Take the freight train on a wonderful ride

By Philip Elwood, S.F. Examiner music critic

Published in the San Francisco Examiner, Saturday, April 10, 1999


Classic standards from Shubb and Wilson on "Bodega Sessions' CD
Rick Shubb and Bob Wilson, "Bodega Sessions."
(Bodega Music.)

Rick Shubb is among the best five-string banjo players in the country, acoustic guitarist Bob Wilson is a fine lead guitarist and a brilliant, imaginative harmonist. As an improvising duo, Shubb and Wilson routinely swap lead lines (which, naturally, become solos); and for good measure, Wilson sings in his light, vintage tenor on many of the 15 selections here. Ten of the numbers here are classic standards -- "Avalon," "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," "Liza," "I Cried for You," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Bye Bye Blues" and "Lullaby of Birdland" are typical. "Take the Freight Train" is a wonderful ride through a series of references to "Take the A-Train," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and other such numbers.

"The Old Man of the Mountain," which I remember from an early-'30s Boswell Sisters disc, has a bouncy, pre-swing beat. It's from the pen of Billy Hill, a Boston violinist who made a bundle writing cowboy and old-timey country songs.

Shubb and Wilson also include "Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson," an unpublished Johnny Mercer number from an early Marx Brothers talkie -- its one appearance on records was a 1934 vocal version by the New Spirits of Rhythm, a vocal group featuring Leo Watson, whom Jon Hendricks considers the "father" of jazz singing.

There are instances on this CD that one is inclined to call Shubb the "Django of the banjo." Listen to him on "Avalon," and "Liza"; on "Louise" note the inserted themes from "Darktown Strutters Ball" and "Nola." And enjoy the full-length "Lover Come Back to Me," which includes some of Wilson's best guitar harmonizing as well as the usual virtuoso performance by Shubb.

Wilson's tune, "Summer Faire," is a breezy affair that blows through some tricky key changes; Shubb's "Walnut Square" is a hot, raggy number. The disc's last track is "Bye Bye Blues," a big favorite of tap-dance teams in the 1930s. Here, up-tempo, Wilson and Shubb have a grand time swapping choruses and suggesting the stop-time segments that dancers so enjoy.

Shubb and Wilson, both Bay Areans, have been having instrumental fun together for 30 years. I've known Wilson since his high school days, and reviewed these two for The Examiner at the original Freight & Salvage in Berkeley in 1969. They occasionally still play there and a few other places.

Paul Shelasky's notes and Shubb's informal comments that accompany this CD are accurate and wonderfully informative. Shelasky knows his way around string-band instruments, too.


Bodega Sessions: $15.95
includes postage in the USA. International orders will have postage added.

about the tracks | about Rick Shubb | about Bob Wilson | about Charlie Warren
liner notes by Paul Shelasky | liner notes by Rick Shubb | gear

read the reviews: San Francisco Examiner | Dirty Linen Magazine | Bluegrass Breakdown
Listen to some of the music: Avalon: (MP3: 2.8 MB) | Sherlock Holmes: (MP3: 2.6 MB)

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