Shakin Jake Woods

On the Move

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Seasoned citizens of Ann Arbor, Michigan know Shakin Jake Woods as an ever-vigilant presence along the main thoroughfares of the city. A few might even remember Jake's appearance at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. Wearing a snowy white suit with a carefully folded pink terry cloth towel over one shoulder, Jake sang "Baby Love" from on-stage -- not the "Baby Love" associated with the Supremes, but his own potent invention. Dr. Ed Special has now produced the definitive Shakin Jake album, obtainable from Jake himself on the street. Back in '73, Jake's voice was much deeper, and his booming "haw haw haw!" could be heard from far away. Over the years the voice became a bit higher and more like a stage whisper. The performances on this disc were recorded at the studios of WCBN FM, engineered by Charlie White in December of 1977, and by Dan Gunning in March of 1978. Presiding as a one-man vaudeville revue, Jake interrupts each of his songs in order to tell a joke, then finishes with a flourish. His "jokes" are actually surrealistic folk tales of great cosmic import. Standard characters in Jake's jokes are the Signifying Monkey, the Three Wise Men, the Alligator, the Goat, God, and the Devil. We know these are jokes because he introduces them as jokes and laughs loudly in a shrill voice after each joke is told -- while singing his out-chorus. Jake uses two chords on the guitar: open and closed, either clamping the strings with his entire hand or strumming without holding on to any strings whatsoever. This actually works really well, and he's damned good at it. He chugs away hypnotically -- a bit like early John Lee Hooker -- only even more percussive and a whole lot grittier, perfectly in tune with himself according to his own system. Some of Jake's words bring to mind Captain Beefheart ("Pink Spare Woman") or Blind Willie Johnson (&"The Devil Song.") He preaches like Rev. Gary Davis and gives good advice as though addressing a roomful of grandchildren. He recounts in detail his act of valor in rescuing a girl from a burning building, and cheerfully explains how, on another occasion, he outran the wind. Forget how you think music or language is supposed to sound. These 30 brief tracks taken consecutively may result in a complete reassessment of reality as we know it.

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