly" (we figure if a white cat or kitten is playing some rockin' stuff with a solid groove but retaining their natural twang, it's rockabilly) but for the sake of non-Yanks, I'll describe his music as "rootsy Americana". If you want his personal history, the bio on his MySpace page is one helluva good read!
LB and his old band The Sultans laid down a fine piece of wax called "Vampire Coming" and did a fair bit of touring behind it. That was followed by a killer live LP (recorded at the Star Club up in Canada) and toured more around the US, Canada and Europe. I was lucky enough to do a handful of gigs with them on this tour after hearing and sitting in with them at The Decade nightclub. As LB would say, the band was 'dippin' a d_ _k in it' (meaning they sounded REALLY good and tight) and slaughtering crowds everywhere they went..and then LB vanished. At the time he'd been living in Nashville with his then wife/bassplayer. I heard from him some years later and he was down around Hunstville, Alabama. He'd divorced his missus, recorded with the likes of Marti Brom, Rosie Flores and James Intveld, gigged with Charlie Feathers and was still gigging and writing some of the best stuff around. I played his songs for Hayden Thompson who was just flat knocked out by it! He wanted to record the songs "Chaingang Memory" and "Reckless Boy" (which I luckily have demos of). Then LB vanished again. He was beginning to live up to his nickname "The dark, brooding rockabilly legend".
In 2000, I was lucky enough to get to play the 1st annual Rockabilly Hall of Fame fest in Jackson, TN and was excited to see my old friend Laurence Beall (and his band Lucky & The Hot Dice) on the bill! We got to hang out for a few days and when the day of his show came around, half of his band failed to show (rumor had it they got lost en route from Huntsville to Jackson) and LB asked me to sit in. We closed the festival (going on after Wanda Jackson) and I'd have to say, we once again 'dipped our d_ _ks in it'. LB had just released his CD "13" and it was a pure knock out! Alas, poor distribution did a number on that disc. Its a shame too...there were some GREAT songs on there! From there, LB moved out to Las Vegas and was fronting a new version of Lucky & The Hot Dice.
Fast forward 10 years and LB has a brand spanketty new CD out entitled The Huntsville Sessions. In spite of being his friend and colleague, I gotta say, this may be his finest work ever! And thanks to the evergrowing interweb, you should be able to obtain a copy from sites like CDbaby, Amazon, etc...probably even iTunes (soon).
OK, enough of my rambling...what about the music??? Fans of rockabilly, country (real country, not that modern Nashville crap), blues and even Memphis soul will love this disc! 13 masterfully crafted songs in all and pretty much something for everybody. Now if you're expecting songs about hot rods and going shebopaweebop with your baby, you might want to skip this disc. It's better than that. These aren't hokey songs written by a guy who pretends to know what life is; these are solid, true-blue tours de force written by a man who knows what its all about because he's lived it. As LB's MySpace page says " if I sing you a song it ain't about how I THINK it feels." LB "plays music that doesn't want to be stuffed into a particular pigeon hole too tightly. Some of it's rockabilly, some is blues, some of it's rockabilly and blues rolled into one. Some of it is old shit-kicker country and some of it is soul music... "
At the risk of making what may be considered a blasphemous comparison, I'll put LB's lyrics up against Hank Williams Sr's any day of the week. I really think his writing is that good. Whether singing about heartache or the tale of a down & out miner losing his life, the listener can feel every ounce of emotion. His lyrics are written in a very southern dialect but one listen and you'll "get it". His heavy southern accent may be difficult, at first, for some non-American listeners to comprehend but luckily all the lyrics are included!
(OK...but what about the SONGS ?????)
Starting out with rockabillyish "Hoe Cake", LB has some fun with words and rhythms and his guitar picking is a pure joy. This slides right into the Memphis-soul inspired "Mr. Lonely". The ladies are bound to swoon over this one! Trust me fellas, play this one for that special lady in your life and you just might get a little.
"Blue Curtains" is one of the best heartbreakers I've heard since George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today"...nuff said. From this we head into serious blues country with "She Make A Bulldog Break His Chain". Now don't think I'm talking about some white guy Stevie Ray Vaughn wannabe here...this is the real thang! If real Delta and/or Memphis blues is your bag, you'll go nuts for this one! LB and co. then take the listener deep into swamp country with the slide guitar-laden "Wanted By The Police". If the disc stopped here, you'd feel you got your money's worth already...but there's alot more! And every one of them a true gem.
The production is sparse...no excessive gloss or flash. In fact, there's only bass on 2 tracks! (and for you purists, that would be the upright bass of one Mark Tortenson on "Mr. Lonely" & "Tell Me Why") Backing LB's vocals and guitar are sometime Taj Mahal/Homesick James drummer Ardie Dean and Dan Hocter on (gasp!) Hammond B3 organ...probably not the instrumentation the readers here are accustomed to...but trust me kids, it WORKS!!!!!!!!! Hocter's work on the bass pedals feels even more natural than most string basses. Hocter also throws in some brilliant piano blues on "She Make A Bulldog Break His Chain". LB's voice has a lived-in twang that might just be the best you've never heard! His guitar playing is one-of-a-kind. He doesn't need to burn up the frets...he's too busy laying down a groove so deep you could break an axle in! For the guitar geeks out there, LB switches between his old Telecaster and a couple of ancient Harmony hollowbodies. Tone, Tone, and MORE Tone!
This CD could well be the sleeper hit of musical year! (and you got to read about it here first kids!) I've had the disc for 4 hours now and it hasn't stopped playing yet! (and much to my neighbors' chagrin, its not likely to anytime soon!) The songs are brilliant as is the singing and the production. Even the packaging (very "green" and environmentally friendly) is top notch! And its not everyday that we get a CD with lyrics that we can actually read without a spy glass!
If this disc isn't nominated for a Grammy, there's no justice in the world! So what are you waiting for? Go find a copy! You'll be glad ya did!
Introduction of the band:
To find more about Laurence "Luckyman" Beall go to: http://www.myspace.com/laurencebeall
Reviewed by Memphis Mike 13 January, 2010