Screamin' Jay Hawkins and China MosesScreamin' Jay Hawkins -- Yellow Coat
Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- I Put a Spell on You
China -- On Tourne en Rond
Screamin' Jay Hawkins was the original macabre over-the-top singer/showman: before Marilyn Manson, before Alice Cooper, it was Screamin' Jay starting his concerts emerging from a coffin with a skull-tipped cane to sing "I Put a Spell on You." It was his most popular song, and probably for good reason--there's just something in that guttural desperation, the complete abandon, that's awfully appealing (probably because he's not singing the song to me).
Hawkins tried the same approach on other songs, to greater or lesser effect: manic delivery and some silly/serious occult bits which seemed, over the years, to have been folded into hard rock and heavy metal (but with less and less humor), becoming enough of a staple of the music that Spinal Tap took the chance to comment on pompous occult wankery.
"Yellow Coat" is a rocking early R&B tune--sax, piano, electric guitar--with Hawkins singing the praises for his garish clothes with typical humor, comparing himself to a two-legged goat and exaggerating everyone's reactions to him. And there, under the humor, I can't help wondering if that's real or imagined pathos. It reminds me of a teenager's green hair--something deliberately "too much," presented for people to reject to prevent them getting close enough to reject a personality instead. I wonder if Hawkins' persona didn't come about as a means of deflecting pain, or if it was all as spontaneous as the various writeups online suggest. It's a question better put to a biographer than to a casual fan; at any rate, I think "Yellow Coat" is a good song, even if I find Hawkins, and his body of work, a bit puzzling.
"On Tourne en Rond" is the title track from China's second CD, a confident, mellow, and soulful bit of multicultural R&B. On this one I love the waltzing vocals, the horns that come in towards the end, the way it all builds towards a gently skewed carnival atmosphere.
I posted a China track about six months ago; China found the post through her mother, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and mentioned her website and her newer work. The gears of the Shanty grind slowly.
Allmusic.com writeup on Hawkins
[Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie]
[China -- On Tourne en Rond]
China Moses' site