There are plenty of Americana-oriented bands out there using the work of The Band as a template, but few have a direct connection to that classic group and its distinctive sound. Aaron "Professor Louie" Hurwitz does, and it shows on his fine combo's latest release, Wings on Fire. Hurwitz and crew tap directly into the spirit of The Band, combining top-quality original songs and select covers with an eclectic musical outlook. Irish writer Kevin Doherty's disc-opening "Down at the County," for example, goes to New Orleans with an intro lick straight out of Huey "Piano" Smith. Louie and Miss Marie's "Open Hand, Open Heart" has an ominous, funky strut worthy of Tom Waits. And George Jones's "Color of Blues" is accordion-drenched in all the right ways, merging Memphis and Nashville effortlessly.
Not surprisingly, the disc is dedicated to "our musical mentors," Levon Helm and Rick Danko. Danko actually gave Hurwitz his academic moniker, and the keyboardist returns the favor by leading a wonderful workout on The Band/Van Morrison collaboration "4% Pantomime" (recorded in honor of, but not featuring, album guest and longtime Morrison collaborator John Platania). The only weak spot is the tepid boogie of "High Tech Wreck," co-written with Woodstock poet, author, and Fugs co-founder Ed Sanders. But that tune is more than balanced by the strength of the majestic "Time Moves On" and the Jesse Winchester-like lilt of "The Bird Song." Woodstockrecords.com.