The blues have me by the throat, and the fingers are a man’s who lives in a cemetery. That’s Robert Kidney’s bio in the notes of Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town by “The Numbers” (a/k/a 15-60-75), the chap’s band. It’s a come-on that hooks me—Chris Youlden of Savoy Brown, for example, was claimed to live near a graveyard. And it’s been the experience that musos who actually profess to live in shacks on the grounds of the dead pack more grave-ity than many of their modern colleagues who dress like ghouls.
The Numbers’ recording is live, restored from the ’70s, the record of a relentless jam band taking cues from Kidney’s hip-man vocals. The band is tight, turns on a dime, and sounds like the J. Geils Band if J. and everyone else eighty-sixed Peter Wolf and went off into King Crimson–land circa Earthbound. (And that ain’t prog—it was the Crimson album in which Boz and the drummer had Fripp doing rancid-buttered r&b.)
The Numbers, one gathers, were the very definition of unpopular but committed; liner notes allege that one sissy girl, a Bob Marley fan, felt they hurt her ears. The Ohio group dress natty, and while much of their story could be mythology, it’s a great one when backed up by their funky saxes-and-guitars sound.
Alvin Lee used to be famous, but now he’s unpopular like Kidney. His new CD, In Tennessee, puts him together with Scotty Moore and what amounts to the Sun rhythm section. They’re on board to play either slim-and-slam dancing tunes or rockabilly and rapid-fire blues jams tacked onto minute ravers harkening back to Lee’s “Hold Me Tight.”
Lee and company are ductile and pointed, though they deliver one or two five-minute selections too many. In Tennessee closes satisfyingly with “I’m Going Home.” It doesn’t collapse into clichés, Lee’s calling card getting solid revivification from a much-less-is-a-way-lot-more treatment.