With a career work ethic that would shame the slackest slacker--or even Randy Newman--this 2002 release marks just the second album by inveterate LA music fixture Chuck E Weiss (and subject of Rickie Lee Jones's 1979 hit, "Chuck E's in Love") in 18 years. And unlikely as it seems, this follow up to his 1999 rough-cut jewel, Extremely Cool
, finds Weiss on a creative, if typically slapdash, roll. This gleefully haphazard cocktail of blues, swing, bebop and Dixieland still can't escape comparisons with old pal Tom Waits, except that Weiss's self-dubbed "alternative jungle music" is typically more accessible--and infinitely more hilarious--than that of his better-publicised peer. Typically (and gratifyingly), Weiss approaches this music with all the dignity of a lush at an open bar: slave chants rub shoulders with middle-aged Jew hoodoo ("Congo Square at Midnight"); the tale of "Sweetie-O" swings to a spare hipster groove laid down by guitarist Tony Gilkyson; the patent falsetto-weirdness of "Piggly Wiggly" segues like old grease into the 50s trash-can-rhythm shuffle of "Two Tone Car". The toy piano of "Anthem for Old Souls" and loopy rhymes of "Sneaky Jesus" may also recall the Waits connection, but the goofily heartfelt lament of "No Hep Cats" and smoky jazz of "Blood Alley" argue that Weiss holds his distinctly American bohemian traditions, musical and otherwise, in high regard. As if to underscore the point, Weiss has included "Down the Road Apiece", his 1970 duet with blues legend Willie Dixon, a track that's perhaps the album's most jarringly normal. Also included is a video enhanced bonus track of "Cub Scout Suit (With the Butt Cut Out)" recorded live at LA's Viper Room. This makes for a compelling argument that strong roots can nonetheless yield a spectacularly twisted tree. --Jerry McCulley
The Chuck E Weiss legend overshadows his music. Hardly surprising considering Old Souls & Wolf Tickets is only his third album in three decades. Considered royalty in Hollywood's less salubrious quarters, Weiss made his mark in LA during a long-term residency at the infamous Tropicana Motel along with Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones. Waits wrote a song about Weiss's car. Jones went one better and immortalised him in "Chuck E's in Love". Opening the Viper Room with Johnny Depp in 1993 transformed the club Weiss had played in for years into the Hollywood hotspot du jour, and in all that time he managed to stay well clear of a studio. Chuck E's second album materialised 18 years after the first. A collaboration with Waits, the Zydeco-flavoured Extremely Cool (1999) had few problems living up to its name.
Weiss wanted the follow-up to be "more melodic". There may less growling this time round, but Old Souls & Wolf Tickets still retains the previous record's good-time stew of jazz, blues and rock and roll. Backed by his long-time aiders and abettors the G-d Damn Liars, the milieu is somewhere between a Los Angeles late-night lounge and a New Orleans block party, with memories of old friends and youthful miss-adventure surfacing on many tracks. "I want to go back to when things were so simple" sings Weiss in a high-pitched hillbilly squeal on "Piggly Wiggly". Echoes of the past reverberate most on "Down the Road Apiece". Willie Dixon recorded this nugget of Dixie-fried boogie-woogie in 1970 with "little" Chuck E Weiss providing backing vocals. It says a lot about big Chuck E's sensibilities that the rediscovered cut fits perfectly on this record.
Beyond the nostalgia there's also a lot of fun. Who else is going to tell you about the 60-year-old Al Jolson's honeymoon or enthuse so passionately about his car? Chuck E may not be venturing far beyond Los Angeles anytime soon, but it would be a shame if he stays shy of a recording studio for long. --Nigel Smith
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