There's no better catharsis after a hard week than dancing in a sweaty nightclub to a rhythm and blues band with a horn section that can punch out the groove and a real singer who can belt out confessions of love. Washington is a regular host to bands that fit this bill: Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band, Jr. Cline & the Recliners, the Uptown Rhythm Kings and many more.
These bands have discovered, however, that it's quite difficult to translate the excitement of a crowded club to a recording studio. The challenge is to find unfamiliar tunes as good as the nightclub favorites and then to record them with the same contagious fervor as the last set on a Saturday night.
Billy Price has met both challenges on his third and best album, "Live" (Antenna, ANT 0085). This Pittsburgh singer's first two albums were likable efforts, but they didn't capture the excitement of his live shows. So Price recorded this album in concert at Washington's late, lamented Wax Museum nightclub in March 1984. It catches most, though not all, of his spontaneous electricity.
Rather than recycling the familiar soul standards, Price has dug deep to come up with undiscovered soul gems. His biggest find is an unreleased Otis Redding ballad, "Since You've Gone Again," which Redding's collaborator, Joe Rock, delivered to Price. Price shows just the right balance of raw heartache and smooth control to do justice to this Redding record that never was.
Other discoveries include "I'm So Glad," a recent song by Brian Holland, and "Precious, Precious," a minor hit for Price's mentor, the overlooked soul stylist Otis Clay. Price and Joe Rock collaborated on a new blues complaint, "I Can't Lose the Blues." Price's standout soloist, guitarist Glenn Pavone, gives a more modern rock edge to old soul tunes like Redding's "I'm Sick Y'All" and Bobby (Blue ) Bland's "Good Time Charlie."
Price is at his very best when he starts "preaching" to the crowd about the ways of love. He does just that on his own tune "One Man, Two Lovers" and on "Turn Back the Hands of Time."
Wheaton's Darryl (Junior) Cline hasn't earned Price's reputation yet, but this diminutive singer with the big voice and the crack horn section is working on it. Though he sticks too much to the recognizable soul classics at his shows, he's a fine song writer who can stitch together a dance beat, a catchy melody and a simple lyrical idea as well as many of the song writers he draws on at the clubs.
In fact, his originals far outshine the oldies on his debut album, "Jr. Cline & the Recliners" (Apogee APG 001). The best songs are not the misconceived version of Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" or the overly worn version of Sam Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back to You." Instead the highlights are Cline's own compositions: the bubbly pop enthusiasm of "Rainy Day Matinee," the beach party feel of "What Was That Feeling?" or the Stax soul shout of "Falling Fools."
While Price treats each heartbreak as a make-or-break crisis, Cline takes setbacks more fatalistically. There's a stoic calm in his resonant voice as Billy Craig's guitar or the massed horns turn each jingly melody into a rhythmic riff. When Cline pleads with a friend to understand that "The Girl's Trying to Please," he manages to sound knowing and desperate all at once. When he laments forlornly that "Young Girls (Fall in Love Too Soon)," his sing-along vocal balances sadness with an acceptance of the ways of the world. The Recliners perform at Friendship Station on Saturday.
Bullmoose Jackson, who has been working for years for a catering firm at Howard University, was a pretty big star in the late '40s, during the time rhythm and blues provided a transition from big bands to rock 'n' roll. He was the first R&B artist to receive a gold record, for "I Love You, Yes I Do," and his next four records also sold a million copies each. Pittsburgh's Flashcats had included several Jackson tunes in their repertoire, and when they found out he was still alive, they invited him to be a guest in their show.
"Moosemania" (Bogus Records LP6-0214851) reflects both the Flashcats' fandom and their considerable skills in reviving Jackson's high-spirited music. Jackson himself is in great spirits, if not the greatest voice, and he buzzes along on "Get Off the Table, Mabel (The Two Dollars Is for the Beer)" and "Hey Moose, Hey Miss," a delightfully daffy duet with Cindy Sotak, who also wrote the song. Jackson also shines on two live cuts, the rambunctious "Big Fat Mamas Are Back in Style Again" and his R&B classic, "Big Ten Inch Record."
Billy Hancock has been playing American music, whether it be R&B, country or rockabilly, for 25 years in the Washington area, earning himself a reputation as a journeyman rocker with an encyclopedic knowledge of America's musical roots. In fact, it is Hancock's diverse tastes and skills that undermine his new six-song album, "Wanted: True Rock-N-Roll" (Ripsaw 220). Six songs aren't many, but when each song introduces a new vocal mannerism and stylistic angle, it's hard to get a fix on the artist.
On two of the songs here, an old Eddie Fisher ballad called "I Need You Know" and Buddy Holly's "Take Your Time," Hancock verges on mimicry. "I Need You Know" is delivered in the dramatic Presley fashion, with the Velons playing the Jordannaires, while Hancock takes on the sweet high style of Holly for "Take Your Time." The nadir of the eclecticism is reached on an ill-considered cover of the Rolling Stones' "I'm Free."
Despite the fact that Hancock, who performs at the Gentry tonight, can't settle on an artistic approach, all of these songs are sung and played with considerable verve. Hancock's jump version of Benny Goodman's "All the Cats Join In" is well-realized thanks to his tough shout blues vocal and a superb jazzy guitar break. Hancock seems most comfortable on his own excited rockabilly song "Oh Caroline," where his yelping vocals sound every bit his own.