Joe Weed – The Vultures – TopMusic

Joe Weed – The Vultures – TopMusic TM-SACD9801.2 stereo-only SACD, 34:33 ****1/2:

This is a terrific hi-res release of updated ’50s and ’60s rock/pop instrumentals. 

(Joe Weed – guitars, mandolin, fiddle; Jim Boggio – accordion; Todd Phillips – bass; Rob Ickles – dobro-, Joe Craven – percussion; Norton Buffalo – harmonica; Steve Pefley – drums; David Grisman – mandolin; Rich Ertelt – guitar)

Hold onto your hats, Joe Weed is going to reinvent surf, rock and pop instrumentals in quasi-bluegrass instrumentation. Even better, this session has been re-mastered to SACD in stereo. With an all-star band (Norton Buffalo/harmonica; David Grisman/mandolin; Rob Ickles/dobro; Todd Phillips/bass; Steve Pefley/drums; Jim Boggio/accordion), Weed breezes through these classics with verve and style. And what better way to get the proceedings started than a cover of the 1960 Ventures hit “Pipeline”. Without sacrificing the pulsating rhythm, Weed leads the group in an organic, breezy take. His guitar lead is precise and clear. Rob Ickle picks up the second verse on dobro. The addition of percussion (not just drums) by Joe Craven and accordion by Jim Boggio is flawless. At 3:15, it is still a small gem. “Apache” had been a hit for The Shadows, a British group in 1960. This version is very dynamic. Again the combination of Weed’s fluid guitar and Icles’ dobro fills are graceful and sparkle with cinematic resonance. You can visualize this piece of music in a Sergio Leone film. The arrangement has subtle instrumental details, and the melodic blending is agile.

Continuing this eclectic collection is “Sleepwalk”. A surprise hit in 1959 by Santo and Johnny Farina, the laconic steel guitar is surprisingly infectious. Here, the dobro replaces the atmospheric presence of the steel guitar. Norton Buffalo brings a winsome elegance to the number with harmonica.The expanded lineup includes David Grisman on mandolin, and Weed on fiddle. This enhances the dreamy resonance.The hits keep coming. Everyone recognizes the Ventures’ smash hit, “Walk, Don’t Run”. This song had been recorded before by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith (1954) and Chet Atkins (1956). Here, the jaunty collaboration of guitar and dobro carries the arrangement.

No assortment of these types of songs would be complete without a nod to Duane Eddy. “Rebel Rouser” handles the reinvention in stellar artistry. Replacing the unforgettable. Aurally explosive, Eddy’s guitar is a haunting, reverberating one by Weed. The accordion provides a nice rhythm-counter. Harmonica and dobro mixes creates a festive Southwestern dance vibe. There is also a nice accordion solo. On a slightly different note, “Stranger On The Shore” (the clarinet opus known as “Jenny” from the 1961 BBC television show) still has a sticky-sweet core, but in the hands of these musicians (with nimble assist by Grisman), it transcends the source. It would seem impossible to adapt Booker T & The M.G.’s anthemic “Green Onions”. But the band rocks out, in their unique way. The arrangement seizes a zydeco-tinged hard blues groove with accordion, dobro and guitars blazing. All of the original elements are present, but in reorganized acoustics.

“Alley Cat” (a very old-school dance favorite) can’t quite escape from its quaint origins. Fortunately the return to Surf euphoria brings The Vultures back on “Wipeout”. This 1962 Surfari’s classic (and the bane of every would- be rock drummer) is slightly different with this group. The wild, furious melody is still intact, driven by guitars, mandolin, dobro and harmonica.  Instead of the perfunctory drum solo, Joe Craven adds some stylistic percussion fills. It is still potent. Never without originality, the album concludes with the elegiac Floyd Cramer slow dance, “Last Date”. It is moving and fresh.

This SACD re-mastering is excellent. The stringed instruments glow with natural reverberation and gentle echo. In the quieter instrumentation, there is significant potency and sound expansion. Hats off to Joe Weed and The Vultures!

TrackList: Pipeline; Apache; Sleepwalk; Walk, Don’t Run; Rebel Rouser; Stranger On The Shore; Green Onions; Alley Cat; Wipeout; Last Date

—Robbie Gerson

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