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The Big 6 Has a Little Fun on Romp Through '50s Sounds : The Big 6 "Ready to Rock . . .!" Vinyl Japan (import) (***)

July 23, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

Swing is bustin' out all over in roots-rock revivalist circles, and The Big 6, a jumpin' band of '50s-infatuated young English boppers, is an infectious new bloom on the rockabilly rosebush.

Versatility is the hallmark of this all-star combo drawn from various bands, with an otherwise shifting lineup built around core members Ricky Lee Brawn on drums, honking baritone sax man Nick Lunt and Pat Reyford, an animated, fun-loving singer who plays a hot guitar.

Tenor sax, piano and slap bass round out the tartan-suited ensemble, which makes its U.S. debut Wednesday night at the Rhino Room in Huntington Beach as part of the club's Wednesday swing series.

Brit proficiency with an affection for American roots styles comes as no surprise. The Stray Cats, key ancestors of the current wave of rockabilly revivalism, had to go to England to establish themselves. And fans of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys--local heroes who share a bill with The Big 6 at the El Rey Theatre in Hollywood on Aug. 2--have grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping, tag-team synchronization of the band's two English expatriate pickers, Ashley Kingman and Lee Jeffriess.

The Big 6 doesn't go in for the country and Western swing flavors that enliven Big Sandy's music, but The Big 6's debut CD--distributed in the United States by the Orange-based Hepcat roots-music label--has just about every other color in the early-rock rainbow.

"Out Tonight," one of a smattering of Brawn originals on this mainly covers release, is a whoop-it-up ode to Jerry Lee Lewis that gets a fresh twist thanks to some Animals-style Farfisa organ.

*

Reyford elsewhere delivers creamy, sung-through-the-nose doo-wop balladry and comical play-acting antics reminiscent of the Coasters. The band ranges through jump-swing and sassy R&B (including a hot version of Gary U.S. Bonds' "New Orleans") and tosses in some rocking Latin rhythms on "Sombrero," a fun but stereotype-ridden "Tequila" knockoff. Another original, "Groovey Geezer," skips to both Latin and ska rhythms while working in an early Beatles allusion as well.

The jumping, sax-driven "Are You Ready to Rock" pays fitting tribute to English rock eccentric Roy Wood, who improbably and bravely made a transition from prog-rock to roots-rock in the early '70s, when he left the Electric Light Orchestra and started making records informed by such then-out-of-fashion influences as Phil Spector and '50s rockabilly.

The peak tracks on "Ready to Rock . . .!" are a couple of surprising rockabilly reworkings of British glam-rock hits from the early '70s. Slade's raver "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" is recast to sound like prime Elvis Presley from 1956, complete with Jordanaires-like backing bop-sha-bops.

T-Rex's "20th Century Boy" gets a rough-and-ready treatment worthy of a prime Blasters cut. Its dark, surging rhythm and gloriously nasty guitar riffing are patterned after the original version of "Train Kept A-Rollin' " by early rockabilly hero Johnny Burnette's Rock 'n' Roll Trio.

This 20-song collection is a lively, varied excursion through the '50s that makes the old stuff sound fresh. With its strong fun-loving streak, The Big 6 sounds like a good bet to come even more alive in concert.

(Available from Hepcat Records, P.O. Box 1108, Orange, CA 92668; (800) 404-4117; or at e-mail address Hepcatreco@aol.com).

Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

* The Big 6 plays Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Rhino Room, 7979 Center Ave., Huntington Beach. $7. (714) 892-3316. Also Aug. 1 at the Viper Room in Hollywood, Aug. 2 at the El Rey Theatre in Hollywood, Aug. 3 at the Derby in Hollywood and Aug. 4 at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach.

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