The Rhythm Rockets

The Rhythm Rockets: She Swings Blue: After Hours 2

$12.28 $14.98

Artist: The Rhythm Rockets
Title: She Swings Blue: After Hours 2

With their previous release She Swings Blue Volume 1: The Joint Is Jumpin', The Rhythm Rockets proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they rate with the best of today's horn-powered jump blues outfits. This second volume spotlights the opposite side of the stylistic coin, when it's after hours and last call is just around the corner. Tempos get sexier and bluer, couples dance closer, and The Rhythm Rockets, a Chicago fixture since guitarist Dave Downer founded the band at the end of 1996, dig deep into the sensuous torch ballads that Nicole Kestler sings so persuasively. "I always love an opportunity to do a good ballad," says Nicole, who joined The Rhythm Rockets as their featured vocalist in 2000. "That's kind of really where my heart is." The band laid down enough material over the course of two years of recording sessions to release a two-CD set. Then rock-solid drummer Mark Fornek spoke up. "It was Mark's idea to put the up-tempo stuff on one album and the slower stuff, the torch tunes, on another one," says Dave. "So we just kept that theme and released them separately." Downer's slashing fretwork, heavily influenced by T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, and plenty more postwar electric blues guitar legends, and the fat-toned sax section, led by tenor man Mike "Bucko" Bielecki, bring just the right shading to every selection. Guest pianists Tony Kidonakis and Brian O'Hern provide rippling, fluid backing that sensitively accompanies Nicole and the Rockets throughout this late-night musical journey down a deep blue trail. As always, there's plenty of splendid cover material for Nicole to wrap her honeyed pipes around. Dinah Washington's voluminous songbook gifts us with a supremely sassy "Mean And Evil Blues." "She has become one of my favorites," says Nicole. "I love the music that she does, and I love the arrangements." Dave customized the 1946 blues to the band's specifications. On the original, the first three progressions are all piano," says Downer. "I gave the song to Jon Novi (the band's ace arranger) to transcribe for us, and he created a saxophone intro that mimics the piano intro. So what the guys are playing is pretty close to what the piano played." Dinah herself co-wrote the unusual "Duck Before You Drown." "When I first heard it, I thought there was no way that we were going to be able to pull it off," admits Dave. "It's a weird song. We don't even know what it's about!" Another popular chanteuse from the same era, Peggy Lee, introduced the sultry "You Was Right, Baby" after co-writing the easy swinger with her husband and bandleader, guitarist David Barbour, in 1944. "I heard it one day on YouTube. I charted it and finished it the next day, and we were performing it the very next show," says Downer. "The thing about the video, it's just Peggy Lee and her little group. It looked like they were recording it live. And it just mesmerized me." Nicole greatly admires Lee as well. "She always has a great arrangement behind her, and then of course her great voice and the great songs," says Kestler, who grew up in the Detroit area. After graduating from Chicago's Columbia College, where she studied film and theater, she began her singing career. "I went from never singing publically ever, not even for a school play or church-nothing-to working five nights a week," citing the popularity of the Swing revival of the late 1990's. Although the stop-time groover "40 Cups Of Coffee" was written and first recorded by Chicago R&B guitarist Danny Overbea in 1953, Dave picked it up from another lady with a seductive vocal approach, Ella Mae Morse (Bill Haley and His Comets gave the song a rock and roll vibe on The Ed Sullivan Show). It's been a staple of The Rhythm Rockets songbook for more than a decade. Though it's over a century old, "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey" sparkles with vitality in The Rhythm Rockets' capable hands. Composed by Albert Von Tilzer and lyricist Junie McCree in 1910, the Tin Pan Alley theme has also been in the band's songbook for at least ten years. "Whoever plays baritone sax has got to be able to read it and play it with real feeling," notes Dave. Saxman Ed Enright handles that role expertly here. The often-revived blues "Trouble In Mind" was authored by pianist Richard M. Jones, who recorded it in 1936, a dozen years after singer Thelma La Vizzo premiered it on shellac with Jones tickling the ivories. Since then, it's been revisited by everyone from Bertha "Chippie" Hill, Victoria Spivey, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Dinah Washington (hers was a 1952 smash), Fats Domino, and Jimmy Reed. Dave didn't get it from any of those immortals. "The first time I heard the tune was back in 1997. There was a group up in Minneapolis called the Senders back when we started, and I really enjoyed them. I saw them perform a couple of times here in Chicago, and I bought one of their albums. And they had a version of it. I never knew who did the tune originally back then. I just like the song," he says. Nicole's phrasing lingers languidly behind the beat as she delivers it's mournful storyline. "Bread And Gravy" was composed by the prolific Hoagy Carmichael in 1935 and recorded by Ethel Waters four years later. Nicole was already performing the inspiring theme when Dave heard her sing it one evening at Katerina's, one of the band's primary performance venues. "I'm a huge Hoagy Carmichael fan," says Nicole. "There was an Ethel Waters version of it, which is actually the only version of it that I've heard. That was a song that I had been doing for years. Dave had heard me do it with my piano player, Brian, so that's where he got the idea to do it with The Rhythm Rockets." 'It's kind of like the happiest blues song you've ever heard," Dave says. "It's actually kind of uplifting. I really enjoyed hearing her do it. I asked if we could do it in the band. So I created a chart for it, with the help of Novi for the horn lines. Jon and I together tried to create simple horn phrasings that would not over shadow Nicole's vocals, and with his help I think we succeeded in churning out a period piece. It's one of my favorite slow-tempo songs that she does." Pianist Amos Milburn, a consistent presence on the postwar R&B hit parade with his party-hearty output, made "Let's Rock A While" a major seller in 1951. This steady blues grinder is an audience favorite for when the dancing is close and tight. Nat King Cole temporarily detoured into R&B with "Send For Me," enjoying a major '57 hit; The Rhythm Rockets tone it's tempo down considerably. "The slow groove is Mark's idea. We were out playing one night," says Dave. "Mark counted it out like half-speed. I'm not sure if it was intentionally or by mistake, but we just went with it. And we all actually kind of enjoyed the slower groove." The obscure "My Baby Left Me" was the work of singer J.B. Summers, whose original was waxed in Philadelphia in 1949 with Tiny Grimes on guitar. "I'll Take A Holiday From Love" has a fascinating backstory. It was conceived by Dave's grandmother Muriel Granback, a genuine hipster from the 1930s to the '60s who knew her way around a piano just enough to fuel her longtime songwriting hobby. She wasn't shy about mailing her creations off to the era's top big bands. "I've got a rejection letter from the Benny Goodman orchestra," says Downer. "They had a contest, and she wrote a song and sent it in." Inspired by her occasionally wayfaring spouse, she composed "I'll Take A Holiday From Love," though nothing came of it during her lifetime. Sadly, Muriel passed away during the early '90s without ever hearing her grandson's band. "My mom had this box. And what was in the box was all of my grandmother's songs, sheet music," says Dave, who decided to add "I'll Take A Holiday From Love," written in the late 1930s, to his band's repertoire. "I gave the handwritten sheet music and a recording of my grandmother performing the tune to Novi that explained to him the feeling of the tune, and he ma

1.1 Mean and Evil Blues
1.2 My Baby Left Me
1.3 I'll Take a Holiday from Love
1.4 Duck Before You Drown
1.5 Let's Rock a While
1.6 Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey
1.7 Send for Me
1.8 Bread and Gravey
1.9 You Was Right, Baby
1.10 Trouble in Mind
1.11 40 Cups of Coffee
1.12 Blues in Orbit

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