I had a musician friend once whose passion gravitated towards songs from an earlier era. Tall, thin, and impeccably dressed he would stroll out onto a small stage and play guitar and ukulele and tell some of the corniest jokes I’ve ever heard.
Trust me, I’ve heard those jokes a hundred times…
Anyway, this cat loved his music. He dressed from the forties, played music from the twenties, and tried to entertain audiences that were born in the eighties. Sometimes it wasn’t very pretty.
We were talking one time over coffee – I was buying – and I asked him how the audiences responded to his performance. “Most tune out,” he said between sips. “But those that get it, really get it. Those are the people I’m playing for.”
Like many artistic friendships, our careers took us on different paths, but he was the first person I thought of when I received a copy of Professor Louie & The Crowmatix’ new album, Crowin’ The Blues. This fascinating quintet loves their older music, as evidenced by selections written by the likes of Don Robey, Marie Adams, Robert Higginbottom (aka Tommy Tucker), Elmore James, Jimmy McCracklin, BB King, Jimmy Reed, and Jimmy Rogers.
They also love their newer music and have contributed five originals to the 11-song disc. The group consists of Professor Louie on vocals, piano, Hammond organ, and accordion; Miss Marie on vocals, percussion, piano, and whistling; Gary Burke on drums; Frank Campbell on bass and backing vocals; and John Platania on electric and acoustic guitar.
They are joined on Love Is Killing Me by Josh Colow and Michael Falzarano on electric and rhythm guitar respectively.
The good Professor and his merry band of musicians kicks off this eclectic mix of originals and classic covers with Don Robey and Marie Adams’ I’m Gonna Play The Honkey Tonks. It’s such a fun spirited number and Miss Marie has a great voice that should have a place among the greats of the genre. I think we’re going to be in for a good time.
They follow up with an original, Prisoner of Your Sound, that starts off with some funky rhythms. Solid drums and bass usher in the piano and the lyrics are interesting. It’s a decent song, and I think it’s interesting the way they intersperse the classics with the originals. I’ll be curious to see how that plays out throughout the album.
Next up is another classic, Tucker’s High Heel Sneakers, and the Professor’s boogie piano opens up before Miss Marie takes over. Once again, her low expressive voice carries the tune. This may be one of the most covered songs in history, and I still crank up the volume anytime I hear it.
Another original, Love Is Killing Me, follows with the two special guests, Colow and Falzarano adding their guitar skills to the already hot band. It’s a smoky soul number and Miss Marie delivers an outstanding performance. I love this side of the band – slower, controlled, and more than a little dark. Definitely want to hear more in this vein.
They follow up with another original, Blues & Good News, which gives Professor Louie a chance to push the keyboards a little more. The song changes directions and as an instrumental works as a nice interlude.
After that is the Elmore James tune, Fine Little Mama. As it’s James, the slide guitar is a nice treat and the barrelhouse piano adds to the feeling of being in a crowded roadhouse somewhere. Miss Marie is in fine voice and her old-school vocals are a perfect touch to the song.
Jimmy McCracklin’s I Finally Got You follows. This is a fine rocking number and the band handles it well. The Cromatix then tackle Big Bill Broonzy’s Why Did You Do That To Me. It’s a bouncy, lighthearted number and the band seems to have a nice time swinging their way through the number.
It’s hard to go wrong with BB King’s Confessin’ The Blues. It’s a great song and the band really drives it while Miss Marie growls and purrs her way through it. The rhythm section really does a great job with the song. The guitar work is solid and the piano has a great time jamming. I would love to see them do this one live.
The covers continue with a nod to Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City. That feeling of despair is evident right away and you can feel the ache in Miss Marie’s voice. This is a beautiful interpretation of one of the all-time great songs.
Jimmy Rogers’ That’s Alright is their last cover on the album. It’s a solid interpretation with Miss Marie’s vocals reaching deep into her emotional bank. The music is strong and I like their version very much.
The credits for I’m On My Way lists Professor Louie and Miss Marie as writers followed by “Traditional” but I remember the song as used in the Civil Rights movement. It’s still a powerful number that has a lot of resonance today. I like the organ intro and the band gets funky right away. It’s kind of like a bossa nova spiritual, if such a thing exists, and I enjoyed the interplay on the song a lot.
The last song on the album, Blues For Buckwheat, is pure zydeco funk and a tribute to their friend Buckwheat Zydeco. The instrumental is full of bayou spices and the Professor’s accordion licks aren’t bad at all. I did miss the washboard percussion though. Maybe if they do it live, they can add that.
Overall I liked Crowin’ The Blues very much. Obviously, some of their songs are stronger than others and the split of covers to originals may have hurt them in the long run. They are so good at interpreting other artists’ work that sometimes their own work seems to be underperforming.
I wonder if they would be better served to do an album of more original material with only a smattering of covers, or conversely, mostly covers with a smaller selection of their own material. There work is good, Love Is Killing Me is one of my favorite tracks on the album, so I don’t know the solution.
Give them a listen, and maybe you’ll find yourself on the side of that audience who digs it and can’t wait for more. I know I am looking forward to hearing more of their work, and if I get the chance to catch them live, I’m going to grab it. Might have to look up my old friend with the 40’s clothes and the ‘20’s material and drag him along.
In the meantime, check out their website at http://www.professorlouie.com/ and tell ‘em that THIS Professor sent you!