Review: Krown, Washington and Batiste – ‘Triple Threat’

The following Joe Krown Trio review appears on the Blues In The North West Website.

Krown, Washington & BatisteModern groups choosing to base themselves around the Hammond B3 organ enter inclement waters at their own peril, considering the footsteps they have to follow in. Mention names like Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff and you have to seriously consider whether it’s worth setting sail into seas already traversed and conquered by previous Masters. However, Joe Krown has an Ace card hidden up his sleeve with the words, ‘New Orleans’ stamped all over it; meaning his trio are good to leave port.

Joining Krown for his latest CD, ‘Triple Threat’, are Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington (Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams) on guitar/vocals and Russell Batiste Jnr (The Funky Meters, Allan Toussaint, Robbie Robertson, Harry Connick Jnr) on drums, setting the bar way above the realms of the average. Their 12 track offering has a mixture of instrumental and vocal songs, making a refreshing change from similar collaborations within the genre that often leave non-musicians out in the cold after 3 numbers. Furthermore, the unit exert a bit of extra creative muscle by penning most of the tracks themselves, rather than regurgitating done-to-death R&B/Jazz Standards. Most impressively – and unusually – we see the drummer getting more than his ‘some’, by the inclusion of no less than three compositions written by Russell Batiste.

Proceedings kick off with an easy-listening funk number from Washington, ‘Only You’, featuring a soulful vocal delivery reminiscent of the Bobby Hebb classic, ‘Sunny’. Next up is a Krown instrumental, ‘Down By The River’, a groovy, mid-paced cut, with heavy emphasis on the B3 (naturally). ‘Last Two Dollars’ is a nice, laid-back, Bluesy non-trio composition drawing more vocals straight from the Wolfman’s soul. Batiste’s half-time funk instrumental, ‘Ridin’ Thru The Mountains’, conjures up an aural image of what it must be like, should The Meters turn up to play at a Louisianan Gospel church service.

‘For your Love’ is another non-trio composition; a 12/8 Blues ballad with a slightly scratchy vocal from Washington utilising a Berry-Gordy-produces-Marvin-Gaye approach, forcing delivery at the edge of the singers comfort zone; a tactic invoked to capture yearning within vocal performances. The album title track is a 3-way instrumental, a funky-jazz journey where guitar and drums get to shine in call-and-answer sections (check out the cheeky fireworks from Batiste). There’s even a step into Prog-Rock keyboards territory at one point (honestly!), before morphing back into the funky backbone of the track. ‘Twelve’ is a grooving ½ time shuffle composed by Batiste with a heavy tilt on lead-Hammond. ‘Out Of The Dark’ presents itself as a Gospel-tinged ballad from the pen of Washington, wrapped within the haven of a heartfelt voice.

‘Dame Dreaming’ takes us back into ½ time shuffle territory, this time from the house of Krown, with more than a few Hammond nods towards the house of Art Neville. If this funky instrumental doesn’t get your head nodding in time, then someone better check for a pulse…’Can I change My Mind’ is the final non-trio composition in the collection, as well as being Washington’s closing vocal track, setting up space for the concluding instrumentals. ‘Rollin’ With Big Pat’ is yet another product of the funky drummer who incidentally, is no slouch in the songwriting stakes thanks to a multi-instrumentalist childhood. ‘Spirit Of The Wolf’ closes the album, another 3-way composition taking the form of an up-tempo, Gospel-feel shuffle.

Pulling off an album in this gamut of the R&B spectrum takes bags of knowledge, understanding, experience and above all, taste. Being A-List New Orleans players obviously helps things fall slickly into place; for one, the lack of a Bass player is never apparent, such is the skill of Joe Krown at covering the low end. Russell Batiste is more than capable of lashing a canvas with unfeasibly complicated Gospel-chops; but he doesn’t, because he understands space within music that less tasteful players would choose to fill up with ego-paint.

As a collection of works, ‘Triple Threat’ could happily occupy the same shelf as say, 1998’s ‘A New Shift’, by Pee Wee Ellis. Considering these guys probably play most nights to audiences in New Orleans, it’s likely that this is the sort of music that keeps rears on bar-seats rather than sending people out in search of the banal. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of sound you’ll find in an English City, simply because we don’t have an
equivalent to New Orleans producing such diversity within music. Thanks to collectives like Krown, Washington & Batiste committing their flavours to CD, we at least get the chance to sample a style of R&B that seems to evade the vast majority of UK Blues artists. If we’re lucky, Krown may bring his trio to grace our shores at some point in the near future, giving us a lesson in musical styles we find difficult to home-grow ourselves.

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