Samoa Wilson reminds me a little of the Occaquan Inn in Virginia, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. The Occaquan Inn, which is located right on the bank of the Potomac, has a reputation for being haunted by a Native American spirit who dwells in the upstairs ladies’ room and loves to come out and knock all the butter knives off the tables. That’s cool in and of itself, but my fondest memory of the Occaquan is the Victrola near the entry which was always playing 78 rpm records during the dinner service. That detail alone created an indelible impression–especially when they played Depression-era recordings of hot Parisian jazz.
On I Just Want to Be Horizontal, singer Samoa Wilson has partnered with guitarist Jim Kweskin to pay tribute to the type of music that might be played on that old Victrola, especially the recordings Teddy Wilson made with Billie Holliday back in the 1930s when she was still relatively unknown. The two have been working on this sound for a decade, and it’s a mature and thorough result. Wilson has that ’30s voice down pat, pure and simple with a measured yet generous vibrato. Kweskin, who sings along on a few tunes, has mastered the old jazz vet persona, the guy who has been singing these classic tunes for decades if not years.
With a nine-piece jazz ensemble, Samoa Wilson and Jim Kweskin have gone a few steps further than merely recreating a time and place. The recording is decidedly modern, crystal clear and full of detail, and the music itself has been somewhat influenced by more contemporary strains of blues, folk and Americana. Despite that musical elaboration the core spirit of the music remains, and you can easily imagine tunes like “The Candy Man,” “Inch Worm” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay” coming out of an old radio. Or a Victrola.
I haven’t been to the Occaquan Inn in many years. I’m not even sure if it’s still there. If it is there, I’m not sure if it’s still the same. That’s the power of memories and the emotional connections they forge–it’s better not to sully them with the present. Samoa Wilson and Jim Kweskin have delved into that phenomenon by creating timeless music that seems to leap from an old black and white movie, or a mint 78rpm shellac. I Just Want to Be Horizontal is a joyful history lesson, one you’ll want to learn repeatedly.