Big Jack Reynolds was one of those regional blues musicians
who was little known outside his home territory of Detroit and Toledo
prior to his death in 1993. For those of us not really familiar with the
very fine music of Mr. Reynolds, That's A Good Way To Get To Heaven
(Third Street Cigar Records) packages not only 20 recordings that he cut
for various labels throughout his career but also an 80-minute
documentary on DVD. That's a lot of value packed into one set, and it's
all high quality music in a southern blues vein.
Reynolds primarily played harmonica and sang on the 20 cuts here,
often singing in the slow southern style made popular by Jimmy
Reed with a powerful voice well-suited to the material. It's appropriate
then that this disc kicks off with the Reed classic, "Honest I Do," a
previously unreleased recording, and later follows with other Reed
numbers including the up-tempo shuffle "Go On To School" and the equally
upbeat "Shame, Shame, Shame." Reynolds sticks with the same basic
downhome sound on a fine rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me."
Two other unreleased numbers are the original "In My Room" and a sparse
reading of Muddy Waters' "She Moves Me."
There are quite a few Reynolds original compositions here, with the
up-tempo shuffle "Walk On Up (But Keep That Red Dress On)" being one of
the highlights, with nice piano accompaniment from Chad Smith and
tasteful guitar work from Larry Gold, and the rollicking stomper "Poor
Boy," featuring some of Reynolds' best harp playing.
Reynolds picks up the guitar for a solo number, "Mean Old People" and
on a funky blues with the entire band, "Hot Potato," showing that he was
just as adept picking the strings as he was in blowing the harp.
The aforementioned recordings all came from 1990 sessions made in
Toledo for Highball Records, but later in the disc we get the added
treat of several recordings done for various labels earlier in Reynolds'
career. Jimmy Oden's "Going Down Slow" was recorded in 1970 for Fortune
Records, while the very interesting calpsyo-ish "Made It Up In Your
Mind" was released by the Detroit label Mah's Records in 1963. "I Had A
Little Dog," a very Jimmy Reed-like up-tempo original from Reynolds, was
released as a single on Hi-Q Records during the same time period, as was
the flipside, "You Won't Treat Me Right."
The CD closes with Reynolds' 1987 recording for Blue Suit Records,
"She Must Be A Millionaire," that has some of his best harmonica playing
in a solo setting.
All 20 cuts on That's A Good Way To Get To Heaven
are outstanding, making this CD a "must have" for
blues fans especially those looking for the more downhome sound.
But wait --- that's not all! The 80-minute documentary is a
fascinating look at this great blues artist, comprised of both
interviews with his various sidemen as well as vintage performance
videos. The CD is available on the
CD Baby store, and I've been
told that the DVD is included in that package. More information is also
Street Cigar Records.
--- Bill Mitchell