Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio – Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here
Alligator Records ALCD 4983
10 songs – 36 minutes
The blues world planted its first seeds with songs of protest about racial injustice, and artists have reaped the fruits of those political statements ever since. But few folks who’ve come before have made their statements as eloquently and whimsically as Elvin Bishop does in the title song of this intimate and entertaining CD.
A follow-up to 2017’s eponymous Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio CD, it’s an intelligent, whimsical offering that, like the first disc, weaves together into one cohesive package four new songs with tunes from Elvin’s extensive catalog along with a few surprising covers.
Bishop founded the group a few years ago after inviting his longtime keyboard and second guitar player Bob Welsh and percussionist Willy Jordan, who’s worked with Joe Louis Walker, Angela Strehli and John Lee Hooker, for an informal jam at his San Francisco Bay-area studio. Jordan left his kit at home that day, bringing along a cajon, a Peruvian percussion instrument capable of producing a range of sounds that mimic bass and snare drums and more, instead.
While the debut album featured contributions from a trio of superstar harp players, this one is more bare bones. Produced by Steve Savage at Bishop’s Hog Heaven Studio in Lagunitas, Calif., it comes across with a distinct laid-back feel, almost as if it were produced in your living room, and only includes a one-song guest appearance from Andre Thierry, the native Californian of French Creole descent who’s proven to be a master zydeco accordion player.
Penned by all three members, the title tune “Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here” romps out of the gate at a medium shuffle. It’s quickly evident that it’s not a good odor, either, as Elvin sings: “I’m not talkin’ ‘bout funky like a groove/Really funky…like pee-uuuuh!” The stench, it seems, is coming from Washington, D.C., and it’s “funky like some old politicians.” Bishop goes on to deliver a personal State Of The Union address that complains about “unlimited ignorance in high places/Stirrin’ up dust between the races” and more.
Once that political statement is out of the way, the big fun kicks in with a sweet cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher.” Jordan handles the vocals on this one and three more to follow, and demonstrates range from rich baritone to strong falsettos in the process. “Right Now Is The Hour,” which first appeared on Elvin’s 1978 LP, Hog Heaven, follows and features fretwork from Elvin and Mike before an unhurried take on Dave Bartholomew’s “Another Mule” with Bishop singing about the realization that his woman’s cheating.
Two originals — “That’s The Way Willy Likes It” and “Bob’s Boogie” – are up next and give Jordan and Welsh space to shine. The former’s a mid-tempo funk that describes the percussionist’s taste in women. The latter is a sprightly instrumental that gives Bob plenty of space to rip and run. “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” a huge hit for Ann Peebles in 1973, features Willy at the mike before the band delivers a fresh take on “Stomp,” a redo that first appeared on Bishop’s 1972 LP, Rock My Soul.
“Lookin’ Good,” the final new tune in the set, is another sardonic pleaser — basically spoken words delivered atop Welsh’s work at the 88s. Elvin notes that there are three stages to life: youth, middle age and “you’re looking good” then proceeds to recount a conversation with a friend of 50 years who tells him he ought to be glad about all the gray hair and wrinkles because a lot of their other associates are long gone. It gets Bishop to think about how fortunate he really is. “I never got hit by a truck,” he says. “And I never got that bad batch of dope like some of them do.” And he delivers a treatise on having quit drinking – although, he admits, it took him 25 years to do so…and hasn’t been to jail since he did.
The album concludes with an accordion-driven version of “My Soul,” a gospel-tinged pleaser penned by rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins under the title “It’s My Soul.”
Available wherever fine music is sold, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here will leave you with a smile. Like Big Fun Trio’s previous offering, this one will be under consideration for honors when next year’s awards season comes around. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.