Friday, September 23, 2011
"Bobby Charles" has arrived
The "Bobby Charles" CD arrived yesterday and I was aching to bust it out the second it showed, but I knew it wouldn't function as background whilst I was working. So waited till dinner time and...initial impression that this is as prime as folks like Andy from Vetiver have been saying all along. On the surface -- it could be a buncha outtakes from "The Band." Charles sounds a lot like Rick Danko vocally if you're not listening to closely. The phrasing, the timbre. And the backing is provided by...The Band and their Woodstock running buddies who would go on to form Hungry Chuck. And then the writing...but on reflection -- there's the basis of The Band and their manager Albert Grossman (whose Bearsville label released this album) attraction to this cat which otherwise might seem odd and arbitrary.
This record was recorded in the earlier 70's and Charles' career started in the 50's and pretty much peaked by 1960, having scored hits with Fats Domino and Bill Haley both covering his songs, "Walking To New Orleans" and "See You Later, Alligator" respectively. 10+ years is always an eternity in the world of pop music. But right from the start, Charles was notable for mixing elements of downhome R&B, country, New Orleans funk and traditional Cajun music -- pretty much the same blend that The Band would utilize and strike paydirt with.
So there's an element of tribute to an inspiration or longtime hero here (and with Levon being a native of Arkansas and the rest of the band being buffs of rockabilly and other vintage music it's understandable that they'd have known his music both the hit covers and his own recordings). Often that leads to unsatisfactory results -- putting a vintage artist in a contemporary setting; it can sound a little desperate and a little pathetic. But in this case, these songs and these instrumental settings seem like a perfectly natural evolution of Bobby's fundamental artistic impulses and predilections. It'd be interesting to research whether he'd arrived at this on his own over the years, or whether on encountering The Band's ouevre he understood its relation to his previous work and comfortably made the leap then and there. It hardly matters.
"Bobby Charles" is an utterly effortless, wholly graceful and thankfully unpretentious and unselfconscious fusion of peculiarly American music styles that is as comfy and elusive as the perfectly worn pair of jeans.
PS I popped for an import copy for $5 + $3 postage rather than the Rhino boxed set. That third disc of interview material...+ single edits, etc. seemed more appropriate for a lifelong fan that had ALL his other work.