It has been a most productive non-productive day. The tour, the book project, rounds of “Dis Widdle Piggie”, Rogue One, and very little else. And now there’s dinner to prepare, beer to drink (Brimstone brewing Co.‘s ‘Sinister Minister’) and this last record whilst it all goes down, the ‘Double Time‘ album by Leon Redbone.
Redbone followed up his debut long-player ‘On the Track‘ (1975) with this album released in 1977, an equally enchanting, if not somewhat eclectic blend, of jazz, folk, blues and pop standards – all in Redbone’s undeniably distinct throaty baritone.
While the tunes may be familiar, these renderings are steeped in the artist’s unique sensibilities. The results are uniformly ingenious and commence with a New Orleans ragtime flavored interpretation of Blind Boy Blake’s dirty ‘Diddy Wa Diddie‘ blues. Augmenting Redbone’s acoustic guitar is an extended cast of session stalwarts and a host of other musical notables – such as Milt Hinton (bass), Jonathan Dorn (tuba), Vic Dickenson (trombone) and Jo Jones (drums). Don McLean (banjo) sits in, supplying his criminally underutilized instrumental versatility on the endearing revamp of Jimmie Rodgers’ ‘Mississippi Delta Blues‘. The decidedly demented reading of ‘Sheik of Araby‘ is nothing short of inspired insanity accompanied by Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang’s. Redbone incorporates a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-esque persona belting out a variety of hoots, snorts, howls and hob-gobbles set behind a hot-steppin’ fret board flurry à la Django Reinhardt.
Among the album’s most affective numbers is a cover of a second Rodgers’ penned and similarly titled ‘Mississippi Delta Blues‘. This is one of the more intimately emotive performances on the record and features another jazz legend, Yusef Lateef (soprano sax) – who provides a sweet understated counterbalance to Redbone’s dogged delivery. The track is likewise enhanced with the additional textures of the orally generated “throat tromnet” [read: a cross between a trombone and trumpet] contrasting his lyrical yodels and warbles.
Also worthy of mention is the languid ragtime of the Jelly Roll Morton classic ‘Winin’ Boy Blues‘. Bob Greene’s ramblin’ piano inflections aptly complement the vocals – which have been electronically manipulated to reproduce a sound likened to that of a vintage victrola. Rounding out the stack is the sublimely reverent ‘If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven‘. The backing harmonies are courtesy of the incomparable Dixie Hummingbirds whose rich blend oozes from behind the minimalist lead and acoustic piano accompaniment. Potential enthusiasts are well served to begin their discovery of Leon Redbone here.
Besides, how can you not love an album with a camel on the cover?