Out Here

Jump, jive & sob

Live at the Red Jacket
Johnny Reno and the Lounge Kings
Menthol Records

This week, A&M Records is reissuing Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive, the 1981 record that launched a thousand swing revivalists, even if nobody called it a trend when one bald Englishman was doing it all by his lonesome. Seventeen years ago, Jackson was deemed a dilettante, at best a fan whose Louis Jordan-Cab Calloway get-down sounded heartfelt if not exactly "authentic"; Jackson swung, all right...from a rafter, clutching a career-suicide note in his left hand. But at least Jackson got it: He adored that music, emulated it to the last drop until "Five Guys Named Moe" sounded like one of his own children. Can't say the same for the current crop of lounge lizards whose facile, pre-fab bop is all surface--the clothes, the drinks, the dames, the Rat Pack references that don't mean dick unless you're poppin' Ava.

Hate to lump Johnny Reno in with the lot of big and very bad revivalists/revisionists out there on the circuit making dirty money on Swing Night at the former punk/soul/blues club down the street. The man's paid dues enough for a generation of would-be hepcats: Fronting a way-back band called the Sax Maniacs and backing up Chris Isaak all those years makes you want to cut him a lifetime's worth of slack. And clearly Reno loves this stuff. Why else would a man who can't sing like Louis Jordan or even Louis Prima (look, he's a fine sax player, for God's sake, but leave it at that) try his hand at "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Route 66" and "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" when he knows damned well that the lingering echoes of Frank, Nat, and Sammy will drown him out before he ever reaches the chorus? Because it's a lark, a chance to play tails-and-spats dress-up in front of the hep-cat kiddies who twist and twirl the night away on Greenville Avenue till last call.

But this live record doesn't match the sincerity--the depth, OK--of Reno's 1997 Swinging and Singing. It's a dance party without the dancers (Reno keeps talking to the "swingers of Big D," poor kids), not to mention a disc full of songs so obvious you never need to hear them covered again. Brian Setzer and the Gap have already beat Prima's "Jump, Jive & Wail" to death; no matter how sincere the intent, Reno's party-hearty version sort of jumps, kinda jives, but never quite wails enough to merit the revisit. You can still hear Prima somewhere in the background, laughing his dead ass off. Reno and his band (top-notch sessionmen all, among them Eric Scortia on Hammond B-3 and Alan Pollard on cool vibes) fare better when they shut up and play: "Fruit Boots," proof that these guys are so much above grave-robbing, makes up for a multitude of sins. But when Reno starts talking about sending "a message from St. Francis of Hoboken" and going on an "intergalactic trip of cool," you begin to wonder if this is all parody instead of homage--like anyone in the room that night or any other could ever tell the dif.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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