Elliot Sharp's Terraplane: Forgery (2007)
Guitarist Elliot Sharp, one of the most influential and innovative figures on the avant-garde New York downtown scene of the last generation, claims that his blues outfit Terraplane (coined after Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues") is actually a pop band that lacks only popularity. He is absolutely right. Forgerythe group's fifth releaseis its most direct, compact, emotional and, ultimately, most matured to date.
Sharp's proficiency is so well-versed in the blues vocabulary, inside and out, that one can imagine him hosting blues luminaries like Buddy Guy, or even Eric Clapton, for a masculine showdown of blues licks. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to find another pop combo as willing to be so politically outspoken, aggressive, subversive and provocative as Sharp's Terraplane.
Sharp presents a version of futuristic guerilla blues that abandons the romance of the cotton fields and opts for something much more thorny and relevant, sticking fingers into such issues as the killing fields of Iraq and other conflict areas around the world, as well as the post-9/11 numbness towards the abuse of power by Western regimes, especially the USA. Eric Mingus (son of Charles Mingus) delivers a clear message on the intense "Tell Me Why." His soulful, arresting vocal immediately engages in his account of current evils such as arms trafficking and the inevitable outcome: meaningless, random deaths of innocents. Poet Tracy Morris presents a groovy lament for post-Katrina New Orleans, calling for action in "Katrina Blues," where she chants: "blues is more than a feeling."
The instrumental "Badlands" is a showcase for the excellent band and its tight interplaytrombonist Curtis Fowlkes, baritone saxophonist Alex Harding sax, bassist/tubaist David Hofstra and newcomer Tony Lewis, who replaced the recently deceased drummer Lance Carter. Sharp dedicates the funky "Dance 4 Lance," along with the release, to Carter. "Juke" is a sort of Julius Hemphill rhythm and blues arrangement for brass choir, where Sharp takes the lead with a solo on tenor sax that sounds, at first, as if he is paying tribute to Gene Ammons, but later touches on freer regions.
Sharp navigates Terraplane back to politicized discourse on the urban blues "Long Way to Go," "War Between the States," with touching steel guitar playing by Sharp, and the angry "Haditha," that refers to an incident where American marines killed unarmed innocent Iraqi civilians in 2005. Mingus' gentle vocal on the acoustic "How Much Longer Blues" sounds like an updated message from Mississippi-born Howlin' Wolf. The concluding and amusing "Boom Baby Boom," with its repeated three-word text line, can also be viewedas a sharp commentary on a Baby Boom generation that has failed to elect leaders who are good at promising more than boom, boom and boom, most likely in a language that is no more eloquent than these words.
With Forgery, Elliot Sharp and Terraplane once again exhibit why they should not be robbed of their much-deserved popularity.
Track Listing: Smoke and Mirrors; Tell Me Why; Katrina Blues/How The Crescent City Got Bleached; Badlands; Dance 4 Lance; Juke; Long Way To Go; War Between The States; Haditha; How Much Longer Blues; Boom Baby Boom.
Personnel: Curtis Fowlkes: trombone, background vocals; Alex Harding: baritone saxophone, background vocals; David Hofstra: bass, tuba; Toney Lewis: drums; Eric Mingus: vocals; Tracie Morris: vocals; Elliot Sharp: guitars, console steel guitar, glissentar, tenor saxophone, vocals.