After a solid life as a working pro in large, touring dance bands, preceded by a long stint in the indie rock world with Flamin’ Groovies front man Roy Loney, Maurice Tani wanted to play his own music. As a composer who liked songs with linear stories, plot lines, and character development, he landed on country music with a twist, what one writer called “Hillbilly Noir’: he put on a cowboy hat and began to write and play, as one headline put it, “Americana without limits.”
In his new release from Little Village (LV) All In!, he’s gone even further. A few years of being part of Little Village gave him the feeling of being part of a musical family, in which the label is committed to building “a more empathetic world through the commonality of music.”
“It’s like Jimmy (Pugh, LV’s executive director) has set up this sandbox everyone, regardless of their background, can play in.”
So he created wonderful narrative songs that really do cover pretty much all of the flavors of American music. One by one, he approached his Little Village friends and asked them to contribute to what he called the roux, the mix of musical influences, that you hear. By giving them only the sketchiest depictions of the songs and then saying as little as possible during the sessions, he asked each musician to contribute from their musical heart…and it worked. Over three sessions at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, with Kid on guitar and Jim Pugh on keys, they cooked up a very special and supremely tasty set of songs.
Some of the Songs:
The set starts with ‘Another Part of Me”, where verses begin with a multi-syllabic word…and becomes straight-up rock and roll, graced by a beautiful harmonica solo from Little Village’s Nic Clark.
“Soap & Water” is the story, he tells us, of a beat-up veteran of the R & B stage who’s now a hotel lounge pianist in love with a blonde at the bar. The fabulous, elegant accompaniment from Chris Cain’s guitar – it’s “touched by the divine,” said Maurice – lends a faint echo of Steely Dan to the proceedings. Listen for the Curtis Mayfield and Fender Rhodes references.
“Go In For Me Slim” is the tale of an everyman, beaten down and in need of a break, pleading for a bit of help getting back on his feet. Starting life as a folk ballad, the stacked wall of guitars that turn the song into an all-out rocker were Kid’s contribution.
More contemporarily, Maurice contemplated the Me Too movement and speculated on how some of those caught in the cross-hairs – Harvey Weinstein, for example – might feel watching their contemporaries fall around them. Oh, they’d swear they’d cleaned up their a…but there would be these “Monsters in the Dark” left over. And they never quite go away…
“Halo Above Her” is a terrifying song about a fragile woman written by songwriter Jay Clemens (with Rachel Ephron), who hired Maurice to do the singing on his own album. Little Village’s DeShawn Hickman drives it with haunting pedal steel licks, aided by Jim Pugh’s mournful keyboard. Brilliant stuff.
Of “The Truth,” Tani says his vision was a “grainy 1970s black and white Ingmar Bergman noir film – adult relationships, unrequited love and that sort of thing.” Faintly bossa-nova in flavor, it features Lisa Leuschner-Andersen on vocals and a superb alto flute solo by Dr. Aaron Lington – and an absolutely jumping bass line (doubled by Jim Pugh’s left hand) from Jerry Jemmott, part of the Greaseland scene and the legendary heart of Atlantic Records’ house band at its height.
“Love is a lender / Love you never own / When love breaks / It calls in the loan.” “The Loan” is an exquisite duet with Aireene Espiritu. It makes you willing to fall in love aga…even knowing that payment will be due.
In “How Deep Is The Water In Your Well,” he bravely trades lines with the marvelous gospel trio the Sons of the Soul Revivers on a righteous gospel song that doesn’t actually mention God or Jesus but is, he noted, “wrapped in enough metaphor that it spoke to them. Let’s call it a secular spiritual.” As Maurice noted, it could never have happened without doing Little Village revues with the Sons and developing a genuine personal relationship with them.
True for all the other musicians here, too.
Press: D. McNally [email protected]
Little Village: www.littlevillage
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