The start of a new year is an interesting mix of nostalgia for the past, anticipation for the future, and I’m sure glad this mess is finally over. That time period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is finally over – I lovingly refer to it as “National Goof Off Month” – and we can get back to business at hand. For me, that means I get to put away some actorly duties (I spent the holidays acting in two stage productions, staging a reading of one of my plays, and playing a small part in a short film, “Brock Party of 50”) and get back to stringing together nouns and verbs about theatre, movies, books, music, and soon a few other subjects as well.
I hope your New Year’s was a good and safe time. We had a ball at the Juke Joint. Plenty of good times with old friends and great music. No one got out of hand, so even Little Mike the bouncer got to enjoy himself. If you haven’t met Little Mike, don’t worry, unless you get into trouble you probably won’t. He’s the large gent in the corner nursing a coffee and usually reading a philosophy book. Guess he got hooked on Patrick Swayze’s character in Roadhouse and set his sights on a new career.
Little Mike stands about six-four and he spends his mornings junking cars and stacking cinderblocks. At night he hangs out at the Joint.
Fortunately, we haven’t needed him yet. But he’s a great just in case kind of guy.
Anyway, with Little Mike joining in the fun we sampled some new music and one of the highlights was a group called The Strata-Tones out of California. Their new CD, Dressed Up to Fess Up has an old-school approach to the music with a solid band comprised of Bruce Krupnik on lead guitar and some vocals, Kevin McCracken on harp and vocals, Ken Burton on keyboards and Hammond, Wil Anderson on bass, Rick Pittman on drums and the lead vocals of the dynamite Valerie Johnson.
I just found out while researching the group that Johnson is stepping down due to health reasons and the band is working out their next steps. I’m very sorry to hear about her health issues and hope for a speedy and complete recovery and that she’ll be able to find a way to work with the group again.
The album kicks off with B.J. Thomas’s song Keep On Cookin’. This is a good upbeat number and Johnson lets us know quickly that she is in charge. Bebop Baby is an interesting song mixing in some talk-singing with some old school rhythms.
Pittman drives the drums on Did You Ever and the song swings and rocks from the opening beat. This band is tight and in case there was any doubt you can tell this is going to be a strong outing. Things slow down a bit with Lovers Lost And Found. The slower pace brings a tighter control to the song and Johnson’s vocals continue to evoke passion.
Raggedy Annie is a great story song in the momma looking out for her little girl vein, but obviously the parents don’t have a real clue as to what’s going on. McCracken’s harps and Burton’s keys get a real workout on this one. This Old House is not an homage to the PBS Television show but a dark party song that duets Johnson and Krupnik’s vocals and Krupnik adds some guitar pyrotechnics to the break.
Together For Some Time is a solid ballad with some evocative imagery. Krupnik wrote both the music and lyrics for the song and it is some very fine poetry. I love this song. Johnson wrote the lyrics and collaborated on the music for Treat Your Woman Right and the result is a song she obviously connects to in a deep way. Guys should take note and learn a little from this song. You can expect to hear both of these songs on Time For The Blues very soon.
T.W.F.S. is a cool jazz flavored instrumental that showcases some good playing. This would be a great live number and if we can ever get them to the Juke Joint, I’ll make sure it’s included in their set. They close out the CD with a live version of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain. Still one of the classics and both Burton and McCracken tear up the opening and Johnson’s vocals are perfect for this rendition.
One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, is that we never know the future. Sometimes we can predict, but life has a way of swerving at the last possible second. I hope Johnson’s health will allow her to come back and sing with the band, but even if she doesn’t, the group is solid, strong, and I think resourceful. Maybe they will find another direction and continue to bring us some great old-school blues.
The Strata-Tones, be sure to check ‘em out. If you see them playing live somewhere near you, drop by and tell ‘em The Professor Johnny P says hi.
Happy New Year everybody.
(Photo of The Strata-Tones lifted from their website, www.thestraratones.com. They’ve got a lot of great photos and more information about the band. If you are the copyright holder and want me to remove the photo, please contact me and I will comply. But the next time I see you, I’ll act all friendly but say mean things under my breath.)