Chuck E. Weiss

Red Beans and Weiss

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It's been seven years since Chuck E. Weiss released 23rd & Stout, a set that drunk-walked between roots rock, vintage R&B, jump blues, zany experimentation, and post-Beat humor. Red Beans and Weiss marks the songwriter's first album for Anti. It was self-produced, though it lists Tom Waits and Johnny Depp as executive producers. Guitarist Tony Gilkyson, drummer Don Heffington, and pianist Michael Murphy all return. The personnel is fleshed out with bassist Will MacGregor and saxophonists Jimmy Roberts and CeCe Worrall-Rubin. For anyone who's heard Weiss' Rykodisc albums Extremely Cool and Old Souls & Wolf Tickets, there will be much to enjoy here. Opener "Tupelo Joe" may have throwaway lyrics, but the scorching modern rockabilly slashed and burned through by Gilkyson's guitar playing makes it more than worthwhile. The moderately funky hipster rap that is "That Knucklehead Stuff," with its alternating honking sax and zinging guitar lines, is catchy as hell, as is its strutting counterpart, "Kokamo (Boy Bruce)." "Exile on Main Street Blues" is done in swaggering 1950s Chicago style. "Hey Pendejo" walks the line between bumping polka, East L.A. backyard mariachi, and a Catskills comedy routine. What works best here are the cuts where electric blues-boogie is the M.O. This band is tight and nasty, no matter how spaced out and loopy Weiss' groove is. Check the strutting boogie in "Boston Blackie," "Bomb the Tracks," and "Dead Man's Shoes"; they are electrified and worth the price of admission alone. The syncopated blues-jazz in "Oo Poo Pa Do in the Rebop" is complete with lyrics seemingly drawn from the world of an Iceberg Slim novel and a rhythm section that can't be shaken. "The Hink-a-Dink" is a sinister moaning blues with Gypsy violin, Judy Brown's wailing wordless soul backing vocal, and a moody male chorus moan all tossed in, but it works! Not everything does, however. "Shushie" is a noir-ish hepcat jazz number whose lyrics make a feral cat Weiss rescued into a terminal hipster. (The smoky saxophone solo is nice, though.) Closer "Willy's in the Pee Pee House" is so dumb it could have just been left off altogether. That said, none of this is contrived -- it's all Chuck E. Weiss. Zany, unrepentantly retro, and drenched in an era that revivalists can't touch, Red Beans and Weiss is a greasy, gritty report from one of L.A.'s last original rock & roll street denizens. It has a grimy charm all its own.

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