Leon Redbone,
Red to Blue
(August, 1987; Rounder, 2004)

This is one of those treats that more or less writes itself. Leon Redbone is a fellow one generally either likes tremendously or disdains with enthusiasm. I have, down through the years, found very few fence-sitters when it comes to assessing "The Great Redbono" (his appelation; great concert story from years ago ... remind me to tell it sometime).

Our good friends at Rounder have been at work getting Redbone's catalogue back into print and Red to Blue is but one example of this noble effort. Though we are cheated out of Rounder's usual encyclopediac notes (apparently the August sub-nameplate of Rounder believes less is more in this regard), it's really the music that does the needed talking here. And what music! Ably assisted by Vince Giordano on several species of bass (yes, even large-mouthed -- the tuba), Dr. John on the ol' 88s, Bobby Gordon on woodwinds, Ken Peplowski on clarinet and Dave Bromberg on dobro, Redbone brings not only his distinctive voice to the dance, but some impressive guitar chops as well.

We open with the somewhat over-produced "Diamonds Don't Mean a Thing," a Hawaiian ditty that gives way to a strange intro dialogue between Redbone and Hank Williams Jr., setting up the latter's father's classic "Lovesick Blues," given crisp treatment in the old Emmitt Miller & the Georgia Crackers arrangement here.

The period treats continue with "Reaching for Someone & Not Finding Anyone There," framed nicely by a guest chorus (the Roches), and the uptempo "Somebody Stole My Gal," driven by Gordon's clarinet. These are followed by two Redbone originals, "Steal Away Blues" and "You Salty Dog," proof that Redbone has thoroughly absorbed the idiom of the age he so frequently revisits in his performances.

The snappy Dixieland-infused "Border of the Quarter" is next, followed by the instrumental call-and-response tune "Someday Sweetheart." These have merely set the table, though, for the gem of the disc, the scorching "Whose Honey Are You," in which Gordon trades sax licks with the flying fingers of Redbone's acoustic axe.

Next up is a solid working of Dylan's "Living With the Blues" featuring Peplowski and Bromberg swapping licks, and another slice of Dixieland, "Nobody Care If I'm Blue." The curtain rings down with the relatively quiet and sweet "Think of Me Thinking of You," rounding out a sterling set of some of Redbone's finest work. If you're a fan, you doubtless already have this, but if you're not, listening to this fine disc could easily change your thinking.

- Rambles
written by Gilbert Head
published 30 July 2005

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