Jimmy Carl Black & the X-Tra Combo

Mercedes Benz

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While it is certainly one of the best representations of rock veteran Jimmy Carl Black as a vocalist, Mercedes Benz slightly suffers from a touch of schizophrenia, as if it was a "mercy-D" with an ashtray belonging to a lesser brand of car. The effect is not the result of the CD being made up of material from two different sessions, one in 1997 and one in 2001. That production aspect comes together seamlessly. The X-Tra Combo is what might be called a rock & roll and rhythm & blues show band, a couple of horns and a couple of keyboards adding to a sound that is much bigger than the number of people on-stage. On the lion's share of the CD's tracks, Black is backed up on various songs from a repertoire he has slowly been building up in his various activities with bands such as the Grandmothers, the Muffin Men, and so forth. These numbers come off so vividly that it almost seems like carping, or complaining about the ashtray in a beautiful car, to mention that when vocalists from the X-Tra Combo take over and Black steps down there is a diminishing in personality, if not technical quality. The tracks without Black in part go for more of a swing feel, a bit like a Brian Setzer performance in this style. It is good music, but simply not as enjoyable as the Black vocal repertoire, a span that covers authentic blues, goofy Zappa, and vintage psychedelia. "Low Ridin' Man" is a songwriting collaboration from years back with Tjay Cantrelli, once a member of Love as well as Black's Geronimo Black project in the '70s. "Big Leg Emma" and "Road Ladies" are from the Zappa think-tank and like many of the performances here might be the ultimate versions of Black doing these songs, the X-Tra Combo playing as tight as a tick's grip on the back of a dog. The reading of "I'm Willin'" stands up alongside any of the other myriad versions of this Lowell George epistle, and Black's own compositions, including "Lady Queen Bee," are played with punch as opposed to the Grandmothers' light slap.

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