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Chuck E. Weiss | Old Souls & Wolf Tickets (Ryko / Slow River)
The last hipster alive. Immortalised by Rickie Lee Jones, befriended by Tom Waits, Chuck E. Weiss has led a life that seeps into his recordings; the archetypal, downbeat LA angel that Kerouac sought, bottle of wine in hand, mind in the stars. Now back, only two years after his 'comeback' album 'Extremely Cool', Weiss sounds like he's finally hitting his stride. Congo Square at Midnight kicks things off with some mighty beats, African call and response vocals and a sinuous rap by Weiss. It sounds like the whole of American music is squeezed into these four minutes, rustling and fighting to be heard, like two men in the same suit. Weiss tells us "My baby's got no clothes 'cause she's cooking chicken soup" as if it were the most natural thing friends could impart, then shifts, confidentially, to whisper "I say Brian Jones' bones keep groaning in the grave." Absolutely brilliant! It Doesn't Happen Overnight is a salutary warning in the form of a delicious blues-y shuffle from someone who knows while the demented Piggly Wiggly is like Sparklehorse but suffused with character and verve. Two Tone Car makes you jump out of your seat, infectious no-limit blues of the highest order, Weiss showing that a stutter, a sax and some stunning drums are all you need to cause fires. The title track is a wonderful, affecting goodbye lullaby to the past, like Tom Waits circa 'Foreign Affairs'. But none of this prepares you for Jolie's Nightmare (Mr. House Dick) - the straight-out funniest, most twisted and deranged piece of music I've heard all year. It starts: "Well, Al Jolson was about sixty years old / He dumped his wife of thirty five years / He fell in love with a young girl / I believe her name was Rachel Rivnikoff." and then things just get weirder...but I won't spoil it for you, suffice to say that it's the kind of song that only Randy Newman would dare to write. Blood Alley is another sad farewell in the rain while the closing Dixieland Funeral burns and brims with regret and joy. Weiss' songs inhabit the dark recesses of dreams, the shadowy, liminal netherworld that pulses beneath our feet. This album could be the soundtrack to the work of Noir writers, Chester Himes and James Sallis - nice to see a truly original and vital talent finally slouching out of the shadows.
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002