Vroom, vroom: "The Art of the Motorcycle" Wonders Exhibition is midway through its six-month run at the Pyramid, but according to Eddie Dattel, owner of Inside Sounds record label, the ride is far from over. When compiling Songs of the Open Road, a 14-song CD of tunes that serves as a companion item to the exhibit, Dattel also created a disc that works as a stand-alone collection and celebration of modern Memphis music.
"It was a concept CD," he says. "It was produced in conjunction with the exhibit, but it struck me that I didn't want every song to be about motorcycles. That seemed redundant, so I thought about the parallels between the evolution of the motorcycle and what it represents - rebellion, raw energy, and freedom. Rock-and-roll evolved in the same way, and it seemed like a perfect fit."
This is hardly the first CD Inside Sounds has produced for the Wonders Series. (Earlier releases tied to Wonders exhibits include tributes to the Napoleonic era and circa-1912 classical tunes that might've been played aboard the Titanic.) But for Songs of the Open Road, Dattel envisioned a community of artists. "It didn't make sense to call in a single artist to do the CD," he says, explaining why he recruited such groups as The Tearjerkers and The Beat Generation to lay down tracks for the compilation, which was recorded and mixed last March.
"I have the Tearjerkers doing 'Little Honda' by the Beach Boys, which has such a cool surf-rock sound. You hear it, and you think Southern California in 1961, guys hanging out on the beach on their bikes," Dattel enthuses. "And the Beat Generation do a great version of Buddy Holly's 'Down the Line.'"
Black Oak Arkansas frontman Jim Dandy's spirited take on Steppenwolf's anthemic "Born to Be Wild" detours into hard rock. In a similar vein, Hal Butler covers the Doors' "Riders on the Storm." Perennial Inside Sounds artist Billy Gibson croons Roger Miller's "King of the Road," and Dattel himself sings Richard Thompson's folky "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."
There are other pleasant surprises, including David Evans' delivery of "On the Road Again," which draws heavily on Alan Wilson's 1968 version. "They were teenage friends. They played together, and they were influenced by the same style of blues music," Dattel explains of Evans, a professor in the music department at the University of Memphis, and Wilson, the late Canned Heat frontman.
"We have a good track record with the people behind the Wonders Series," he says. "They like what we do, and they trust my judgment."
Next up for Inside Sounds: Fried Glass Onions Volume Two, another compilation of Memphis artists covering Beatles songs, expected to hit the shelves this September. For more info, go to InsideSounds.com.
Several other Mid South-centric releases are also on the racks this month:
Former Pixies frontman Frank Black's first solo album in a decade, Honeycomb, was released last week on Back Porch Records/EMI. The album, cut at Dan Penn's Better Songs & Gardens studio in Nashville last year, features stellar guitar work from Memphis giants Steve Cropper and Reggie Young, as well as famed Muscle Shoals players such as bassist David Hood and organist Spooner Oldham. Pick it up for the weird factor (a cover of Elvis' insipid "Song of the Shrimp" is a must-hear), then put cuts such as "Dark End of the Street" on repeat.
Al Greene's Back Up Train - originally released on Hot Line Records waaay back in 1967 when the soul singer still spelled his last name with an extra 'e' - was dusted off by the folks at Sony/Legacy for reissue this month. Repackaged with new liner notes and a solitary bonus track (a mono version of "A Lover's Hideaway"), Back Up Train presents a fascinating look at the soulster's burgeoning talent, captured shortly before his fated meeting with Memphis producer Willie Mitchell.
And just this week, former Stray Cat Brian Setzer released Rockabilly Riot Volume One: A Tribute To Sun Records. Setzer rocks and rolls through versions of Billy Lee Riley's "Red Hot," Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," and Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm," before joining bonafide legends Gene Simmons on "Peroxide Blonde in a Hopped Up Model Ford" and the Jordanaires on "Stairway to Nowhere." But surprisingly, Rockabilly Riot Volume One was cut on the streets of Nashville, not at Sun or Sam Phillips Recording Studio, where these songs belong. n