IT'S BEEN A BUSY SPRING ON THE local record scene: Archer Records sent out a press release last month touting the signings of two new artists, jazz vocalist [and Flyer receptionist] Kelley Hurt and Southern soul faves The Gamble Brothers. During a brief break from the studio, I managed to catch up with Ross Rice, who is producing both releases. "It's been a gas, man," Rice enthuses. "I'm working with the two best keyboardists in Memphis -- Chris Parker [of Hurt's combo] on the piano and Al Gamble [of the Gamble Brothers] on the Hammond B-3."
"We went hog-wild at Ardent, cutting 17 songs in two days," Rice says of the sessions for Hurt's upcoming release. According to Rice, half the tracks are originals, while the other half are "very different" covers of classic jazz material. "We had Doug Garrison [of the Iguanas] come up from New Orleans to do some percussion," says Rice. "Our goal was to keep a fresh rhythmic element going on the record. This isn't Norah Jones. Kelley gets up and kicks butt."
For the Gamble Brothers' session, Rice explains that the group established a couple of ground rules before entering the Archer Records studio. "Our first rule was no guitars whatsoever," he maintains. "Second, stay true to the quartet. What you hear on the record is what you'll hear live." Citing comparisons to the Meters and Booker T. & the MG's, Rice adds, "There are elements of both those groups, but the Gamble Brothers reassembled them in a modern way. It's the next logical step for R&B instrumentals."
"My own record is almost done," Rice says. "Peter Hyrka just came in and laid down some strings." Rice's plan is to finish recording then shop the album around to various labels. "I've been through this biz a few times," he says, "and this is the best way for me to work." Guitarist Steve Selvidge and drummer Harry Peel anchored the sound, which Rice compares to his last album, Umpteen, "with a little more R&B flavor."
Rice also contributed to local singer-songwriter Justice Naczycz' recent debut, Water for the Withered Root, which was produced by Selvidge at Memphis Soundworks. "He's got some really great lyrics," Rice says. "I didn't catch a lot of 'em at the studio because I was behind the drum kit, but when I read 'em I really dug 'em." Featuring Lucero's John Stubblefield on bass, the album -- which runs the gamut from blues rock to moody jazz and quirky pop -- could be the local sleeper hit of the year.
Yellow Dog Records just learned that a track from Mark Lemhouse's Big Lonesome Radio has been selected for inclusion on the 2003 Blues Music Association's sampler, alongside tracks by Koko Taylor, Marcia Ball, and Howlin' Wolf. Last year's Get the Blues! sampler sold over 85,000 copies. Also look for the release of William Lee Ellis' Conqueroo on the Yellow Dog label later this summer.
Memphis International Records has a new release out, Gene Pistilli's Texas swing album I Still Get Dressed on Sundays. The Hoboken Saddle Tramp, as Pistilli is known, recorded all 14 tracks in Nashville with Memphis International co-founder David Less at the helm then mastered the album at Ardent. On deck for Memphis International: a Swedish blues album from Louise Hoffsten, due later this year.
Former Memphian Megan Reilly just inked a deal with indie label Carrottop Records. Her full-length debut, Arc of Tessa, will be released on May 26th. Locals will recall Reilly's deep-throated vocals from her days fronting Lucynell Crater in the late 1990s. Her Loverly single -- and subsequent gigs with Melissa Dunn and Lucero -- caught fire, but Reilly relocated to New York in 1999. It was apparently an astute move. She's now fronting a combo that includes Cat Power alum Tim Fuljhan and Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone. To hear soundbites off Arc of Tessa, visit CarrottopRecords.com.
Down in Oxford, Mississippi, Fat Possum Records continues to mine musicologist George Mitchell's catalog, which label owners Bruce Watson and Matthew Johnson purchased last year. So far, they've released two discs of Mitchell's field recordings from the late '60s, including Mississippi Fred McDowell and Johnny Woods' Mama Says I'm Crazy and the late Joe Callicott's Ain't a Gonna Lie to You. On a more contemporary note, Memphis bluesman Robert Belfour also has a new album on Fat Possum called Pushin' My Luck. Anchored by 10 sublime acoustic numbers that hark back to the north Mississippi hill country, the album was recorded at the label's Water Valley Studio last year.
Also from Oxford: a self-released disc from The Taylor Grocery Band, the latest project from former Blue Mountain man Cary Hudson. The group rips through a dozen traditional folk and blues numbers (and the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" thrown in for good measure) with an understated panache that's as graceful on disc as it is live on stage.
While the timing is right on target, Capitol Records' recent Al Green reissues weren't planned to coincide with April's Premier Player Awards' salute to Hi Records. Nevertheless, soul fans should look for the four repackaged titles (I'm Still in Love with You, Gets Next to You, Let's Stay Together, and Green Is Blues), which feature new liner notes and bonus tracks galore. Also of note: the Rhythm, Love and Soul three-disc box set on Shout! Records, featuring Green alongside Memphis stalwarts Isaac Hayes, James Carr, The Emotions, and The Temprees.
Other Memphis-related releases coming down the pike: Rapper Yo Gotti's Life (TVT Records, May 13th); Todd Snider's Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (Oh Boy, May 13th); the Jim Dickinson-produced John Eddie's Who the Hell Is John Eddie? (Lost Highway, May 13th); a Big Star collection called -- appropriately enough -- The Big Star Story (Rykodisc, June 3rd); and Kirk Whalum's Into My Soul, produced by Stax songwriter David Porter, due on Warner Bros. later this summer.
You can e-mail Andria Lisle at email@example.com.