Last December, I pegged guitarist Ron Franklin's group, The Entertainers, as one of the best bands of 2004. Their self-released album, 50,000 Watts of Heavenly Joy, was an edgy concoction of roots rock-and-soul that, in my book, deserved a listen alongside more popular local releases such as Harlan T. Bobo's Too Much Love and the Reigning Sound's Too Much Guitar. Now, I'm happy to report, Franklin's latest project, The Natural Kicks, have just released a 10-song album that's an early contender for best local release of 2005.
"The alternate tunings I use with the Entertainers caused me to bleed every day," jokes Franklin, "so I started the Natural Kicks as a cop-out." Explaining that he laid the groundwork for the group early last year, when he was living in Amsterdam, he adds, "I stole the band name from Ray Charles' 'It Should've Been Me.'"
"I started remembering all these songs that dated back to when I was just a kid learning to play guitar," Franklin says. "Stuff like the Kinks' 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' and a Motown song called 'Leavin' Here,' which I first heard on a Who record. For some reason, I had Jack Yarber's drumming style in my head."
Upon his return to Memphis, Franklin recruited Yarber and bassist Ilene Markell. Armed with a handful of covers -- including Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" and Huey "Piano" Smith's "Talk to Me" -- and five original tunes, he booked a recording date for the trio at Willie Mitchell's famed Royal Studio.
"It's my favorite place in the world," Franklin proclaims. "I couldn't see recording these songs anywhere but Pop's place. The vibe in there is very distinctive."
The Natural Kicks' album, pressed on Franklin's own Miz Kafrin Projects label and distributed by Pennsylvania's Get Hip Records, is a vinyl-only release. "Comparing the sound quality of CDs to vinyl, there's a dramatic difference," says Franklin, an avowed analog fan. "It's like looking at a Xerox of a Van Gogh painting and then seeing the actual oil on canvas. People don't mind shelling out a few bucks for a vinyl album, but who wants to buy a CD when you can burn one?"
Franklin has more projects planned for 2005, including a documentary film starring Monsieur Jeffrey Evans called The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing and a vinyl release of the film soundtrack, which includes cuts from Evans, Tim Prudhomme, occasional Entertainer Alicja Trout, and Detroit garage god Mick Collins.
This Saturday night, the Natural Kicks are hosting a record-release party at the Young Avenue Deli with Prudhomme's Half Staff. For more information, go to MizKafrin.com.
"I just sat in with the Natural Kicks once or twice, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in on a recording session," Jack Yarber says with a laugh. "I like Ron's songs. We can do some country-type rhythms, then switch to fast '60s garage or Bo Diddley-esque rhythms. Playing drums like that is a workout and a challenge."
Yarber's own band, The Tearjerkers, are celebrating a record release of their own: Their sophomore album, Don't Throw Your Love Away, came out this month on stalwart indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry. The songs were culled from sessions at Bruce Watson's Money Shot studio in Water Valley, Mississippi, and at Jimbo Mathus' Delta Recording Service in Clarksdale.
But the Tearjerkers have undergone a lineup change since the album was recorded: Guitarist John Whittemore has taken a leave of absence, leaving Mathus to fill in. More recently, Mr. Airplane Man's Margaret Garrett joined the group.
"Margaret sings a lot of leads, which makes it easier on me," Yarber says. "She's gotten everybody excited about the band again. We've come up with a bunch of new songs, and we've already recorded some at Scott Bomar's Tri-State Studio."
In April, the Tearjerkers are headed to London along with dozens of Memphis musicians -- including Booker T. & the MGs, The Hi Rhythm Section, Jim Dickinson, Tav Falco, The North Mississippi Allstars, and The Bo-Keys -- for the It Came From Memphis Festival, curated by local author Robert Gordon.