Memphis music is a constantly changing, ever-evolving thing: The proof is right here on my desk, where fresh releases from local labels crowd demos from brand-new bands. Factor in the spate of recent reissues, and the stack of CDs threatens to topple under its own weight. If, like me, you chose to spend the summer months holed up at home instead of battling the humidity and smoke at local clubs, you'll need a primer to decipher the latest crop:
The four-man band Cooter McGee claims influences such as Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Los Lonely Boys, Sufjan Stevens, Howlin' Wolf, Ugandan folk music, and "the techno that WEVL played on Friday and Saturday nights." They first surfaced at open-mic nights at the Stage Stop and Full Moon Club, recording an original demo CD at the Switchyard recording studio in Nashville. Songs such as "Dark Hero" and "Pumpkin Pie" point to thoughtful, country-tinged frat rock, à la Hootie & the Blowfish or Better Than Ezra. Look for Cooter McGee at Neil's and the Full Moon Club this fall. To listen to their demo or get an updated performance schedule, go to CooterMcGee.com.
Members of Okraboy and The Ruffin Brown Band recently merged to form the seven-piece Giant Bear. An eclectic, rootsy group which features banjo, cello, flute, and mandolin, Giant Bear chose to hone its craft on the road, landing at the California ranch of chanteuse Victoria Williams, who sat with the group during a few stops on their West Coast tour. A more Southern-fried version of the New Pornographers (substitute Jana Misener's chops for Neko Case's sultry vocals), Giant Bear is currently hammering the Southeast, hitting venues like St. Louis' Off Broadway, Jackson, Mississippi's W.C. Don's, and Atlanta's Brandyhouse. Log onto the group's MySpace page (MySpace.com/GiantBeat) to hear tracks such as "Man on the Mountain" and "Genes Not Chords," then mark Friday, October 7th, on your calendar: That's the date of Giant Bear's next hometown gig, scheduled for the Full Moon Club.
Arkansas-born singer-songwriter Jim Wilson has been flying beneath my radar for years, but my eyes and ears are now focused, thanks to Nancy Apple, whose Ringo Records is releasing Wilson's This Old House later this month. Laden with folksy commentary worthy of John Prine or Jesse Winchester, the album was recorded locally at River City Sound. If you missed Wilson's record-release party Wednesday, September 21st, at RP's Billiard Company Restaurant & Bar, you'll have another chance to tune in: Friday morning, September 23rd, Wilson appears on "Live At Nine," on WREG-TV. For more on This Old House, go to RingoRecords.com.
Memphis International Records bellies up to the bar with two new releases -- the Forty Shades of Blue soundtrack (label co-owner David Less did a brilliant job as music supervisor on the made-in-Memphis flick) and Swedish singer Louise Hoffstren's latest, From Linköping to Memphis, recorded at Ardent and Memphis Soundworks earlier this year. The latter is a bluesy, sensual album which features back-up from some of this city's greatest musicians, including keyboardist Lester Snell, guitarist Steve Selvidge, and drummer Steve Potts, as well as horn players Jim Spake and Scott Thompson and the triple-threat string section of Jonathan Kirkscey, Jonathan Wires, and Peter Hykra.
Forty Shades, meanwhile, combines familiar tunes such as Albert Collins' "Snowed In" with newer cuts such as Jim Dickinson and Sid Selvidge's "No Room for a Tramp" and songs by The Red Stick Ramblers and Earl Thomas, which Less culled from the Memphis International catalog.
And last month, the San Francisco-based record label DBK Works reissued The Memphis Horns' first solo album, which originally appeared on the Cotillion label in 1970. A brassy, boozy take on soul classics such as Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Sad Song," the Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham-penned weeper "Cry Like a Baby," and Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully," this album features trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Andrew Love at their very best, backed by a dream band that includes fabled guitarist Charlie Freeman and drummer Sammy Creason. One of the most criminally underrated instrumental albums to come out of the Stax era, the CD version of Memphis Horns was years overdue. Thankfully, the album got the proper reissue treatment, complete with new liner notes and remastered music.