Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Amazing Rhythm Aces - Toucan Do It Too / Burning The Ballroom Down (1977-78 us, awesome southern country classic rock, 2000 reissue)

Although the Amazing Rhythm Aces remained firmly in touch with their country and Southern rock roots, they began shedding their twang in favor of some harder and edgier material, which they matched with equally aggressive execution. The airy and slightly calypso "Never Been to the Islands (Howard and Hugh's Blues)" -- which opens their third long-player, Toucan Do It Too -- demonstrates that the Aces had not strayed too far afield. Both "Living in a World Unknown" and "Who's Crying Now" provide a contrast with solid, propulsive rockers led by the dual electric fretwork of Russell Smith (guitar/vocals) and Barry Burton (dobro/guitar/mandolin/pedal steel/slide guitar/vocals), who left the band shortly after the Aces recorded their follow-up to this disc.

They recall the sunny and carefree southern California sound of the Eagles, and blend that force with their trademark country-rock leanings. The Aces could also pull off lean blue-eyed soulful numbers, such as the midtempo "Never Been Hurt," featuring some tasty keyboard inflections from future Nanci Griffith collaborator and Blue Moon Orchestra member James Hooker (piano/electric piano/clavinet/vocals). There are a number of decidedly more traditional-sounding sides, which are among the album's zeniths. "Everybody's Talked Too Much" offers somewhat of a retreat into an increasingly laid-back country-rock vibe, while the high and lonesome "Last Letter Home" is instrumentally bolstered by Burton's lilting and acoustically lyrical mandolin runs, which are tucked behind Jeff Davis (bass) and Hooker's sonic accoutrement. "Geneva's Lullaby" is an achingly tender ballad from Smith, whose criminally underappreciated guitar work and songwriting are given a well-deserved showcase. His compositional versatility is evident on the LP's closing track, "Two Can Do It Too," which boasts a healthy syncopation that could have easily been covered by the likes of Little Feat or -- thanks to the funky shuffle groove -- even the Neville Brothers.

On their fourth long-player, the Amazing Rhythm Aces continued the trend of presenting well-crafted pop songs leaning toward laid-back country and Southern rock. Burning the Ballroom Down was the final long-player from the "classic" incarnation of the band, featuring Barry Burton (dobro/guitar/mandolin/steel guitar/slide guitar/vocals), who departed shortly after this disc was recorded, Jeff Davis (bass/vocals), Billy Earheart (organ/keyboards), James Hooker (piano/keyboards/clavinet/vocals), Butch McDade (percussion/drums/vocals), and Russell Smith (guitar/vocals). The Aces' Memphis roots are evident throughout the album and are revealed in a variety of styles, ranging from the blue-eyed soul of the opening title track to the gospel-tinged waltz balladry on "Out of Control." The even more sacred "Spirit Walk" is particularly notable for aptly displaying Burton's multi-stringed mastery. Moving away from the harder edge of their previous long-player.

Toucan Do It Too, the Aces retreat into more regional acoustic folk and bluegrass styles on the tongue-in-cheek "I Pity the Mother and the Father (When the Kids Move Away)" as well as the tropically inspired "Ashes of Love." Along the same line is Smith's hauntingly poignant and minor-chord masterpiece "Red to Blue (When Dreams Come True)." Other highlights include the slinky rocker "A Jackass Gets His Oats," which bears some striking resemblances to a typical Lynyrd Skynyrd deep-fried rocker. The easygoing "Della's Long Brown Hair" features a sweet pedal steel solo from Burton, who had exited the combo by the time the Aces hit the road in support of Burning the Ballroom Down. Enthusiasts should search out the live disc Between You & Us, which includes a show from this tour and features Burton's replacement, Duncan Cameron, in one of his earliest gigs with the band. In 2000, Collectors' Choice Music issued a two-fer that paired this album with its predecessor, Toucan Do It Too, on a single compact disc.
by Lindsay Planer
1. Never Been To The Islands (Howard And Hugh's Blues) (Russell Smith, Butch McDade, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 3:54
2. Never Been Hurt (Russell Smith, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 4:17 
3. Living In A World Unknown (Russell Smith, James Hooker Brown Jr., Jeff Davis) - 4:27
4. Everybody's Talked Too Much (Russell Smith, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 5:18
5. Last Letter Home (Butch McDade, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 3:54
6. Who's Crying Now? (Russell Smith) - 4:28
7. Just Between You And Me And The Wall, You're A Fool (James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 4:43
8. I'm Setting You Free (Harold Allen, J.T. Watts, Jimmy Grimes) - 3:00
9. Geneva's Lullaby (Russell Smith) - 3:17
10.Two Can Do It Too (Russell Smith) - 4:30
11.Burning The Ballroom Down (Russell Smith, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 5:21
12.A Jackass Gets His Oats (Russell Smith, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 4:53
13.Ashes Of Love (Jim Anglin, Jack Anglin, Johnnie Wright) - 3:05
14.All That I Had Left (With You) (Jeff Davis) - 3:35
15.I Pity The Mother And The Father (When The Kids Move Away) (Russell Smith) - 2:09
16.Della's Long Brown Hair (Russell Smith) - 3:18
17.Out Of Control (Billy Earheart) - 4:00
18.Red To Blue (When Dreams Come True) (Russell Smith) - 5:20
19.The Spirit Walk (Russell Smith, James Hooker Brown Jr.) - 5:57
Tracks 1-10 from Toucan Do It Too 1977
Tracks 11-19 from Burning the Ballroom Down 1978

The Amazing Rhythm Aces
*Barry Burton - Dobro, Guitars, Mandolin,  Vocals
*Jeff Davis - Bass, Vocals 
*Billy Earheart - Keyboards, Organ, Piano
*James Hooker Brown Jr. - Clavinet, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
*Jim Kershaw - Guitar
*Butch McDade - Drums, Percussion, Vocals
*Russell Smith - Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
*Billy Earheart III - Accordion
*Buddy Spicher - Fiddle