Buddy Blue


Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals Odeon, 1295 Old River Road, the Flats 8 p.m., Saturday, February 12

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Buddy Blue

Not all interesting or even successful artistic experiments are extended to the next level. Take, for example, the attempts of some rockabilly bands to integrate R&B and jazz influences into their music. The efforts of Bill Haley and His Comets in blending these genres in the mid-'50s was artistically praiseworthy, and Haley's records sold very well, but very few pop music groups seemed interested in exploring what his and similar groups had done. Until recently.

Former Beat Farmer Buddy Blue -- he wrote "Gun Sale at the Church," "Lost Weekend," and "Goldmine" for the Farmers -- probably doesn't relate what he's been doing to what Haley did, but he's put together the same elements and updated them to reflect the musical developments of the last 45 years. Blue, the featured vocalist, sings in what's basically a fast, Elvis-like vibrato, but he's certainly been influenced by black blues and R&B artists -- Romy Kaye contributes impassioned, technically solid R&B vocals on four tracks. The arrangement of her "Kick, Bite and Scream" has a lot in common with Haley's version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll."

Several of the compositions here are 12-bar blues, and they've been arranged in a manner that's rooted in the work of the jump blues bands and R&B groups of the early and mid-'40s. There are fine saxophone and trumpet solos in this tradition, but Blue's crew sounds more modern. Patrick Weil's especially impressive on soprano saxophone during "Lady Mekhong." Joe Marillo, a straight jazz tenorman, contributes a fiery, complex John Coltrane-like spot during "Monk Side Story," an instrumental based mostly on the chord structure of Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't." Blue's electric guitar work has R&B and bop components, and his use of amplification also gives it a rock quality. On some tracks, Blue shifts to dobro and duets with guitarist Dave Alvin. Blue features his slide guitar work on "Daddy's Drinkin'" and plays dobro on "That Yodelin' Hateful Rag." This isn't revival or repertoire stuff -- Blue's not a purist and isn't into re-creating anything. Rather, he wants to create something new by using a style of music that was abandoned almost as soon as it came into being. -- Harvey Pekar

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