The Shrubbery
July 1999
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Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six Heretic Blues (Delmark)

A review by Jessica Brandt

Sometimes, and I mean SOMEtimes, I get so proud of my generation. Especially when I hear bands like the young and sleek Quality Six make fresh new jazz albums in the traditional style of the masters.

The Quality Six is comprised of all four members of Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire: Andrew Bird (violin, lead vocals), Josh Hirsch (bass), Colin Bunn (Guitar) and headed up by drummer Kevin O'Donnell. Also joining them are alto saxophonist Chris Greene, trombonist David Dieckmann, and on a few tracks, guitarist John Williams. All of them are fine looking young men, might I add.

Heretic Blues is the first official offering from the "Q6," and they step it off with the classic "Moten Swing." Of course, they kick it up a notch, using Bird's violin as a key instrument. "Moten Swing" is in the classic chorus/open solos/chorus/bridge/chorus style of many great old jazz songs, and shows off what they boys have to offer. Next up is the album's title track, "Heretic Blues," with its wonderful storyline lyrics sung by the deep baritone moan of Andrew Bird. This skinny white boy from Chicago has most definitely been posessed by the voodoo of the original blues masters, singing with all the pain he can muster to shape for the listener the blues of this jailed heretic. O'Donnell and Hirsch keep the blues beat steady while the rest of the gang strut their stuff on this original O'Donnell tune.

Next comes the jaunty "Girl From New York City" which has a good New York City jump sound to it. The lyrics are good for a chuckle, even if it's just hearing Bird wail "I married a booooy." In the liner notes are printed some "unused" lyrics from that song, and my guess is that Bird was reluctant to sing "In the corner of the bar/ she felt my penis." After that comes the ballad "Self-Inflicted," once again played nice and easy by Q6 and sung even easier by Bird, who seems to have a knack for sounding sad.

"My Friend Eddie" is a fast instrumental, featuring the band playing in "tutti" harmonics, the violin blending perfectly with the horns. "Could You Please Move Over" is a lazy swing tune, with some great sax blowing by Chris Greene and crooning by Bird.

"Stack O'Lee" is a slow cover of the traditional tune, once again using Bird's ability to croon like a Delta bluesman and the stiff walking bassline of Josh Hirsch. "Candy Dish Stomp" sounds as sweet as its name. A nice, fast-moving instrumental that could show up in any jazz combo's repitoire. Another cover is Gershwin's "Oh! Lady Be Good!" which totaly lends itself to Bird's voice and the unique sound of his violin mixed into this classic tune.

"There, There, There" is sung by guest guitarist John Williams, and features him on acoustic guitar. His voice has more of a "swing" sound than Bird does, but can kick the ass of any Cherry Poppin Daddy. Bird's violin is also prominently featured on this short track about infidelity between friends. Next is the Colin Bunn-penned "Margret." Bunn has a great crooning voice. He has his own latin-music solo album called Tierra del Fugo, and has prooved many times in concert that he has the chops and writing ability to compare to any of the greats. Another highlight of this song is a nice trombone solo from David Dieckmann. The best part, however, is that the lyrics start off "Trees and SHRUBS are the only thing you love."

"Blues for Andrew" is just that. A nice bluesy instrumental to showcase Bird's violin stylings. The band really gets into this one, and you can feel the energy the put behind every note. Trombonist Dieckmann wrote and sings "Red Boa," a swingin' love song with nonesense lyrics. "Woah baby, woah Nellie!" it begins and jives on from there. I know it's a love song, because it ends up "I'm mangled/ we're tangled, I love you."

The album ends up with the severely powerful "Mope." When I say Andrew Bird wails this song, I mean he WAILS. Written in the style of 40's and 50's R&B, the easy rhythm and lazy horn lines raggedly back up the pain in Bird's booming voice. His violin echoes his wailing voice, whining and sighing through the breaks. A good album closer, an even better bar-closer.

Great things have been coming out of this generation of musicians, from Harry Connick Jr. to Johnny Lang and now Kevin O'Donnell. These boys realize the importance of jazz in America, and instead of simply covering tired versions of worn out swing tunes, O'Donnell and friends have come together to put out something new in the old world of jazz. Long live jazz in America. Long live the Quality Six!

A [95%]

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