BILLY HANCOCK AND THE TENNESSEE ROCKETS
Not for nothing is Billy Hancock's latest studio session titled "Passions." It's all about his favorite things, after all, the stuff that moves him.
So in addition to finding the rockabilly laureate boppin' the blues in customary fashion with the Tennessee Rockets, we hear him applying his ground-shaking vibrato to a hand-picked hit list, featuring a vintage chart topper by Dion and the Belmonts ("No One Knows"), a classic slice of '60s soul from Billy Vera and Judy Clay ("Storybook Children," featuring duet partner Mary Shaver), a 1980 country hit for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton ("Making Plans"), a Buffy Sainte-Marie folk anthem ("The Universal Soldier"), even a traditional Irish ode accented by a bouzouki ("Coast of Malabar"). And that's just the short list.
As always, Hancock approaches everything he sings in a highly personalized fashion, making comparisons moot. He phrases lyrics in strange, idiosyncratic ways at times and can leave listeners wondering if his vocal cords are capable of producing an echo. But he never sounds insincere or preoccupied with his influences.
Punctuating the cover tunes are some original songs, most notably "Frankie," a Lower Manhattan true-life saga with a Jersey shore vibe. Local tunesmiths Sue Settle and Ken Giese are also represented, and guitarist Dave Chappell, who's responsible for lots of twang-charged fun here, serves up "Crab Cakes," a fitting instrumental homage to the late guitar great Danny Gatton. Showcased, too, is a seasoned cast of Washington-based musicians, including keyboardist John Cocuzzi and saxophonists Joe Stanley and Bruce Swaim.
The companion CD "Live!," on the other hand, is representative of Hancock's road work, circa 2001 with the Rockets -- guitarist Bob Newscaster, bassist Bryan Smith and drummer Jeff Lodsun -- and some fellow travelers. By turns stirring and unabashedly sentimental, it's a nonstop, 14-track celebration of songs composed by (or associated with) Arthur Crudup, Chuck Berry, Carl Mann, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Holly and Buddy Knox, among others. Needless to say, Hancock sounds right at home.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Tuesday at J.V.'s in Falls Church.