By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
You hate to hold trying hard against someone, but on his smoothly polished (you might even say slick) debut, King for a Day, local swingster Hunter Sullivan turns in something so utterly well done--yet somehow lacking an attractive warmth--that it compels an examination of the entire lounge/swing phenomenon.
It's not that Sullivan, a former rocker and onetime singing waiter, hasn't done well. Far from it: King is full of impeccable playing and sounds savvy and urbane as it delivers standards such as Henry Mancini's "Charade" and able originals. It's not enough, however, to overcome what faces every revivalist, regardless of genre: the fact that the surviving archetypes are the most accomplished, the most enduring, masters of their form. The artists we remember are damn hard to match, let alone beat.
So it's really not fair to hoist Sullivan aloft on the petard of his own press--specifically, comparisons to Bobby Darin (though Sullivan still courts such parallels, putting two Darin songs, "Rainin'" and "Venice Blue," on King and using longtime Darin Producer Nik Venet). But even a cursory tour through Darin's catalog reveals that Sullivan has a long way to go in terms of developing as an artist. Although he acquits himself well on King's smoother songs ("Forget to Remember"), on the jumpier cuts like the title track (his own composition) and the hepped-up "Charade," he seems to be trying too hard; there's more than just a hint of blare.
Darin himself displayed the easy flexibility of a master, equally adept at all forms of pop: the silly novelty ("Splish Splash"), the knowing parody (check out his near-mockery of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy," or "Hello Dolly," which must've sounded smarmy even in 1965 and would be unbearable today), and the smooth standard ("I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now"). It's a confidence and command that Sullivan has yet to master.
Of course, this is his first stab at such fare, but you wouldn't know it from his liner notes. Written by somebody named Abraham Hiro, they're damn near Napoleonic in tone and are by far the worst thing about the album. "Where's my obligatory 'Beyond the Sea' rehash?" Hiro--who seems to assume a relationship between King for a Day and the rest of us not unlike that found between the monolith and the ape-men at the beginning of 2001--asks before disdainfully noting that "Sullivan has wisely left these kinds of artist panderings to the likes of (other) regional schlocksters."
Even if this isn't a direct slam on Johnny Reno--Sullivan's closest competitor for local lounge/swing dominance, who included "Sea" (a major hit for Darin back in 1960) on his debut, Swinging and Singing--it projects an attitude the rights to which Sullivan has not yet earned. Perhaps this is simply a misjudgment in Sullivan's career strategy, which seems to be following an '50s East Coast pop model, presenting him as a star like Darin and Frank Sinatra; whatever it is, it's most off-putting. King for a Day is a promising debut by a smart, talented guy who, if he doesn't start taking himself too seriously, may have a real future ahead of him.
Speaking of Johnny Reno, the Fort Worth saxman and his Lounge Kings just returned from a two-week engagement in Paris, where they played a club called Chesterfield's. "It was real residency, like people used to play," Reno reports. "Chesterfield's isn't a jazz club, though. It's more of a roadhouse, kinda like [famed Austin blues club] Antone's. If you or I went in, we'd probably think, eh, just another Texas club, but to them it's a new thing."
The music of Reno and the Lounge Kings was new to Parisians as well. "They're into stuff like rock and roll, jazz, the blues, sure," Reno explains. "But they keep things pretty separate; they hadn't experienced the hybrid that we play--that combination that includes all those different elements--Goodman swing, Louis Prima jump, and the rest of it. We'd have all these French DJs and radio people come in and ask us, 'What is this stuff?'"
The trip exposed Reno and Co. to new things, too. "We got really tight, playing every night like that," Reno says. "And we were heavier on the swing and R&B stuff than we generally are when we play here. The great thing, though, was that we really were able to get into the rhythm of Paris life: up in the morning, have your jambon [a bread-intensive ham-and-cheese sandwich], see some sights, then play at night. We all got to take our wives or girlfriends, and everybody just had a wonderful time."
