[11 March 2008]
When seeking insight into what an in-demand sideman’s solo album sounds like, the sensbile first step is to survey the liner notes to see which sidemen said sideman enlists to help with his project. In this case, the sideman in question to Tony Scherr and the solo album is Twist in the Wind. Holding down drum duty is Kenny Wollesen—Scherr’s rhythm section counterpart in Steven Bernstein’s skewed jazz combo Sex Mob. And then, quite notably, you’ll find the presence of Bill Frisell. But is this a jazz project? Not quite. Mickey Raphael—Willie Nelson’s long-time harmonica player—is also a contributor, and his presence hints at the sound of Twist in the Wind. Scherr’s voice echoes Nelson’s craggy drawl, and the sonic backdrop is comprised of lanky Crazy Horse country crossed with the folk-jazz simplicity of Norah Jones (who also happens to be a huge Scherr fan). Stepping forward from his role as a prized multi-instrumentalist, Scherr pens ten of the thirteen numbers here, and reveals his comfort and eye for detail in the role of singer-songwriter. Highlight “While I Was Gone” features both Frisell and Raphael, and is a straight-spoken recollection, dusky and sparse. Scherr ups the volume and the tempo while handling all the instruments on the Neil Young-esque “Anytown”. Creative use of wailing cellos adds depth to the anthemic “Black Sheep”. Sidestepping for a few covers, Scherr offers a radical re-imagining of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” as a bossa nova and gives classic “The Good Life” a tropically jazzy percussion template. You’ve likely heard Scherr as a sideman on recent albums by Jones, Rufus Wainwright, and Teddy Thompson, or on the soundtrack to Ethan Hawke’s The Hottest State. But Twist in the Wind is wholly his, and wholly worthwhile.