On Down South Flava (Koch; Grade: B+), his major-label debut, local MC Gangsta Blac may not come up with any individual songs as memorable as some of the Three 6 Mafia-related singles from this year, but in terms of consistent quality, his album easily bests anything to come out of the Three 6 camp. Using a handful of producers (most prominently Blackout, DJ Squeaky, DJ Jus Borne, and Street Flava), Down South Flava, named after Blac's Hot 107 radio show that airs Sundays from 8 to 10 p.m., runs musical circles around Three 6's samey sound. The record's impressive sonics range from the deep bass line that underpins the local radio staple "World'z Thickest Click" to the drum-and-bass skitter of "Tell 'Em Wassup" to the metallic guitars of "2 N Da Morn" to the soulful hook of "What Can I Say." He tag-teams with white Nashville MC Haystak on "South In Ya Mouth," but the standout collaboration is with rapper Cool Bee on the smooth, rock-oriented, potential crossover hit "On It All."
Blac's gruff, twangy flow is the standard for Memphis rap, but his musical persona seems more grounded in reality than the more cartoonish thuggery and sensationalism of many of his competitors. The cover of Down South Flava depicts a street sign for S. Parkway E. and, much to its credit, the record sounds like a credible neighborhood report.
One of the weird things about O Brother, Where Art Thou? was that it portrayed bluegrass, rather than blues or gospel or even jug bands, as the central music of the Delta during the '30s. But on Edgar's Blues (Betsy Record; Grade: B+), recorded locally by Jeff Powell, expatriate Memphians Eric Lewis and Andy Ratliff prove that the high-and-lonesome mountain music still makes sense when brought down to the bluffs. Both first-rate singers and pickers (mostly guitar, but the pair also play fiddle, mandolin, and banjo on the record), Lewis and Ratliff craft a fine bluegrass record that any of the hundreds (or thousands) of Memphians who purchased the O Brother soundtrack should track down. Mixing instrumental and vocal songs, originals and public domains (and, much to their credit, you'd have to be a musicologist to tell the difference in most cases), Edgar's Blues is a consistent delight, capped by a couple of tunes that make it a family affair -- Lewis dueting with his mother, Rosemary, on the cover "In the Pines" and Ratliff's bassett hound Edgar taking lead vocals on the closing "Howlin' Edgar (Slight Return)."
Osama bin Laden is still at large as of this writing, but I know I feel a whole lot better now that dapper bluesman Sunny Ridell is on the case. On his new eponymously titled, locally recorded album (Ecko; Grade: B), Ridell starts things off with the topical would-be anthem "Hey Osama!," a singalong missive that attacks the Al Qaeda mastermind with the full force of backroom, playing-the-dozens insults (e.g., he cracks wise about the cave-bound terrorist's mamma), before delivering the no-doubt State Department-approved threat, "Hey Osama!/You messed with Uncle Sam now you're gonna be a goner/Hey Osama!/You messed with Uncle Sam now you're gonna be a goner/A package coming special 'D'/Direct to you from the N.Y.C." Novelty notable out of the way, the rest of Sunny Ridell is standard juke-joint blues and chitlin' circuit soul, not as good as what Ecko managed with their recent Barbara Carr record but on a par with the label's other recent offerings.
The historical problem with a lot of Christian rock is the rock. It tries to bring the noise but too often comes up short, a clean-scrubbed and entirely insufficient approximation of the aural mayhem of its secular counterparts. On Alien Youth (Ardent; Grade: B), the fourth studio album from local Christian rock giants Skillet, this is not the case. The music is there -- produced by lead singer John Cooper, Alien Youth is vibrant enough to fit into anyone's Modern Rock playlist -- but the message seems too plainly proselytizing for a P.O.D.-style crossover. Like so much emergent white Christian culture -- Left Behind, Omega Code, etc. -- this is the kind of stuff, earnest and well-meaning it may be, that even gives some self-identified Christians the willies. And non-Christians? Forget about it.
The legit guitar power of the opening "Alien Youth" can't be hemmed in by genre tags, but any album that begins with the words "Worldwide Jesus domination" and continues soon after with "We're coming for your souls" is limited by definition. Any halfway aware person these days is likely to "amen" Skillet's "Search for something real/In a world so fake" (per "Eating Me Away"), but not everyone is going to look for that in the same place. So, if you're part of the choir being preached to, this record is for you. And if you're not? Forget about it.
Jump In (self-released; Grade: B-), from duo Carson and Pool, is a solid blast of (very) Beatlesesque pop with a decidedly postmodern mood of sonic impatience: the duo's vocal melodies and interaction are Lennon/McCartney almost to a fault while the rapidly changing electronic soundscapes are sort of a less hip (and less hip-hop) Beck. The positive-thinking lyrics of the opening "Hello" and "Jump In" are about the sunniest thing this side of "Walking On Sunshine," but the music matches it with such catchiness and throw-your-hands-in-the-air "Mmm Bop" propulsion that it's hard to resist.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by CHRIS HERRINGTON
If you were to map out the Memphis music scene by genre, you'd see a preponderance of rock bands and singer-songwriters littering Midtown bars while the city's trademark blues scene is strongest downtown and in juke joints north and south. But at Midtown's P&H Café, that may be beginning to change. While Huey's still offers Midtown's most reliable blues bookings, the P&H is offering something a little different for aficionados with its Monday Night Blues Jam.
The Blues Jam began in August as the brainchild of Tommy Love, a former cook at the P&H and a Minnesota native who has been in Memphis about five years. Love was an active part of the blues scene in Minneapolis and wanted to see an open blues jam in Memphis outside of Beale. Love, a guitarist, assembled a house band -- since dubbed The Poor & Hungry Brothers -- composed of his blues-playing buddies, including Tommy Janzen on drums, Slim Lewis on bass, and Mikael Santana on vocals and harmonica.
On Mondays, the Poor & Hungry Brothers provide an opening set, with guest players rotating the rest of the night. Thus far, the Blues Jam has built a base of about 10 regular players, and though everyone can play (Love polices the guest players), the skill level varies. "I don't care about musical ability as long as they stay in the blues format," Love says. "But since this is on a Monday night, I'd like [the Blues Jam] to become the place for the really good blues players to drop in on their night off." Monday night at the P&H has attracted members of the Hollywood Allstars and the Dempseys and guitarist Shawn Lane.
On a recent Monday night, as the rotating players jammed on a set that ranged from "Get My Mojo Working" to Chuck Berry to "Sunshine of Your Love," bar owner Bob Heaton confided that the P&H's recent emergence from beloved neighborhood bar to more active music venue has been "partly by accident and partly by design." The P&H also hosts singer-songwriter nights on Wednesdays and monthly meetings of the Memphis chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association. Rockabilly wild man Hasil Adkins will perform there later this month.