CD Review of Hi-Fi Stereo by Reverend Organ Drum
Recommended if you like
Reverend Horton Heat,
Asleep at the Wheel,
The Blues Brothers
Label
Yep Roc
Reverend Organ Drum:
Hi-Fi Stereo

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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T
here are two ways to look at this record: One, it's Rev. Horton Heat's Jim Heath knocking out some quick covers of jump boogie between Heat CDs – some of them a little half-baked, none of them a fraction as good as the originals. To make it look interesting, he dumps the rest of his punkabilly band for this record and hires a Hammond B-3 organist to cover the bass and trade off rhythm and melody lines.

That's valid, and it’s certainly what some devotees of the B-3 organ cult – who bow down at the altar of Booker T., Jimmy Smith, and Joey DeFrancesco – will say.

Taking the alternate view, which is a lot more fun, is to look at Hi-Fi Stereo as Heath bringing his psychobilly ethos to stale old jump-boogie and soul jazz standards, creatively going out on a limb at the risk of alienating his old fans. And it sounds great. The group succeeds a lot of the time on this debut record, with Heath showing off previously latent jazz chops as he interacts musically with organist Tim Alexander of Asleep at the Wheel and old pal Tim Soesbe on drums. It's a make-or-break sound: The guys don't have the sonic net of other players covering the empty spaces in the music – or their mistakes – in this bare-bones group. They can't hide behind the usual cascades of Horton Heat distortion, but instead are framed by a laid-back, mostly instrumental strain of jazzy cocktail rock.

No doubt some of the pieces are showcases for Heath and his vintage Gretsch, like the Duane Eddy classic "Movin' and Groovin" and the swinging "Honky Tonk (Side A & B)." Toss in a couple of Booker T. covers ("Time Is Tight" and "Hang 'Em High"), which clearly exist to shine the spotlight on the B-3 – an instrument with which Heath admits he has a newly acquired fascination. None of these come close to the subtle power of the originals, but they definitely pack – in an odd, swaying slow-motion – the Horton Heat insouciance the band's fans have come to adore.

Those cuts are all right. Where the band unlocks the most of its potential, however, is when they're all going hard and no one's laying back, such as in the classic 1950s New Orleans R&B rocker "Mardi Gras Mambo," which they play faster than you usually hear it. But with Alexander adding a little extra bite to his Hammond sound, it steams like a pot of Creole gumbo with the lid on and the burner set a shade hotter than "simmer." Same thing for the old jazz standard "C Jam Blues," which old Illinois Jacquet used to play in a similar vein – and had little more than a B-3 and drummer to back him up. When these guys get going, they cook pretty well. "Experiment in Terror," a classic Horton Heat-style minor-key rocker with its fuzz-and-tremolo guitar line, hits a little close to home, giving us a glimpse of an alternate universe where Reverend Horton Heat isn't all about guitars and drums, but has a little vintage keyboard action in the back. And you know what? It's good. Just like most of this record. Like the cover of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," which positively smokes.

There are some flat spots, such as the cover of Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train," a classic tune every organ trio does, but this version's done so slowly that the band can't seem to get out of its own way. The James Bond theme's been done so many times that another cover sounds pretty tiresome – or maybe it's just that this arrangement leaves something to be desired. But you gotta admire Heath for stretching out and trying something new and cool (for him). I mean, covering Rashaan Roland Kirk's "Black and Crazy Blues?" That takes stones. And for that we give Heath a critical tip of the cap and the benefit of the doubt.

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