The Carl Hancock Rux Story
To celebrate the release of poet Carl Hancock Rux’s fourth album, “Homeostasis,” I again return to 1999. 1999 was a good year for new, unique artists. In the previous episode of Lend Me Your Ear, your hero discovered Morley’s timeless, uplifting compositions as they wafted over the sales floor. Around that time and until a few years ago, like Carl Hancock Rux, I wrote poetry, sipped coffee at slams, and hosted a few myself. The debut “Rux Revue” CD found its way to my hands initially as “just another promo” because of my interest in artists like the Last Poets, Gil-Scott Heron, and Lou Reed. From that day on, my heart arrests each time I recall Rux’s body of work which I call: blue poetic depth.
2006’s 11-track “Good Bread Alley,” Rux’ s third, references Miami’s Goodbread Alley, named for the Jamaican bakeries that once occupied the street and known for artist Purvis Young‘s murals. This spoken word album provides the soundtrack and window seat for listeners to embrace the azure realities that darken and glow in each song. He takes chances with a variety of music styles and relevant lamentations (honesty, spirituality, unionism), without needing to hang a sign to advertise that he is open to growth as an artist. Hearing it with closed eyes, Rux’s voice and music continues the emotional poetic clarity of his previous album efforts.
The Review – Carl Hancock Rux, “Good Bread Alley”, 2006
THIS MUSIC IS FOR YOU – If you like socio-political spoken word and music that feeds the soul or college/public radio. If neither, it is an awesome departure from (and a equally awesome addition to) your typical music genre iPod selections. Perfect for days or nights of reflection and release.
WHY THIS MUSIC? – The title alone, “Good Bread Alley,” provides the musical location of the area where braggadocios Top 40 artists, who earn riches from tales of urban paradises, will not go. The album is turpentine to their paint-by-number Autotunes or the dirty laundry underneath their swag.
The title track begins with a mournful trombone that is shortly joined in duet with a sad horn, and then, a few bars later, a piano, whose dragging stride warns you that blues is a-comin’! Arriving to take the lead part, the poet Rux, slowly warms up his poetic chops before he delivers a socio-political warning about the “magistrates and the apostates” that “we had found happiness” with. With his musical accomplices, his calm yet tense Sunday preacher voice bristles in a cacophony that declares “the truth is not being said/that bed of emptiness where we lie” in a tone that indicts his flock of listeners.
Reminiscent of the tradition of good friends swapping stories or girl-watching on the corner is the minimalistic call-n-response electric blues (as played by guitarist Dave Tronzo) in-the-alley tribute to the chic “Geneva.” Rux’s raspy reflective storytelling of a regaled female migrant “that brothers couldn’t help but notice;” rises, falls, burns, and melts. The poet wastes no emotion as you could imagine masculine eyes admiring her assets in a polyester dress from the top of her beautiful hair and “slii-i-ii-i-iding down her leg.” Singer Marcelle Lashley, who has performed on other releases, contributes the wailing response to the admirers of the haughty Geneva. The overall feeling of the song recalls the folksy soul of the legendary Bill Withers, who Rux covered on the disabled veteran tune, “I Can’t Write Left Handed”.
There are no rock stars in “Good Bread Alley,” and Carl Hancock Rux does not want to become a rock star. That is, the musical celebrity that entails glitz, groupies, and superficiality. The synthesized pop orchestration of “All The Rock Stars (For Kurt Cobain)” does not overcome his delivery of the well-known tragedy of fame. This ode to fame represents it as an achievement that can easily go wrong with the potential to ruin an individual–like Kurt Cobain–to the point of drugs and/or suicide. Rux bridges an exhortation to wannabe rock stars: “free Gucci, free [expletive]/say you want to be on the TV? / latching on chains/latching nothing.” Toward the end, he says that he thought Cobain said, “all the great stars are already dead.” Although he appears to frown upon celebrity, Rux displays the potential of a great “rock” star. Surely when he gets there, no one will expect him to love the lifestyle.
The darkest end of the street heard from the window seat involves the issue of domestic violence. “Living Room” is as creative and disturbingly sad as “Blue Candy” on “Rux Revue.” The track is comparably the gruesome auto accident scene that you rubberneck, but don’t really want to see. The mental pictures created by “Living Room” make you not want to listen, but it is so well done. Rapid fire poesy on top of an ironic Traffic “Gimme Some Lovin’” groove and images of “the turntable turning to the beat…the beating.” No love was being given “even in the living room.” As the piano drives further, heavier and crests over the rhythm under the background of muted sirens, Rux mourns and shouts himself into the sweet spot of poetic irony and ugly reality that unfolds in front of a small child.
By taking listeners to a place where many, including popular musical artists, will not go, Carl Hancock Rux on “Good Bread Alley” solidifies his place among the great poets and song-writers that aren’t afraid to add reality to bake fresh music.
Listen to “Living Room” on Spotify: