Artist: Various Artists
Album: Red Hot – A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records
Label: Americana Music Society/Visible Music College
Release Date: 06/16/2017
This is a homegrown project honoring the legacy of what was arguably the most important label in popular music—Sun Records—founded by Sam Phillips in 1952. Luther Dickinson and writer-producer Tamara Saviano collaborated on the project for which all proceeds go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital to fight childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Authentically, the album was recorded at Phillips’ two studios, Sun Studio opened in 1950, and the larger Sam Phillips Recording Service, opened in 1959. I think you all know the hallowed history of names that graced those two places.
Guitarist Luther and his drummer brother Cody serve as the anchors of the core band which also features bassist/vocalist Amy LaVere, singer-guitarist John Paul Keith, and keyboard master from Lucero, Rick Steff. Alana Nash’s liner notes are rich with Sun’s history and the connection of these performing artists to Phillips. John Paul Keith begins with the Elvis-styled “Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache.” Valerie June is joined by Jimbo Mathus and LaVere for the Carl Perkins hit, “Sure to Fall (In Love with You),” and Shawn Camp honors Charlie Rich in “Lonely Weekends.” Octogenarian Bobby Rush, who met Phillips in 1952, delivers the album’s only original, “Tough Titty,” written in tribute to the late Junior Parker who died at the age of 30 during brain tumor surgery. The ever wildly inventive Jimbo Mathus renders “High School Confidential” while Chuck Mead, along with the cast from the TV show, “Sun Records,” interpret the title track.
The strongest part of the record is at the end, with Alvin Youngblood Hart delivering a guilt-ridden version of Johnny Cash’s braggadocio-laden “Folsom Prison Blues” and Luther Dickinson capturing the down and dirty feeling of Howlin’ Wolf in “Moanin’ at Midnight” in Parts 1 and 2, comprising over 13 minutes of the 41-minute disc. Luther duels on guitar with Mississippi axe man Lightnin’ Malcolm, while Cody lays down a hypnotic train beat. Phillips said about Wolf’s original recording “It is the most different record I ever heard.”
You can feel the respect from every artist here, honoring Phillips’ legacy, a man whose goal was find untried and unproven talent, both black and white. They infuse new life into these classic songs.