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Bebop Spoken There

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

CD Review: The Ebony Hillbillies - 5 Miles From Town

(Review by Ann Alex).

A different sort of CD to review. This one is noted as ‘Roots Music/Americana but there are jazz elements as well. Think of Sage Gateshead’s Americana Festival in July and you have the atmosphere. The band is seven black musicians, as in ‘ebony’, who started out on the streets of Manhattan, advanced to performing in Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center, appeared on the BBC and NBC, and do international festivals and workshops. This is their fifth CD.

An interesting mixture of country, pop, bluegrass, folk and jazz, mostly acoustic. 11 tracks, a mixture of songs and instrumentals, all traditional material except 4 tracks which include Smokey Robinson’s Fork In The Road and the Prince song Cream. The general feel is gritty, funky, sometimes romantic, and with a social conscience, as shown by an updated version of the blues, Another Man Done Gone. I sing this song in folk clubs, about a man in a chain gang being unlawfully killed e.g. ‘He had a long chain on’ but this version is cleverly updated to ‘He had a hoodie on’. An interesting aspect of the music is the use of ‘folky’ percussion, such as bones and spoons, which gives an unusual light bouncy effect. Mind, I have no idea what ‘cowboy percussion’, listed below,  is unless it’s juggling 10-gallon hats!

Most of the tunes are led by violin, which does a fair bit of improvisation, and I get the feeling that the band probably deviates from the written music if indeed they work much from written music at all. For instance, the opening track, Hog-Eyed Man, is an instrumental with a strong fast rhythm, the bass keeping a repetitive groove, and percussion at the turnaround of each section of the tune. I’ve been told that during bluegrass music festivals, the pace is fast and furious and no prisoners are taken, and this is indicated on this track.

Wang, Dang, Doodle (Willie Dixon) is about a party, a song to banjo backing, which really swings. I don’t know why banjos are despised by so many musicians, as it is really effective here. Spoons and percussion appear on Darling Corey. I Can’t Make You Love Me (Reid/Shamblin) sings the woman resignedly, a similar theme to the jazz song Black Coffee; then a change of mood to a spiritual Where He Leads Me, sung by a male voice with a gentle female voice blending quietly in the background. Other tracks not mentioned are Carroll County Blues; I’m On My Way To Brooklyn; I’d Rather Be A Nigga Than A Po’ White Man; Oh What A Time; Five Miles From Town.

Jazz lovers with wide tastes and Americana fans would especially love this CD. It’s currently available from Amazon, CDBaby and iTunes. 
See www.theebonyhillbillies.com/home
Ann Alex  
Henrique Prince (violin, vocals); Norris Washington Bennett (banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar, vocals); Gloria Thomas Glassaway (bones, vocals); William Salty Bill Salter (acoustic bass); Allanah Salter (shaker, vocals); Newman Taylor Baker (washboard, perc); A.R. Ali Rahman (cowboy perc)

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