Early Times & the High Rollers – The Corner | Album Review

Early Times & the High Rollers – The Corner

VizzTone Label Group VT-ET01

10 songs – 37 minutes


Originally from Sacramento, Calif., and best known nationally as a groundbreaking deejay on Sirius Satellite Radio, the precursor to SiriusXM, Early Times is one of the most enigmatic folks in the blues world – a guitarist and vocalist of note who’s reinvented himself as a New York-based street poet and blues-rocker. And the music he serves up here is worthy of putting him in the spotlight once again.

His long out-of-print albums Society for the Misunderstood, Hobo Deluxe and others made him a fixture in the Sammies (Sacramento Area Music Awards), where he compiled more nominations than anyone in their long history. During his youth, Early also operated Fantasia Music, an internationally distributed label for a while and was in a jazz combo that included future blues heavyweight Johnny Heartsman.

As a sideman, he toured the world with vocalist E.C. Scott, handling lead guitar chores on two of her CDs, including Masterpiece, which was a Blues Music Awards finalist for soul-blues album of the year in 2001, during which she was also regularly compiling nominations for soul-blues artist honors.

He also toured with the rockabilly/swing band left the stage for Sirius shortly after their launch in 2002 and spent the next seven years hosting a daily blues show that included guest appearances from Buddy Guy, Allen Toussaint and a host of others. His run ended in 2008 when the company merged with its former competitor, XM Satellite Radio.

Early currently operates two Manhattan Recording and Dealer’s Choice Records out of his New York studio, where he’s been based since 1998, living on the East Side in an Uptown neighborhood populated by characters he describes in song as Little Hustler, Uptown Charlie, Tijuana Madonna, Sweet Lou the Butcher and Mary with her Cha Cha hat.

A follow-up to his 2017 release, Hit & Run, this all-original set was recorded at The Chocolate Factory with Times handling vocals as well as guitar, keys and percussion. He gets a helping hand from Dan Schnapp (keys), Joshua Keitt and Jay Messina (percussion), Hardan Long-Johnson (bass) and Colleen Messina (backing vocals). Popa Chubby makes a guest appearance on lead guitar for one cut.

“Come On, Let’s Ride” opens the action with an easy-greasy beat as Early delivers imagery of kids in the park playing stickball, folks throwing dice in the alley and more. His fretwork shines atop arrangements that are both deep-in-the-pocket and lushly funky, too. The pace quickens slightly for the title cut, “On the Corner.” Mary and other creatures of the night surface in “Do What She Do,” which opens with a light acoustic feel, but quickly picks up steam and swings from the hip to follow.

Chubby shines on “She’s About to Lose Her Mind,” a pleasant, slow-blues shuffle in which Early brings several more characters to life, before the pace quickens for “Rosie’s Herbs ‘n Ting,” a minor-key instrumental that simply cooks through the changes. It speeds up a little more for the percussive “He’s Got a Jones,” which describes a stockbroker and his lady who live by rules than differ from mainstream society – summed up succinctly in the verse: “He’s got a jones, and she’s got a Jody,” another man on the side.

Up next, “Say Man” opens with a jazzy Puerto Rican salsa beat as Early delivers a running, spoken monolog about a woman he misses seeing after her man left her and she started dancing at a club Uptown. The rocker “Charlemagne” apparently continues the theme forward. The singer questions the title lady about who does her hair before asking for suggestions about quitting smoking and where to go to get a tattoo of her on his neck while she’s in the midst of dancing for him.

“Someone Help Mary” – a number that opens with an early folk-blues feel, but becomes haunting and electric – describes an elegant lady who’s down on her luck, sleeping on the cold ground and fading away. The uptempo rocker “Return of the Queen” ends the action on an upbeat note, apparently celebrating her recovery.

There’s a lot to like with this one. Early Times is stronger than the whisky that shares his name when it comes to fashioning clever lyrics atop a true-blue beat. You’ll be toasting him repeatedly when your listening is done.

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