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Rizorkestra: Listen Again

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Once again your rockin’ writer felt the need to resurrect his “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another didn’t receive the attention or acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again.

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This time we revisit Rizorkestra’s American Guitar. But first, for those not up on their indie artists, Rizorkestra is an L.A.-based one man roots-blues band. He is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, dobro, vocals, fife, kazoo, hi-hat and bass drum) and composer. American Guitar is his 2007 17–track release.

As one listens to Rizorkestra’s American Guitar one cannot help but have visions of Woody Guthrie, the Dustbowl and old cars crammed with entire families trying to find a place where they can get a new start. The songs on this CD reflect upon an American era when times were tougher and people got tougher . . . and a time when music was simpler and yet in many ways more significant.

The Rizorkestra repertoire includes blues songs, jug band tunes, gospel music pieces, instrumentals, country cuts, jazz, Tin Pan Alley tunes, old folk songs, novelty numbers as well as excerpts of Sousa marches, classical composers, musical theater, movie soundtracks, improvisations and original compositions. The album opens on the upbeat “Sow Good Seeds” which sets the mood of this work straight from the start. This is a collection of covers of mainly traditional tunes that was recorded “100 percent live (with) no overdubs”.

The second selection is “Mississippi Mud”. This one is an original composition and ust keeps it coming with Rizorkestra’s signature sound. It’s quickly followed by “Voodoo Child”. This is an interesting adaptation of Jimi Hendrix's song and the old school approach might have you wondering which version came first.

“I Am A Pilgrim” is another traditional tune complete with a newer arrangement that is no doubt unnoticeable to anyone who doesn’t know the original version. This is a down-home piece previously covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, The Byrds and Doc Watson.

“Mole In The Ground” is a fun little cut leading into a laid back unique take on the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”. To keep things interesting an instrumental, “St. Thomas”, come in next. This is one of the fan favorites on the disc.

“Mary Don’t You Weep” is another example of the variety in his song choices and his abilities as a one man show. The next number is “Georgia Alabama”. This is a backwoods roots original sometimes performed live with Nathan Cox (although not here).

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning” follows here. This is a cover of the traditional spiritual perhaps first made popular by fingerstyle bluesman and later by bands such as Hot Tuna. The guitar work here just adds validity.

“Sheep Sheep” comes in next here. It conjures images of a jug band playing on the porch of a rundown house somewhere. It’s just got that sense of drunken pickin’ and grinnin’ to it somehow.

Next is “Corrina Corrina” – previously covered by Bob Dylan in 1963--has that delta blues, Tin Pan Alley feel to it which give it that touch of legitimacy even though it was rather recently recorded. “Eagle Rock Ramble” makes it clear that unless one actually knows each audio offering they all sound like they are all from the same songbook. Perhaps it’s because the Rizorkestra sound is so genuine and earthy.

One of the best tracks here is “Drunkard’s Special”. This is a fan favorite and surprisingly pure bar-room blues. It just works so well. The following offering is “Soul Of A Man” which allows the artist to musically question the essence of humanity.

“Mama Don’t Allow” is yet another noteworthy number here. It’s classic young artist rebellion demonstrating the age-old idea of musicians having to do what they have to do—play music. The closing cut is Rizorkestra’s own work “High On A Mountain”. It seems a somewhat uneventful album end-note and yet it is the very lack of show and flash that makes this recording worthwhile.

Rizorkestra’s American Guitar (on the Unstrictly Roots label) contains an honest respect for the roots of genre. It’s wonderfully acoustic and contains so much history it was old school before the phrase “old school’ was even considered. It’s got a raw, honest edge that makes it sound as if it could have been recorded decades ago.

Currently touring the California coast performing, “collecting musical instruments, photographing the Pacific Ocean and planning cheap, sensible meals”, Rizorkestra may soon be coming to a city near you, folks. So “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning” in the window as this music is refreshingly unpretentious and free of much of the nonsense found on major labels today. If you've never listened to Rizorkestra’s American Guitar, listen to it. If you've already listened to it . . . listen again.

My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.

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