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Wednesday, 25 October 2006 00:00

Raging rockabilly courtesy of Big Sandy and his Fly Rite Boys

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By Chris Cooper

“Timeless” is one of those words tossed around a lot in reference to music. Everybody wants to write a song that’s “timeless,” right? A tune that sounds just as good today as it will 20 or 30 years down the line, regardless of changes in what’s thought of as “cool” — that’s the goal, correct?

 

But for guys like Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys, the goal is most certainly to recall a bygone era of music and a very specific point in time, before rock decided to turn its back on country and jazz — when “twang” was the name of the game, not “crunch.” And Turntable Matinee serves up swing and rockabilly (along with visions of pompadours and sock-hops) in spades.

Right down to the clothes and gear, this band has the vibe nailed, and yeah, that other word — “authenticity” — is key here. If you’re going to play this music, you better know the style inside and out, because there’s as much of a strict vocabulary to rockabilly and swing as there is to jazz, blues and classical.

Turntable Matinee opens and closes with “Power of the 45,” a toe-tapping number that sets the tone for what’s to come. But the real kicker is that the album gets better from song to song. As good as the first track is, “Love That Man” ups the ante with Big Sandy’s sweet crooning calling up some combination of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. But man, once they hit the teenage heartbreak yarn of “The Great State of Misery” or the haunting “Ruby Jane,” the band absolutely cooks.

Throughout Turntable Matinee the musicians turn in stellar performances, with thumping bass, reverb and tremolo poured all over the guitar and pedal steel swooping and yelping between verses and sparring with Ashley Kingman’s fretwork as on the lead breaks in “The Ones You Say You Love.”

It’s the painfully swinging “Yes (I Feel Sorry For You)” that lets the players burn some rubber as Kingman spins Django-esque chromatic flourishes in tandem with bopping lines straight from the Jimmy Bryant handbook. Harmonized melodies, spacey dives from Lee Jeffries’ steel and textbook examples of how to play busy without stepping on the vocals. If you want a good illustration of how to play western swing, look no further than this particular track.

The band tackles truly vintage soul on “Slippin’ Away” and nails the old Stax/Volt sound, demonstrating not just a command of a few styles from a period of music history, but a command of the period itself. As urgent in its vocal delivery as in its rhythmic pulse, it puts to rest Big Sandy’s concerns regarding how his audience might react to a soul tune from the band. The horn section doesn’t hurt, either. And in case the liner notes and song credits get a little confusing, Big Sandy’s real name is Robert Williams.

Next to last on the CD is the gentle little ballad “I Know I’ve Loved You Before,” and again the band captures that intangible “thing” that tosses you back in time to, well, in my case a good while before I was born. But whether you were there for the first taste of this kind of music or not, whether your point of reference for the ‘50s is personal experience or reruns of “Happy Days,” there’s no doubting the magic that Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys have collectively conjured up on Turntable Matinee.

If this article were going to print a week earlier, I’d tell you to catch this amazing band at the Grey Eagle in Asheville on Oct. 19. But if you missed it, just grab a copy of the album, slick your hair back and roll a pack of Lucky Strikes up in your white T-shirt and crank it up. Extra points for getting your girlfriend to wear a poodle skirt.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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