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Chuck E. Weiss

Old Souls & Wolf Tracks (Ryko/Slow River)

"Ain't no hep cats anymore!" shouts L.A. legend Chuck E. Weiss on Old Souls & Wolf Tracks. Not true. As long as ol' Chuck E.'s around, the hep cat isn't extinct.

Like his crony Tom Waits, who once gave him a shout-out in his "I Wish I Were in New Orleans," Weiss's night-owl music is antithetical to the stereotypical California sunshine pop. This record, bookended with two New Orleans-set tunes, "Congo Square at Midnight" and "Dixieland Funeral," is a tasty American roots music gumbo, expertly spiced with juke joint-style R&B, soul, jazz and rock 'n' roll.

As with Extremely Cool, his lauded 1999 disc, the songs on Old Souls evoke a bygone era. The rousing roadhouse rocker "Two Tone Car" celebrates a car, and lifestyle, from yesteryear. "Jolie's Nightmare," a ribald spoken-word blues cut, concerns not film babe Angelina, but long-dead blackface performer Al Jolson. One album highlight, "Down the Road a Piece," comes from a 1970 session with the late, great Willie Dixon, proving that the Chuck E. Weiss personality was in bloom even at a young age.

Weiss's colorful hipster raps "Tony Did the Boogie Woogie," "Sneaky Jesus" and "Sweetie-O" take listeners on fun trips to Coolsville. However, he wisely leavens his greasy-spoon humor with some serious sentiment. "Blood Alley," populated with his typical motley crew of characters, has a dark, dangerous tone. The moving blues lullaby "It Don't Happen Overnight" is a straight-from-the-heart take on handling life's disappointments.

With the rock world now suffering from a lack of genuine characters, the wild, wily Chuck E.'s a reet treat.

 
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