Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 112

Ken Swartz

MAKING "OLD-TIMEY" NEW

T

here are myriad
ways to interpret
"old-timey" music.
In broad strokes, you can
go the traditional route
or be iconoclastic. These
two albums illustrate that
there's lot of gray area in
between.
The Washington-based
duo of Ben Hunter (fiddle,
mandolin, and guitar) and
Joe Seamons (guitar and
banjo) came together five
years ago. Their sophomore release enlists Phil
Wiggins, a generation their
senior. The former partner
of the late Joe Cephas
plays harmonica, and
everybody sings. Hunter's
high voice is authoritative,
sometimes breaking but
never cracking; Seamons'
is a bit pedestrian; and
Wiggins sings with a
booming, deep tone.
The trio's approach
is acoustic, and their
eclectic repertoire reaches
back to Lead Belly, Duke
Ellington (whose "Black
and Tan Fantasy" no
doubt gave the CD its
title), Louis Jordan, Leroy
Carr, the Mills Brothers,
Louis Armstrong, the
Mississippi Sheiks, and
traditional banjo and fiddle
tunes. The acoustic trio
setting successfully gives
the songs a new wrinkle,
like "Guitar Rag," which is

transformed into a fiddle/
harmonica workout.
What sets Ken Swartz
apart is the concept of doing Mississippi John Hurt
and Washington Phillips
material in a band setting
without it becoming bluesrock. Of Phillips' "Denomination Blues" from 1927,
Swartz writes, "Played this
first on mandolin, but over

Ken Swartz and the
Palace Of Sin
Smile Away The Blues

Ben Hunter, Phil
Wiggins, Joe
Seamons
A Black & Tan Ball

time I began playing it on
guitar; the band eventually
gave it that funky NOLA

style." The same could be
said for most of the CD.
That's what caught the
ear of Adelphi Records'
Gene Rosenthal, who literally stumbled onto Swartz's
Palace Of Sin at a club on
New Orleans' Frenchman's
Street. Rosenthal's resumé
goes back to the mid '60s,
when he produced and/
or engineered Skip James,
John Fahey, Backwards
Sam Firk, and Furry Lewis,
and managed Hurt.
Swartz's influences
range from Dylan, Van
Zandt, Richard Buckner,
and Nick Drake to Sleepy
John Estes, Charlie Patton,
Howlin' Wolf, Furry Lewis,
and Ry Cooder. Some of
the songs have a jug-band
feel but never devolve into
novelty. With Mark Grissom on bass, Tom Chute
on drums, Rick Weston
on harp, and Swartz
fingerpicking a Fender
Jaguar and American
Standard Strat (although
he favors Mustangs and
his vintage Musicmaster),
the ensemble is augmented
by sax, fiddle, piano,
washboard, Sousaphone,
and slide (Chris Mule and
Roberto Luti). Add Swartz's
high voice, and the songs
may be old but the sound
is refreshingly new.
Seamons and Hunter
established Portland's
Rhapsody Project, whose
mission is to strengthen
communities through song
and spread the gospel
of folk and blues music.
As they say, "We want
regular folks, especially
the youth, to understand
that America's folk and
blues music is not a relic,
but a thriving tradition."
The likes of them and
Swartz's Palace Of Sin
make that abundantly
clear. - Dan Forte

VINTAGE GUITAR

112

January 2018

Blues" and "Love Lives Again," from George
Jones' 1972 Epic Records debut LP.
The band's musical excellence is a constant, be it flawless vocal harmonies, tight
ensemble work, or jaw-dropping solos. Josh
Swift's superbly articulated lead and resophonic-guitar work never ceases to amaze,
whether he's in accompanist or solo mode.
His work on both instruments stands out on
the ballad "Guitar Case." His resophonic is
explosive on "Derailed," followed by intense
Lawson mandolin. Even at a lower intensity,
Swift acquits himself powerfully on "Cry
Across Kansas," he and Lawson outdoing
themselves on the fiery closing tune "Drivin'
It Home." - Rich Kienzle

Mike Stern

Trip

Mike Stern's latest speaks to the
triumph of his spirit
and twisted sense of
humor. In a freak
accident while waiting for a cab, he tripped
and broke both arms. This left him with
nerve damage in his right hand. A few
months later, he was back playing gigs and
figuring out ways to make use of his hand.
Stern is well acquainted with hard times,
so the setback did not prevent him from
exercising his craft.
On Trip, Stern bounces back with vicious
bop lines and his sense of humor intact.
Songs like the title track, "Scotch Tape And
Glue," and "Screws" (11 screws were put
into his arm), are offset with heavy-hitters
to wail on his 17th solo album.
Horns are compliments of Randy Brecker
and Bill Evans, with Stern's searing guitar
blazing and weaving throughout. Victor
Wooten and Tom Kennedy provide expert
bass while Dave Weckl, Dennis Chambers
and Lenny White unleash top-tier groove.
The album features sensitive ballads like
the nylon-stringed "Gone" and "Emilia,"
but it's his seamless fusion of funk, bop, and
rock on "Half Crazy" and "Whatchacallit"
that distinguish him as one of the great bad
asses of jazz guitar. - Oscar Jordan

Big Joe
Williams

Southside Blues
Big Joe Williams'
headstone is undoubtedly the only
one on the planet


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