Listening Post

HEAR NONE, EITHER:The Murder City Players are reggae classicists, recalling the vibe of '70s Jamaica in all its glory; there's a reason they're consistently voted the best St. Louis reggae band in the annual Slammies (other than, obviously, the rather light competition in the field). On their new CD, the beautifully packaged, wonderfully recorded Speak No Evil (Nighthawk), you can hear the sound: "Wine and Come Up" recalls the classic riff of Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey," and from there they hit the Itals, the Maytals and kindred groups, providing a flowing groove throughout. The Players lack the soaring harmonies of said influences but more than make up for it with the musical rhythm.

Their recent step backward in history to hit rocksteady and ska tones, on the surface, seems like a ploy to get the attention of the kids. But who's to blame them? If they can finesse the sound — and they obviously can; they're the best ska band in town, too — why shouldn't they step up the pace a little bit? You can help them celebrate the release of Speak No Evil at the Duck Room on Friday, July 9. (RR)

STRING-BAND STING: Recently overheard at a bluegrass festival: "What's the difference between a fiddle tune and a machine gun? The machine gun usually stops after 50 rounds." If that bad joke strikes you as all too true, then check out All I've Got's Done Gone, a new collection of old-time string-band music from three exceptional Midwesterners: Rhys Jones, Jeff Miller and Jim Nelson. For years the three have been drifting from dance to dance, festival to festival, and their first CD documents their fast, bluesy sound. Jones, a 25-year-old Chicagoan, is as good a young fiddler as you'll ever hear: His tone is sweet, his strokes sure and compulsively rhythmic.

"Rhys literally grew up sleeping under the stage where people were playing," Nelson says. "It's second nature to him." St. Louisans Miller and Nelson (who played with the not-quite-notorious Volo Bogtrotters) push Jones' fiddling with percussive banjo frailing and bass-note-rich guitar.

Drawing on the breadth of the American fiddle-tune tradition and crediting sources and tunings in the liner notes, Jones, Miller and Nelson pay homage to some under-appreciated fiddlers, especially Doc Roberts and Ed Haley (the latter has recently been championed by John Hartford). All I've Got's Done Gone also marks the first release on Vigortone, a new label headed by Miller and Nelson. "We started with this project," Nelson says, "and there will also be an Ill-Mo Boys CD (by Nelson's band featuring Geoff Seitz and Curtis Buckhannon) coming out next month. I've also got some field recordings we're interested in, music by a fiddler named Clyde Davenport from Jamestown, Tenn." All I've Got's Done Gone is a good reminder that the old-time music is very much alive, if not likely to appear on your local Borders listening station. Look for it at Music Folk and Vintage Vinyl. All the spunk, skill and imagination of the classic string-band sound are here. (RK)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, Randall Roberts

Send all local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to Randall Roberts,The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130. berts@rftstl.com.

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