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April 2000

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Blues Across America: The Los Angeles Scene

Blues Across America: Los AngelesThe latest entry in Cannonball's continuing series, Blues Across America: The Los Angeles Scene, is the best I've heard so far in the series. The four artists spotlighted here --- Joe Houston, Johnny Dyer, Finis Tasby and Kirk 'Eli' Fletcher --- only scratch the surface of the incredible talent assembled on this disc by a very sharp producer named Richard Duran (a.k.a. Lynwood Slim). Like most folks in L.A., three of the four artists are from another part of the country, but now call Los Angeles home.

Texas native Joe Houston has been a fixture on the L.A. blues scene since the 1950s, and leads off with three scorching numbers. Houston contributes two originals, "If You See My Baby" and "All I Need Is You," along with his own stunning rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago." Known mainly for his blaring honking 50's style sax, Joe is also quite the accomplished vocalist.

Mississippi transplant Johnny Dyer is next with three originals featuring his wailing, "down in the delta" harmonica stylings. Johnny relocated to L.A. at the age of 19 and fell into the company of the late great George "Harmonica" Smith. Of the three numbers from Mr. Dyer, the instrumental "Real Easy Baby" highlights the tremendous talent that this great harp player possesses.

Next up is another Texas import, Finis Tasby. Tasby has worked with some of the great names in Texas blues --- Clarence Carter, Freddie King, Z. Z. Hill and Lowell Fulson to name a few --- before heading west in the 70s. "Reconsider Baby" is a cover of a Lowell Fulson number with Finis doing ample justice to this wonderful piece. "Kansas City" gets an updated, if not a somewhat different treatment, to an old favorite, and the original "Victim Of Circumstances" is a slow smoky ballad of false accusations. Tasby's relaxed, velvety vocals and vibrant delivery make his contributions to this already solid collection a pure delight.

The lone homegrown product represented here has the honor of closing out this sensational disc. Kirk "Eli" Fletcher is a young man from Compton, California that has been causing quite a stir on the left coast blues scene as of late. This gifted guitar player is only 23 years old, but has the chops and musical savvy of a player twice his age. His debut album last year on JSP Records (reviewed in Blues Bytes Sept. '99) has shot Fletcher to the top of the list of artists most likely to earn a legendary status. This guy is THAT GOOD, folks. An original instrumental, "Swingin Gate," leads off Fletcher's set with some red hot quitar wizardry, followed by a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Ninety Nine," featuring Lynwood Slim on vocals and harmonica. Which brings us to the CD's closer, a reworking of Kirk's own "Eli's Shuffle" from his solo album. This one piece alone is a testament to this man's mastery of his instrument.

As mentioned before, the four main performers only scratch the surface of the talent on this disc. It would be a gross injustice to the talented supporting musicians not to mention their contributions to this CD as well as the Los Angeles blues scene. Massaging the 88s for all four artists is Fred Kaplan, whose style and energy bring to mind another blues piano great, Otis Spann. Paul Fasulo is one of L.A.'s best session drummers in the blues today, and he appears on every cut. Bass chores are equally divided between Mark Goldberg and Buddy Clark. Kid Ramos and Kirk Fletcher both sit in with Houston and Tasby, and Kirk appears on Johnny Dyer's numbers as well. The horns are provided courtesy of three of Los Angeles' finest, trumpet queen Ann King, tenor sax by the amazing Steve Marsh and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Turmes on baritone sax. The blues sound in L.A. has been described in a multitude of different ways --- jump blues, swing blues and even rockabilly . But like the city itself, the sound is a melting pot with many different styles from around the country forming one unique sound which this writer tends to label Chicago West. This collection is a must for all blues fans. It's a remarkably accurate reflection of the L.A. blues scene today.

 - Steve Hinrichsen

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