Rev. Tor kicks out the jams [an error occurred while processing this directive]
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 29, 2002) – One of the most striking things about the Reverend Tor’s new CD, “Jamazon,” is how little actual jamming there is on the album. True, the album kicks off with with the 12-plus minute “Inside Out of Control,” with about eight- or nine-minutes worth of instrumental soloing. But it’s one of only three songs that clock in over six minutes on the 11-song, 63-minute recording.

This is a good thing. Without well-crafted songs, jam-band albums tend to grow stale or irrelevant after the first listen. But the good news about Rev. Tor’s new album, its fourth, is that it is built on the solid foundation of well-crafted songs written by lead singer-songwriter Tor Krautter, songs that touch down in a variety of genres, including blues, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, country, western swing and horn-inflected r&b.

First-rate musicianship is supplied by a stellar cast of local and regional musicians as well as a handful of bona fide national stars, including Grateful Dead pianist and former Steve Reich sideman Tom Constanten, New Riders of the Purple Sage pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage, whose sideman credits include Bob Dylan, David Bromberg and Robert Hunter, banjoist Gordon Stone, and Mark Mercier of Max Creek.

“Staring at the Sun” features harmony vocals by JoAnne Redding and a funky, three-man horn section provided by Charlie Tokarz, Jeff Stevens and Steve Ide. “Their World” has a Middle Eastern motif bubbling inside before exploding into a Southern-rock jam. With its reference to Pittsfield nightspot LaCocina, where the Rev. Tor Band and other regional groove outfits often perform, the song is sure to be a hometown fan favorite.

Krautter hits just the right jazzy notes on “Charlie’s Obsession,” a nod to Charlie Brown of “Peanuts” fame laced with Pete Adams’s pedal steel guitar and delicious honky-tonk piano by Max Creek keyboardist Mark Mercier on top of swinging rhythms supplied by Bobby Sweet on acoustic guitar, Dan Broad on standup bass and Rick Leab on drums. Krautter’s vocals range from a Garcia-like tenor to a Billy Joel like growl to a Greg Allman-like blues wail.

“Sorry But I’m Leaving” and the title track show that Rev. Tor is as solid handling newgrass as rock-based jams. It’s hard to lose with first-rate players like steel guitarist Buddy Cage, pianist Mercier and banjoist Gordon Stone, who all take solos on the tune, but just as surprising are Krautter’s acoustic guitar solo and producer Adam Michael Rothberg’s work on mandolin. If the jam-band thing doesn’t work out, Rev. Tor has a future on the bluegrass circuit.

Some tunes, like “Lady of the Night,” favor the twin-guitar attack of the Allman Brothers, with Bobby Sweet doubling Krautter’s lead lines. The album ends with the quiet ballad, “One More Song,” featuring Krautter on acoustic guitar with bass and piano provided by Rothberg. The sum effect suggests there is little Krautter cannot do and do well.

Not that “Jamazon” will disappoint jam-band fans. The kickoff track includes a space jam worthy of the Grateful Dead’s signature space jams, with Krautter’s dreamy, Jerry Garcia-like guitar noodling over Scott Guberman’s drippy organ chords, before changing direction and incorporating some truly weird ambient sounds, before returning to the song’s theme, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Robert Cray album.

Reverend Tor celebrates the release of “Jamazon” in style with an all-day jam-band concert on Sunday at Bucksteep Manor (623-5535) in the town of Washington featuring the Reverend Tor Band and Friends, Mark Mercier and Scott Murawski, Electric Blue and the Kozmik Truth, Liberty Bus and Hobo Jungle. Gates open at 11; music is scheduled from noon to 9. The Rev. Tor Band plays a Jamazon preview on Saturday night at LaCocina in Pittsfield.

Helsinki goes hillbilly

The musical sounds at Club Helsinki take a decided turn southward in the next week, beginning tonight with the Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show. Shiflett and his group hearken back to bluegrass’s early days of popularity with vintage-style 1950s outfits, a single, one-microphone setup, and traditional-style tunes sung in three- and four-way harmonies and played by a classic bluegrass quintet of guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass. In 2001, the group won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artist Award.

Next Wednesday, Helsinki (528-3394) presents Jo Miller and Her Burly Roughnecks. Recycling the core of early-‘90s western swing favorites Ranch Romance, Miller and her group – including former Ranchers Nova Devonie on accordion and David Keenan on guitar, now joined by Corey Kaiser on bass and Mike Daugherty on drum (that’s right, just one drum) – play a vintage brand of hillbilly swing as heard on their CD, “Live and Then Some!” The recording mixes Miller originals with classic honky-tonk tunes heavy on the twang.

In between Shiflett and Miller, and in keeping with the week’s Southern theme, Helsinki presents encore performances by two of the club’s favorite blues-based performers, with Guy Davis on Friday night and Olu Dara on Saturday night.

Norman Schell: Folk homecoming

Back in the 1970s, in the heyday of the Music Inn’s rock ‘n’ roll period, country-rock band Clean Living served as one of the house bands for the much-lamented Lenox venue. Fronted by Norman Schell, the group included Berkshire fiddler Rick Tiven and established a region-wide reputation as well as enjoying a taste of national success with two recordings for legendary folk label Vanguard in the early 1970s. Other members included Robert “Tex” LaMountain, Frank Shaw and Paul Lambert, and the group’s repertoire included original songs, covers of Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan tunes, and songs by Berkshire songwriters like Dan Velika and Dave Carron.

The group is making a comeback of sorts in the guise of Youth Well Spent, reuniting Tiven and Schell, who team with Schell’s daughter Galadriel and son-in-law Dan Hunt. The new group plays original songs by Schell along with traditional material, particularly spirituals by William Billings, Thomas Moore, Fanny Crosby and John Newton. Youth Well Spent is at the Guthrie Center (528-1955) in Great Barrington on Saturday night.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 29, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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