player, pioneer, chef, mad scientist

Jack Salmon & Derby Sauce (Schoolkids')
Steve Ferguson & the Midwest Creole Ensemble

By Allen Howie

Remember the movie "The Fly," when Vincent Price (or Jeff Goldblum, depending upon which version you've seen) lets the film's namesake tag along as he sends himself across the room in a transporter he's invented? Our hapless scientist emerges as a mutation, a creature that's neither man nor insect but has the features of each. Well, imagine that the Neville Brothers and The Band (and if room allows, the original Little Feat) all got squeezed into the good doctor's device and transported into a recording studio. The musical result would probably sound a lot like Jack Salmon & Derby Sauce, the new record by Steve Ferguson & the Midwest Creole Ensemble.

Louisville native Ferguson, one of the co-founders of NRBQ, has apparently spent a good deal of time out in his garden of grooves gathering up the ingredients for this musical gumbo, an aural feast where lots of distinctive spices combine to create a completely original recipe. Pop flourishes embellish soul grooves and New Orleans rhythms spike a Celtic reel, and everything bubbles and simmers with tasty licks. Ferguson refers to his concoction as Midwest Creole, and the name is as good as any for the table of delights he's laid out here.

Of course, he had a little help in the kitchen. Producers Howie Gano and Pat Lentz, working closely with Ferguson, create an ambience that's perfectly suited to the material here. And the boys in the band deserve a fair share of the credit, building a rhythmic synergy that breathes life into every tune.

Still, Ferguson is the head chef here. The songs showcase his unerring gift for melody, and provide the ideal vehicle for his soulful and fluid singing style. The two merge wonderfully throughout, particularly in the laconic "Okie McDokie," as sublime a slice of pop as you're likely to hear, and in the stately elegance of "Soul Waltz."

As if all this weren't enough, Ferguson plays guitar with uncanny precision, scattering tasty leads like breadcrumbs from the swampy R&B of the opening number, "Hot Walker Blues," to the live version of "Hi Di Ho" (recorded for Mountain Stage) that closes the record. In between, you'll find the Mardi Gras swing of the title tune, the slippery second line rhythms of "We Be Go" and the paranoid blues of "I Stand Accused" happily coexisting alongside the barroom boogie of "You Snooze You Lose" and the lazy Memphis crawl of "You Don't Like Your Monster." When it's all said and done, Ferguson and company have given us an embarrassment of riches, a true feast amidst the fluff and a record that will no doubt grace the top ten lists of all who hear it. Dig in.