By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Crystal Clear Sound
On hearing the news that Crystal Clear Sound was reissuing Ronnie Dawson's 1989 LP, Rockinitis, kudos were in order for the Dallas-based label, which also did the Lord's work in '94 by distributing Dawson's Monkey Beat! album in the U.S. After hearing the entirety of Rockinitis, however, one must wonder what the hell took Crystal Clear so long. This is the best rock-and-roll album I've heard since, well, since Monkey Beat! If I had a label, I would've done anything to get this amazing album out as soon as possible. Screw marketing strategies: This music screams, "Now!" You have to wonder if the foot-draggers at Crystal Clear would first consult their calendars before cashing in a "fuck me" note from Ellen Barkin.
There's something about getting the right people together in the right room that's been as big a part of musical creation as one person alone. We've seen magic come from the casts at the Stax and Sun in Memphis, Cosimo's place in New Orleans, and the Muscle Shoals studio that threw Aretha Franklin in with the white boys. Similarly, whatever the ageless hellcat Ronnie Dawson has been doing over in England with a group of roots-crazed limeys (including ex-Polecat Boz Boorer, now with Morrissey) hits the mark in the spirit and atmosphere department. Listen to the title track and ask yourself when's the last time you heard as nasty a rendering of the Bo Diddley riff; then check out Joe Tex's "Yum Yum Yum" in the hands of Dawson and his crew and wonder what the song originally sounded like, before rockin' Ronnie stomped a hole in it.
Recorded at London's Soundstar (as was 1988's Still A Lot of Rhythm), Rockinitis is both primal and agreeable, with Dawson's voice cutting through the thick, familiar grooves like a hot knife through butter. From the other room such sonic struts as "I'm Tore Up," "Red Hot Mama," and "Shim Sham Shimmy" may sound like songs you've heard many times, but get your face right in the middle of the sound and you can feel the difference. This album is black motorcycle boots at a sock hop.
Rockinitis is the link between the two groups of recordings that were combined on Monkey Beat! ('93 sessions filled the first half of the CD), and on hearing it you can understand why Still a Lot of Rhythm was tacked on to Monkey Beat! and not the later Rockinitis. While Rhythm contained a few quirky covers, which went well with newly recorded versions of "Mule Train" and the Coasters' "Down In Mexico," this latest reissue is connected by a thread that takes you from here to there like one continuous piece. Rockinitis is a portrait of passion that stands on its own.
Ronnie Dawson performs March 8 at the Sons of Hermann Hall.