As part of the North Texas Music Festival, Fireworks will play a benefit for Sweet Relief at Club Clearview on Wednesday, October 15. The show is a bit of karmic payback for Fireworks guitarist Darin Lin Wood, who got help from SR when he was battling a chemical dependency. The evening will also see a "noisy auction" to benefit the same cause, followed by the NTMF's Topaz Awards, to be presented at the Dallas World Aquarium...Mary Cutrufello has signed a long-term six-disc contract with Mercury Records...The Texas Music Association, a nonprofit organization formed to support Texas musicians, will initiate Texas Music Month on October 9 at Club Dada and present their first annual North Texas Music Legends Award to longtime local monthly Buddy magazine. There will be a silent auction and entertainment by Rolling Stones cover band Sticky Fingers and Maylee Thomas and Texas Soul...Smokin' Joe Kubek and B'nois King will play Blue Cat Blues Friday, October 17...
Thou shalt not bear false witness: "Do you think I'm stupid?!" the Austin cop shrieked as he sprayed spittle on the Mullens' Tim Stiles. The officer, merely doing his part to keep Sixth Street safe for Austin the Live Music Capitol of the Galaxy and its drunken conventioneers, was hassling drummer Stiles and bassist Dana Williams for suspicion of the possibility of being in the vicinity of the smell of burning marijuana, assassin of our nation's youth. "He was real wet-behind-the ears, ROTC type," says Stiles--who, along with Williams, was spread-eagled and frisked in the courtyard of Emo's, the venue they were playing. "The other cops were embarrassed." Stiles felt the question to be rhetorical and was correspondingly circumspect in his reply, and the two desperadoes were released unharmed. Plans for a remake of The Harder They Come with Stiles taking Jimmy Cliff's part are still in the formative stages.
Pardon me, is that the smell of rotting flesh? The Necro Tonz, our (and probably the planet's) first death-lounge act, have been signed to Last Beat Records. Specializing in the music of dead artists and their own creepy originals, the altogether-ooky quintet serves up a refreshingly sincere slab of Cooper (as in Alice) -esque theater rock and will have a 13-cut album due to be released (but of course) on Halloween. Check them out--if you dare--Saturday, October 11, at the Bar of Soap...
If you enjoyed the brilliant afternoon of Indian classical music on September 27 at the Meyerson, you may wish to make note of the upcoming events sponsored by the Indian Classical Music Circle of D-FW on the weekend of October 11 and 12. The weekend's events--to be held at the Dallas Museum of Art--will bring Shujaat Khan back on the sitar, the ineffably sublime Anada Gopal Bandopadhyay on tabla, and also feature the music of sarod, harmonium, and three vocalists, plus a lecture-demonstration by Vijay Kichlu. If this event is even one-tenth as inspiring as the Meyerson concert, then it's a must-see for any Indian, world, or plain ol' music fans; for more info call (817) 571-4926...
Fans of Western classical music will want to note the appearance of the University of North Texas Wind Symphony at UNT's College of Music Concert Hall up in Denton. On the bill will be a selection of contemporary works written specifically for winds and percussion, and it's free and open to the public...Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys will be at the Dark Room October 17...The Big Gundown's Mike Haskins is forming an all-instrumental spinoff of his retro-reverb act that will be called the Big Guns. Like Gundown, the new act will feature spaghetti western/spy movie-type tunes such as Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man"...
Hash Brown is now at the tiller of Greenville Bar and Grill's Monday-night jam sessions...Congrats to local harmonica fan Tom Ellis (organizer of the all-harmonica showcase at Blue Cat Blues that we mentioned here a few months ago), who just wrapped up a remarkably detailed five-installment story about the great harpist Paul Butterfield in Blues Access magazine. Although blues mags are known for detail and attention, Ellis' story--obviously a labor of love but no less unflinching for it--sets a new standard...Jazz dudes Earl Harvin (drums) and Dave Palmer (piano) play nightly at Sambuca through Saturday, October 11, and then journey north to Denton for a Sunday-night gig at Dan's Bar. Monday finds them at the Barley House...
Cops hassling musicians? The dead rising to walk--and play--among us? Has the whole world gone crazy? Street Beat wants to know what you think at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com. Thanks to Tim Schuller for his contributions to this report.