If you heard C.W. Stoneking‘s new album Gon’ Boogaloo – streaming at Spotify – without knowing who it was, you would probably assume that it was a reissue of some obscure hokum blues guy who’d picked up the electric guitar, remastered without all the pops and skips from the original 1938 78 RPM records. But Stoneking belongs to this era. He hails from the Northern Territories in Australia…but he sounds like a particularly boisterous African-American bandleader from FDR’s second term. Recorded in mono, the album’s production values are period-perfect: vocals way up front, on the trebly side but with plenty of natural reverb that rounds out the sonics. Any American who wants to sound oldtimey needs to hear this guy – and if classic hokum blues, and innuendo, and hot jazz is your thing, so do you. He’s bringing his act to Rough Trade on Sept 8 at 10 PM; cover is $15.
The album’s first track is How Long, a propulsively swaying country gospel number, just Stoneking’s gruff vocals, distorted electric guitar, fingersnaps and harmonies from a girlie chorus. He’s got “no heavenly home but a hole in the head. “
The second number, The Zombie, sounds like where Screamin’ Jay Hawkins got his inspiration: except that it’s probably the other way around. Either way, it’s a deliciously Halloweenish, reverb-drenched cha-cha, and the kids in the chorus complete the twisted cartoon. Get on the Floor is a jump blues with bass and drums, Stoneking’s alter ego commenting with more than a hint of worry how some people think that this kind of jungle music is no way to sing the blues. Stoneking also has his period vernacular down stone-cold for The Thing I Done, another creepy cha-cha.
“That 2:24’s gone round the bend,” he advises the girl who can’t make up her mind in Tomorrow Gon’ Be Too Late. Then he completely flips the script with the reggae tune Mama Got the Blues: the way the groove veers between a Memphis stroll and a Jamaican skank is just plain surreal.
His eerie trainwhistle chords on the intro to Goin’ Back South could be the highlight of the album: the song is also awfully good, a bizarre postmortem by an accident victim who thinks that heaven just isn’t the right place for him. The ramshackle kitchen-sink percussion and dodgy harmonies of The Jungle Swing ramp up its ramshackle charm: “Til I get to hell I don’t want you to call my name,” Stoneking insists. Then he and the chorus girls go back to roughhewn country gospel with Good Luck Charm.
He returns to trash-talking dancefloor emcee persona for I’m the Jungle Man, with its killer guitar break. then takes a detour into warped, slow Hawaiian swing with On a Desert Isle, which if you listen closely to the lyrics sounds suspiciously like a parody. The album winds up with the title track, which turns out to be a purist take on proto-Chuck Berry instead of latin soul. Fans of the most charismatic New York blues acts, like Mamie Minch or LJ Murphy, really ought to hear this guy.