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Album Review

Rock & Roll Joe: A Tribute to the Unsung Heroes of Rock & Roll is the opening salvo in a multi-faceted project by Grammy-winning songwriter Chip Taylor and friends to right some of history's wrongs. While traveling through Norway and Sweden with his backing band — guitarist John Platania, fiddler Kendel Carson, drummer Bryan Owings, and bass player Ron Eoff — the group held long discussions about some of the important men and women who influenced rock & roll and who never got their due. Together, they conceived of a website where musicians and others could share their recollections of these players and singers. This album collects Taylor's own songs from various eras — which discuss in various ways nostalgia, historical reflections, and some truly arcane memories — some of which have little more than tangential connections to the album's title. It's a confusing collection with some decent tracks, not the least of which is "Monica (These Fingers Move for You)," which is based around the unused riff Platania wrote for Van Morrison's "Domino." (He wrote the one that was used, as well.) It features Carson's killer backing vocals (she's easily the best singer on this date and her fiddle adds more than backing on this disc). "Sugar Sugaree" is based on the Taylor-Jerry Ragavoy tune "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" for Janis Joplin. It has a vamp that comes right out of the middle, but with shuffling country rockabilly added to turn it into something else. The Hollies' hit "I Can't Let Go" was written by Taylor and Al Gorgoni in the middle of the '60s, and also scored for Linda Ronstadt a decade-and-a-half later. That said, this version adds nothing to the previous two. "The Van Song" is a comical country waltz about Platania being increasingly called upon to tour by Morrison in recent years. The rest of these 16 songs are a sloppy assortment of insider observations about their heroes, experiences, and the pitfalls of the business. Only the title, which namechecks everybody from Mickey Baker and Hank Garland to Charles Mingus (!) has anything to do with "unsung" heroes. In fact, the liner notes, which contain short essays by Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Platania, and Donnie Fritts (which are of the type that will apparently be featured on the website) have more to do with the album's topics than the songs do. For hardcore Taylor fans only.

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