Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Harlem Parlour Music Club -- Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth
Harlem Parlour

When I first heard the name Harlem Parlour Music Club, I thought it might be a revival band playing the great tunes of Harlem music masters like Fats Waller or James P. Johnson from generations past. But, that’s not what this terrific band is about. They’re a collection of New York-based musicians – some of them solo artists, others key band members for pop artists like Cyndi Lauper, or ace studio musicians – who’ve come together to play rootsy, mostly original songs in the Harlem living room of drummer Sammy Merendino and occasional club dates.

The names of a couple of the musicians and singers in the Club jumped right out at me. Dobro and mandolin player David Mansfield has played on lots of records on my shelves and he played with Bob Dylan for several years. I met him briefly back in 1975 when I was a backstage guest of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at a Rolling Thunder Revue concert. Speaking of Dylan, singer-songwriter-guitarist Mary Lee Kortes has a band called Mary Lee’s Corvette that did a live album I liked covering all the songs, in order, from Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.

The focus here is on original tunes by various members of the band – the only cover is a folk-meets-funk version of Sly Stone’s “Thank You (forlettinmebemiceelfagin)” – that usually feature the writer on lead vocals, with stirring harmonies from other singers, and instrumental back-up from a great rhythm section and stellar instrumental soloists.

Among my favourite tracks are Darden Smith’s neo-gospel “Dyin’ to be Born Again”; Allison Cornell and Ann Klein’s “Runaway Train,” a topical song about a world out of control set to a hyper-bluegrass arrangement; and Kortes’ “Truck of Pennsylvania,” an almost-epic description of scenes and encounters on the road.

--Mike Regenstreif

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