The key comment in the liner notes for the Love Light Orchestra’s first collected recordings comes from producer/engineer Matt Ross-Sprang: “This music is really supposed to be heard live, to be in the room to feel the horns.” To that extent LLO’s terrific Live From Bar DKC in Memphis, TN! Feels like an emphatic calling card — something to lure in a crowd for the real deal or maybe the souvenir reminder of a magic night in the 901. It’s a horn-driven, cover-laden party record mining great R&B traditions. Works just fine for folks who like to push back the furniture and dance around the living room.
10-piece blues orchestras are a hard thing to sustain when you’re playing for a piece of the door, but that kind of show band was standard once upon a time, fronted by sonic pioneers like Willie Mitchell, Bobby Blue Bland, etc. The LLO — named for the Bland his “Turn on Your Love Light” — puts vocalist John Nemeth up front but it’s a player’s record with tight horn grooves lead by trumpeter Mark Franklin with Art Edmalston on Tenor sax. Jo Restivo’s spare electric guitar solos provide just the right amount of pepper on top
Live at Bar DKDC includes some nice original tracks by Restivo, Franklin, and Nemeth but even when they’re doing their own thing the LLO is an unapologetic tribute to the sounds of another Memphis — a Memphis that predates and presages the Sun’s guitar grit and Stax’s horny grind. Highlights include faithful covers of Bland’s “Poverty,” Junior Parker’s “Sometimes,” and a wicked run through Charles Sheffield’s “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” a minor-key corn-popper that really shows off Nemeth’s range and the gravelly-now-molten-later quality that makes his voice a perfect instrument for this kind of material.
LLO’s loving cover of Percy Mayfield’s 1950 hit “Send Me Someone to Love,” is another noteworthy track. It’s a transcendent, atomic age ballad, pining for love before “hate will put[s] the world in a flame— what a shame.” The evocative cover may never supplant the original — and was clearly never intended to, but where else can you get this live? Which brings me back to my original point…
The LLO’s big band shows are rare and wonderful things: next time you see them on the horizon, go get some.