By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Red White and Pink
Two local swing records in a month's time: First Johnny Reno puts on his Red Jacket and plays lounge lizard, and now Mr. Pink's sipping martinis while Frank and Dean do their ring-a-ding-ding at the Sands on Lower Greenville. And yeah, it all smells a bit behind the times--40 years or four years, depending upon your generosity. In a simpler world, both Reno's and Mr. Pink's sharkskin fantasies would be easy enough to dismiss, to put in the same sell-back pile as anything by Royal Crown Revue or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It all hints at the unspoken, deep dark truth that it's easier to cash out than keep rolling the dice. Just ask Brian Setzer, who was a VH1 special away from total obscurity before he raided Louis Prima's coffin. Swing has swung, baby; time to break new ground. Disco, anyone?
But it ain't that simple, at least not when Reno's long on chops and Mr. Pink boasts a hellfire guitarist and songwriter in Bill Longhorse--and why the hell doesn't he sing while he's at it? Oh yeah, because this isn't his band, not really. Mr. Pink is, for better or worse, defined by singer Jefferson Stewart, who no doubt dreams of Dean when he sleeps but sounds like Mel T. when he's wide awake. So Longhorse is left writing the songs (three this go-round, plus one co-write with Stewart) and playing guitar in the shadows, reduced to sideman after years of being the indefatigable frontman with Rumble and Sixty-Six.
Longhorse's deep and ominous "Babylonian Babe" is by far the best original on a record dotted with standard retreads ("Luck Be a Lady" and "Sing! Sing! Sing!" among them) and obscure nuggets (including a muted version of Link Wray's "Marianne"). Only Stewart doesn't sing the tune; he smarms it--dude's all Brylcreem smirks and Sinatra (Jr.) sincerity. Fact is, it would be far more interesting to hear Longhorse's gutter growl fronting a swing band than one more guy who'd give anything to be Joey Bishop, much less the Chairman. Hate to hear one of this town's most valuable players reduced to an echo.
At least Longhorse has his side projects to keep him busy: The four-song EP from the Immaculates--featuring ex-Daisy drummer Bryan Wakeland, bassist Greg Prickett (also of Mr. Pink), and singer Anna Brownsted--is loooooong on vibe, loaded up with wah-wah distortion and sinister deadpan vocals about something or other. It sort of recalls rubberbullet (which Longhorse played with till the bitter end) on a bar-band Portishead trip, and four done-on-the-cheap songs aren't enough to make you love or hate the band either way. It only makes you want to hear more, which just has to be a good thing. And no Sinatra songs--bonus.