JERRY ALEXANDER – Radiator
(2005 Mono Mano)
You can’t get any more real than Jerry Alexander, one of Madison’s – and the nation’s – most under-sung legends. This album, recorded live in DNA Studios by Mark Haines in March of this year, is a spectacular encapsulation of the style and persona of Alexander. If you’ve seen Alexander perform around town, which is rare, you know that he’s a one-man band: guitar, drums, cymbals, harmonica and vocals. Haines has expertly created instrument separation and a gorgeous sound canvas with what sounds like a mono mix, and how appropriate is that? Alexander creates more of a joyous musical conglomeration than most bands are capable of achieving. How does he do it? Well, you’ll just have to get off of your lazy suburban ass and get out and live a little to find out.
Eight of the ten tracks are Alexander’s own compositions and he adds his own twists to two Chuck Berry tunes, performs an incredible rendition of Tim Hardin’s “Tribute to Hank Williams” that will make you cry, and turns in an excellent “Nine Below Zero” by Chicago’s Rice Miller (a.k.a. Sonny Boy Williamson II) who died in 1965. There is no doubt that Alexander is a purist but he breathes new life into the blues with every track on Radiator. There is pain, joy and humor throughout and Radiator is one of those rare recordings that will make you feel the essence of living on this rocky globe. In “Yardsale,” Alexander turns the prospect of selling some old junk into a complete and desperate act of resignation: “Having a yardsale / Everything must go…” The beautiful dobro and cymbal of the succinct title track drives home the simple message: “Everything I touch / You know it turns out wrong… I been rollin’ with the punches / ‘Til I just can’t roll no more.” And only Alexander could turn “Breakfast” into a joyous celebration of longing.
I couldn’t help but notice how much Radiator reminded me of Tom Waits; purely unique, somehow drawing a landscape in front of my eyes and conjuring up memories that don’t even belong to me. Now that’s artistry in a nutshell. Anyone who has the slightest passion for the blues – and life itself – needs to have this recording.