Right On My Way Home (Blue Note 57729)
Bob Dorough has been so underrated for so long that no amount of hype for this CD in trendy magazines could possibly diminish his star. It would seem easy to dismiss Right on My Way Home as a novelty album, especially given the target marketing to youngsters who recognize Dorough from "Schoolhouse Rock!" It would be a mistake; this is a great album start to finish.
Dorough still sings in that quirky, almost cracky Arkansas drawl, but now there's a growly bottom-end to one of jazz's most distinctive voices. At 73, he recorded an album of more wit and style than any of those damn jump swing bands could ever muster if they lived to be 773. Each song retains a charm that stands up to multiple listens, and in fact the album gets better and better the more you hear it. Lots of individuality and charisma everywhere you look.
Who else could open an album with "Moon River" and make it work? Dorough is typically irreverent througout the record, humming or "doo-doo-dooing" his way though instrumental passages between vocal verses, and blazing forward with some of the twistiest vocal stylizations you'll ever hear. Repeat listens reveal the incredibly musical mind at work, whether it be Bob singing along with his own piano solos (as on "Hodges") or the over-the-top catchiness of the dixieland tribute "Something for Sidney." This is not a novelty record.
Still, Dorough at his lyrical best gives Tom Lehrer a run for his money. I can't think of another song that rhymes "dozen," "cousin," and "nuzzin" (as in "nothing")-Dorough's trademark rhyming-dictionary approach is in full swing, as is the music throughout. The songs feature alternately a trio (Dorough, bassist Bill Takas and former "Schoolhouse Rock!" singer Grady Tate on drums) and quartet (Dorough, Christian McBride on bass, Joe Lovano on saxes, and Billy Hart on drums), finally some premium players called in to realize Dorough's demented jazz. Performances are uniformly wonderful-beyond solid or charming, but quite satisfying indeed. Lovano in particular steals some great moments (especially the Sidney Bechet homage in "Sidney").
The first half of the album essentially presents skewed love songs, then the second half offers some jazz history lessons. "Side 1" of the CD flows beautifully: "Moon River," "Whatever Happened to Love Songs?" (up there with "Silly Love Songs" as a love-it-or-hate-it treatment of love song as subject and form), "Right On My Way Home" (best cut on the album, hilariously great), "Walk On" (very nice old fashioned tune), and "I Get the Neck of the Chicken" (love song disguised as comedy song).
"Side 2" runs "Zacherly" (quirky, quirky song about bears in love), "Something for Sidney" (Bechet tribute), "Hodges" (argument for "first real alto sax man" Johnny Hodges), "Up Jumped a Bird," (might be about a jazz legend couldn't figure out who) and the closer, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."
Dorough comes off like an anachronism - one of those cranky old guys who you can't help but like (a musical Walter Matthau? Fine, just don't let Jack Lemmon into the studio). Hopefully "the masses" who get into Dorough from sources like Spin or whatever will not tire of him once "retro" is tired (ahem) there is so much more to this album (and to the artist) than one thinking in terms of "Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here" will ever notice. Oh well, at least here we will always celebrate the true originals!
Review by Burr Ridge