Richard Lerner and The Grooves are as simple and straightforward as their name. They’re a traditional jam band from Greensboro, South Carolina and make no apologies for it. Their website lists “some of the songs we’ve performed over the years,” which includes everyone from Hot Tuna to Eric Clapton to Bob Dylan to James Brown. They’ll even throw in The Stones and… Prince?
It’s quite the repertoire. However, hidden within the impressively long list of diverse musical artists is Richard Lerner himself, a veteran of the southern music circuit. His new release is called “Jammin with Juma,” which refers to Juma Sultan, also a veteran musician, known mostly for playing Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix.
Appropriately, the album’s first track, “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” is a Hendrix cover. It starts off with the familiar bluesy guitar solo followed by Lerner singing in his best stoned Hendrix drawl: “Girl, I wanna come along,” he sings. “Can I come along?” The guitar playing echoes Hendrix’s own via fuzz pedal. Like all of his music, the song is groovy and jammy and enjoyably hypnotic. “Hey baby,” Lerner continues, “Can I step into your world for a little while?” So Hendrix.
We go from Sixties era electric jam into an original reggae number called “Seven Sunsets.” Maintaining the same friendly spirit, the genre shift manages to not be jarring. The next song, the upbeat, pop-ish “Be Here Now,” is, to my knowledge, also an original, and like the other originals, sounds right in place next the cover songs which bracket them.
The Groove’s version of War’s “Spill the Wine” is twangier and more raw, the singing more conversational and personal. Hendrix’s ghost returns with the aptly titled “Ghosts of Jimi.” The lyrics lays out its own description of Hendrix’s music: “Smokin’ guitars and rattlesnake drums / Deep dark mojo / and where it comes from / We aim for the stars / There ain’t no doubt.” The song speaks to the far-reaching influence of one of the greatest guitarists ever. During the song’s final movement, we’re treated to a last, more restrained Hendrix-tinged solo.
I first believed “Paranoia Blues” to be a Paul Simon cover until the song started, then I had to wonder why I would think such a cover would make any sense here. That is, until the album finishes with a cover of Ron Wood’s “Am I Grooving You?” (How’s that for random?) A 90-second “Be Here Now (Reprise)” arrives next until the release is ended by “Sunset Dub (Head Mix),” a trippy-drowsy re-imagining of “Seven Sunsets,” managing to somehow sound like a culmination of every song style we’ve heard to this point.
“Jammin’ with Juma” is a new release which succeeds at being exactly what it hopes to be—a fun, nostalgic jam. Jimi would approve.
In 2012, Richard Lerner and The Grooves started the Groove Jam Music Festival to benefit the homeless. For more info, click on the logo for the band’s label below: