Charlie Wood and the New Memphis Underground

Charlie Wood and the New Memphis Underground
Charlie Wood and the Memphis Underground

Daddy-O Records

By Bill Copeland
March 2008

This CD proves that not everybody from Memphis is a great talent.

Charlie Wood and the New Memphis Underground are on their fourth CD, which is untitled. Many of these tracks have the usual Hammond organ riffs and rhythm tracks that we associate with the modern mix of blues and R&B. Yet none of them have any special allure. The arrangements and players are very solid, but there is nothing here that makes me want to listen a second time.

The opening track, “Let It Rip,” features boogie-woogie piano and funky sax lines and a fun beat. It also has that heard-it-all-before feeling I’ve had at so many not so upscale bars.

“Brand New Feelin’’’ shows that Wood knows how to compose and arrange saxophone lines. Yet he seems to methodically place the horn blasts between the space opened up by the rhythm section, rather than playing it by feeling and instinct.

Wood’s biggest problem here is that he plays drums and bass as well as keyboards. Instead of having players riffing around him - or giving their own take on his melodies - Wood records the most important part of this kind of music in a vacuum.

That’s not to say that all is bad. “I Just Want You Cause I Want You” has backing vocalist Tamara Jones adding an extra layer of soul that pleases my ears. Wood’s voice is also smooth and emotive here, while some guitar riffs dart in and out.

“Too Much Is Not Enough” features more stride in Wood’s piano playing and more shuffle in the beat. Its sax line is fun and swinging. I can almost see saxophonist Kirk Smothers smile when he one-ups Wood a little bit near the end.

“Keep It Comin’” is a funked-up dance number with a bopping beat. The drums keep the groove groovy with a punchy sound that moves the feet while moving the song forward.

And that is the only thing that gives this disc a pulse. Wood does keep things moving. My problem is that I’ve heard this kind of formula in so many songs that Wood comes off, once again, as formulaic - a paint-by-numbers job. I might get up on the dance floor a few times if Woods was playing at my local watering hole. But I wouldn’t follow up to see when he’s coming back.

Wood’s lack of vocal charisma shows up unpleasantly in the Percy Mayfield classic “Please Send Someone To Love.” His voice is simply nothing to write home about, and on this classic it should be over the top, not remaining too middle of the road to reach the range of emotion in the piece.

I’m going to be nice and not say anything about how he handles a cover of “Drown In My Own Tears.”

“Don’t Let The Money Get Funny, Honey” starts out with a fun chorus, which is the song title repeated over and over again without getting boring due to levity. Guitar work by Joe Restivio is solid and nicely punctuated by the piano.

A slow number, “I Almost Forgot About The Blues,” has organ and sax that come up sweetly and hover and swirl around the beat in an ear-catching manner.

By now, dear readers, you can probably tell by the song titles that Wood’s sensibilities are prosaic. There is simply no oomph here beyond local bar band cliché.

“Come On If You’re Coming” has a solid organ riff but there’s nothing to dazzle, and I don’t recall a Hammond organ ever sounding so tedious.

There is a fun, fast-tempo song, “Coffee Is For Me,” that has some humor we can all relate to.

A slow song, “You Don’t Really Wanna Know,” makes Wood sound like he’s trying to be profound and soulful, but comes off forced and unemotional in its social message: “You say you wonder why folks have to hate and hurt one another/Why they can’t stay even Steven and live brother to brother.” Those have to be the most boring social-conscience lyrics I’ve ever heard.

Unless you desperately need to cure your insomnia, I wouldn’t waste time listening to this disc.

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