When I was ten years old, one of the most compelling records I’d ever heard jumped onto the radio and demanded my attention. Matt Lucas, a name I hadn’t heard before, had taken a song I had heard before “I’m Movin’ On,” by the country legend Hank Snow and turned it into a wild rockabilly jump which, I said, many years later, “simulated the song’s railroad train at least as successfully as, say, Arthur Honegger’s Pacific 231.”
Lucas eventually found that quote on the Web, perhaps found it amusing, and over the next couple of years, let me in on what he was up to. Most recently, it was cutting a bunch of tracks in Chicago with a solid backing band and some genuine legends, including guitarist James Burton and harpist Charlie Musselwhite. Lucas says there’s enough stuff in the can for a second CD, so I figure if I want to hear it, I should encourage sales of the first, issued by Ten-O-Nine Records as Back in the Saddle Again.
Which is no problem for me, since it’s a damned fine album. Starting well, actually, finishing with that Gene Autry chestnut, Lucas has put out a sterling example of what the pigeonholers insist on calling “roots” music, some of it country, some of it blues, some of it pop, and all of it performed with verve. Lucas is past 70 now, but he can still belt out a tune, and it’s no surprise: after all, he’s been doing this sort of thing for fifty years or so. Some of the delights: Lucas’ own update of his 1963 hit, now called “Still Movin’ On”; the bluesy take on Jimmy Reed’s “Little Rain”; Burton’s gritty guitar on “Little Sister,” the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman Elvis hit from way back when, and solo on Ike Turner’s “Cuban Getaway”; the shuffle that turns out to be “Sheik of Araby”. (Don’t laugh. Even the Beatles did this one, in their audition for Decca Records before their eventual signing to EMI/Parlophone.)
I did miss hearing Matt on the drums, but he says the session engineer wasn’t quite prepared for a drummer who also sings. Not to worry: Jon Hiller knows his way around this stuff. The production is clean without being sterile, and the energy never flags. Pour yourself a cold one, then pop Back in the Saddle Again into your CD player. I bet even your beer will taste better.