Vocalist Samoa Wilson & Jim Kweskin Band Put Modern Spin on Vintage Via “I Just Want to be Horizontal” (ALBUM REVIEW)
The title track “I Just Want To Be Horizontal” reminds of that line in Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me’ – “I just feel like laying down.” That, combined with the presence of Bessie Smith’s “Kitchen Man” and Rosetta Howard’s “Candy Man” led this writer to believe we were getting a set of salacious tunes not unlike Maria Muldaur’s famous “Naughty, Bawdy, and Blue.” After all, Muldaur and octogenarian, legendary Jim Kweskin used to do similar material back in Kweskin’s Jug Band days. Yet, despite the presence of those tunes, I Just Want to be Horizontal is a broader swath of mostly Teddy Wilson’s 1930 recordings that featured a then relatively unknown Billie Holiday. In the past decade Kweskin has been doing projects with the versatile vocalist Samoa Wilson who here renders a mix of ballads, raunchy blues, and some better known swinging jazz standards.
Kweskin mentored Wilson during her early years and the two have played and sang the songs of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey, Mississippi John Hurt, Fred Astaire, Grandpa Jones, and dozens more including many drawn from The Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk music and other sources of traditional folk music, blues and early jazz. Assuming many know the storied career of Kweskin (it would take pages), Wilson is likely far less familiar. She came up in the Boston scene, brought along by Kweskin. Her duo, the Four O’ Clock Flowers, which explores gospel, blues, and jazz, with slide guitar maestro Ernie Vega, has become a staple of the thriving New York City folk community. In recent years she has formed another duo, Fatboy Wilson and Old Viejo Bones, with blues harmonicist Ernesto Gomez, a declaration of traditional blues and string band music, as well as original protest tunes written in a traditional style. Full length recordings from both projects can be found on Jalopy Records.
The music is, for lack of a better description, the kind of choices a musicologist would make, not unlike Americana artists such as David Bromberg or Larry Campbell, or jazz artist Catherine Russell. Some, seeing Kweskin’s name, would deem it Americana until they realize that he plays an awful lot of jazz tunes and that he has been reinventing those categories all along. The tunes share humor, sweet melody, driving rhythm, tension, and release. Interestingly, the band plays a major role beyond the two co-headliners. Kweskin arranged just three tunes, with Volmer arranging four, Lichtman five, and Barbato five. These 17 tracks, a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar, embody the essence of early American music, infused with new twists and terrific vocals for a highly entertaining listen.