Bentley's Bandstand: Bodeans, Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

www.sonicboomers.com

Bodeans, Mr. Sad Clown, 429 Records

In the mid-’80s there were very few American bands that had as promising a road in front of them as the Bodeans. Their debut album, produced by T Bone Burnett, had the promise of debut albums by Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen or anyone else you could name. Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann sang together like blood brothers, with a depth of heart hailing them as musical heroes. “She’s a Runaway” was a classic song just waiting for a mass audience. And it almost got there, too. It felt like the Bodeans were on fire. The following album was just as good. Called Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams after a Rolling Stones lyric, the world beckoned. And then it didn’t, another case of being so near but yet so far. But back together now, the band still has the undeniable pull they always did, those two voices reaching for the sky and actually getting there. Llanas and Neumann are naturals, and the kind of songwriters who stand apart from the crowd. They can mix all the striking elements of American music without really trying, and it always comes out all their own. Mr. Sad Clown is one of the happiest band reunions in quite some time. It will put a smile on the face of anyone who loves a song that can break a day wide open with only a few chords, a lyric that goes deep inside and voices that show rock can still be believed in.

Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps, You Know You Love It, Jesu-Li Records

This is the stuff they don’t teach you in school. There is no night course in true grit, or Saturday seminar in down home rhythm & blues. The only way to learn to play music like this is to start young. Become obsessed with listening to 45s on King Records or some other off-road label, then find albums on Jewel and Minit and play them until they sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies right when you pour the milk on them, popping and crackling all over the place. That’s okay, because it’s a sure sign of vinyl that’s been worshipped. Then, when you’re old enough to drive–because the buses don’t go late enough to take you home from where this music is played–sneak out of your house as often as you can to go see the musicians in action. What they can do to a dance floor full of revelers, the ones who use these sounds to set them free from their earthly cares. That’s how you learn about soul music. Naturally, it’s almost all gone now. Everything changed, and what disco didn’t kill off hip-hop did. Which makes albums like Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps’ You Know You Love It all the more valuable. These are the keepers of the unknown language, where what they play is passed back and forth between each musician with invisible signs. James’ voice is all-knowning, like she’s been to the places most of us aren’t able to go. It is a mixture of rejection and redemption, like she hasn’t found her way all the way home yet, but she can see it in her sights. It’s a given the woman has paid her dues and got the t-shirt. But what really sets her apart from others like her is that isn’t enough. She is still searching, still hoping to find that perfect song and sing the perfect notes to make everything just right. Listen to “Sunday Shoes” and it’s all there, waiting to be believed. Producer Terry Wilson, who also had a hand writing these songs, has assembled the A+ team, and boy do they hone their playing down to the perfect minimum, but never failing to fill each note with pure feeling. So even if there are very few places left to learn the lessons needed to make this music anymore, be glad there are still people like Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps who care enough to do share their spirits. Each and every one of them should receive a letter jacket with a big “S” for soul on it. Class dismissed.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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