How’s this for an intriguing assortment of musicians: a middle-aged couple (he, once of Arthur “Sweet Soul Music” Conley’s band, on bass and guitar; she on keyboards; both sing), a phenomenal guitarist who’d be stiff competition for Dave Edmunds and Brian Setzer if he were based in a city larger than Springfield, Missouri and — on occasional sax — a fellow whose main occupation is producing unconventional country star Boxcar Willie. Guitarist D. Clinton Thompson (who also served in the Ozark Mountain Daredevils) and bassist Lou Whitney (producer of the first Del-Lords LP) have been together in a variety of lineups; the former’s superb “Driving Guitars” 45 rescued a swell Ventures tune from obscurity. In the Skeletons and Original Symptoms, the pair has mined the vaults of rock, R&B and country arcana for some ought-to-have-been classics and the inspiration to pen their own instant winners.
The Morells can easily slay most revivalist bands, and Shake and Push proves it with a casualness that’s all the more ingratiating. A dozen bars into the second track, if you ain’t slobbering on the LP jacket wondering where you’re gonna find a dee-luxe greaseburger place like “Red’s,” then you just ain’t American. (The 1990 reissue adds two outtakes from the original album sessions and in-depth liner notes by Dave Fricke.)
The Skeletons consist of Thompson and Whitney with a different drummer and keyboard player. Rockin’ Bones compiles the entire contents of the band’s original three pre-Morells singles (from ’79-’80, after which three of the Skeletons became Steve Forbert’s band), adding three tunes cut after the Skeletons were revived in the mid-’80s. The album, which is simply delightful from start to finish, takes an automotive angle, with Whitney’s flawless “Trans Am” and covers like “Gas Money” and the instrumental “B/Gas Accord.” If Johnny Otis’ “Crazy Country Hop” and Whitney’s Presleyesque “Tell Her I’m Gone” break the topical mold, they do nothing to interrupt the magical mood.
Adding a second keyboard player, the Skeletons made an all-new (recording-wise, that is) album, reducing the overt nostalgia in favor of a more integrated old-fashioned sound that brings a wider collection of influences into the studio. But forward progress for such a backwards-looking band isn’t such a swell idea. Besides covers of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me” and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Older Guys,” In the Flesh! contains one of the Del-Lords’ lesser creations (“I Play the Drums”), the sappy “For Every Heart” and a brief “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The playing’s great and the spirit never falters, but this accomplished collection doesn’t have enough of what makes Rockin’ Bones so downright upright. The ESD CD, also entitled In the Flesh!, comprises both Skeletons LPs.