I think I am older than Paul Mehling, but we both came up in a time when the Beatles were not only the sensational mop-tops who had made all the girls scream at concert performances but when their songs were the ubiquitous popular soundtrack. I can remember buying each new album as it came out and listening avidly. Of course, both Paul and I felt drawn to a different kind of music, as he writes in the brief notes to this new CD:
The idea that Django Reinhardt would have played the Beatles’ tunes has haunted me ever since I took up the guitar. Like so many of my generation who were galvanized by their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I became part of the ‘culture of guitar’ and never looked back. But unlike my guitar brethren who stayed on for sex, drugs, and/or rock ‘n’ roll, I was devastated by the breakup of the Beatles and I quit listening to rock entirely, foolishly believing that the best was now over. Luckily, I was already deeply inspired by traditional jazz — Goodman, Bechet, Dorsey, Shaw, & others of the swing era, especially Django. This record was inevitable in that regard.
For those impatient with words, here you can hear sound samples, learn more about the Hot Club of San Francisco, and purchase the music.
The HCSF is a venerable band — much of its personnel staying the same for a long time — and it has the ease and intensity of a working band. The players are Paul Mehling, Evan Price, SAm Rocha, Iabelle Fontaine, Jordan Samuels, with guests Jeff Hamilton, Nate Ketner, Jeff Magidson, Michel Saga.
The repertoire neatly balances the familiar (going all the way back to 1964) and the less well-known: ALL MY LOVIN’ / BECAUSE / MICHELLE / I WILL / HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE / YOU WON’T SEE ME / THE FOOL ON THE HILL / IF I NEEDE SOMEONE / JULIA / YOU CAN’T DO THAT / FOR NO ONE / DON’T BOTHER ME / HEY JUDE – DUKE & DUKIE / THINGS WE SAID TODAY / YELLOW SUBMARINE. Because Mehling is a gleeful subversive, there is a French group vocal, visits from musical saw, banjo, melodica, and barrel organ. It isn’t the Beatles on hallucinogens visiting an abandoned gypsy caravan, but it has immense wit, verve, and variety. As impatient as I can be, I listened to this CD without a break many times.
In the Sixties and beyond, there were many recordings of Beatles “covers”: the Hollyridge Strings Play Lennon and McCartney; Nelson Eddy Sings the Beatles; Wilbur Sweatman Plays the Hits of Today (seriously, both Basie and Ellington attempted this, and Louis sang — most convincingly — GIVE PEACE A CHANCE). In general, these recordings were often an attempt to bridge the generations and to give record buyers senior and junior something to purchase. But the end result was often watery.
Not so the HCSF CD. Each song is quietly linked to the ones before and after — so the end result is a charming Beatles suite, a too-brief immersion. But it’s also a brightly colored journey, with each track exhibiting its own glowing personality: brilliant and sometimes surprising arranging makes this delightfully possible. And if you are worried about such things, the session swings mightily and is wonderful dance music. To describe this CD track-by-track would be to spoil the fun, but I can see why devoted fans of the HCSF had been after Paul to make a CD like this.
May your happiness increase!