Sunday, April 09, 2000

'Fatback' journeys to Cincinnati's roots

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Down on the banks of the Ohio” is where Cincinnati native Danny Adler takes us on the title song. His musical tour moves from Evanston to Avondale and out to the east and west sides of town, as he name-checks local blues and rock legends from Lonnie Mack to H-Bomb Ferguson to the pantheon of King Records.

        In these roots-obsessed times, it's hip to have a good working knowledge of the Queen City's musical heritage. But in 1976, when the singer/guitarist and his band, Roogalator, cut Cincinnati Fatback, that wasn't the case.

        Mr. Adler was living in England, after putting in time in the blues-rock scenes of L.A. and New York. His band was one of the first acts on England's Stiff Records, whose roster later included Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and much of the rest of the rootsier edge of British new wave.

        But with the Sex Pistols leading the punk charge in rock and pre-fab disco hits ruling R&B, Roogalator's greasy funk and down-home rock 'n' soul fusion never caught on.

        Which makes this new 18-track collection even more of a revelation. Unlike other white blues wannabes of the time, Mr. Adler sounds utterly at home on his self-penned, groove-happy tunes. His fluidly soulful guitar is a perfect match for sly lead vocals reminiscent of former bandmate Bootsy Collins.

        Mr. Adler has the same taste in catchy novelties, as in his densely driving, James Brown-style plea for cash, “Sock It to My Pocket” or the rocking “Sweet Mama Kundalini.”

        Roogalator, named for a vague blues slang term with various good luck charm/sexual meanings, was just as hard to pin down, musically.

        The band knew its way around blues, funk and soul and came up with such shoulda-been R&B hits as “Water.” But Roogalator could turn on a dime for the lighter pop of “Love and the Single Girl.”

        Mr. Adler, 50, lives in Charlevoix, Mich., where he makes a living as a free-lance locomotive engineer (songs here contain frequent train references; there are even more on his solo CD of '80s recordings, Better Make a Move, also on Proper).

        Mr. Adler remains one of Greater Cincinnati's more fascinating musical footnotes. In the '80s, he played with the Rolling Stones offshoot blues band Rocket 88.

        He also recorded an album during a visit here and convinced a British label that it was the lost recordings of a mythical Cincinnati blues great that he named Otis “Elevator” Gilmore. One of those tracks, an authentic-sounding “T Bone Blues,” is included on Better Make a Move.

        Cincinnati Fatback (a title that refers to the uniquely funky Queen City groove) is a must-have for any local-music collection. But beyond historic interest, it stands on its own as a set of rootsy rock/soul/pop/funk that still packs a punch a quarter century later.


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