Will Bernard – Blue Plate Special – Palmetto

by | Oct 11, 2008 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Will Bernard – Blue Plate Special – Palmetto PM 2137, 56:08 ****1/2:

(Will Bernard – guitar; John Medeski – keyboards; Stanton Moore – drums; Andy Hess – bass)

What happens when you bring together three giants of funk?  Lots of fun, to start out with.  Also, impossibly deep grooves.  Plus, more than a dollop of sly humor.  Coming from the playful mind of the least-known of the three funk-meisters, San Francisco-based Will Bernard, insures that it won’t be overburdened with outlandish and unrealizable expectations.  It’s really more of a party record, pretty much in the same vein as his last release, Party Hats, except with an unexpected and weirdly dusty cowpoke vibe running through it. 

Surely anyone even vaguely familiar with the jazz/jam band scene will recognize the name John Medeski.  He plays here as convincingly as I’ve ever heard him.  Stanton Moore on drums gives his down-‘n’-dirty best.  Will Hess in the bass chair is an interesting choice.  Late of Gov’t Mule, perhaps the best current blues/rock band of this decade, having played and recorded with everyone from John Scofield to Tina Turner, he brings not only a substantial bottom to the proceedings, but also a swagger necessary to hang with the other three. 

Rare excursions include “Frontwinder,” what might be called Mojave Funk, with its brief flashes of “Mexican Radio” and dry-as-dust Ry Cooder-style slide guitar, or “Gen Pop,” a ride into very rare Cowpuncher Funk.  Indeed there’s a definite Southwest vibe about this disc, one that wouldn’t be out of place as the soundtrack to No Country for Old Men if the Coen Brothers had filmed a comedy instead of an atrocity.  Part of it has to do with Bernard’s Al Caiola twang pretty much on display throughout.  Part of it’s the song titles: “Gonzo,” associated with Hunter S. Thompson, a Western figure who invented “gonzo journalism”; “Magpie,” the classic bird of the West; and “Blister,” a skin deformation one gets from hiking, a classic Western activity.  “Fast Fun” sounds like something the Beach Boys might’ve written if they’d been an instrumental funk band.

Things nicely close out with a heartfelt, non-ironic reading of the celebrated revival hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” church-drenched organ intertwining with broke-down bottleneck guitar, all wrapped in a slowpoke Western lope.  Very affecting.

Baby Goats
Blue Plate Special
Gen Pop
Fast Fun
How Great Thou Art

– Jan P. Dennis

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