No Depression (p.121) - "Carl Hancock Rux tackles religion, sexual politics, war and media overload, which places him squarely in the tradition of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway."
Personnel: Helga Davis, Marcelle Lashley.
Working with a smaller set of musicians -- and for a smaller label -- the multi-disciplinary artist Carl Hancock Rux delivers what is arguably his most musical album to date. There are more "songs" on Good Bread Alley than on the poet/author/vocalist's previous efforts, and Rux also uses his deep baritone singing voice more than usual. Hip-hop and electronica make brief appearances, but most of the sounds here are neo-cabaret, neo-classical, or downtown loft blues, played naked and live enough to suggest what a one-man show from Rux might sound like. On the opening title track, Rux drags behind him the faux synthesized orchestra that appears throughout the album. Decidedly fake horns and strings plod out the tune, denying their leader's Gil Scott-Heron-styled tale of "why didn't we see it coming" which fades in and out like a radio station on the edge of reception. From here, Good Bread Alley becomes more approachable, more warm, less produced, but no less evocative. The tales of "wine and war" mentioned on "Thadius Star" -- a song originally written for former Brooklyn Funk Essentials member Stephanie McKay's solo debut -- contrast wealth and poverty, success and failure, hope and disappointment. Rux has a firm grip on his art but he's humbled by the complexity of modern life and doesn't offer answers as much as advocate awareness. He recites his prose if need be, but more often sings his message with the earthy tone that has earned him the experimental blues tag he's been pigeonholed with. The desolate "Thadius Star" adds Brecht and Weill to the jumble of influences, along with Massive Attack, who's spirit is deep in the song's sensual slinking. "Black of My Shadow" puts spirituals and Billie Holiday through William S. Burroughs' cut-up treatment, while the taut "Living Room" unleashes the old-fashioned, straight-ahead R&B, although the "Soul fury!" shouted out in the song speaks to domestic violence instead of Stax. There's also an incredible, heartbreaking cover of Bill Withers' protest song "I Can't Write Left Handed" here to prove Rux is also a gripping performer and interpreter. Still, with all the advancement he has made as a musician, his spellbinding words still offer the richest rewards and are the most responsible element in making Good Bread Alley the potent triumph it is. ~ David Jeffries