Col. Bruce Hampton & The Quark Alliance - Give Thanks To Chank

A new Col. Bruce Hampton album is a definite treat. My excitement is caused by his rich musical history, a solid sense of musicianship and a wonderful touch of weirdness. Well known for putting together amazing bands like The Hampton Grease Band, Late Bronze Age, and The Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Colonel's newest aggregation, The Quark Alliance, joins songwriters Jeff Caldwell, Kris Dale (Squidbillies) and Mark Letalien with The Colonel to grow from a new branch to the Hampton musical tree.
Virtuosity and quirkiness - characteristics that keep Hampton bunched together with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart - are here in spades. Most of the tracks are undergirded by a vicious bass and drum groove. Hampton's bluesy songs are riff-based, but his solos, vocal delivery, and lyrics, set them off into another universe altogether. Take "Susan T," his ode to best pal Susan Tedeschi. The chorus goes like this: "Susan T, she is the queen of..." This is where Hampton reaches deep down inside and launches that gutteral groan shout that is becoming his calling card. You know exactly what he means.

"Them Dickinson Boys" is exactly what is best about Hampton. Based around a funky guitar figure, Hampton is preaching up a storm about these guys. John Lennon's chap in "Come Together" got nothing on these guys. With acupuncture, catfish, toys, IDs, instruments, the state line, covered wagons going west, these guys apparently have something to say. The combination of his spastic whammy bar guitar and Butthead vocal attack at the close of the song is worth the price of admission by itself.

Jeff Caldwell's songs serve as an anchoring point for Hampton's wild excursions. Caldwell's soul-drenched silky Curtis Mayfield-like tones are a wonderful juxtaposition to Hampton's growling soul shouting and Caldwell's more traditionally constructed songs are a welcome hook to hang your hat on after Hampton's trippy tracks. "I'm Not Listening" highlights its sexy hooky chorus, with Stevie Wonder bass phrases and stuttery, punchy-yet-flowing guitar break begs for repeated listenings. The 13 minute plus live instrumental "Lanerville" gives a chance for guests Ike Stubblefield and Grant Green, Jr. to strut their stuff.

The otherwordly whitenoise fuzz effects of closing instrumental, "Threnody to the Victims of Louisiana," is soundwise a very fit elegy for the sufferers from Hurricane Katrina. If you are ready for some different-yet-satisfying music, check out Give Thanks To Chank. It's good for what ails you.

--Bob Felberg  December 10, 2007