Jazz CD Reviews

Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires – If I Walked on Water – Onager

Lighthearted, jazz-tinted pop with a sense of humor.

Published on September 1, 2012

Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires – If I Walked on Water – Onager

Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires – If I Walked on Water – Onager ON 1004, 41:26 ***1/2:

(Ted Hefko – vocals, tenor saxophone, clarinet, acoustic guitar (tracks 5-6), executive producer; Satoru Ohashi – trumpet, valve trombone; Luca Benedetti – guitar; Scott Ritchie – upright bass; Moses Patrou – drums, piano, percussion, backing vocals; Billy Blend – Hammond BV organ; Neil Thomas – accordion)

Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Ted Hefko is a travelin’ man with autobiographical road stories. As a teenager, he moved from Wisconsin to New Orleans via bus; earned a jazz degree from the local university; and eventually went east to Brooklyn and formed his various-genre ensemble, Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires. On If I Walked on Water, the group plunks down a pleasing potpourri of Crescent City-tinted jazz, contemporary roots rock, folk and soulful blues (there’s also a hint of country). Hefko’s musical style is akin to Dan Hicks (who is not an evident influence but certainly an historical link); which features mostly acoustic material that has few musical restrictions, has a friendly vibe, catchy melodies and a plain, laissez-faire wit.

Hefko sings with a straight-faced but wry, and sometimes self-effacing, intonation over a predominantly easy-going backdrop. The blues/country swing-swiveled “Color Me Blue” has a jaunty poise, where Hefko mixes his pigmented metaphors. “The blues have overtaken me; well the greens aren’t coming in. Reds and pinks make my heart sink, I’m lonesome once again. A purple heart for bravery, red badge of courage, ain’t you green with envy, I got nothing left but orange.” It might not rhyme, but it’s fun: so, too, are the solos: Luca Benedetti lays down a lighthearted electric guitar solo, and then trombone, clarinet and sax stack up for some primetime, Big Easy flavoring. The title track also has a sashaying, French Quarter flair flecked by accordion and a sociable backbeat. Hefko jumbles Biblical allegories in an attempt to get his woman to return: “If I walked on water, would you sail back to me…if I moved mountains, if I parted seas, would you let me love you, babe, I’m on my begging knees.” During the instrumental breaks, Benedetti contributes a grooving solo and later Hefko includes a likewise, buoyant clarinet solo.

Hefko becomes serious on a few numbers. There’s a Nashville meets Kansas City, jazz/country texture on the thoughtful “Greyhound Coach,” where Hefko reminisces about losing his best girl, and then packs his boxes, and takes a cross-country journey to win her back again. Neil Thomas’ accordion and Hefko’s clarinet provide an affecting undertone which accentuates Hefko’s narrative about traversing from winter’s woes to springtime hopefulness. Tellingly, Hefko shifts to optimistic sax at the finish when he gets closer to his sweetheart. A chilly, end-of-year earnestness is also spotlighted on the likeminded “It’s Cold in Here.” There’s a rootsy country-rock drift during the electrified “Trust My Gut,” which balances a soulful shimmy with a tale regarding the hardships of a band on tour with no money, including being forced to share Cheerios in a grocery store parking lot. Hefko also laments the fate of his fading footwear: “Went through my soles and my Dr. Scholl’s, and now I’m starting in on the socks.” Transportation also drives the mid-tempo, upbeat “Get on the Train and Ride,” a jazzy pop/rock piece about the different ways to get around the Big Apple, from the 3 AM trash train to the late afternoon commuter subway. Hefko and the Thousandaires conclude on a melancholy note with the slowly unwinding jazz/blues instrumental, “You Took Away the Best Part,” a misty-toned tune fronted by Hefko’s Ben Webster-esque sax, Benedetti’s sliding single-note guitar, and Scott Ritchie and Moses Patrou’s languid bass and drums. It’s a somber way to end an essentially and generally vibrant album. If I Walked on Water has its amusing charms but Hefko is also capable of writing lyrics with a sober consideration, which gives this record a dynamic sensibility.

TrackList: If I Walked on Water; It’s Cold in Here; You’ve Gotta Take Steps; Color Me Blue; Greyhound Coach; Trust My Gut; This Song Won’t Sound the Same; Get on the Train and Ride; You Took Away the Best Part (instrumental).

—Doug Simpson

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