by CHRIS DAVIS
"Well I says north side, south side, east side, west. I know where the barbecue's the best
I ain't gonna tell you, cause here's the point
It took me too long to find the joint."
-- "I Love Barbecue,"
The Guy Brothers and Orchestra
Oh sure, people take a lot of pride in their gumbos. They boast about their chili, their tamales, their chili-tamales, and their old noni's special spaghetti sauce. Stupid people. Everybody knows that's all small potatoes. It takes a lip-smacking pile of shredded shoulder or a rack of tongue-tickling ribs to get the fussy-foodie's splendorphins pumping, YO.
Barbecue can generate an unprecedented amount of goodwill, but it can also ignite bitter feuds. Perfectly civil and otherwise upstanding ladies and gentlemen will forego debate entirely, roll up their starched sleeves, and take to the sweltering streets brawling like drunken guttersnipes over issues like, "Chopped or Pulled?" We Westerners have behaved in this irrational fashion since a group of seafaring Spanish roughnecks discovered that certain Native Americans liked to slow-roast their meats over an open flame -- a technique they called "barbacoa."
In this modern world, the question of who deals in the dopest 'cue is infinitely debatable since the dish changes drastically from state to state, town to town, and in some cases block to block. In Virginia and the Carolinas, barbecue consists of roasted shoulder chopped and mixed with a thin (wussified if you ask a true Southerner) vinegar sauce. Texas barbecue is almost all beef ribs or brisket, and the fire it is cooked over is fueled by hickory, mesquite, or oak wood only -- no charcoal allowed. Kansas City is famous for its chargrilled spareribs and burned-to-a-cinder brisket pieces (they call 'em brownies; we call 'em yuck). From ribs to shoulder to brisket; from family gathering to political event; from coast to coast and from time immemorial, barbecue has been the unquestioned king of not-so-fine-dining. And Memphis, Tennessee, the home of the blues and birthplace of rock-and-roll is Mecca, the Holy See of sweet, smoky hawg-flesh. We rule the rib-roost. Amen. None of the above information has been lost on the good folks at Rhino, whose compilation I Love Bar-B-Q smokes, top-to-bottom.
Do you like jazz? Garage rock? R&B, straight-up blues? Do you like barbecue? Oh, you know that you love it all, and Rhino's late '99 release I Love Bar-B-Q has plenty to go around, and slaw to boot. It should be declared by Mayor W.W. the official soundtrack of the barbecue festival. Not only does the disk feature 14 amazing tracks (and 2 lame-O cuts) dedicated to the big yummy, its liner notes are packed with enough information to make even the least experienced smoker sound like the pit-boss of the party. A brief history of barbecue is accompanied by helpful hints from rib raconteurs and plenty of hunger-inducing illustrations. If you are the kind of geek who actually reads such things, you'll discover that apple wood makes the pig taste slightly sweet and that pecan wood makes it taste nutty. The liners also suggest that hickory wood makes the pig taste like bacon, but we somehow suspect that's because most bacon is hickory-smoked.
Though most of the CD sounds like it was recorded inside a bucket, the weird production values hardly seem to matter. This disk was intended to be cranked up only on nights when the you-know-what's in the ground, the beer's on ice, and all your rowdy friends are coming over. With swinging saxophones and meaningful lyrics such as "neckbones and hot sauce" (repeated ad infinitum), this greasy offering delivers everything it promises, minus the indigestion.
Can you beat rhymes like "Way down in Harlem there's a place called Pete's shortly after midnight where you get your eats, the kids all gather because they'd rather roll up their sleeves, put on their bibs, and have a mess of barbecue ribs"? To hell with tired tunes like "Louie, Louie." "Riffin' at the Bar-B-Q," "Pork Chops," "Barbecue Any Old Time," and "Hot Barbecue" are all obscure gems that should be elevated to the venerable position of required party-time listening. Only the unrepentantly awful "TV Barbecue" and the pretty darn bad "Beale Street Barbecue" mar this otherwise noble endeavor.
You can e-mail Chris Davis at email@example.com.