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.

Chuck Weiss is the last of the hep cats, you dig?
Chuck Weiss is the last of the hep cats, you dig?

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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