Buck Pizzarelli / Bucky Pizzarelli

Diggin' Up Bones

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Country music and jazz have been married since Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys started what was a regional craze that became internationally recognized. While Hank Williams embraced the merging of cultures, and Asleep at the Wheel or Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown thrived in populist jazz or blues-derived hybrids, few have attempted to really blend the two styles in recent times. Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, his sons, guitarist John Pizzarelli and bassist Martin Pizzarelli, have wanted to do this kind of project for many years, and it has surfaced in this twangy, sophisticated tribute to the western cowboy from a stage show perspective. Help from jazzers like fiddler Aaron Weinstein or drummer Danny Coots, but especially Nashville's renowned pedal steel guitarist Tommy White, identify the music as nothing less than down-home pickin' and grinnin', straight-from-the-heart songs avowed jazz fans like Roy Clark and Buck Owens used to do. Saloon chanteuse Rebecca Kilgore plays up the femme fatale role to perfection, while the three Pizzarellis jump right into these purely rural, down-in-the-valley tunes. The majority of the tracks feature vocals, with the instrumental swing of the guitarists as rhythmic support. Andy Levas sings five of them in a deep-toned, tough-guy vocal, including the blue and downhearted "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down," the classic Hank Williams lonesome cowboy anthem "Your Cheating Heart," the legendary two-note tale of intrigue "Ghost Riders in the Sky," and the all-time, lighthearted fave "Act Naturally." Cowboy Joe West sings the Chuck Berry rock & roll classic "Promised Land," accented by Weinstein's fiddle, and the shoulder-shrugging "Grain of Salt" in a rough-and-tumble voice. Yes, this is the same Joe West who is a 30-year veteran Major League Baseball umpire. Kilgore provides the distaff retort on songs like the twangy "Right or Wrong," the really corny and fluffy cowgirl show tune "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle," the Cindy Walker-penned lone star 2-step "You're from Texas," and the closer-to-jazz, funny Mel Tormé number "Tacos, Enchiladas & Beans." John Pizzarelli wrote three of these selections, including an instrumental turkey-in-the-straw update "Turkey in the Raw," an adaptation of Johnny Cash's road song "I've Been Everywhere" retitled "Ain't Oklahoma Pretty?," with the line modified from "Route 66," and the steady swinging "Steeling Home," with tongue-in-cheek baseball and White's slide-string instrument on his mind. The Carl Kress tune "Stage Fright" comes nearest to rural jazz, as the guitars and Weinstein's mandolin recall the dawgrass of David Grisman. For all of the delights this album possesses, purist jazz fans will have to think twice before purchasing it. However, country music fans will love it, and might see the bigger picture of mainstream jazz once they realize the connections have been there all along.

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